"The Self-Publishing Option" with Mary Emma Allen

Thursday, December 14, 2000

MODERATOR is Kristi Holl, author of 24 books and former writing teacher, as well the wed editor for this site.

Mary Emma is Mary Emma Allen, author of many books for adults and children, some self-published and some published by royalty publishers.

Names color coded in blue are viewers who had questions.

Interviews begin in the Professional Connection Room at 9 p.m. Atlantic/Canada, 8 Eastern, 7 Central, 6 Mountain, and 5 Pacific.

MODERATOR: Good evening, everyone! Welcome to tonight's online interview with Mary Emma Allen where she'll be discussing "The Self-Publishing Option." I'm Kristi Holl, your moderator this evening and the web editor for this site. Mary Emma Allen has self-published three print books (Tales of Adventure and Discovery, When We Become the Parent to Our Parents, and The Magic of Patchwork) as well as worked with royalty publishers. As our publishing choices have expanded, so have our questions on this topic! So let's get started! Welcome, Mary Emma!

Mary Emma: Hello. I'm pleased to be with you tonight to share some information about self-publishing with you. If we don't have time to answer all your questions, do e-mail me or visit my site.

MODERATOR: To begin with, how did you begin your writing career, Mary Emma?

Mary Emma: I always wanted to write, ever since I was a child. I think this may have been influenced by my grandfather who was a farmer, yet wrote newspaper columns and magazine essays. My first published writing was a newspaper column, too, begun after I completed a correspondence course in journalism. It was called "Country Kitchen" and was published in my hometown newspaper. I still write it for a local newspaper in the state where I now live. However, I'd always wanted to be a children's writer, so took a correspondence course with the Institute for Children's Literature. While taking this course, my first children's story was accepted and published by a church school magazine. From there I went on to write other children's stories. I've been willing to try new writing ventures, so have been a newspaper reporter, travel magazine editor, corporate PR person, real estate ad writer, freelance journalist, author of traditionally published and self-published books.

MODERATOR: Along with your writing, do you now (or did you ever) have to juggle a day job or family with your writing?

Mary Emma: I've always juggled writing with work, and after my daughter was born, with a family. Sometimes my writing will be work related such as when I was a newspaper reporter, travel editor, or a PR person for a corporation. Other times it's not and I squeeze writing in between substitute teaching, a secretarial job, a quilt making business, or with a family business.

MODERATOR: What is a typical writing day like for you?

Mary Emma: I'd have to say I have no typical or routine day. Each one is different as I write in a multi-generational household and share an office with my husband or dining table with my daughter's quilt design work. I've learned to write when surrounded by grandchildren, in a car, waiting at an airport, on an airplane, or at a meeting. As I say, "I have laptop, will travel" and write anywhere to meet my deadlines because my husband's business takes us all over the country when we're not at home. The best training for this, I think, was working as a reporter in a busy news room with activity all around me. I've learned to shut out the noise and can work almost anywhere.

MODERATOR: The media is exploding these days with news about self-published books and authors. Why do we hear more about self-publishing today?

Mary Emma: Self-publishing, once thought to be the way to go if you weren't good enough to interest a traditional or royalty publisher, has become very acceptable today, both in the print world and e-publishing world. Many writers also find they prefer this method of getting into print because they can control the whole process. You'll find, too, many publishers are looking for self-published books that are making a stir in the market. They're willing to invest in books that are showing success. In a way, the author/publisher is testing the waters and the royalty publisher picks the books up after it's evident readers are interested in them. With the introduction of electronic publishing or e-books, many writers find this a way to introduce their work to the world. Electronic publishing is another outlet, although writers need to be sure they're publishing their best work here, not just anything they write, without thought of the quality of their work just because e-publishing is so inexpensive and easy.

MODERATOR: Why did you self-publish? How did that come about?

Mary Emma: I had some niche or specialized markets which an agent and some

editors thought I'd be more successful reaching myself rather than going through the traditional royalty publisher. When I gave author programs in schools, I've often had requests from teachers for copies of my stories I used with the children. "Why don't you publish a book of them?" they'd say. Since I had the market, I decided publishing and illustrating a book of my stories would be a way to fill this need. Another book I've self-published is When We Become the Parent to Our Parents, about my mother's journey through Alzheimer's. This consists of essays that were published previously in newspapers and magazines. Requests for these from caregivers who needed support, someone to talk to, led me to consider publishing them in book form. There was an outlet among other caregivers, nursing home staff, support groups. A quilt book, The Magic of Patchwork, originally was written after I'd sent a query to an editor who said she'd like to see it. When I submitted it, the publisher decided they'd published enough craft books for awhile. So the book remained in my files until a librarian, for whom I was giving a children's program, learned I also was a quilter. She asked why I hadn't written a quilt book. I mentioned I had, but it wasn't published. "Why don't you publish it?" So this book was the result. With my work among quilters, I had an audience for it, too. An online book distributor has said that as soon as I establish an account at Paypal to handle sales, she'll promote the book for me.

SaraJ: What is Paypal?

Mary Emma: This is an electronic transfer of money. It is being used by many e-publishers to pay their writers. It's used for book sales, auction sales, things like that. At first it was available only in the US. Recently it has been expanded to other countries.

Dolly: What would one need to know if one wanted to publish a newsletter?

Mary Emma: Ask yourself some questions first. What is your target market? Are you going to write all the material? Will it be a subscription print newsletter or an e-zine? I do publish two print newsletters, Writers' Potpourri and Parenting Our Parents.

MODERATOR: Can you tell us some well known authors who have self-published?

Mary Emma: Mark Twain; Charles Dickens; Richard Paul Evans - The Christmas Box; James Redfield - The Celestine Prophesy; Wayne Dwyer - Your Erroneous Zones; Ken Blanchard - One Minute Manager; David Chilton - The Wealthy Banker; H. Jackson Brown - Life's Little Instruction Book. They've become well-known authors after first self-publishing. Some had their books picked up by a royalty publisher afterward. However you don't have to be a famous author to be successful in self-publishing. I recently learned of a Canadian author who is enjoying success after his retirement. He writes and self-publishes books and gives programs in schools. He's known mainly in his local area, but is a success in his endeavors. In the electronic publishing world, M.J. Rose, whose book Lip Service was rejected by print publishers, undertook to publicize it on the Internet and let selected readers preview it. The resulting publicity and popularity of the e-book caught the attention of a print publisher and Ms. Rose was the first e-book author to enjoy this success. She and Angela Adair-Hoy, who is a popular e-book publisher, have gone on to write and publish an e-book about e-publishing. This has been picked up by a print publisher and comes out in January 2001.

bookworm2u: How are your copyrights protected if you use e-publishing? I was just reading how poor Dickens' Christmas Carol was plagiarized because he went and published the book himself!

Mary Emma: This is a great concern to writers and publishers today. The methods and technology are still being worked out to enable someone to download an e-book only once and not be able to pass it on to another person or computer. Just as in the print world, plagiarism exists in the e-world. However, some writers are willing to take a chance. In general, it's rather difficult to take a whole book and pass it off as your own. It is easier to do this with articles and essays, but if we worry to the extreme about someone stealing our work, we won't write. Forearm ourselves with knowledge, I'd say would be the best way.

MODERATOR: Are many self-published authors picked up by traditional/royalty publishing houses?

Mary Emma: Yes, as you can see from those I've mentioned above. However, there are many more who aren't. And some just prefer to continue to self-publish and manage their own books. The latter prefer to have total control of their books and not share the profits.

MODERATOR: How can a successful self-published author (who wants to) get the attention of a traditional publishing house?

Mary Emma: By developing a track record of sales and good reviews. The book, Inside the Best Sellers by Jerrold R. Jenkins with Mardi Link, relates the success stories of authors who were self-published or published by small houses, and went on to have best sellers. Study the techniques of other successful self-publishers.

AnneKelly: Is the author responsible for all the marketing?

Mary Emma: If you're self-publishing, yes, unless you have family members or a partner to help you. Even when you're published by a traditional publisher nowadays, you're expected to be involved in promotion.

MODERATOR: What topics are good for self-publishing?

Mary Emma: The topics for successful self-published books (ones that made a name) used to be rather narrow or very specialized. Today almost any topic is good if you know you have the readers, i.e. buyers, or know you can develop the interest in your book. However, most self-published books are produced with a niche or specialized market in mind. Thus you already have the market you can approach whether it's a very specialized one or more general one. You may choose health topics, how-to topics, business topics, hobbies, writing, to name a few.

christine collier: Aren't cookbooks often put together as a self-publishing project for fund raisers?

Mary Emma: Yes, this is a good self-publishing area. And some of these have gone on to be very popular and have found a market much broader than the one originally intended.

MODERATOR: What types of books do you suggest to self-publish?

Mary Emma: This is becoming a more difficult question to answer with certainty with the evolution and growing popularity of e-books. You can reach a much broader readership with e-books. There is so much experimental publishing going on with e-books simply because there isn't the cost involved as with print books. So an author can afford to take risks and become adventuresome. The e-book revolution is changing the way a writer looks at self-publishing. With print publishing, you need to know you have a market or can develop one so you don't have stacks of books (500, 1,000, 5,000) piled in your garage.

Traditionally, nonfiction books have been better sellers as self-published books, but in today's world fiction and books of poetry are viable ones, too. For instance, M.J. Rose's book is fiction. Author Douglas Clegg is a novelist who often e-publishes a book, then has it published by a print publisher. Some writers also self-publish books without thought of huge sales or best selling recognition. They've published mainly for family and friends without thought of a commercial market. These include autobiographies (as my grandfather did) and family histories, perhaps family recipe collections. My husband, daughter, and I collected recipes and stories from his extended family and published this book for family members so they'd have a record of a family food history.

jean: I write short fiction based on real life. I find it hard to find magazines that will publish it. Would self publishing be something for me?

Mary Emma: Yes, you might consider an anthology of your stories. You'll have to consider whether you want to e-publish or print publish. Many writers nowadays are testing the markets with e-publishing, even a story or two, and then an anthology before going to the expense of a print book. There also are many small e-publishers that will take a look at books that traditional publishers won't.

kmadsen: How does a self-published book get reviews and who writes them?

Mary Emma: The reviewer often writes for a newspaper or a magazine or nowadays for an e-zine or web site. Check out newspapers and magazines. See if they carry reviews and of what types. Query the reviewer to see if s/he would like a review copy. Send the review copies to those who are more likely to do a review, rather than just accumulate books. Check out web sites for writers to find links to e-zines and sites that feature reviews of books. Some of these review only e-books, while others do print books, too.

AnneKelly: How does e-publishing work? Do readers pay to read the stories on-line?

Mary Emma: Readers pay to download your book onto their computer or e-book reader. Some writers do offer free e-books, a short story, a collection of poems. Some will send out their book in the form of a few free chapters, then the reader pays to receive the complete download of the book. There are various ways publishers are experimenting with to determine what is most appealing to the readers and which is most profitable.

kmadsen: Are fiction and nonfiction equally successful as e-books?

Mary Emma: I would say they are. You'll find writers offering both types and e-publishers working in both areas. Keep in mind that e-publishing is in constant change as more and more readers are discovering this area.

Mjade: Some newspapers want galleys. What are those?

Mary Emma: I think you probably mean the book before it's published, often before it's bound. Some reviewers on major newspapers and magazines want to read and review the book before it's published and won't look at it afterward. However, you'll find many that do review it afterward.

christine collier: What is your writers' newsletter like? Do you have to subscribe to it?

Mary Emma: My newsletter is a subscription newsletter which I publish four times a year. It grew out of a newsletter I began sending to students who took some of my writing classes at a local college and at writers' conferences. A few said if I kept publishing it, they'd be glad to pay a subscription price for it. More information about it is on my web site.

AnneKelly: What does the e-publisher actually do for you? Is it just the formatting of the story, article, or book?

Mary Emma: There are all phases handled by the e-publisher. Some will format and add illustrations. Others like you to be involved in formatting and help with or furnish the illustrations. Some will help with much of the promotion, or at least give you direction with it. Others leave it mainly up to you. In this evolving field you'll find various levels of assistance. You may find you want to do it yourself and have someone help with the distribution and sales.

Granny Jannie: Will the e-publisher add illustrations for a picture book?

Mary Emma: That depends on the e-publisher and what they're set up to do. But, yes, you will find some that can help you with the illustrations. If you'd like to become involved in illustrating yourself, there's likely to be more opportunity for you here than in print publishing.

Mjade: What advice would you give to someone about to do a book signing? [Do you plan your own signings for self-published books?]

Mary Emma: Yes, you plan your own signings. I've written articles on this topic and it was suggested I write a manual to help writers in this area. I guess the best advice is to expect the unexpected. You may have a crowd of people there and you may have only one or two. I've found it best to offer something more than simply sitting there, smiling and signing your books. Offer to give a talk, a demonstration, a reading, something original and creative. Wear a costume if you're working with children. Have a craft demonstration if yours is a craft book, etc. if you see what I mean. Check to see what type of publicity the book store does. You may need to make posters for the windows. Have flyers for them to stuff into purchases beforehand. Write press releases for newspapers if the book store doesn't do it, etc.

AnneKelly: Do self-published or e-published books, articles, or stories count as publishing credits to traditional publishers?

Mary Emma: I'd say they do count as publishing credits to some, and it is growing in acceptance these days. However, until you prove you have a following of readers or that readers will buy your books, it is difficult to have some recognize this format though.

MODERATOR: What are the markets for self-published books?

Mary Emma: With e-books you can reach a wider range of readers throughout the world. However, I've found many readers still aren't reading e-books although this is a growing market. Many readers don't even know e-books exist yet. With print books, the markets are many, but usually specialized ones which generally don't make the best seller list. The smaller independent bookstores often are more receptive to handling self-published books although Amazon and Barnes & Noble are establishing departments for them.

MODERATOR: What is the advantage of self-publishing?

Mary Emma: You have control of your book, how it is published, how it is marketed. You receive more than a royalty, if there is a profit after expenses. Having a book published contributes to your credibility as a writer among readers, even if some publishers look more favorably on traditionally published books until you establish a track record. If you can use previously published work in your book, as I did with my children's anthology and the book on Alzheimer's, you are offering a book that has had portions approved or accepted by various editors, which can help lend credibility.

MODERATOR: Are there disadvantages?

Mary Emma: You must pay all costs (which can be considerable with a print book). You must do all marketing. You must gain knowledge of and experience with publishing.

MODERATOR: How do you deal with or overcome the disadvantages?

Mary Emma: You must be willing to promote, promote, promote and get word out about your book. I've heard of some writers who went on to achieve best selling fame filling their car with books and then traveling the country selling them. If you simply want to write and not be involved with selling your book, you may not even make it with a traditional publisher, since publishers expect a writer to do some of the promoting. Become knowledgeable about self-publishing and get a good idea of the costs before committing.

MODERATOR: Are there different methods of self-publishing?

Mary Emma: There are three basic methods of self-publishing. A. Having a professional printer do it. To keep costs down, you do as much as possible on a word processor or printing program and take the disk to the printer. B. Self-printing and binding it. C. E-publishing

MODERATOR: How did you personally go about it?

Mary Emma: With my print books, I used both printing methods. The children's anthology Tales of Adventure & Discovery was designed and printed by a professional printer. I told her how much I had to spend and we decided what I could do within that budget. I typed the book at home and presented a disk and my camera ready illustrations to the graphic designer who set up the book. An editor friend and I helped with proof-reading. With When We Become the Parent to Our Parents, my husband produced the book with our computer and printer. We bound it with a plastic comb binding. He has a printing program with which he also produces business cards, postcards, newsletters.

MODERATOR: What exactly is an e-book, and why do authors self-publish e-books?

Mary Emma: An e-book is an electronic book, one that can be downloaded onto another computer, electronic reader, and sometimes printed out. Many authors go this route because it's relatively inexpensive, you don't have to print a large number of books, and it's a way of testing the waters, so to speak. E-publishing is becoming more and more popular. After publishing their own e-book(s), some authors have begun publishing other author's books.

MODERATOR: Have you yourself self-published an e-book?

Mary Emma: I have not self-published an e-book at this point although that's one of my goals for the future, possibly publishing in both print and electronic formats so I can reach both audiences. I've had so many inquiries for When We Become the Parent to Our Parents from other countries that it seems an e-book would be an ideal format for distributing this book. I am looking into this with an e-book distributor. I have had numerous essays and poems published in e-book anthologies during the past year.

AnneKelly: Does an e-book cost as much for the consumer to buy as a regular book?

Mary Emma: An e-book is much less expensive. That's why they're beginning to appeal to readers.

MODERATOR: Are there books/resources (including web sites) you recommend for self-publishing?

Mary Emma: Yes, some of the books I've used include The Self-Publishing Manual by Don Poynter, Publishing Short-Run Books by Don Poynter, Publishing to Niche Markets by Gordon Burgett, Publishing to Tightly-Targeted Markets by Gordon Burgett, The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing by Tom & Marilyn Ross, Self-Publishing 101 by Lea Leever Oldham, and, Creative Internet Strategies to Advance Your Writing Career by Moira Anderson Allen. A new book on Internet writing and publishing by Debi Ridpath Ohi The Writer's Online Marketplace has just been published by Writer' Digest Books and gives a great deal of information about getting published online and will give web sites and places to find information.

MODERATOR: Are you planning to self-publish more books?

Mary Emma: Yes, I have a number of books in mind, both as e-books and print books. I found that by beginning with books that were collections of my previously published short stories and essays, I had a credibility I might not have had if I'd self-published solely unpublished material. That's one way to overcome the "you're not good enough to be published by a royalty publisher" syndrome. I'm planning to publish a collection of my newspaper and magazine columns about New Hampshire history and have a number of specialized markets that would be interested. However, I recently ran the idea by a regional publisher and he's expressed an interest in the book. Incidentally this publisher got his start publishing his book about an aspect of NH history. Eventually he began publishing books by other writers and established his own successful publishing company.

MODERATOR: Where do you get information about copyright?

Mary Emma: From the U.S. Register of Copyrights, Library of Congress, Washington, DC 20559-6000. There also is a web site for this office. You pay a $30 fee for registration.

MODERATOR: What about an ISBN?

Mary Emma: Most book stores and libraries require that you have an ISBN on your books. Most book stores and libraries require that you have this number on your books before they'll order it or carry it. Also, when you have an ISBN your book is listed in Books in Print. I've had Barnes & Noble order my book because they found the information in Books in Print. Contact RR Bowker ( for information about an ISBN number. There is a charge for these numbers.

MODERATOR: How do you publicize your books?

Mary Emma: Press releases for print and electronic media. Book signings. Talks to groups. Interviews and book reviews. Bookmarks and postcards. Teaching workshops. Also the Internet has become a great forum for publicizing your books.

MODERATOR: Should authors have web sites for their books?

Mary Emma: Yes, I think a web site is almost imperative nowadays, whether you're self-publishing print or e-books, or have a book published by a traditional publisher. (I have a mix.) There are many ways you can utilize a web site. *Information about you as a writer *Information about your book(s) *Sample chapter of your book *Descriptions of your books for sale with order blank *Questions & Answers about your writing *Workshops that you teach *It's limited only by your imagination

MODERATOR: Are there other items you can self-publish besides books?

Mary Emma: Manuals, booklets, newsletters, and e-zines. I've self-published nine manuals for writers, initiated as guidebooks for my writing workshops. Items like these often sell well. Writers often publish newsletters, either as a PR tool to reach their readers/customers or as a subscription publication. Free e-zines are becoming very popular to help get a writer's name and reputation recognized on the Internet.

MODERATOR: I'm sorry that I have to interrupt, but we're out of time tonight. I want to thank Mary Emma for coming tonight and helping us to see what options we have and how we might take advantage of them. I know that this transcript will be referred to often!

Mary Emma: I've enjoyed sharing with you. I hope I've answered your questions and given you some ideas and encouragement. If you have questions I didn't have time to answer, e-mail me: or visit my site: Have a wonderful holiday season.

MODERATOR: We won't be meeting online in two weeks due to the Christmas holidays. I will be visiting family, and I hope you all will be too. Safe travels to you all! In January we'll be hearing from Eileen Dunn Bertanzetti on "Writing for the Religious Market" and Helen Chappell on "Writing Mystery Fiction." Look for more details in upcoming newsletters. And now, good night, everyone!

Return to Transcripts

Home | Writing Course | Short Story | Full Story Writing Test 
Send Me Full Info | Enroll | Our Instructors | Our CredentialsSample Lesson 
College Credits | Tax Deductibility | From Overseas  | Writer's Bookstore  
Free Writer's News | Life Support for Writers | Chat Room  | Live Forum | Writing Craft
Calendar of Events | Professional Connection | Transcripts | Post a Note | Surviving & Thriving
Student Center | Privacy Policy | Web EditorComments | Writing for Children 

LongRidge Writers Group
91 Long Ridge Road, West Redding, Connecticut 06896
Telephone: 1-800-624-1476 ~ Fax: 203-792-8406

Copyright Writer's Institute, Inc., 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006
No part of the electronic transmission to which this notice is appended may be reproduced or redistributed in any form or manner without the express written permission of Writer's Institute, Inc.