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PNG writers beware: the murky world of self-publishing

PHIL FITZPATRICK

Typical publisher advertisementYOU ALWAYS KNEW you had a book in you and now you’ve written it.

You’ve polished it until it shines and you’ve given it to all your friends to read.  “Tell me the truth,” you tell them.  “If it’s no good, please tell me!”

“It’s wonderful,” they all say, “you should get it published.”

A year or so later you look at all the publisher’s polite rejection letters in your desk drawer and wonder whether your friends were having you on.

Then you see an advertisement.  “Looking for a publisher? Send us your manuscript.”  You’ve never heard of the publisher and you don’t recall ever seeing any of their books but you decide to give it a go anyway.

You send off your manuscript and a little while later you receive a glowing report – they want to publish it!

Unbeknown to you you’ve entered the murky world of self-publishing.  The realisation comes when you receive their proposal. 

They will edit your book, design a cover for it and print it.  All for the bargain price of anything between $1,000 and $25,000!

You procrastinate for a while.  You’ve listened to your friends and told them you plan to publish your book.  They are expecting it soon.  Here’s a way to save face.  You decide to cough up the money and get it “published”.

All goes well and you receive the advance copies.  They look great.  You can’t get over seeing your name in print.  You are well and truly hooked.  You order 200 copies at a special one-off price.

Another year goes by.  You’ve personally sold six copies and given a heap of signed copies away to your friends. 

There are still 150 copies in the box in the wardrobe.  Somehow you feel jilted.  You feel like a sucker who has been taken for a ride.  Never again you vow.  You curse your silly and expensive pride.

In this digital age with print-on-demand technology and e-books there are reputable companies who provide a service to would-be-authors that is both upfront and honest.  The above is close to a worst-case scenario.

There are also a lot of sharks whose prime interest is ripping you off.  Reputable or shark they all make their money out of charging you for their services.  They don’t make money out of selling books like a conventional publisher.

Self-publishing has been around for a long time.  It used to be called vanity publishing.  Vanity publishers prey on people’s egos.  They specialise in charging to print poorly written books that no one will ever read.

Most self-publishing companies try to avoid the terminology and all its connotations.

Self-publishing companies invariably point out that many famous authors started out publishing their own books.  This is true but for every successful self-published writer there are millions who never make it past that first book.

Many self-publishing companies advertise generous royalty payments, typically 25% and upwards.  Trouble is, they’ve already made their money out of you and have no interest in selling your books.

One self-publishing company that I contacted while researching this article told me, “Oh yes, we publish many books by Papua New Guineans.” 

That’s strange, I thought, how come I’ve never seen them in the bookshops?

You need to know what you are doing before you go down the self-publishing road.  My advice would be to do some thorough research before you embark. 

Most importantly find out exactly how much it is going to cost you.  Self-publishing is a minefield of hidden costs.

As I said, there are reputable self-publishing companies out there.  Their numbers are growing day by day.  It’s a lucrative business. 

Even Dymocks, the long-established Australian bookshop chain, has a self-publishing arm.

Another reputable company is Xlibris.  Their parent company is Penguin/Random House, one of the biggest publishers in the world.  They’ve got a reputation to protect, which may or may not be a good thing.

Another reputable company is Sid Harta Publishers.  Tim Fischer, the Australian deputy prime minister in the Howard government publishes with them.

Many of these companies have print-on-demand connections, sometimes hooked up to big book marketers like Amazon.  They also do e-books, the sales of which are now pretty much on a par with hard copies.

They all have websites and although it might take a while to go through their contents you’ll eventually come to the nitty-gritty page which sets out their costs.  Be prepared to be shocked.  Self-publishing is not cheap.

The digital age has turned the publishing world on its head and everyone is still sorting through the wreckage trying to make sense out of it all.

Without a home-grown publishing industry Papua New Guinean writers are particularly vulnerable to the sharks swimming in the self-publishing pond.

Don’t get caught because you’ll regret it.

Comments

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Karen Rea

I am an elementary teacher. As elementary teachers are required to produce what we call big books, I have completed some for the prep children in PNG.

They feature the themes we use each year. I have so far almost completed 15 big books and I want to publish them. Please help me.
________

Hi Karen - I would advise an initial contact with Jordan Dean of JDT Publications at jdean.hsip@gmail.com - KJ

Philip Fitzpatrick

Send the manuscript as a Word document to Pukpuk Publications Marie. We'll have a look and see what we can do.

Address is: pacificasene@westnet.com.au.

Marie Eorage

Hi

I came across this website when I was looking for a publishing company that can help me publish a book, a tribute to my late mum and newphew who lost their lives in an accident last year 2016. I want the book to be launched on their anniversary on January 25, 2017.

Aron Tambala Hekenai

I am also a junior writer in PNG and wish to send the manuscript of the book and searching for some publishing companies in PNG.

Can you assist me in this regard?

Philip Fitzpatrick

To make a decent book Risa you need about 150 pages of text.

As Sir Paulias Matane tells us, that is about the right size for your average PNG reader.

I get many submissions for publishing that are only 50 - 60 pages long and they are not viable as a book.

Once you have that many pages you should investigate using CreateSpace to publish the book yourself. As you will see from PNG Attitude there are quite a few writers in PNG doing the same thing.

With the absence of publishers in PNG it is about the only alternative that you have got. Simply type in 'CreateSpace' on your search engine and go from there.

Pukpuk Publications is not accepting any more manuscripts for publication and will be concentrating on specialised anthologies generated internally.

Best of luck with the writing.

Risa Alu

Hi Phil, I am a second year student at the Pacific Adventist University. When I was in Grade 8, I had an English assignment where I had to write up a biography. I had done mine on my mother.

Ever since I showed my mother my marked assignment back (got the total mark by the way), she keeps telling me to complete the paper and make it a book.

Well, I have been procrastinating upon her request up till now. She still talks about it indirectly telling me I should complete the task she gave me 6 years ago.

I'm almost done in school for the year so i want to start on the book this holiday. Please advise me on how I should start and heads up on publication details etc .

Big fan.

Don Purumo

I've written a fiction book title, "The Island of Slaves".

I need more information about you on how to publish a book.
How to find an agent? How to sign an agreement for a book contract publishing company? How to share a royalty?
__________

Tell us a bit more about yourself and the book, Don, and we might be able to steer you in the right direction - KJ

Simon Gabriel

Thanks Phil, that info was very timely for me.

I am planning a history book for my community. It will be a rural history of the Rigo inland of Central Province.

Phil Fitzpatrick

For Amos and other writers looking to publish their books, Keith Dahlberg, an American who writes about PNG, tells me that:

"Amazon.com has a new project called Create Space, which will help you set up your book and cover for free. Publishing it on Kindle is also free.

"I have a nephew who just published this way; he paid about US$6 for a proof copy, and says that was his only expense. I am looking at it as a publisher for Gold. It is on the web on Amazon.com. The paperback copy he sent me looks good."

Some of these self-publishing companies will actually charge you to put things on Amazon and Kindle - don't be fooled.

The reference to "Gold" is about Keith's next book, "South Pacific Gold" which is about mining in PNG. From what I've read so far it is very accurate. Keep an eye out for it.

Amos Kuluan

I love writing. I would like to have my stuff published. Thanks.

David Wall

Phil, your words are true! I've done a bit of self-publishing and I wouldn't say I've made anything from it apart from seeing my name in print!

I'm vain enough to say that this gives me a degree of satisfaction! One ends up giving copies away to friends, but this doesn't really matter as I have no delusions about my talent.

A cheap way for would-be writers is to get their own blog. This can be a lot of fun and it's great for photos that come out so well online.

I've just about to have a biography of my father published which is being eagerly awaited for by family members. So if the publishing is not too expensive, go for it.

Phil Fitzpatrick

I've ordered a copy of your book from Amazon, Trevor. I didn't even know you'd published it. They reckon they've only got two copies left!

I've also ordered one by Keith Dahlberg called "Samana", which is partly set in the highlands.

I wonder if there is some way of advertising PNG books like yours and especially by PNG authors on PNG Attitude?
___________

The site is a bit limited in its flexibility for advertising but we're always ready to plug a good book about PNG - KJ

Bernard Yegiora

Thank you very much for this piece, Phil.

Love the humour, as well as the important information.

I am becoming a fan of your writing style.

Gladly awaiting your next masterpiece.

Joe Wasia

Its really true, Phil. So informative.

Trevor Freestone.

Phil - A great article and so true. I published my book through Xlibris as a print on demand book. It cost me $1,500 Australian.

This included a colour photo on the cover. It also included copyright and other legal obligations. It did not include photos inside which would have cost a great deal.

They suggested various ways to promote the book. Their latest offer is for them to help me promote it if I pay them another $1,500. Sadly I cannot afford to outlay any more money at this stage.

They don't appear to make much from book sales so rely on extra payments to make money. I do receive a cheque every now and again from Amazon but this would hardly pay for a meal in a restaurant.

John Fowke

Phil, an experienced writer of both long and short fiction has painted a broad and correct outline of the prospects for those of us who like to write.

To be happy with your craft you must do it for your own satisfaction. If you want to earn money on a regular basis by writing, join a newspaper or an advertising agency.

This may provide a living if you are lucky enough to find such a job, but it won't provide you with more than passing intellectual stimulus and satisfaction.

Books are products like soap, toothpaste, running-shoes and underpants. They are branded products which appeal because people have been led to believe they are worth purchasing.

In the case of an author, this comes to pass by first writing a best-seller or two. But to be a best-selling writer, you must be well-known. Get it? Catch 22 , they call it.

It is possible that you may get lucky one day, with the right publisher's reader after he/she has had an enjoyable lunch, on a nice sunny day. That is if he/she strikes the commissioning editor in a relaxed frame of mind, similarly enjoying the day. In other words, its a lottery, mate!

Love your writing for the satisfaction it gives you - never rely on it to bring in cash. Self-publishing will get your work into print in a bound and well-finished volume.

But it still has to be distributed (by who?) to bookshops which have to be convinced to give it shelfspace and then unsold copies must be picked up (if you want them back). If by that time you haven't gone mad or run away.

Self-publishing is costly and a little self-indulgent.Okay if you've got plenty in the bank. Better still if you have talent.

But if you love writing, then you will write and you will gain great satisfaction from the act itself and from reviewing your work as the years go by.

Good luck, writers, and finally, listen to the advice of world-famed Amarican novelist F Scott Fitzgerald whose best-known work was The Great Gatsby - a story which has been filmed at least twice since publication in 1935.

Known as a man who loved a drink or three, Fitzgerald died of alcoholism at age 44. Just before this he was asked to address a major seminar for aspiring young writers.

Fitzgerald arrived, having finished his first bottle of bourbon for the day.

The great man mounted the stage. Glaring at the assembled audience with a look both penetrating and yet somehow sympathetic he said loudly:

"So you bastards wanna write? Well, g'wan home 'n write!"

I love that story!

Nick Piakal

Thank you so much for this very informative post, Phil. It is timely reminder too, especially with literature in PNG picking up pace.

Jeff Febi

Thanks...really! I hope this article will be read by many other would be authors who are planning to the go down the 'self-publishing-highway'.

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