The latest in James River Writer’s Writing Show series, Great Expectations: The Realities of Self-publishing, held on Thursday January 30 at the Camel, featured three authors with distinctly different stories and some great advice for those looking to self-publish. Moderated by Bill Blume, JRW treasurer and author of Tales of a 10th Grade Vampire Hunter, the panel, including Leila Gaskin, Rosemary Rawlins, and David Kazzie, shared their experiences in the ever-more-respectable arena of self-publishing, and fielded questions from the audience during the second half of the show.

“I enjoy software,” said tech-savvy Leila Gaskin, author of Hot Flashes. Web-based publishers such as Smashwords, CreateSpace and Lulu offer a variety of packages, in which authors can take ownership of as much—or as little—of the publishing process as they like. Gaskin chose the hands-on approach, doing her own formatting and finding her own editor and cover artist. Fellow panelist Rosemary Rawlins took the opposite route with her memoir, Learning by Accident, preferring a “full-service” package. David Kazzie’s road to publication was again different, self-publishing although he already had an agent. Kazzie had hoped to capitalize in book sales with his YouTube fame; he found the two didn’t necessarily translate (though his animated videos, including “So You Want to Write a Novel,” have garnered over 2 million hits so far.)

So what IS the secret to successful marketing of one’s self-published masterpiece? Kazzie, whose Jackpot has sold more than 11,000 copies since January 2012 and reached No. 34 on Amazon’s Top 100 Kindle Bestseller List (despite the lack of click-throughs from YouTube), attributed his sales success to luck. “You can’t be afraid to take a chance on something new,” he said, encouraging authors to find whatever might give the book exposure… and go for it.

“Whatever” may mean book trailers, blog tours, social media blitzes or a myriad of other options. “You have to be willing to shamelessly self-promote,” warned Gaskin, who added “I’m a businessperson now.” She also impressed upon the audience the importance of a good book cover. The old saying just doesn’t hold up anymore—all too often and with such a broad market, readers do judge, and are interested or disinterested, from that first look.

Rawlins, who used her blogging know-how and speaking skills to garner attention for her book and the issues it addresses, also emphasized the importance of having a good one-sentence pitch and finding the “universal truth” of whatever your book is. Her pitch was undoubtedly a good one: since initial publication, Rawlins’ Learning has been picked up by Skyhorse Publishing, and will be released in a hardcover edition this March.

— by Joanna S. Lee, poet and JRW board member

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