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PUBLISHING

Clinician-authors discuss lessons learned
on writing, publishing and self-publishing

 

There’s no shortage of books by mental health professionals, and no shortage of clinicians who’d like to add to the total. Getting a book published can indeed be a boost to your career. But for all but the most successful authors, a book won’t be a financial windfall in itself.

Instead, you may want to approach the publishing business as a marketing project. The goal is to raise your profile with potential patients, referral sources, and the media—and perhaps, over time, to make some money on the book.

In preparing this roport, we got in touch with four clinicians who have published books. They’ve taken different approaches, and met with varying degrees of success. But none are sorry they did it, and all of them intend to continue writing and publishing in the future.

Self-publishing a highly specialized title:

Linda Peterson in Pennsylvania has grossed $20,000 so far on her book, Surviving the Heartbreak of Choosing Death for Your Pet, which she published herself in 1997.

Her initial investment was $5,300. The initial printing of 2,000 copies cost $2,985; cover design cost $1,672; and a supplemental reprinting cost another $600.

The book is available from a variety of Web sources (Target, Amazon, Barnes & Noble) at prices ranging from $11 to $14.

That’s not big money, but consider that Peterson now has a product she can continue to sell with little additional investment of time or money. (No major revisions are necessary with a topic like this.)

And along the way, Peterson has picked up some readers she hadn’t counted on. Not suprisingly, there have been sales in several English-speaking countries. But last year, a Japanese company paid her a $2,000 advance against future sales in that country. "They advertise it in a dog magazine over there."

Interestingly, there was more to do than translate the words. Her Japanese publisher "changed the cover so it doesn’t even look like the book here in the U.S...My book has a colorful cover. They have a very plain white cover with turquoise lettering. It’s seen as more respectful."

She’s hoping to break into additional foreign markets this year.

Speaking engagements lead to a publishing deal:

Lisa Lieberman was offered a book contract based on a series of presentations she gave near her home in Lake Oswego, OR. Her clinicial specialty is working with the families of disabled people.

"I’d been doing some public speaking and developed a connection with the wife of a publisher," she recalls. That publisher is Autism Asperger Publishing Company, based in Kansas City, MO. "She heard me speak and we started talking about some ideas."

The first idea she pitched was a book about how to hire caregivers for disabled family members. They bought right away, and the book came out in 2005. "I had a publisher before I had the book."

Lieberman received no advance. But she was offered $5 for each book sold—considerably more than major publishing houses pay rookie authors. (The list price is $21.95.)

Nevertheless, Lieberman describes herself as disappointed in the performance of her book, titled A Stranger Among Us: Hiring In-Home Support When a Child has ASD or Other Neurological Differences.

She says it hasn’t sold as well as expected, although she’s put considerable time and effort into promoting it.

She’s done radio interviews and book signings, as well as writing newspaper articles. She’s also done more than a few community presentations to promote the book.

What’s the trouble? Lieberman says she’d do several things differently if she were starting over. Number one: "The title is bad and the cover is bad." (See the cover here: www.disabilityinthefamily.com.)

"It’s too specific. I thought that because I had an autism publisher, I had to have the word ‘autism’ in the title. I think people looked at it and said, ‘Oh, this book is about autism and my child has CP (cerebral palsy), so it doesn’t apply to me.

"The cover has this beautiful art, but it’s very ghost-like, and you put the word ‘stranger’ with that and I think it’s scary to people. It heightens their fears instead of relieving them.

"I would have liked more representational art on the cover, and a title that’s more straightforward—like, Handbook to Hiring… or Everything You Need to Know…"

Now, she’s trying to get a reprint with changes. But the publisher, which was a small company when she signed up with them, has been growing rapidly—and she’s no longer at the top of their list of priorities. She’s still negotiating.

(When negotiating with a prospective publisher, you might try for a clause that allows you to regain rights to your book under certain circumstances.)

Printing on demand:

Brock Hansen, a Washington, DC, clinician, published his book, Shame and Anger: The Criticism Connection, in January, 2007. He self-published through a company called Lulu.com.

It’s a print-on-demand company that will manufacture copies of the book as you need them. There is no money upfront, just production costs on a pay-as-you-go basis. However, he paid $150 to set up distribution to major bookstores such as Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Amazon.

Each copy costs him $4.50 to print at Lulu. That’s high but again, he has no cash tied up in inventory. The book sells for $16.98, and after the booksellers take their cut, he pockets about $2. Sales amount to about 400 so far.

But he hasn’t actually turned a profit, he explains, because of other expenses he chose to take on.

"I decided this was a very easy way to publish, but then I got a little fancy. I had an artist friend of mine design a nice cover. Buying the art work for that, and having him design it, and having a very high resolution image, were the biggest costs in producing the book."

He purchased cover art through Getty Images (www.gettyimages.com) for $1,300. (See the book cover at www.shame-anger.com.) It takes up about half the cover. The cover design itself cost $900.

Uploading the book to Lulu occurs in two stages: the cover and the text. Hansen produced the book in Microsoft Word, with a little help from a friend who inserted images into the text.

He ordered several finished copies and used them as proofs, making changes to the text and fine-tuning the cover.

"Lulu does all the charging, shipping and production," Hansen says. "It’s completely automated. They send me a check for my royalties once a quarter.

"The other thing is, they can make it available as an e-book."

A drawback to using Lulu: It’s so automated that there’s virtually no human contact. We emailed the company with questions, but received no response.

"They have people who collaborate with them and they answer questions based on their own experiences," Hansen says. "But if you need someone to hold your hand, use another on-demand publisher." One alternative: Amazon has an on-demand publishing arm called BookSurge (www.booksurge.com).

Contacts: 1) Brock Hansen, 3801 Connecticut Ave. NW, Ste. 100-D, Washington, DC 20008, (202)362-3009, www.change-for-good.com; 2) Lisa Lieberman, Lake Oswego, OR, (503)697-5956, www.disabilityinthefamily.com; 3) Linda Peterson, West Chester, PA, (610)399-3168, email: lmpdhp@verizon.net.

February, 2008

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