Paper, ink and glue

Self-publishing a viable option in the Internet age

Nikki Kuentzle of McNally Robinson helps local authors self-publish their work. Laina Hughes

These days, everyone and their mom has a blog.

Thanks to Twitter and Facebook, more people know what a casual acquaintance had for breakfast than how War & Peace ends.

In the so-called Internet age, does anyone out there still read books? Like, paper, ink and glue books? Does anyone still publish them?

As the print industry holds on for dear life, traditional publishing companies are becoming less common. But that doesn’t necessarily make it harder for aspiring authors to get their stuff out there— it just forces them to take matters into their own hands.

Amanda Hope graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in 2011. In order to complete the program, students must produce an independent professional project— it’s sort of like the CreComm version of a thesis.

Hope knew from the beginning she wanted to write a book.

“I’m thoroughly old school,” she says. “I love books. I love going to the library, taking them out, smelling them. It’s a passion that I’ve always had.”

The 26-year-old knew she wanted to write about her great aunt, a sassy-sounding lady who stars in the finished product, a 300-page historical fiction novel called Pieces: Some Journeys Take a Lifetime.

Having under a year to complete her project, Hope decided to self-publish.

“Self-publishing is way quicker than going through an actual publishing company, by years,” she says.

Hope had originally planned to write a series of short stories to be posted on her blog, but she attributes part of the book’s success to the tactile nature of books.

“I think that part of the appeal of my book is that it is someone’s life story. Someone can sit down and have it in their hands and read it all at one time, all together in one spot,” she says. “They can experience someone’s history.”

Hope has printed two editions of the book— both through Winnipeg self-publishing company Art Bookbindery.

“You don’t do it to get rich,” she says with a laugh.

She had 150 copies printed for the first edition, which cost her around $1,200. After getting a second printing at a reduced price and selling the books for $15 a pop, Hope figures she’s just about broken even.

But it was never about making money.

When asked about the book’s reception, she responds without hesitation.

“It’s the craziest thing— it’s been in McNally Robinson since May 2011, and people are still buying. I’m still getting cheques in the mail… I get random emails every once in awhile from people— I have no idea how they find me— telling me that they love the book.”

She’s had book clubs read it, seen a stranger on the bus pull it out of her purse, and had people approach her at the bookstore, recognizing her from the picture on the back of the book.

It is hard to imagine that kind of a response to a blog or eBook.

Nikki Kuentzle, self-publishing coordinator at McNally Robinson, is on the same page.

“I think people are able to express themselves through social media and stuff like that now, in so many ways, so they actually want to see it in a book form as opposed to just online,” she says. “It doesn’t seem as valid when it’s just floating around out there.”

McNally Robinson acquired the Espresso Book Machines, a self-publishing printer that sort of looks like a giant photocopier, in November 2011.

The machine, which has clear sides so you can witness the book coming together, has been so popular the store had to create Kuentzle’s position just to meet the demand.

Kuentzle says a lot of people come in specifically to print a copy of their blog in book-form, but she’s helped publish everything from scientific journals to self-help books, and science fiction to poetry.

The cost is similar to going to a publishing company, she says, but taking your book to McNally is more cost-effective for those looking to print a smaller number of books.

“Self-publishers generally want to do larger quantities; here you can print as many or as few as you want,” says Kuentzle. “There are people who only choose to print for their immediate family, because they’re doing their own memoirs. A lot of people write for their grandkids because they want to pass on the story of their life.”

Kuentzle credits the decline of the traditional printing press for the popularity in self-publishing.

“There’s less opportunity to publish. Publishers are looking for high-quality work, so not just anyone can go in and publish.”

But self-publishing at McNally is not as easy as stopping in and dropping off a draft. Kuentzle stresses the book must be formatted properly before being ready to print, and that it’s best to make an appointment instead of just showing up.

It only takes about five minutes to print a book, but a lot of prep work has to be done before it’s ready to go.

That being said, the store goes all out when it comes to supporting their self-published authors. Kuentzle and the rest of the McNally staff help writers through every step of the publication process— production, promotion and distribution.

“If the authors want to have a book launch with us, we help them,” says Kuentzle. “They can also sell their books on consignment, which would mean we would keep three copies of their book on the shelf at all time, replenish them as they sell, and it will also show up on our website.”

Self-publishing a book is not easy. It requires planning, patience and money.

It might sound like a masochistic undertaking, but isn’t the physical copy of something you’ve poured your heart into, had complete control over, worth it?

Worth it for the smell of freshly printed publication? For the look of your words inked black against the clean, white page?

For book lovers, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Published in Volume 67, Number 2 of The Uniter (September 12, 2012)

Related Reads