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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Traditional or self-publishing?

     As I continued this past week my path toward publishing my memoir—contacting other writers, pursuing a few more literary agents who specialize in memoirs, and speaking with platform builders, with nostalgia and a bit of cynicism I recalled a popular limerick we pupils wrote to each other in our autograph books upon graduating grammar school: “Life is a war one must fight, one must fight, and not surrender,” (except that in Hebrew--my mother tongue--the words “war” and “surrender” rhymed almost perfectly).

     At the age of fourteen Israeli kids of my generation had lived through two wars, so we knew something about war, but we did not know much about life or the axiomatic quality of that cliché.

     Having been busy with the things I have to learn to do to publish my memoir, without trying to minimize life’s hardships—my own including--this past week I adapted that verse to the game of book publishing, substituting “publishing” for “life.” For one can easily give up trying, once one realizes how laborious the efforts of a non-celebrity memoirists to publish their work are, in the shrinking market of print books, memoirs especially.

     “Unless the literary agent or the publisher sees the potential opportunity of a movie adaptation of the book, regardless its quality, publishing has become a struggle with each new book, no matter how many books one has published.” a multi published novelist told me.

     Still another industry expert revealed to me the secret of the popularity of a mediocre memoir: “a fabulous and costly publicist, one of the best in the market; and the book is a good movie material.” Well, so is mine, I thought.

     “Unless one has thousand of followers, regardless of the quality of his or her book, neither an agent nor a publisher will take the work,” reconfirmed another member of the publishing community.

     “You need to work hard at making yourself known, you need luck, but mostly you need chutzpah,” a published memoirist told me.

     “You need to have faith and believe in fate,” said another.

     I have faith in my product—as do my memoir writing teacher and my editor. I never had too much chutzpah, but I am willing to learn to be more aggressive. As for fate, believing in it may be comforting but highly insufficient on the road to being published. Hence, after researching and debating the pros and cons of self-publishing, which is an option that a growing number of authors choose, I decided to self-publish my memoir as an e-book, the cost of which is a fraction of self-publishing a print book. It’s an investment and a gamble. In the meantime I will continue to solicit agents and publishing houses.

     But it goes without saying that one cannot self-publish without publicity and marketing strategies, the formation of which can be terribly overwhelming, unless one hires a strategist, another option I opted for.

     While the help of a strategist can be invaluable, the implementation by the author of the worked-out strategy can be as demanding as a full time job. And make no mistake: a strategist is not a publicist. That may have to come next, unless I learn the nuances of public relations.

     To me the trade and mass production publishing process is reminiscent of the tenure rout in academia or the road to becoming a full partner in a large law firm, though academicians and lawyers may disagree.

     What else have I learned this week? That Createspace publishes e-books for free but first I need to hire an e-book conversion service to format my Word document into a pre-conversion document. Lulu charges $150 (250 pp.) to convert a formatted manuscript into an e-book, and $150 for a simple cover design. But since I do have an idea of the design I want for my book cover, I may have to hire a designer too. And, because of my technological ineptness I have to hire a technology maven to help me build an optimized website on my blog, teach me how to find other bloggers in my book community, and how to do other things which are the secrets of self-promotion.

     Am I inundated with work? Certainly. Am I complaining? May be, a little. But I am also excited and exhilarated by what I am learning and by the newness of it all, and by the surprises that are awaiting me in my path to telling my story.

     And now it’s time for me to change hats and resume the responsibility of an educator and observer of international relations and Middle East politics, and go read more about the consequences of the Korans burning in Afghanistan; the “overwhelming approval” of a “new” constitution in Syria, and the continuous slaughter of civilians by Assad’s regime; Friday’s parliamentary elections in Iran; today’s meeting between Presidents Obama and Peres in Washington, the meeting there between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu on Monday; the prospect of war between Israel and Iran and the Obama Administration’s stand on the military option in its attempt to stop Iran from producing a nuclear weapon.  And then I’ll watch The Good Wife for fun. 

     Please feel free to comment below.


  1. Ziva,

    I am pretty sure it's not hard to get a publication grant from the PSC-CUNY Research Fund. Just look under their various programs at their rf site. The regular cycle just ended in mid-Jan. But try if there are any off-cycle apps. Check with the grant office.

    Good luck,


  2. It is all overwhelming, but you kicked me into gear, onto the road to website and self promotion. Did Hemingway have to go through this?
    Linda Rosen