Goblin Fern Press
Contact Us
About us
Press Releases and Articles
Speakers Bureau
The Publishing Institute
Booked To Dream

There's More Than One Way To Get Published

The Capital Times :: BUSINESS :: 1E

Thursday, August 11, 2005

By Susan Troller The Capital Times

In her former life as a personal career coach, publisher Kira Henschel discovered that many of her clients had an unfulfilled longing to write a book.

"Many, many people believe they have a book in them, and writing it is an unrealized dream."

But as an ex-production manager for a publishing company and an international translator, Henschel also realized that many would-be authors' ambitions exceeded their skills. So she decided to launch a business to help people with publishing dreams get their ideas on paper, into print and out into the marketplace.

In May 2002, Henschel opened Goblin Fern Press in Madison to provide personal publishing services, and help with marketing and distribution aimed especially at assisting novice writers. She calls it a custom publishing house; her services include extensive book coaching, editing, marketing and distribution, as well as helping authors deal with designers and illustrators and negotiate with printers for actual publication.

As such, Goblin Fern Press goes far beyond the traditional and often maligned purview of other subsidy (or vanity) presses, where authors pay a fee to get published. Some notorious subsidy presses will take, for a price, virtually any manuscript, regardless of quality, for publication, often leaving the hapless amateur author with a longer-than-life supply of poorly designed, awkwardly edited books, gathering dust in the basement.

"Each person who walks in the door has a different motivation for wanting to write a book. I encourage writers to take a thoughtful look at their intentions, and to develop a serious and realistic business plan on how to market their book if it's their intention to make money on the project," Henschel said.

"For some writers it's an ego thing. Others recognize that what they have to say has a limited audience; they're basically realistic that their project is for friends and family members. Others are exploring an idea or testing their work and ambitions. Still others have a best-seller in mind," she said.

In the last three years, Henschel and her staff, which includes managing editor Robin Willard and several interns, have helped dozens of writers get their projects off the ground. Goblin Fern typically publishes between 10 and 20 titles annually.

"I want every client to have a book they are proud of in terms of content, look and feel. Robin and I are purists about books, no matter how small the run, or limited the audience," Henschel said.

This has been a banner year, with three Goblin Fern authors nominated for awards from the Midwest Independent Publishers Association and ForeWord Magazine, a national publication that reviews independently published books.

Fueled by changes in technology that increasingly allow books to be designed and published in small runs, Goblin Fern is part of an exploding trend in publishing.

According to industry figures, there are about 73,000 presses that publish fewer than 10 works a year. That number appears to be expanding rapidly as more and more entrepreneurial authors set up their own publishing ventures to handle a book or series of books they intend to bring to market themselves, rather than relying on traditional publishing channels.

But Henschel noted that just because someone wants to write a book, or has written a manuscript, it doesn't mean that it should be published.

"Most of what we see -- probably 60 to 70 percent -- is not ready for publication, but that's where we come in. In our first half-hour consultation, which is free, we can get a pretty good idea of what we can, or can't do to move a project forward."

Henschel said she simply turns down some projects because of subject matter or poor quality.

"We initially had a shotgun approach, but over time we've narrowed our focus a bit.," she said. "Today I'd say we specialize in people stories, primarily non-fiction."

For example, Goblin Fern helped a family publish the story of their father's life to celebrate his 80th birthday. Just 36 copies were published, and have become family treasures. A run that small is unusual, she said.

More typical was a military history Goblin Fern published last year entitled "Leave No Man Behind" about author Garnett "Bill" Bell's search for American POW/MIAs from the Vietnam War. His 450-page tome had a run of 3,000 books, which is about average for a Goblin Fern book, Henschel said.

With Henschel's help, some of Goblin Fern's authors have chosen to develop their books under their own self-publishing labels rather than Goblin Fern's. Joanne Faye Ritland of Madison, for example, has written what she hopes will be the first of a series of children's books aimed at several different age groups under the imprint of her Joanne Faye Press. Her book is trademarked as "A Lovey Bedtime Book."

Many authors besides those represented by Goblin Fern have chosen to go the self-publishing route, including, in some cases, the development of their own publishing company. Linda Desimowich and Stacey Kannenberg of Fredonia launched their award-winning kids' book, "Let's Get Ready for Kindergarten!" under the imprint of their own Cedar Valley Publishing. They are aggressively promoting the book, which outlines the core kindergarten curriculum, and is aimed at ages 2-6 and their parents.

The book has been distributed in or purchased by about 30 school districts in Wisconsin, they said. Desimowich and Kannenberg intend to develop a series of books, one for every grade, that tells parents and kids what they are expected to know academically each year.

The idea is simple, but their ambitions are considerable as they crisscross the state with books in the back seat of their car, making media appearances and pitching their project.

"We're on a mission to get the books in all schools," Kannenberg said. "As parents we looked for a book like ours, found that none existed and decided to write and self-publish it ourselves."

Steve Kihm is a modest self-publishing success story who published his children's book under the Goblin Fern Press imprint. Kihm, a financial analyst for the Public Service Commission, wrote "The Lost Candy Bar," which recently won an award from the Midwest Independent Publishers Association, and sold out its first run of 1,000 books. Kihm has begun to get invitations for paid author appearances, where he signs, and sells, his books to enthusiastic audiences.

Aimed at young readers, "The Lost Candy Bar" tells the tale of an ill-fated but amusing fishing trip Kihm took as a boy with his cranky grandfather. It began, Kihm says, as an e-mail text he jotted down for a friend's child in about an hour.

"I wasn't intending to write a book, I was just telling a favorite family story," he admitted.

But one thing led to another. He worked with Goblin Fern, hired an illustrator, and worked with an attorney for advice on how to handle the use of a candy bar with a trademarked name in his story. For the second run of 2,500 books, Kihm has purchased the rights to the illustrations, hired a publicist, developed a Web site and raised the price of the book.

"The intangibles of being an author have been really, really satisfying. I love talking to people about the book," Kihm said. Although the Hershey candy company sent him a box of over 400 chocolate bars, and he has had success selling out his book's first printing, Kihm said firmly he is not planning to quit his day job anytime soon.

Authors trying to market their self-published books are finding new opportunities with the Internet and other outlets, but often run into some dead ends when they pursue conventional avenues for getting their books in front of an audience.

Because traditionally the quality of self-published books has been suspect, bookstores and media (including The Capital Times) generally decline to sell or review books that authors have paid to get in print. So authors must find other ways to peddle their books.

Heather Lee Schroeder, a books columnist for The Capital Times and master's candidate in the creative writing program at the University of Wisconsin, said there is the widespread notion that there is no real vetting process for self-published work.

"Frankly, things that shouldn't see the light of day often do," she said.

And Jerry Minnich, a former regional publisher who sold his Prairie Oak Press to the Trails Media Group several years ago, observed, "There's still a lot of cachet in being a writer, particularly a published writer. But many of the rules have changed in the last decade, and are continuing to change."

Goblin Fern Press is an imprint of HenschelHaus Publishing, Inc.

Goblin Fern Press | 2625 S. Greeley St., Suite 201, Milwaukee, WI 53207 | Tel: 608-576-9747
Fax: (262) –565-2058 | [email protected]