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
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
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
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
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."