July 30th, 2008

Godzilla Breath

Brunonia Barry, The Lace Reader, and The Lessons No One Will Learn From Her Success

By now you may have heard of Brunonia Barry. She just sold a book called The Lace Reader -- a murder mystery involving Salem Wiccans with the power to read the future in pieces of lace -- to William Morrow in a reported two-book, $2 million deal. While this in and of itself is remarkable, what's truly extraordinary about this story is the same thing that may make you cringe about it.

With a draft of her novel completed, Brunonia Barry of Salem, Massachusetts wanted to find an audience. But instead of chasing after publishers - often a discouraging task for any new author - she and her husband took a different tack. They published "The Lace Reader" on their own.

Then something amazing happened: Buzz exploded around the book, both online and in stores, and mainstream publishers came calling. In October, a literary auction was held, and Barry sold the book, and a future one, for more than $2 million.

Prepare for the worst, fellow writers! Every self-publishing nitwit across the internet will be pointing to this story as validation. And when they do, here's what you can tell them to pop their raging ego bubbles.

You can tell them the truth.

While Barry's motives for self-publishing are foolishly identical to most people's --

Barry was reluctant to seek a publisher. "We decided that we should do it," she said. "We didn't want to turn it over to someone else and wait two years."

-- she went about it in a completely different way. The first thing she did differently? Work and rework the book until it was actually a decent read -- in other words, treating it like it actually mattered, a quality blatantly lacking in most other self-published books I've read, where it seems like the minute the author finishes the first draft he or she is already writing the check to Infinity Publishing or some other POD vanity press.

In 2002, Barry finished a draft and, with advice from an editor friend, spent the next several years tearing the book apart and rewriting it, finishing in 2006.

Writing is rewriting. You go, girl!

And the next -- and biggest -- thing she did differently? She and her husband actually worked their asses off and spent a lot of money -- $50,000 to be exact -- to get the book out there. She didn't just pay iUniverse or BookSurge a grand and sit back, hoping something would happen. Barry and her husband actually and legitimately published the book themselves. That's right, they're real, old-fashioned self-publishers!

They incorporated their company as Flap Jacket Press and planned to release "The Lace Reader" last September. They set up a Web site and hired a copy editor, jacket designer, and book publicist, Kelley & Hall of Marblehead. They attended bookseller conventions, handing out advance copies and buttonholing booksellers. Kelley & Hall sent copies to book bloggers and trade magazines and promotional announcements to 700 independent bookstores.

Read that again. How many Lulu.com nitwits actually put that amount of work into it, or spend that amount of money? Because that's what you have to do. If you self-publish, you are, quite literally, your own publisher. And that means you have to spend money to make money. It means you have to pound the pavement to get distribution. It means you have to work, not hang out on message boards all day crowing about your novel to the same 150 people ad nauseum.

And now, my friends, you are armed with all the knowledge you need to defend yourself against the vanity press egomaniacs when they come at you with this story as proof that the military technothriller they paid XLibris $1500 to publish can and will become just as successful as Brunonia Barry's The Lace Reader.

Oh, and you can tell them one more thing, too:

Had they known how much is involved in publishing and how much it would cost, Barry and Ward say, they might not have tried it. "It's not for the faint of heart," Ward said.