“My goal,” says new author Dick Linford, “is to sell a minimum of 2,000 copies.”
“Why that number?” I ask.
“I have no idea.”
Thirty-five years ago I worked for Dick as a river guide, and I’m happy to be one of his 2,000 purchasers. His book, Halfway to Halfway, co-authored with fellow raft company owner, Bob Volpert, is a rollicking series of river stories, told by Dick, Bob and former river guides.
The writers are a remarkably literate group despite the great quantity of alcohol, adrenalin, and ask-kicking adventure that, judging from the book, filled their former lives.
Unlike other whitewater books, this one encompasses not only on-river hazards and razor-close rescues, but also camping and the quirky off-river adventures of river people.
Current and former river guides will find themselves happily awash in memory while reading these stories, and clients who have taken several trips might be intrigued, but Dick freely admits that the potential audience for his book is small.
From the beginning he knew it was self-publish, or not publish at all.
Although self-published books currently flood the landscape like a rain-swollen river, Dick is the first self-published author I’ve interviewed. Others might be preparing to take the plunge, so today I share what I learned from him.
Self-publishing brings a problem right out of the gate: its history. In the old days, every self-published book carried a whiff of failure, because a self-published book was a book no publisher wanted. Self-publishing was also expensive. Few people did it and for their efforts they were called the “vanity press.”
Even today, self-published books have no quality control. As Dick puts it, “there’s still a lack of respect for self-published books and probably rightly so. Certainly suspicion out there.”
The paradigm, however, is shifting. It is easier and cheaper to publish on your own, and if you market your book effectively, and if it is actually a good book, copies will sell. For a specialized book like Dick’s, 2,000 sounds realistic.
For someone who loves riding rapids, publishing a book feels glacially slow.
“We’ve spent longer on this than Tolstoy writing War and Peace longhand,” Dick laughs. Time-consuming activities included corresponding with co-authors, editing, proof-reading, and going back and forth with the book designer about the cover and layout.
With the exception of typos, however, (“We’ll hire a proofreader next time!”) Dick is happy with the outcome. The designer, in particular, was money well spent.
Dick and his partner chose CreateSpace, a subsidiary of Amazon, to produce their book. Amazon provides a modicum of publicity — a listing on amazon.com — and sells the book both in electronic and print versions. Amazon retains 40 percent of the profit, but the process is inexpensive enough for Dick and his partner to have recouped their costs after selling 600 books.
“You hate to go with the big dog,” says Dick, “But they provided so much for us that we couldn’t go elsewhere. Most of our sales have been through amazon.”
(Since talking with him, I’ve learned about I Street Press, located in Sacramento and affiliated with the public library, where you can watch your own book being printed on a big machine. It must be a hit because their Website now says, “I Street is accepting new publishing assignments on a limited basis because the press has been overwhelmed with orders.”)
No matter how much you struggle to write a book, marketing it is harder.
Independent retailers, Dick learned, face extensive paperwork for self-published titles and uneven quality, so it’s hard to get them to carry your book. Rare is the book-signing that fills every seat. You can make sales through good reviews on amazon, but savvy purchasers know that when a book is self-published most of the early reviewers are friends.
Getting reviewed in other publications is difficult due to immense competition. Dick managed to cop a mention in “Central Oregon Arts & Entertainment” (2,000 subscribers) but said, “I had to write the piece myself.”
This, even though Halfway to Halfway is a good read.
Dick reports, “Our best retail outlet is the North Fork Store, when you come off the Middle Fork River in Idaho. It seems like after a six-day wilderness trip people need to spend money. Thirty books sold really fast.”
I’ve been to that store, situated on a godforsaken corner between one empty road and another. It’s crowded only when 25 boaters, just off the river, pour out of their bus to buy ice cream.
And, I guess, books.
Dick tells me that his wife is amazed at how hard he’s marketing his book, considering his shy side. (I thought Dick was as shy as a billboard, but maybe I’m wrong. Hawking something you’ve written could make anybody shy.)
But the number of books sold, while important, isn’t everything. I detect pride in authorship even as Dick says, “If you’re planning to get rich, you’re in for a big disappointment.”
He continues, “I was so excited when I got our first books. I showed Halfway to Halfway to everybody who would stand still.”
Publication apparently makes grown men speak like children’s writers.
Button-holing his friends, Dick crowed, “I wrote a book. Look. I wrote a book.”
Marion Franck is a columnist for the Davis Enterprise. She is a part-time resident of El Dorado County.