Ladean Warner’s first two novels were produced by self-publishing companies.
She wasn’t satisfied with the result.
She felt that the books were overpriced and that the companies didn’t provide much in the way of marketing, even though her first book, the Saratoga Countyset suspense novel “The Keeper of Darkness,” was Publish America’s No. 1 best-selling fiction book for nine months. Publish America is a Maryland-based print-on-demand book publisher.
So when it came time to think about publishing her forthcoming novel, “The Hollow,” Warner decided that what she really wanted to do was start her own company and publish it herself. Last fall, she and her husband, Joe Adamiszyn, founded Open Door Publishers, with the goal of putting out their own work, as well as the work of other aspiring authors.
“This started with me and my dream to be a published author someday,” said Warner, who lives in Malta. “There are a lot of people out there who have always had the dream of being published.”
Warner doesn’t consider Open Door a self-publishing company, although authors do pay printing and handling costs.
“We’re not a self-publishing company,” she said. “We do not accept everything that comes to us. … Our vision is to give authors a platform they otherwise wouldn’t have and help them see their dreams come true. If we think there’s something there, we will work with people.”
Warner said she works closely with authors and tries to give them the editing and publicity they need for their book to succeed. So far, Open Door has published seven books and has five in the pipeline. The authors, all local, have produced works of poetry, romance and memoirs.
More writers are opting to publish their books using non-traditional models, such as self-publishing companies or smaller, locally based publishers. Many of them are fed up with the publishing industry, which they believe is overly focused on celebrity authors and no longer interested in cultivating talented young writers or taking risks on promising first novels. Digital technology and social media makes it easier for them to publish and promote their own work.
Susan Novotny co-founded The Troy Book Makers in 2006 because she felt sorry for self-published authors.
Novotny owns two independent bookstores, The Book House at Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany and Market Block Books in Troy, and she is often approached by selfpublished writers who want to sell their books in her stores.
“In almost all instances, they pay a lot of money for very little,” she said. “It breaks my heart. They spend thousands of dollars, with no knowledge of how they’re going to sell their book or market it.”
She said she believed she could bring more quality to self-publishing. “I felt I could do it better,” she said. “I felt I could give people a beautiful book and help them market it a little better.”
The Troy Book Makers has produced about 300 titles and averages about 100 titles a year, according to Melissa Batalin, its art director. The company publishes a combination of memoirs, fiction, poetry and guidebooks; popular titles include “The Ultimate Flower Gardener’s Top Ten Lists,” by Kerry Ann Mendez, and “A Man Named Nebraska,” by former Albany City Councilman Nebraska Brace.
“The most successful books are the ones where the author is already really tied into an audience,” Batalin said. “Even with traditional publishing, the authors who sell the best are the ones who are already out there.”
QUESTION OF RESPECT
Whether self-publishing is losing its stigma is a matter of debate.
“It’s a lot more common, but I don’t think there’s less of a stigma,” said Claudia Ricci, a lecturer in English at the University at Albany who has self-published two novels, including one, 2002’s “Dreaming Maples,” that was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. “The New York Times is not going to review a selfpublished book.”
But Batalin believes self-published authors are getting more respect. “A lot of the stigma for self-publishing has disappeared, since there are fewer and fewer titles being traditionally published,” she said.
The self-publishing industry has produced some high-profi le success stories. One author, Minnesota-based Amanda Hocking, self-published her nine young-adult paranormal novels online last year, and by March had sold almost 1 million copies. That month, she signed a $2 million, four-book deal with New York City-based St. Martin’s Press.
In 2010, Novotny announced the formation of her own small print company, Staff Picks Press, with the goal of publishing talented writers who have failed to attract interest from New York City-based publishers.
“There are massive changes going on in the New York commercial industry, and authors are being overlooked,” Novotny said. “Their agents can’t get anywhere unless they’ve written a proven blockbuster. … What publishers are trying to do is give readers one James Patterson after another. They don’t want to spend money developing an author. They want to be successful right out of the gate. I said, ‘Maybe what I need to do is fi nd a talented author.’”
Staff Picks Press’ first novel, “Comeback Love,” by Guilderland writer Peter Golden, came out last fall. It garnered positive reviews from Novotny’s peers in the independent bookstore industry and sold well. This early success helped attract the attention of major publishers, and the book was purchased at auction by Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, one of the four largest English-language publishers.
“I originally told Sue to print 300 copies, but there was so much interest in the book, we did 2,000,” Golden said.
Novotny said the speed with which Golden’s book was picked up by a major publisher didn’t surprise her. “I passed the book around, and readers liked it,” she said. “They said they’d recommend it, and I knew the book had what it took to sell a lot of copies.”
She said the website for Staff Picks Press is still under construction, but she’s received other manuscripts from writers who heard about the company “through the grapevine.”
“We will be stewarding some very talented authors,” Novotny promised.
Golden plans to revise “Comeback Love” before it is released next year by Atria. It is his fi rst novel, one he first wrote in the 1970s and that an agent tried unsuccessfully to sell years ago.
FLOCKS OF AUTHORS
There are more aspiring writers than there used to be, and agents and editors are inundated with manuscripts, which makes it harder to get published, Golden said.
“When I first started writing, any young talented writer could fi nd an agent who would give you a shot,” Golden, 57, said. “Now, the acquisition process is clogged. It’s hard to push a first novel through. It’s very hard to catch people’s attention. … Publishers are hamstrung by economic reality and the fact that there are so many books.”
Golden has written and published non-fiction, including “Quiet Diplomat,” a biography of industrialist Max M. Fisher, and “I Rest My Case: My Long Journey from the Castle on the Hill to Home,” about J. Stanley Shaw, a preeminent bankruptcy attorney. “O Powerful Western Star,” a history of the Cold War, will come out in the fall.
Glens Falls resident Larry Dudley recently launched The Hudson Press, which will specialize in publishing electronic books. The company has released three novels and a book on sexual trauma by a local psychiatrist, K. Elan Jung. There are other books in the pipeline, according to Dudley, including a book on writing by Mark Mahoney, the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial page editor for the Glens Falls Post Star.
The Hudson Press is not a selfpublishing company, Dudley said. “We will be accepting submissions,” he said. “We will not publish everything.”
Dudley said he views the Hudson Press as a launching pad for new writers, and writers who attract the attention of major publishers will be allowed to resell their work. “A lot of people are rejecting books we know are perfectly saleable,” he said. “We’re giving people a chance to break in by proving their work will sell online.”
One of the novels published by The Hudson Press is a spy novel written by Dudley in the 1980s, “Forty-Eight Land.” He said he finished the book around the time the Cold War ended, and he had several agents, who each tried to sell the book, but the market for spy novels had tanked. “One of the perks of being a publisher is that you can publish your own book,” he said.
Dudley said one of the questions the company will try to address is what e-books should be like. “We’re making it up as we go along,” he said. “Should they be a multimedia project? Should there be video embedded in it? Whether people want video in a book … that’s still unclear.”
Troy publicist Duncan Crary has helped writers release their work digitally. One of those writers, local attorney Jack Casey, published his long-gestating book, “The Trial of Bat Shea,” as an electronic book for the Kindle and the iPad earlier this year.
“The whole industry is changing,” Crary said. “Authors are adapting to new circumstances. You can now take on the role of a publishing house as an individual.”
Crary produces the podcast of Saratoga Springs author and social critic James Kunstler and is working on a book of transcripts from the show. A small Canadian publisher will produce about 7,500 copies of the book and allow Crary to purchase 500 copies and sell them to his own audience through Facebook, Twitter and other tools. “I can make more money from books I sell myself than from the royalties,” he said.
Ricci’s book “Drowning Maples” was completed in 1996, and she was briefly represented by the same agent as the writer Joyce Carol Oates, who she met on one of Oates’ visits to the University at Albany. But the book didn’t sell. Another agent tried to sell the book a few years later, but was also unsuccessful.
“It took a lot of guts to work up the psychic energy to self-publish,” Ricci said. But she’s glad she did it because it made a book she spent about seven years working on available.
“Being a writer of novels is very lonely,” she said. “I spent fi ve years writing the first book and another two editing it.”
Ricci had her latest novel, “Seeing Red,” printed at The Troy Book Makers.
“I thought it was hard to sell books in 2002, but it’s 10 times harder today,” Ricci said. “Every single person has so many options for reading. It’s a din. How does anybody bring any single book to the attention of the public? The hardest thing is to convince people your book is worth their time and money. It’s hard to publish books. Not that many people love to read.”
Open Door’s name is taken from the Bible verse “See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.” But the company does not specialize in Christian books.
“People find out when they try to publish that the publishing industry is a closed industry,” Warner said. “We want to be an open door for everybody.”