Upper Peninsula Writers Conference focuses on indie publishing, small presses

Lloyd Wescoat and Laura Smythe

Copper Harbor chutzpah is alive and well: The mirthful, masterful mavens of Mudminnow Press open the conference with a lively learning session. Accomplished poet and book designer Laura Smyth, right, https://www.facebook.com/smythtype and Grandpa’s Barn bookstore owner Lloyd Wescoat https://www.facebook.com/grandpasbarnis kept us chuckling during an informative free-flowing exchange about what it’s like to create and operate a successful publishing company – and how we define success. It’s not about the money, although breaking even and even showing a small profit is reason for celebration. This press puts out quality children’s titles, among other notable works http://mudminnowpress.com/ Lloyd, a long-time educator, is dedicated to Calumet Friends of the Library http://www.clkschools.org/library The facility doesn’t receive robust funding so volunteers are essential to keeping the Copper Country’s northernmost library vital. Authors who wish to speak to the group are welcome to contact her at any of these links. The third of the Mudminnow trio, writer Lesley DuTemple, was not able to attend the conference. Laura joked that it’s probably a good thing, as the Amazon Scout program presentation would have been irksome. Laura, who earned her MFA from Columbia University’s Creative Writing Program, is offering a summer workshop, the Art of Writing, ($75) Aug. 15 in beautiful Copper Harbor. Learn more about the creative retreat in one of the most magical places on Earth: http://keweenawwritersworkshop.com (906-370-8833)

The Upper Peninsula Authors and Publishers Conference in Marquette each spring is a rare opportunity for writers around the region to come together. This year’s sessions included everything from word games to a practical talk on how to make a living freelance writing. For me the tone felt distinctly indie, with self-publishing favored over the traditional route, which was dismissed as more difficult and less profitable.

Self vs. Traditional publishing

Last year I won a copy of “My Heart Smiles.” This year I won this book about digital printing. Two for two. Sweet! Haven’t looked at it yet – ‘Dummy’ branding feels dated to me. Also hate formatting in general, a big reason why I wanted a more traditional publishing deal.

The audience has a lot to do with the success of such events. Even an off-hand suggestion can make a project better, as WLUC TV-6 weatherman Karl Bohnak explained https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYUoHapQePU to the group. His book title was changed from So Cold a Sky: Upper Peninsula Storm History to So Cold a Sky: Upper Peninsula Storm Stories when someone at a book-writing seminar noted that “stories” is more appealing than “history.” http://www.amazon.com/Cold-Upper-Michigan-Weather-Stories/dp/097781890X

My Heart Smiles

Diana Oman, author of My Heart Smiles http://www.myheartsmiles.net/ funded her uplifting ABC book for all ages through a Kickstarter campaign. Her pep talk on out-of-the-box marketing was all about doing what feels good, coming from a place of positivity and connecting with a spirit of happy helpfulness no matter the topic of your book. It’s funny to think of author Sonny Longtine doing that with Wading in Blood: Murders in Michigan. He went with a publisher for a revised book focusing on U.P. murders. Joking about how he was actually forced to dig up a few more murder cases for the book, Longtine said the quality of the publisher-produced book wasn’t as good as his self-published project http://www.amazon.com/Wading-Blood-Michigan-Sonny-Longtine/dp/B00314SAIG, citing issues such as photo quality.

Bohnak, on the “Working with a Traditional Publisher vs. Self-Publishing” panel, also had less-than-ideal experiences with an academic-traditional publisher combo. He says that if you’re looking for image quality and complete control, it’s best to work with a reputable publisher and pay to have everything done properly. He never considered any other route for “Storm Stories.” http://www.pulicereport.com/2010/02/interview-ron-jolly-and-karl-bohnak-coauthors-of-michigans-upper-peninsula-almanac.html

The choice between a lousy publisher and doing an excellent job publishing your book on your own is clear.

You go with the excellence.

But in real life I don’t think all publishers are slip-shod any more than I believe Amazon is the Antichrist.

I think it’s not one or the other.

I think your perfect publishing model, like mine, could be unique to your situation. It could be a hybrid.

Know this: It is NOT impossible to land a publishing contract. It’s not a one-in-10-million shot. It happens all the time.

Know this, too: Vanity press shysters abound. Waves of alarm rippled through the audience when a fellow scribe said he’s mentoring a writer who went against his indie-publishing recommendation and chose a “top” publisher who asked for thousands up front. If you’re asked to pay any amount of money to have your book published then you’re not dealing with a top publisher. You’re being ripped off. The crème de la crème do not ever ask you to pay.

And also, know there are some services you shouldn’t do yourself: You must have your book edited. Before you submit it anywhere. Or before you self-publish. It’s not debatable. All three panelists chose self-publishing because they wanted quality. Quality means your work is edited. Not by you. Not by your cousin’s daughter’s boyfriend who is really good at English. By a professional.

A good editor will run at least $1,000 per book. Perhaps you can swap out services or figure out another way to trade for in-kind services. A couple of names came up at the conference. Message me or inquire in the reply section and I’ll pass them along. There are others. Always ask for recommendations before you hire an unknown. In most cases you should also pay for cover design and formatting, unless you have a lot of experience in either discipline. And even then, objectivity and another pair of eyes are vital.

I’m happy with my publishing contract for More Than You Think You Know. http://www.beatingwindward.com/books.html The traditional path with the twist of a small press is for me a dream come true. I have faith in this quirky press with a young, talented publisher and bold ideas. We’ve meshed well so far, worked out a fair deal and are in sync with our desire to create a can’t-put-it-down experience for readers. “The book is very good, but with a directed rewrite I think it can be incredible,” my publisher wrote in his acceptance letter. He continually reminds me that changes are optional, that suggestions are just that and that everything is up for discussion. So dire conference talk about losing control of your book doesn’t ring true for me. And as an editor as well as a writer who’s so accustomed to working independently for me it’s a joyful feeling to put myself in the hands of editors who know what they’re doing and can teach me new, fun techniques.

So maybe – probably – you won’t land a six-figure publishing contract with a huge house that hands over hefty advances and sells the Hollywood script rights for a jillion dollars. So what?  I didn’t hear anyone at the conference say they’re earning a six-figure income by self-publishing either. If you’re writing books to get rich, well, good luck with that. As UPPAA president Tyler Tichelaar https://tylerrtichelaar.wordpress.com/ says, he writes his novels because he has to and for him that has been so since he was a teen-ager.

Next year I’d like to see more on traditional publishing. I’d like to hear from a literary agent. I’d also like nitty-gritty tips from book-selling veterans of the dog-and-pony show circuit. How many book copies do you take, what tents are best, et al. And also maybe something on how to give a book talk as an author. Do you have ideas for conference topics next year or want to find more about membership? Contact the group through its blog http://uppaa.org/

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3 thoughts on “Upper Peninsula Writers Conference focuses on indie publishing, small presses

  1. How did I not know you were a Michigan writer as well? Wish I had known about the conference. It would have been a nice mini vacation up north.

    • Maybe next year you can come. Would be so great to meet in person. Would be cool if you could be a presenter. Let me know if that interests you. Your social media savvy would be helpful for both our established and new writers. Rock on, fellow Michigander!

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