The business of books: Local authors discuss what it took to get published

Thursday, February 22, 2007
Southeast Missourian/Fred Lynch Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle signed a copy of his historical novel, "The Gold of Cape Girardeau," for Lesa Hinton of Cape Girardeau at Barnes & Noble on Nov. 2, 2002.

By Ellen Shuck

Business Today

"It took me about 20 years to get from idea into book stores," says Morley Swingle.

His first attempt came at age 19, as a creative writing major in college. The book was rejected, though a professor encouraged Swingle to write about a different subject.

During law school, he wrote yet another unpublished book. Never admitting defeat, Swingle began researching "The Gold of Cape Girardeau" in 1981. Even after revisions, publishers told him unless his name was Michener, no one would read a book "that" fat. He continued rewriting and revising. One publisher liked the book but said it failed to fit into their niches, like fiction, history and such.

University Press recognized its value and published the historical fiction. Swingle's presently working on publishing two other books. "Scoundrels to the Hoosegow" by April 2007 and the sequel to Gold of Cape Girardeau by Christmas. His best advice: Never give up.

Publishing books takes money. The publisher absorbs the cost of publishing and advertises Swingle's book; the contract grants them rights to the book. Both receive percentages of book sales. If a movie's ever produced, profit is halved.

There are many ways to get a book published. Ned Matthews of Sikeston, Mo., chose another route in getting his book published and onto store shelves. "The Historical Adventures of a Pioneer Family" took six years to research and write, going into circulation in 2005. After four years of writing, a professor told Matthews the book was important historically and should be published. Matthews commissioned University Press to handle it after obtaining bids from various printing companies. Unlike Swingle, Matthews wanted ownership of the book so he paid publishing costs. His book is on Amazon.com, and the Barnes and Noble Web site, to name a few markets. The Press provides book stores, including the Southeast Missouri State University bookstore, with Matthews' books. The publisher keeps track of sales, deducting their commission. The rest goes to Matthews who sells books too.

Cape author Lisa Simmons used yet another method to get her series for youth, "The Kip MacAllister Adventures", on the market. After writing the first book, she looked for ways to publish it. Simmons wanted her children and relatives' children to read the books during their teen years. Simmons decided to self-publish by contracting with a company to handle the process. She absorbed all costs. Options were available concerning the layout of her book. She bypassed the usual rejections from publishers that most writers endure. Only an affordable and reputable company would be adequate. Since Simmons lacked time or desire to wait for a publisher to "accept" her book she's satisfied with her choice. Six published books are now to Simmons's credit in the series.

The biggest challenge to self-publishing is promoting the book.

"You must advertise the book yourself. I send flyers to whomever I think will buy and spread the word," says Simmons. "I also donate books to schools, book stores and other markets I think of. My publishing company places it on Amazon.com and the Barnes and Noble and I Universe Web sites enabling people to order online."

Simmons says she's too shy to adequately promote the book. That's a challenge she hopes to overcome. She keeps track of sales and when anxious about profit she remembers her enjoyment of writing. Simmons' book sales steadily rise as the author continues her series.

Marcia and Dr. C. John Ritter took still a different approach to publish their two books. One about life on the island of Barbuda; and For the Love of God, for the Love of man tells about experiences in Liberia W. Africa. The Ritters wanted people to learn about living conditions in Third World Countries. Theirs' was a mission effort. The Ritters put the books together using spiral binding after paying a local printer to print them.

By bearing expenses themselves, they cut corners. The Ritters took pictures and did the layout themselves before submitting them for printing. Marcia typed and scanned on her computer during spare time. This type of self publishing served the Ritters' need to get the books out quicker. They sold them at cost to get them in the hands of potential donors to the people in Third World Countries. They were asked later to republish -- but publishing gets expensive and Dr. C. John had become ill, by then.

Southeast Missouri State University Press was started to educate students in the publishing business.

"We needed a class to teach students the trade so they could obtain jobs in the field, stated Dr. Susan Swartwout, professor of the Department of English and publisher of University Press at Southeast.

"University Press publishes a variety of good writing that will market," says Swartwout. Ten books were published last year and four more are coming out this year. We also publish Big Muddy, a semi-annual journal that contains different kinds of writing: essays, poetry, fiction, photography; everything."

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