Recently, two of the self-published titles reviewed in PW Select’s inaugural edition in December 2010 were picked up by the Amazon Encore publishing imprint. Both are memoirs: Laurel Saville’s Postmortem (which has been retitled Unraveling Anne) and Tim Anderson’s Tune in Tokyo: The Gaijin Diaries. PW spoke with Saville and Anderson about their journeys from self-publishing to Amazon Publishing, and learned that their experiences—and reactions to them—were remarkably similar.
Laurel Saville: Unraveling Self-Publishing
PW Select’s review said Postmortem “documents [Saville’s] stormy relationship with her mother, gifted artist and designer Ann Ford, who socialized with the likes of Marlon Brando and Claes Oldenburg, but whose schizophrenia, drinking, and drug use led to homelessness and a tragic end.” Saville began writing the book while she was in the M.F.A. program at Bennington College; her mentor brought the finished manuscript to the attention of his own agent. After a couple of years of submitting it, though, Saville says, “There was lots of praise but no takers, for a variety of reasons that were vague and undefined. One editor had it for a year, then declined.”
Saville’s marketing background helped her understand the rejections. “I knew that other things affected it. For example, at the time a lot of memoirs were being exposed as fraudulent, so some of the publishers were skittish. And later, I wondered if it would have been better received by a West Coast editor, because the book was set in Los Angeles.”
When her agent had exhausted all the options, Saville decided to self-publish, using iUniverse in 2010. Fortunately, as a corporate communications professional, Saville, who resides in upstate New York, understands self-promotion, branding, and presentation. “I made sure I purchased high-quality editing and proofreading services, and hired a great graphic designer in Los Angeles. I hired two different book publicists: one did the traditional PR stuff, and she got some nice reviews, a feature in the Albany Sunday paper, magazines, and some blogger interest. The other publicist specialized in social media, both traditional and user-generated content sites. And because I have a marketing background, I made sure I had a very comprehensive Web site.”
Another element of her marketing strategy included submitting her book to the December 2010 PW Select for review. “I thought it looked like a great opportunity and a great bargain—and obviously it was a pretty good investment.” On January 3, 2011, Saville received an e-mail: “It said, ‘I saw your book reviewed in PW Select and thought I’d download and read a chapter or two. When I looked up, it was four hours later!’” The sender was Terry Goodman, senior editor at the Amazon Encore imprint.
The Los Angeles connection bore fruit: Saville later found out that Goodman grew up in Los Angeles. In addition, the Los Angeles Times Magazine recently commissioned an adaptation of the book, which appeared in its December 3 issue; Saville reports that its editor praised the way she captured an L.A. scene that’s gone now.
Released on November 1 under the new title Unraveling Anne: A Memoir of My Mother’s Reckless Life and Tragic Death (so retitled to avoid confusion with the Patricia Cornwell title Postmortem), Saville says that the book received a new cover, light editing, and a few changes to the prologue. Otherwise, she says, ”There is no perceptible difference from the original.” Since the book’s publication, Saville and her book were twice mentioned in New York Times articles about Amazon Publishing.
“I found Amazon Encore to be very professional. And I find them to be extremely author-focused, so much so that other authors’ eyes pop open when I tell them. Even my agent says I would not have gotten this much support from a traditional publisher. Their attitude is, the author always wins.”
Sales figures were not available at press time; however, Saville noted that “based on Amazon sales rank on December 7 and 8, it’s doing phenomenally well: the print version is #1 in the Memoir/Family & Childhood category, and #9 in the Kindle store in the Biographies & Memoirs/Women category.” She is hopeful about holiday sales: “That’s part of why they put it on sale in November, and it’s working. I see buyers mentioning that they’ve bought multiple copies as gifts.”
For her next project, Saville says she’s working on a novel based on an incident in Unraveling Anne, and her agent is trying to place some essays. “And, yes, she’s my original agent. I’ve been with her about eight years, and she was supportive of my self-publishing. When I told her about the Amazon Encore deal, I asked her how much I owed her, and she said, ‘You owe me nothing—I didn’t get you the contract.’ She’s not jealous or territorial. I keep saying I hope I get a movie deal—not for myself, but for her.”
Saville’s advice to self-published authors: “Make the best, best, best product you can. That means getting it edited, proofread, and a good cover design. Badly produced books—full of typos and grammatical errors—bring down the whole group. If you want someone else to take your work seriously, you have to take it seriously first.”
There’s also a family connection that helps erase any doubt about self-publishing. “My brother-in-law is the head of the prints and rare books department at Christie’s New York. He says the self-published editions of well-known authors’ books are highly sought after as collector’s items, because they were produced in such limited quantities. Right after I ceased publishing Postmortem, I saw it listed used on Amazon, as high as $175,” Saville reports, with a lengthy, hearty laugh. “So it’s such a horrible thing that I self-published, right?"
Tim Anderson: Out of the Rut
Initially, Anderson’s manuscript for Tune in Tokyo: The Gaijin Diaries was shopped around by an agent. As Anderson recalls, “We got lots of nice responses, but wherever we pitched, the marketing departments vetoed everything. They couldn’t decide how to market it, or where it would go on the shelf, etc. So after a few years of pitching, my agent said she’d done all she could do.”
At the time, although Anderson had started writing another book, he says, “I had a nagging feeling: I know there’s a market for this book. I work for a book packager and when the topic of self-publishing came up, my boss said, ‘Do it!’ I went with Amazon CreateSpace. I chose the design myself, and had it proofread and edited by an editor friend of mine.”
Anderson published Tune in Tokyo in June 2010. “I sent it out and did get reviewed a few times here and there, but the book got no traction at all. I was trying to get people to pay attention–and then I saw the PW Select announcement.”
In its review, PW Select described the book: “When Anderson decides his life in North Carolina is in a rut, he chooses to make a dramatic change and moves to Japan to teach English, as he chronicles in this hilarious, enlightening, and insightful memoir. Anderson is tall, white, and extremely gay—all things that distinguish him from the average person in Japan.”
But that wasn’t all. PW’s Adam Boretz also contacted Anderson: “He said it was one of the best reviews in the issue and wanted to profile me.” Boretz’s profile appeared in the same issue, and the two pieces resulted in a call, and a publishing offer, from Amazon Encore’s Terry Goodman.
“I knew that once I got in PW there might be some interest, but I didn’t know it could happen so fast. Terry asked, ‘When do you want this book out?’ I said, in time for Christmas, and it was done. It came out on November 29 .”
Anderson describes working with Amazon Encore as “pretty incredible. They have an incredible editorial and marketing team. There was no developmental editing, just copyediting. They consulted me about the new cover. My original was much simpler because I’m not a designer and I did it myself. They took my cover, reduced the character, and overlaid the Japanese imperial flag over the Tokyo skyline. It’s very striking, and I could imagine it leaping off the shelf to grab people’s eyeballs. I get a lot of compliments on the cover.”
In its categories (Travel/Tokyo; Gay & Lesbian /Travel; and Gay & Lesbian/Biographies & Memoirs), Anderson reports that even after only a week in print, the book has been #1 quite often in both the print and Kindle versions. “I’m hoping that people will buy it as gifts, especially Japan fans—there are a lot of those. That’s why I wanted it available at the end of November.”
Next, Anderson is writing another memoir, which he calls “a gay, diabetic, New Wave memoir of adolescence in the ’80s.” As of now, he has no agent: “I plan on submitting my next manuscript to Terry and hopefully continuing my relationship with them.”
“My advice to other self-published authors is to take advantage of whatever opportunities you might find,” Anderson says. “I had hoped to get a larger audience, but I wanted to find the audience myself. I almost didn’t do the PW Select thing because you had to pay. But I kind of hit the jackpot when I did PW. This has exceeded my expectations.”