Melinda Worth Popham is no stranger to the pages of Publishers Weekly. Back in October of 1990, her novel Skywater and its publisher, Graywolf Press, were featured in an article titled “What a Small Press Can Do." Twenty-six years later, her self-published memoir, Grace Period – about the spiritual journey that resulted from the end of her marriage and daughter’s struggles with depression -- received a starred review, with PW calling the book “impeccably written” and Popham the “highbrow, refined, spiritual sister to Anne Lamott.”
However, Grace Period’s publication was not without challenges. Popham finished the manuscript five years after the death of her long-time agent – and was initially unsure of what to do with it. All her previous work had been published by traditional houses such as Houghton Mifflin, Norton, St. Martin’s Press, and Ballantine. But when she showed Grace Period to agents, they were impressed but unsure how to sell the book. Should it go to a Christian publisher or a general trade publisher?
“Unless it is deemed literary nonfiction, traditional publishers seem wary of and vaguely embarrassed by spiritual material,” Popham says. “That dilemma is what makes self-publishing easier: There is no need to categorize your material in order to get it published.”
While she was no DIY expert, Popham was familiar with the self-publishing company iUniverse via the Authors Guild Back in Print program, which helps writers republish out-of-print titles via print-on-demand technology. Her novel Skywater had been a part of the program since 2001. And while Popham was confident that she wanted to continue with iUniverse, she did her research before taking the leap into self-publishing.
We asked Popham to share some tips for other indie authors:
Learn What Constitutes Fair Use
“Dealing with copyrights and permissions for quoted material is a huge hassle. And with self-publishing, [these] issues are up to you to resolve -- and you can’t move on to editorial evaluation until you do! I spent two months clearing up memoir-related privacy matters and fair use issues with my 31 chapter epigraphs and numerous scriptural quotations.
Cut Costs Where You Can…
“Look for places where you can ‘brown-bag it’ instead of paying ‘a la carte’ prices for your online publisher’s add-on service fees. When my first-round editorial evaluation came back with suggestions for hefty structural and developmental work in order to achieve [iUniverse’s] Editor’s Choice status, I engaged my own known, outside editor instead of going for their pricey in-house editorial service…I both saved big bucks and achieved my desired outcome.”
…But Don’t Skimp
“If you believe in the literary caliber of your book and want a thoroughly professional-grade result, invest in each stage of the process: editorial, copyediting, and proofreading.”