Retired wildlife biologist Carter Niemeyer knew the key to a successful self-published book was its quality. When putting together his first memoir, Wolfer (2012), he and his wife wanted complete control over the project, so they self-published through their own imprint, BottleFly Press. “We were confident that no big publisher could do a better job than all of us put together," Niemeyer says. "We didn’t need the big boys.”
Throughout the process, Niemeyer was always most concerned with reader reactions: “The stories and editing needed to be not just good, but great. That’s the part that’s missing from most self-publishing enterprises. You need to be better than even a big publisher would require of you.” Publishers Weekly called Niemeyer’s second memoir, Wolf Land, “engaging” and a “fascinating look” at wolf programs across North America.
As Wolf Land was Niemeyer's second book, the process was more straightforward and he was able to build off his experience self-publishing Wolfer. However, in the years since Wolfer came out, the self-publishing industry has exploded and standing out in a crowded market has become harder than ever.
To that end, Niemeyer makes extensive use of his Facebook page. He uses it as a platform for his books, but also to highlight current events in the wildlife field, something he says helps book sales.
He also holds events at bookstores and libraries, as well as at universities and for conservation groups. “You never know who you’re going to meet, so always have books with you," he says. "Sending books to ALA events results in sales to libraries and sometimes universities looking to add color to their curriculum.”
Nonetheless, self-publishing isn’t without its challenges. Niemeyer is disappointed that the majority of bookstores are unwilling to even give the books a chance: “Even Wolfer, which has an introduction by Nicholas Evans (The Horse Whisperer) is rarely carried by small bookstores. They need to get over the idea that all self-published books are terrible because one of these days little publishers like us are going to be the norm.”
We asked Niemeyer what his tips for other indie authors would be:
“Hire the best editor you can afford. In fact, borrow money and hire one you can’t afford. Hire one who is not impressed with you, and will not tell you what you want to hear. I’m convinced that if you don’t do this you will end up with self-serving garbage that no one wants to read.”
“Get over yourself. You are not the greatest writer in the world and your words are not pearls. Take the criticism from your editor, discuss it, then rewrite (again and again if that’s what she wants). If you can’t do it, hire a ghost writer with a thick skin. Producing a book is really hard work, and it will make you cry—especially when it’s going to be a damn fine read.”
Less Is More
“Hire the best designer you can afford and keep your covers and interiors simple. Resist the urge to be cute.”