ORLANDO – Vikki Hankins remembers how it all began: with hard work, a strong dream … and plenty of disappointment.
Hankins had written a book she called “Trauma.” She felt strongly that it was a powerful story, that there was an audience for this book, that she could successfully market it to the general public. She had completed the first, critical step toward becoming an author — finishing the manuscript. It’s a dream shared by thousands of people who want to put down onto paper a story they really believe in.
And then she followed the same path so many other would-be authors take: she starting sending out her manuscript to all the big publishing firms – Simon & Shuster, HCI, and so on. And she got the exact same response that the vast majority of aspiring authors do: she started collecting a ton of rejection letters.
She was heading in the same direction as so many others: nowhere, and fast. And Hankins knew it.
But she didn’t give up. In fact, she went in an entirely different direction.
“After writing to 30 mainstream publishers, that made me know I was going to have to do it another way,” she said. That was particularly true after writing to HCI, she said, which publishes the Chicken Soup for the Soul books, which she felt was targeted to the same kind of audience she was trying to reach with “Trauma.”
“Heart, soul, spirit … I knew my book fit their criteria,” Hankins said. She resubmitted the book, and once again got rejected.
“Bottom line, they weren’t going to publish my book,” Hankins said. “After that particular company, I knew I was going to have to go a different route.”
Today, “Trauma” is available to be ordered at book stores like Barnes & Noble, or through online sites like Amazon.com.
Not only is Hankins a published author, but today she’s the one who decides if other manuscripts can get published – from standing on the sidelines to being completely in the driver’s seat. What changed is not only the direction Hankins opted to go in, but also the way publishing works today.“Everything is changing now,” she said. “There was the traditional way of publishing, but that was not happening for me. I didn’t know anything about self-publishing. But when I found out about self-publishing, I started doing a lot of research and I found out ok, I can get my book published even if no one else was interested, none of the mainsteam companies.”
Publishing truly has changed. It used to be that those mainstream publishers were the only serious option. Self-publishing was looked down upon – not good enough for the genuine publishing houses, and almost impossible to get into a book store.
Not anymore. The Internet has altered the landscape radically. Self-published authors now have a wide variety of publishing options – and different marketing options as well. They can publish a hardcover or paperback version of their book and get it listed through on online retailer like Amazon.com – but they don’t even have to get actual copies of the book, since Amazon.com has its Kindle Edition — books that can be downloaded onto a computer without the need for a hardcover or paperback version.
This trend may accelerate. Younger consumers are getting more used to downloading books, music, and movies onto their computer and bypassing the need for buying an entire compact disc, DVD or paperback novel. A laptop gives them the means of listening to their favorite songs, watching their best loved movies – and reading new books online. It’s a wave that Hankins is riding. She not only self-published “Trauma,” but she also went a step further, and started her own publishing house, A4J Publishing in Orlando.
“The larger companies that have been around a while, they are not going to have any interest in your work unless you’re already a popular figure,” Hankins said, noting that large publishing firms save their resources for well known politicians or celebrities – books that seem guaranteed to pay back the high publishing costs.
But it’s not the only way to reach an audience today, Hankins said.
“You can publish books,” she said. “You don’t have to rely on the bigwigs.”
Hankins discovered Ingram, a book distributor for Amazon.com, which gave her a contract for her own publishing firm. Hankins recruits the authors, and has different package deals they can sign up for to get their books into print. Ingram helps distribute the books once they get printed.
“The thing that got to me was seeing there are so many other stories, and knowing there are things they want to share with other people, but there are no avenues for them, the doors are being shut on them,” Hankins said. “I wanted to be a conduit for them and create a way for other people to get their stories out.”
The Orlando-based A4J Publishing has become a source for new authors who want to get their work into print, and Hankins is actively looking for new authors. The firm – which stands for (A)dvocate (4) (J)ustice Publishing – can be reached by logging on to www.a4jpublishing.com, writing to P.O. Box 1101, Orlando, FL 32802, faxing questions to 407-237-0135 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are other benefits to self-publishing a book with A4J.
“Another thing we offer is movie trailers and book trailers because it helps with the promotion,” Hankins said, noting that the trailers can be broadcast on YouTube and other Internet video sites.
She also works with authors to get media coverage, by sending out a press release on their book, organizing book signing events, and contacting local newspapers, radio stations and television stations to let them know about the event, the author, and the new book.
“We try to get some media coverage for them,” she said. But a lot of it, she added, depends on how passionately the author wants to get that book in front of an audience.
“They are the main promoters of their work,” she said. “They can’t rely solely on a publishing company to do it for them.”
A4J Publishing has a basic self-publishing package deal for under $1,500, which provides the author with five free copies of their book, the promotional and marketing services, and a book cover design. There’s also a deluxe package for under $2,000.
“There is a lot of justice in people telling their stories,” Hankins said. “These people need to be heard. That is a matter of justice for me. You can’t be heard if doors are shut in your face.”
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