[Interview with Thunder from a Clear Sky: Stovepipe Johnson's Confederate Raid on Newburgh, Indiana author Raymond Mulesky, continued from Part One]
DW: I have found the quality of the POD publications that I've purchased range from awful to mediocre at best. The fact that pricing is no different, and often higher, than traditional publishing only serves to sour the experience more. Your book is a notable exception. Overall, how would you describe your experience with iUniverse?
RM: Unlike what typically happens with established authors, I had Thunder basically written before I seriously starting thinking about publishing. I soon came to learn that, regardless of how good a book is, an unknown, first-time author is really up against the odds in getting a book published. I was faced with shopping the book around for years with no guarantee of success. Fortunately for me, a local author had used iUniverse with smashing success, and he turned me on to the possibilities. I’m glad he did. iUniverse does a really nice job. I like the opportunity to control almost every aspect of the book. I was quite obsessive about the quality of the book and how it was presented. iUniverse indulged just about every compulsion.
DW: How closely did the publisher (iUniverse) work with you? Do they present you with many different options in terms of font, paper & binding quality, cover art, etc.?
RM: iUniverse can give you a one-stop shopping experience in terms of content. They can give you an objective assessment of your text, recommend fixes, professionally edit and proofread your entire work, give you a book cover, and get you listed on Amazon.com and B&N.com. iUniverse sets the book price, but the royalty is a very nice twenty percent. In terms of paper and binding, iUniverse sets all that too, but I found their choices to be quite good. They also have set fonts to choose from. Thunder is in both hardcover and soft cover versions, and both are topnotch. No one who picks up my book can tell who the publisher is by just looking at the physical structure and appearance of it. Also, once you sell a certain quantity of books, you can apply for their Star program. If you are accepted, iUniverse then invests further in you (at no cost to you) by re-editing the text, if necessary; providing upgraded cover options; setting up a professional press kit; lowering the book price considerably; and helping to design your marketing program. iUniverse Star books also become returnable stock, which is key to getting retailers to put your book on the shelves. Unless your book is returnable to either the wholesaler or the publisher, a retailer is not likely to stock it. Thunder From a Clear Sky is the first iUniverse Star book dedicated to a Civil War event and I think it broke some new ground for them. I will definitely consider iUniverse again for my next work.
DW: Do they do anything to promote your book?
RM: They don’t do much other than to alert you to the importance of promotion and advertising. They set you up on their website, and you can list your speaking events on their calendar. It’s mostly up to you, and I like that. I control how I present my book. I do it on my schedule, and I accept only the speaking engagements I want to do. I have only myself to blame or congratulate on the success of Thunder, and it has done quite nicely. I’ve enjoyed the marketing aspect of it much more than I thought I would. Getting close to my customers has been a great joy for me. For example, as a result of contacting John Hallowell, the editor of Texas Hill Country Magazine, I was able to do a book tour in Texas where I met the family of Adam Johnson. This was a huge thrill for me, and the Johnson family has really embraced the book. I doubt any book publisher would have stretched that far for an unknown author.
DW: Photos, illustrations, and maps are critical to producing a good CW book. How receptive or understanding was iUniverse to this idea?
RM: No problem on photos, illustrations, or maps. Whatever you want to include, wherever you want to include it, is okay with iUniverse. The kicker is you have to produce and provide to iUniverse the graphics scanned at 300 dpi, and you have to imbed the locations in your text. However, you get a chance to review and approve everything before it goes to print.
DW: Are they transparent with sales data and how often is this calculated . . . quarterly, bi-annually?
RM: This is more good news. You get an exact accounting of every wholesale book purchased by brick and mortar stores like Barnes & Noble and every retail book sold through online sources like Amazon.com. All your sales accounting is online at the iUniverse site, so you can check anytime 24/7. The sales are updated every month. Everything is clear and easy to understand, and the royalties are paid on time. Again, I’m impressed.
DW: What advice would you give authors considering POD publishing?
RM: The whole POD experience is gauged toward giving the author exactly what he or she wants. That’s good if you happen to know exactly what you want. It is important for a new author to be honest about what one is trying to accomplish. If you want one hundred copies of a book you wrote to give as family gifts, then you have many POD choices. However, if you are going to dedicate years to researching and writing a high-quality work and putting the endless effort into selling it, then you want to give yourself every advantage.
Here are some simple suggestions for the novice:
First, get your manuscript professionally edited. iUniverse did a nice job for me.
Second, know your audience. Do a lot of thinking about the people you expect to buy your book. For example, I had to decide on having a soft cover and/or a hardcover version of Thunder available. The Civil War readership loves hardcover versions for their collections so; if you are writing a CW book, make sure a hardcover version is available. Also, think about what your readers expect; for example, when selecting font sizes, consider the age of your audience.
Third, before you have it published, start thinking about how you are going to sell the book. There’s no point writing a great book if no one knows about it. The POD experience is mostly a do-it-yourself operation on the sales and marketing end, and it is important to adjust your expectations about what you’ll need to do to get your book sold. This can turn out to be a rewarding, even life-changing, experience.
When choosing a POD publisher, get a few examples of each publisher’s books. Note the cover, the colors, the print, the pages, the price, the binding, the rendering of pictures, the font, everything. Say to yourself: would I be proud to put my name on this book? iUniverse worked for me, but there are other choices.
DW: Do you have any other Civil War-related projects in the pipeline? What's up next for you?
RM: I have several things in the works. Of course, I’ll be supporting Thunder From a Clear Sky with a full slate of speeches and appearances in Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee in 2007. I’ll be posting a podcast from at least one of these appearances on my website. I have also been asked to contribute two pieces to an upcoming compilation on Kentucky Confederate generals. It will be published through the University Press of Kentucky and is due out the end of 2007. My biggest project is a regimental history of an Indiana unit that my wife’s great-great-grandfather was a member of. The family has dozens of unpublished letters that he wrote from 1862-65, and these letters will be used to tell his story and the story of his regiment for the first time. Get my RSS feed and bookmark www.thunderfromaclearsky.com for more information on all my projects!
DW: I look forward to it. Thanks for sharing your experiences in the POD publishing arena.