by Paul La Rosa (@PaulLaRosa)
I met Paul La Rosa when he was referred to me by friend and fellow blogger Betty Ming Liu. Paul’s story of growing up in the projects of New York City and climbing up the ranks starting as a copy boy at the New York Daily News really struck a chord with me. I am a year or two older than Paul, and grew up a few miles away. His book is coming out today, and I asked him to tell the story of how it came to be. Here’s his report.
For my first four books—all about criminal investigations that were based on hours I produced for the CBS News broadcast “48 Hours Mystery”—I chose to publish with two of the Big 6 publishers—Penguin and Simon & Schuster. But for my new book—the memoir Leaving Story Avenue: My journey from the projects to the front page, which is being released this week—I wanted a publisher to care about this personal work as much as I did.
Enter the world of independent publishing. It’s different, that’s for sure but, so far, the experience is more enjoyable. I’ve had a lot of input into cover design, layout and getting blurbs that, yes, appeared on the cover.
My partner in this venture—and I call this house my partner because that’s how I feel—is Park Slope Publishing, a new independent based in Brooklyn which calls itself an “environmentally friendly and green publisher.” That means it uses print on demand technology and e-books.
That also means not doing a print run of thousands of books but, in this age of e-books, I’m okay with that. Park Slope publishes the number of trade paperbacks readers want and we all save a few trees in the process.
One thing I knew at the start was that I wanted the books that were published to be in the trade paperback format. To me, mass market paperbacks look too cheap and hard cover books are anachronistic. Personal preference, but that’s how I feel. The publisher readily agreed to go that way.
We came up with three different designs for the cover (using the services of Joel Friedlander, aka The Book Designer) and settled on what we felt was the best.
Taking Over the Blurb Project
One thing that I really wanted was good cover blurbs. With the big publishers, I never had the chance to get the blurbs on the cover as I wanted; this time I wasn’t going to be denied, especially since I felt that, with such a personal work as a memoir, I needed to quote someone who would be impressive.
I put out a lot of feelers. Some people that I felt sure would come through did not but I was overwhelmed with gratitude when the well-known author Ken Auletta of The New Yorker magazine came through big-time with a very generous blurb. It was all the more exciting because he’d warned me up front that he would read the book but not promise a blurb unless he enjoyed it. Thankfully, he did, saying, “Paul LaRosa has written a poignant and funny memoir that reads … as breezily as a delicious tabloid newspaper.”
We put that blurb on the front cover. You can read his entire quote on the back cover and you can be sure, dear reader, it is totally genuine. Ken had no reason to help me out on this one but he really enjoyed the book.
Another happy surprise was Theresa Weir, the best-selling author of her own memoir The Orchard, which was picked as one of Oprah Winfrey’s best books of 2010. I loved it too, and found Ms. Weir on Twitter. Would she be interested in reading my memoir? She said yes and, within weeks, I had my second generous cover blurb. Both were from highly reputable authors.
Working with a small house, it was easy to change the cover design a bit to get the blurbs included.
Moving on to Marketing
The next issue was marketing. Those not familiar with publishing should understand that, even if you’re published by a Big 6 publisher, there is almost no marketing or advertising done for you as an unknown author. The best you can hope for is a couple of radio interviews and perhaps a bookstore reading or two. No advertising. The rest is up to you.
It’s counter-intuitive but the Big 6 publishers put all their advertising and marketing muscle behind brand name authors who need their help the least. Do you really have to push John Grisham’s new book? With his advertising budget, you could help a dozen unknown authors. It doesn’t make sense to me but that’s just the reality of modern publishing.
For my new book … I wanted a publisher to care about this personal work as much as I did.
Anyway, marketing is something I’m comfortable with, having done it for my four previous books. We drew up a press release and sent out advance copies to anyone we could think of. Again, the book received such nice reviews that I’m almost embarrassed. One reviewer compared me to a poet, another to a painter. It was heartening and we had even more good buzz to help us.
We also both used social media—Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and our own websites—as much as possible. I’m very comfortable with social media and began to spread the word, ramping up as we got closer to the publication date (April 18, 2012).
Next Stop: Distribution
The biggest hurdle was distribution. The best thing the Big 6 publishers do is get the books into bookstores but, even then, unless you’re well-known or your book catches lightening in a bottle, the bookstores will carry maybe five copies and put you on shelves that you’d need a GPS system to find.
We figured that these days, many if not most people are used to buying their books online and we took out Facebook, Google and Goodreads ads. I did try to talk my way into some local Brooklyn bookstores with mixed results. Believe it or not, the best luck I had was with a Barnes & Noble store in my neighborhood. We’re still waiting on the small independent bookstores to get back to us.
Using social media and press contacts, we were successful in getting online reviews, great blurbs, at least six radio interviews (including one on NPR), two television interviews and we’re still hoping for more.
It’s been a fun experience so far and I’m guaranteed a much bigger royalty share than I would have had with a Big 6 publisher. And you can help out—buy a book! As they say on Facebook and Twitter, :-).
Paul LaRosa is an Emmy-award winning producer at CBS News but got his start as a newspaper reporter at The New York Daily News. He also has written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and is the author of four previous non-fiction books. To read his blog and for more information, please go to his website at www.paullarosa.com.