Self-Publishing at the Commonwealth Club of California

by | Apr 13, 2010 talks self-publishing at the commonwealth club of californiaWell, this is awkward. When I realize I’ve screwed up I’d prefer to pretend it didn’t happen, put my hands in my pockets and see if it blows over. But sometimes there’s no way around it, so I might as well go straight forward and own up.

Tonight I was on a panel discussing self-publishing in San Francisco at the Commonwealth Club. This was the second part of a three-week series exploring different aspects of self-publishing. Of course, the dates for this event were set months ago. I remember that I was going to blog about it, but apparently I simply forgot. Missed it. Whiffed.

I love these educational initiatives and the outreach to people who are just starting to think about publishing. But somehow that blog post never got written. So I’m going to try to make up for it a little today.

Tutorials from the Trenches

The first session was held last week, on April 6. The topic was “Self-Publishing: Options, Directions and Resources.” The panel discussion was moderated by my friend Paula Hendricks, past president of BAIPA. On the panel were Lisa Alpine, Peter Beren, and Carla King, all professionals.

Tonight’s session was centered around “The Nuts and Bolts of Making Books.” Paula again moderated and the panel included Lee Foster, a BAIPA member and author who has published two of his books as apps for the iPhone and iPad, as well as V. Vale, the publisher of RE/Search Publications and founder of the zine Search and Destroy, about the early punk subculture. His books are idiosyncratic and heavily illustrated. I rounded off the panel as the “print guy.”

A pretty good-sized crowd showed up and I think we managed to communicate some of the vast array of options facing authors who want to publish their own books. About 50 people picked up copies of The Self-Publisher’s Quick Guide to Copyright, a collection of blog posts I put together. That could be a sign a lot of people are thinking of self-publishing. However, people also like freebies, so time will tell.

One More to Come

Here’s the good news. There’s one more session yet to come. Next Monday, April 19, will be the final session, “Book Sales and Marketing” (follow the link for ticket information). Since actually marketing and selling books is the most important task of any self-publishing author, this could be incredibly useful. Here’s the panel:

  • Scott James, Columnist, The New York Times; Author (aka Kemble Scott), SoMa, The Sower
  • Elizabeth Block, Author, A gesture Through Time; Recipient, the Christopher Isherwood Foundation Fiction Fellowship
  • Teresa LeYung Ryan, Author, Love Made of Heart, Build Your Name, Beat the Game: Be Happily Published

And it will once again be moderated by Paula Hendricks. Here’s what they will talk about:

Bookstores are closing; newspaper book reviews are almost gone; and online options can be overwhelming. What’s an author or publisher to do? Join the discussion with successful authors, who will share their stories of what has worked for them—from building relationships with independent bookstore buyers and distributors to using technology and social media in new ways; from digging into niche markets to selling direction to their fan base.

If you’re thinking about self-publishing, or if you’ve already published a book and need a recharge to kick your marketing into a higher gear, you should think about going. The cost is $20 (free to members of the Commonwealth Club) and you get to talk one-on-one with the speakers after the panel discussion. There’s also plenty of time for questions at the end.

It’s also a way to meet other “book people” and experience some of the vitality and excitement that runs through the world of independent publishing right now. Programs like this one at the Commonwealth Club will help many people make the leap into publishing. And I’m really proud to be part of it.

Takeaway: Educational programs like the self-publishing series at the Commonwealth Club are a great way to get up-to-date information on what’s happening in this fast-changing field.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Joel

    Anne-christine, thanks for visiting. I know the Commonwealth Club made audio recordings of the talks but I do not think they did any video. I was told they will probably post the audio on their website if they don’t broadcast it, but I have no idea when that might be.

    You will had an advantage if you self-publish because you know something about the publishing business. However, it’s a bit confusing for most people new to all the bits and pieces that have to be taken care of. There’s a lot of great resources online, a few good blogs. Just avoid the ones associated with subsidy publishers. Check out Publetariat and Se;f-Publishing Review for more links.

    You can always leave a question in the comments here on my blog and I’ll try to answer it!

  2. Anne-christine d'Adesky

    Hello Thomas,

    I’m new to your blog but go here by way of a too-late email about tonight’s last of the series of Self Publishing talks at CC. I’m very sorry to miss it, as I’m keen to know about this, esp nuts and bolts. I’m the author of two published books by large and indie presses (FSG – a novel; and Verso, a nonfiction book) and aside from seeking a new agent, I’m really wanting to self-publish a book I have ready to go. But I know nothing about it yet, really and need a basic tutorial. Having missed this series, I wonder if you ,know if the series was videotaped and if not, where I might begin to learn some of the essentials. I know about the Google books settlement (was told by friends to quickly opt out of having them scan mine for the paultry $60… haven’t taken that step yet) and would love your thoughts on some resources. I’ll read through your back blogs, and much appreciate your insights.

    Anne-christine d’Adesky
    author, Moving Mountains, (Verso, 2004, ppbk 2006) and Under The Bone (FSG, 1994).


  3. Joel

    Hey Thomas, sorry your comment got stuck in the spam filter. I had a great time at the presentation. I’m pretty much a “print guy” but I find the move to eBooks fascinating and inevitable. A little like watching a tsunami approaching in slow motion. Appreciate your comment, thanks for stopping by.

  4. Thomas Burchfield

    Hi: I was at the CC meeting last night and liked what you had to say. I think “book books” will remain with us, because they are objects to which people can relate in an emotional/spiritual way. To put it simply: what would you rather get for Christmas: an actual copy of “War and Peace” or an electronic file containing “War and Peace?”

    I finished a novel last year and have all but made up my mind to go the self-publishing route.

    I wrote about this at my Red Room web page (but I won’t post the exact link here, because I tried to post it before and the site wouldn’t accept my posting). It’s titled “Ephemera Forever.”

    I’m sure we’ll meet again. Thanks for your presentation!

    Thomas Burchfield

  5. Joel

    Tim, I think we are going to see a lot of experimenting in these areas, as well as experiments in delivering content, in “rich media” additions to traditional books, and to the very idea of the book itself. Should be interesting times.

  6. tim stewart

    I’m excited about the possibilities in an evolving book market. I don’t know much about the Google book settlement, but it sounds like we may see a new market where you get the first half of a book free, and then you pay to “find out how it ends.” Interesting model that almost certainly create more readers and may well create more buyers. I hope companies are willing to experiment with this and other new revenue models.

  7. Joel

    Hey thanks, Tim. I’ve also posted this video to my blog because it’s a great way to see the direction we might see “books” going in in the near future.

  8. tim stewart

    Here’s a neat video put together by the Dorling-Kindersley publishing house (the recognizable DK imprint). Watch through to the end. At least DK (and its parent company, Pearson/Penguin Books) are hopeful that while the publishing industry may be changing, it’s far from dying.

    ~ Tim Stewart
    Austin, TX



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