Slogging through the Amazon Swamp – True Survival Stories from the World of Self-Publishing

Bruce A. Smith

It all began with a manuscript.

I was a former newspaper reporter with a good story – the iconic tale of the famous skyjacker DB Cooper. The manuscript had a 32-page treatment that I sent to the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association summer conference contest in 2010, and it was deemed a finalist and a “page-turner.” But I lost to a bunch of memoirs about growing up on a farm. Then I sent the manuscript to dozens of literary agents, all of whom had been to the PNWA conference – and got rejected by them all – but some more sweetly than others. One, Liz Kracht, encouraged me to keep going.

I edited some more and sent her a revision. Again, she said, “No,” but added, “you’re getting closer.” I re-wrote and revised. I resubmitted. Liz said “No,” again. I danced with her a fourth time, and she said with finality, “You’ve grown a lot, but your manuscript needs professional line-editing.” My bane seems to be the Wonderful World of Commas, and Liz offered a list of eight gals that she uses for her clients. At 1,500 bucks a pop I couldn’t afford any, but I countered with $30 offer for a “quick-peek,” to be paid after my social security check arrived. No one returned my emails. Sigh.

By now, it was the summer of 2014, and I threw in the towel on conventional literary success. I Googled “self-publishing,” and began to explore the realms of Kindle, e-Books, Print-on-Demand, Amazon, Ingram, Lightning Source, Lulu, and more. Oh, by the way, did I mention I was suicidal and recovering from a heart attack? That, too.

I took my meds, went into therapy, and forced myself not to go for a long walk off a short pier, or stroll the Tacoma Narrows Bridge late at night… One night I read in a DB Cooper chat room that one of the posters had recently published his Cooper book. I emailed him and asked him how he did it. He said it was easy, and gave me the name of his “editor,” a big-hearted woman named Susan Leonard, owner of Rose Island Bookworks in Sebewaing, Michigan.

Susan took me under her wing, and for $50 per month with $100 up front, she became my book editor. She recommended a two-prong approach: first do an e-Book via Kindle at Amazon, and then go for the hard-copy version, a Print-on-Demand edition known as a “POD.” I began preparing my final version of DB Cooper and the FBI – A Case Study of America’s Only Unsolved Skyjacking for Susan in October 2014. After I sent her the down payment, she began sprinkling her magic fairy dust over the manuscript.

Susan also recommended that I read “APE,” which stands for “Authors, Publishers, and Entrepreneurs.” It’s a great book, and it became my guide to this New World.

As for the manuscript, the first step was to convert it into a Kindle-compatible format. This change popped my eyeballs out of their customary trajectory, and I began to see many new kinds of editorial fixes that needed to be made. Chapters got cut in half. Paragraphs were swapped, converted or kiboshed. More revisions, of course, meant more delays. I could only guess how far I was pushing Susan past her time allotments for this project. I knew I was a fussy client, and thanked her profusely.

Nevertheless, Susan soldiered on, and prepared the graphics for a “front” cover. An e-book doesn’t really need a cover, but is still part of the adverting package, especially on Amazon. This necessitated decisions on pictures and layout.

By late winter 2015, it was time for proof readings. Finally on March 17 – St. Patrick’s Day – I pushed the “send” button on my submission to Kindle. Oddly, they emailed back saying that there would be a 24-hour delay before sales could commence so that they could verify I was actually the owner of the manuscript and not stealing anybody’s intellectual property. But, the next day they said I was good to go, and DB Cooper and the FBI – A Case Study of America’s Only Unsolved Skyjacking went on sale at Amazon. I sold 18 e-copies that month, and since then I make about $75 a month in royalties.

In late 2015, I decided it was time for the “hard-copy” edition of DB Cooper, so I contacted Susan. We began the whole process again, but the POD version was much more complicated, as I had to deal with wholly new issues, such as down-sizing to a 6×9 inch format with .91 inch margins. As a result, the manuscript took much longer to develop. But every day I slogged away, moving the project a little further closer to completion.

However, the printed proofs spun my eyeballs, again, in new directions. Hence, I was still asking for revisions to proof copies into the spring of 2016. In the end, Susan prepared ten proofs, a professional record for her, and one far beyond her initial budget.

Finally, on March 26, 2016, I sent off my manuscript to Create Space at Amazon for the POD edition of DB Cooper and the FBI. After their 24-hour approval hold, the book was ready for my approval – but only after I paid the $6.22 printing costs, the $0.48 in sales taxes, and $3.53 in shipping. I gladly paid the ten-and-change to get my book into my hands, and a week later it was sitting in my palms.

I treasured my hard-copy like a baby. The first night I slept with it on my chest. When I awoke, I realized that I felt like how young men must feel the morning they wake knowing they’re a new dad.

As I sipped my first cup of coffee that day, I placed the book in front of me. It looked exactly how I had been envisioning it every day in meditation for the past five years. Here it is, I said internally, in the physical, not the mystical. It was a true manifestation, and I savored it greatly.

Last night, I sold one copy at a meeting of the Graham Historical Society. I made $25 and bought groceries for dinner. But today, I am reaching out to the Pierce County Library System to see how they might purchase a few dozen copies for their twenty branch libraries. Tomorrow, I’ll call Starbucks to see about regional distribution. Then, it’s Barnes and Nobles, NPR, Fresh Air, and everyone else who enjoys a good story.

Note: If you would like a copy of DB Cooper and the FBI – A Case Study of America’s Only Unsolved Skyjacking, hard-copies are available in Eatonville at: Black Star Feed, the Mountain Cooperative, and Kirk’s Pharmacy (pending). It is also available in Yelm, at Lemuria.

Of course, e-books and hard copies are available at Amazon.

Hard copies are $25, and e-books at Amazon are $9.99.

BAS, Headshot, Dispatch, Guustaaf, snow, DSC_0413

Bruce A Smith was the Graham reporter for the Dispatch from 2006-2010. His work on DB Cooper began when he covered an air show at Thun Field in August 2008 for the Dispatch.



This entry was posted in Book reviews, Culture, DB Cooper, Eatonville News, Entertainment, Folk tales and stories, Graham News, People Profiles, Stories from Backstage. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Slogging through the Amazon Swamp – True Survival Stories from the World of Self-Publishing

  1. Jofannie Karla says:

    Mark and I really enjoyed reading about your journey. I forwarded it to my daughter because both your perserverance and manifestation reminded me of her.

  2. Galen Cook says:

    Bruce, take your hard copy to the Washington History Museum gift shop and see if they will take orders. They need this for their 2016 tourist season. They told me that Blevin’s book didn’t move and that it looked “cheap.” Best of everything to you.


  3. Galen Cook says: “Bruce, take your hard copy to the Washington History Museum gift shop and see if they will take orders. They need this for their 2016 tourist season. They told me that Blevin’s book didn’t move and that it looked “cheap.”

    I don’t where you get your erroneous sources from there, Galen. The Washington State History Museum never HAD a copy of my book. In fact, they’ve never even SEEN it, as far as I know, and that’s because I refused to do business with them.

    One of their requirements to stock it there was our CEO’s Social Security Number ‘for their records’. I told them no dice. And as an attorney, you should understand giving that out just to have them stock a few copies isn’t a smart move. As far as ‘looking cheap,’ our print provider is Lightning Source, the printer/distributor for Ingram…biggest book outfit on Planet Earth. I assure they use very good paper for their softcovers, and top-notch materials for their hardcover versions. Currently, we move about 200 copies a month wholesale on the Cooper/Christiansen book.

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