This week's guest blog comes from The Therapist's New Clothes author, Judith D. Schwartz. She has a B.A. from Brown University, an M.S.J. from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and an M.A. in Counseling Psychology from Northwestern University and lives in southern Vermont.
When I learned that Village Books was getting the Espresso Book Machine, I was thrilled: another member of the “club”, the small but growing number of bookstores ready to take a leap into new ways of creating books. I’m all for taking that leap. You see, as an author I did it myself: I’ve decided to bring out my latest book, The Therapist’s New Clothes, using the Espresso Book Machine at my nearby bookstore, The Northshire in Manchester, Vermont. The book is a memoir about training as a psychotherapist—and a cautionary tale about the seductions of therapy. Why did I use the EBM? Because I refused to give up on a book readers (and I) loved yet for some reason or no reason didn’t get picked up by a publisher (but ooh, we came so close). Because the publishing industry is in transition (read: in a mess) and I didn’t think I should let a dysfunctional system determine my literary fate. Because I thought it would be kind of fun to be among the first to try out a new technology. Am I glad I did? Absolutely.
I’ve liked the opportunity to be involved in the physical production of the book—determining the design and other details, and learning of the many decisions that go into the process. In particular, I enjoyed working on the cover—which involved bringing a bunch of fabric to a local artist’s house and being awed by what someone gifted with a good eye can do. I feel empowered by the awareness that I control what happens to the book. I like that it happens fast. I like that I can embrace the spirit of experimentation, and that I can take part in a larger cultural conversation about the future of the book—which is something I care deeply about.
Then there were benefits to the EBM I hadn’t thought about before. For one thing, it’s less wasteful. Typically, every book you buy travels from printer to warehouse to the retailer. Books that aren’t sold are sent back and pulped. The EBM print-on-demand model means no paper waste or unnecessary transport. Also, in my journalistic work I’ve been writing about building local economies. I saw that using the EBM is essentially creating a form of local publishing: the book is written, design, printed and distributed locally. Nothing is outsourced to New York. That means that 1) money stays in the community; and 2) this helps create local production capacity, which enhances local economic resilience. As someone who lies in a small town in a rural state, I can appreciate that every dollar that stays local matters. So, although I didn’t realize this at the outset, it turned out that this form of publishing was in line with my values.
There are challenges. It’s prohibitively expensive to send books out to review (where’s my mailroom when I need one?) But perhaps with time people will get used to accepting PDFs as review copies. Getting the word out is hard, and getting books into other stores (I’m using the Ingram/Lightning Source program) is even harder. But the triumphs—the reader who serendipitously finds the book and loves it; the bookstore that wants to feature it—are that much more personal, and rewarding.
For all you prospective EBM authors, I have a blog that addresses the challenges and implications of publishing with the machine. It’s at: http://litadventuresinpod.blogspot.com. Please come visit and send questions my way; I’ll be happy if my experience proves helpful to others!