Corey Stulce knew his book had a lot of star power. His subject: The State—an 11-person sketch comedy group from the 1990s that featured now-big names in comedy, like Michael Ian Black, David Wain and Michael Showalter. Moreover, the oral history he was putting together had the full cooperation of all 11 members.
Yet despite the access Stulce had in both comedy and publishing (Black himself is a New York Times bestselling author), he decided to forego the traditional route and instead self-publish.
“It was sort of selfish,” Stulce said. “I wanted us—The State and me—to make every decision for the book—the way it read, the look, the promotion, everything.”
Authors opting to self-publish books is no longer an interesting trend or afterthought in today’s publishing landscape, as millions of books are self-published each year. What makes Stulce’s situation unusual, however, is that his book is nonfiction.
As Mike Shatzkin writes in a blog post, “Amazon’s own publishing strategy…is focused on the genre fiction that is the core of the self-publishing done through them.”
He continues: “Unlike a lot of fiction, [biographical and analytical] books not only take time, they require serious help and expense to research.” These types of books take “years of research to put together.”
Stulce wouldn’t argue any of that. His book The Union of The State took five years to assemble, three of which were spent interviewing.
And despite the fact that The State has an enormous following, with more and more people discovering the group’s work every year, not to mention the work the members continue to put out independently, Stulce did not have enough faith in traditional publishers.
“The deeper I got into discussions with them, it seemed like I was going to be doing just as much work for them as I would if I self-published it,” Stulce said. “I didn’t know how much attention would be paid to a book about The State… I didn’t want to be on the bottom of somebody’s pile for a couple years.”
So Stulce began researching how one actually publishes his own book, beyond the act of writing it. Stulce, who previously worked in magazines and newspapers and now works in marketing, had already self-published an ebook through Amazon, so he knew a little about the process. But a book that featured 11 primary characters and more than 40 voices and was being framed as the definitive guide to one of the most historic comedy groups in the past quarter century—that required a bit more attention.
Throughout the process of interviewing and writing, Stulce was constantly thinking about how the book would be distributed and marketed. He opted to set up pre-orders through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program and invested in hardcovers versions for his website and book events through Ingram’s Lightning Source print on demand program.
He and The State discussed the idea of crowdfunding, but that route ended up creating more potential problems than solutions. So Stulce went with a self-funded budget and made adjustments along the way.
He hired a comedy publicist to help spread the word, he brought in a retired professor to help copy-edit, format and shape the book, and he secured licenses for more than 100 images and original illustrations.
“The book has cost me a nice chunk of change.”
But for Stulce, the book was a passion project, not a road to easy money, and ensuring that the book was properly written and positioned was paramount.
“The money has not really been the driving factor,” Stulce said. “If I break even and this leads to the possibility of some future cool projects, then that’s great.”
Calling the process “very rewarding,” Stulce offered his takeaways, saying that authors need to know that self-publishing is “time-consuming. This takes some time if you’re going to do it the right way, especially if you want to do more than just an ebook.”
In Stulce’s eyes, though, despite all the learning, coordinating and money invested, his decision to self-publish the book was the right one. And he knows the process isn’t finished. Will he be able to get his book into Barnes & Noble and indie bookstores? Will he be able to get it into different catalogs? How can he continue to expand the different audiences he reaches?
“I’m still figuring that out,” Stulce said.
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