By M.E. Jones


FITCHBURG -- During the ALFA (Adult Learning in the Fitchburg Area) course he taught earlier this year at Fitchburg State University, retired Townsend Police Chief and author Bill May used his own experience as well as educational materials to enlighten his students, all of them retirees, in the practical techniques of writing and publishing.


The course offered comparative analyses of self publishing versus conventional methods, key components of which include contacting a literary agent, composing a short query letter and being prepared to face rejection -- lots of it.

Other disadvantages of taking this route include losing control of one's work. For example, if a publisher accepts it, the agent or publisher, not the author, decides what format in which to market the book, such as hard or soft cover, audio book, etc.

It also means it won't cost the author much money, since the publisher covers printing, advertising and distribution costs. In addition to the initial, up-front payment for purchasing the work, the publisher might pay royalties, perhaps for years.

Self-publishing, on the other hand, is a do-it-yourself project all the way, including direct contact with publishing companies and choosing a package (book format, cover design, editing services, etc.) with costs typically ranging from $500 to $15,000. The cost is the downside. The upside is that the work will appear in print, guaranteed.


But there's a third option that could be the wave of the future and a win-win for aspiring authors. Online publishing was new as of 2011. The to-do list includes setting up an Amazon account to sell the book, which will be published in e-book format only, but can lead to publication in other formats if successful. Cost is minimal, from $50 to $100, with guaranteed royalties. For each $3 sale, the author gets $1.50.

These topics were explored during the course, touching on various aspects, some of which overlap. You might say it's sound advice with a hands-on, educational component.

For example, there are to-do lists for each path so that would-be booksellers know where to go and what to do when they get there, from email to Amazon to Barnes & Noble.


"Outbound" marketing can be done the "old way," via advertising, which costs money, one-on-one interaction from businesses to consumers, or the direct approach, in which the author seeks out buyers.

"Inbound" marketing, a new innovation over the last decade, is done via the Internet. You do it by engaging others, interacting, not always about your own product. The book the author is pushing is the company doing the advertising, using a variety of outreach options that span the expanding diameters of the virtual world, including blogs, podcasts, online video (YouTube) e-books, e-newsletters, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the list goes on. In many cases, interactions don't even mention the book you're peddling, but the connection could lead to something anyway and authors in this milieu should create a book page within their Facebook pages.

Some things they should all start doing right now, May said, no matter what stage they are in with works in progress: keep records. Specifically, keep track of personal inventory and expenses for tax purposes and "keep a log of what you do," he said.

Put it on a spreadsheet, he advised, including the cost of taking this ALFA course. Expenses can offset royalty income, he said.


Lasting for about two hours, class discussion included a recap of key points covered during the course, since it was the last session.

A handout addressed avoidable writing pitfalls ranging from misconceptions to malapropisms. The list included what's said versus what's meant. It's a good read, culled from various sources and it sparked lively responses and a few add-ons.