On Their Own

Gloversville native Peter Pollak dreamed of becoming a published author as a teenager.

Now at age 70 he is one, four times over. In 2011 Pollak self-published his first novel “The Expendable Man,” which he began writing in 2009 shortly before his retirement as CEO and founder of Albany-based press release distribution service readMedia. He has since self-published three other novels – “Making the Grade,” “Last Stop on Desolation Ridge” and “In the Game” – in both print and electronic, or e-book, editions, through Amazon.com’s CreateSpace publishing platform.

“I decided to self-publish for a number of reasons, including the fact that it was something new and exciting,” Pollak said recently from his home in Elkridge, Md., where he has lived since his retirement. “It seemed to offer a lot of possibilities. I did some research and picked an outfit, CreateSpace with Amazon. What they do is allow you to provide them the manuscript; they can offer to help with book covers, formatting and even marketing once the book is in print.”

In recent years authors have increasingly turned to self-publishing platforms such as CreateSpace to publish their work, bypassing the traditional publishing companies and the lengthy process of rejections that usually entails. And the books often sell well, especially the e-books, with authors taking a higher percentage of royalties. With CreateSpace, the royalty rate is based on the number of pages in the book, the physical size of the book and the number of channels it is sold through – authors can choose to sell their books via Amazon and its international sites, as well as online.

Smashwords, a self-publishing platform based in California, has had a number of self-published e-books make the New York Times bestseller list in recent years. The authors at Smashwords take 85 percent of the royalties from sales, according to founder Mark Coker.

“Six years ago when we launched Smashwords, self-publishing was kind of looked at as an option of last resort for writers – an option for failed writers who couldn’t get a publishing deal,” said Coker, who founded Smashwords with his wife in 2008.

All that changed with e-books, Coker said.

“Distribution has been completely democratized; every single self-published author can have their book listed on all the major e-book retailers,” Coker said. “That made it possible for self-published authors to reach large audiences. We started seeing self-published e-book authors – a few sold a million books. That became a big story, and inspired the next generation [to realize that] yes, they could become a published author by self-publishing, and do it with respect and professionalism.”

Johnstown bookstore Mysteries on Main Street stocks a number of books by self-published local authors, including Pollak and historian Alice Peck, of Peck’s Lake. These books all tend to do well, according to manager Patty Locatelli.

“The people that are local, they have their own base here because people around here know them; that’s why we carry their books in the store,” Locatelli said. “Alice Peck’s very popular, Lisa Potocar was popular when she was living here. Peter Pollak has been really popular; each time he has a new book out, people look for it because of his connections to this area. People want their books.”

Pollak has had modest success with his books, estimating sales of several hundred for each one he’s published. With each book, the e-book sales have gone up, while the print sales have declined.

“As more and more people have gotten e-readers, as I look at the sales of the recent books, it’s leaning heavily toward e-books,” Pollak said.

Peck self-published her first book, a history of Peck’s Lake, in 2012 at age 96. “Peck’s Lake in the Adirondacks” was published through Miller Printing in Amsterdam, which Peck also used to publish her second history book, “Sacandaga Park: The Gem of the Adirondacks,” in December. The Peck’s Lake book has now sold about 450 copies and “Sacandaga Park” has sold about 100, Peck said.

“I had a hard time trying to get started on it, because printers nowadays, they don’t do anything except – you have to make a disc and take it to them,” Peck said. “You have to do all the work yourself. I had one publisher who told me he could do it, but he really couldn’t, and I had to start over again.”

Terrie C. Robbins of Gloversville, a genealogist and retired teacher at the now closed Tryon Girls Residential Center, self-published her first children’s book, “Bushtail is Our Cousin,” in 2001 through Beebie Printing in Gloversville. She has just published a second book, a 363-page biography of her great-great-great-great grandfather Nathaniel Cole titled “Nathaniel Cole: 1747-1832, His Life, Legacy and Descendants.” Cole was one of the founders of Colesville in Broome County. (More information about the book, including purchasing options, can be found on Page 1E.)

“If I had the opportunity to go with a major name, of course I would go with it,” Robbins said. “The only benefit is that you know that it’s actually going to get printed, because you’re making sure of that. The other way, you have to sort out a number of different kinds of rejections that you might get from the different companies.”

The Cole biography was published through Fort Worth, Texas, based Etcetera Publishing, which specializes in genealogy books. The company provided Robbins with help including re-writes and editing suggestions.

“It’s actually not fully self-published; the person who owns this company was very involved with getting the book ready to be published and printed,” she said.

For Pollak, his age was a big reason to go the self-publishing route. “If I was 25, maybe I’d be willing to invest in that traditional route, but I figured I have a shorter time horizon and I wanted to get these books out,” he said.

But younger authors are also turning to self-publishing. Joey Spano, 28, of Northville, just published his first book, a thriller titled “The Sigma Chronicles: Emotional Control,” through CreateSpace. He’s already sold at least 50 physical and e-book copies in less than a week, he said.

“A friend of mine works at Scholastic, and he was actually able to get my manuscript to the desk of one of the editors there, but he told me that it could literally sit on that desk for months,” Spano said. “He told me, ‘You should self-publish.’ A lot of authors are self-publishing and trying to gain momentum that way.”

Spano plans to write three more books in “The Sigma Chronicles” series. Although he hopes that the first book will attract a traditional publisher, he said he would self-publish through CreateSpace again.

“If I don’t get a publisher, fine; I’ll keep writing the rest of the series,” Spano said. “If I have to self-publish all of them, I will.”

Robbins agreed that self-publishing can provide a stepping stone to a more traditional publishing arrangement, which she may pursue in the future. But for her, writing the Cole book was a “labor of love.”

“I chose to spend a lot of research time; I’d never get that back,” Robbins said. “I was never expecting to make any money on this. But the whole idea is for different people to actually know what [Cole] was all about.”