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Wednesday, October 03, 2007


Self-Published, Self-Marketed, Self-Distributed

Writers of unpublished books might be encouraged by a story in Tuesday's edition of the Los Angeles Times about Pasadena writer Colleen Dunn Bates, a former editor for Simon & Schuster and former writing partner of LA Times deputy food editor Susan LaTempa.

Bates, who worked in the publishing industry in the 1980s, decided last year to write, market and distribute a Pasadena travel guide, "Hometown Pasadena," and has already sold 10,000 copies.

It's unfortunate that the writer [or perhaps an editor] of the LA Times story appears to have forgotten [or perhaps was so overworked that it didn't come to mind] that this should be an informative and fun read — for example, the story fails to tells us how many copies of the book Bates is able to fit in her Subaru in one haul (that would be a fun part), nor does the story offer so much as a hint about what Bates did to persuade the gatekeepers of a Pasadena Barnes & Noble to stock her book (that would be an informative part). The story proclaims the venture "a small empire" and reads as though it's an introduction to the magical, new trend of self-publishing (more fodder for New York's criticism of the LA literary scene). Except for a mention of Internet sales attributed to the president of the Publishers Association of Los Angeles, the story doesn't even talk about whether Bates mounted an online marketing effort through booksellers like Amazon.com.

Bates' approach sounds smart, it's just too bad readers didn't get to learn more about the mechanics of how she broke through some of these barriers.

From the story:
Almost a year later, "Hometown Pasadena" has not only sold 10,000 copies, it has also turned into a small empire: Local bookstores, both chain and independent, Costco and even a hair salon now carry it, and Bates is branching out to other cities. Next week, "Hometown Santa Monica" will appear in stores there, and Santa Barbara and Berkeley will have their turn next year.

Bates' formula for the books is simple: "It's about how to really live in a place, and be in a place, and understand a place, even if you've lived there for 20 years," she said recently. "I've never seen anything like it. My model was to not have it look like a Fodor's guide."

Her insistence on staying local and forgoing major publishers' backing makes sense, said Michael Cader, a book packager and founder of the Publishers Lunch website. "That's how the Zagat guide started," Cader said. "You can go to cities that have 'underground driver's guides' that tell you the back-street tips to get you from one place to another. There's certainly a tradition of very local, very focused books that usually aren't suited to larger enterprises."

— TJ Sullivan in LA
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