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  • Tony Russo

My Journey - Legwork

There's more to selling books than sitting behind a table and hoping for the best.

You have to stand behind your words

Each book is its own thing. That’s what I’ve learned over the last few years interviewing authors and being one myself. I’m a journalist by trade, so when I started my first book, a still unpublished account of craft beer in a small town, I assumed it would be published immediately. I didn’t have a grasp of the publishing process and knew only that I had a cool story and wanted to share it. I shopped that book without success for awhile and then, in a stroke of dumb luck, a publisher reached out. The History Press was a small publisher out of South Carolina. They told me right from the top they didn’t want my book, but they did want a book like mine.

If you’re not familiar, the company publishes very niche-y books on regional history, food, and culture. They said craft beer was hot, and if I wanted to do a regional history, they would publish it. I was ecstatic and published Eastern Shore Beer six months later and committed to what would be called Delaware Beer after that.

Over the course of these two books it became clear that small publishers provide very little marketing support. I learned that if I wanted to get my book out, I had to invest some shoe leather. It was something I took a little personally at first, but around the same time that Delaware Beer came out, I started doing a writer’s podcast with a friend of mine who was an indie publisher. What became clear to me in the first few episodes was that independent publishers weren’t radically different from traditional publishers when it came to author support. Some were better at it and some were worse, but the bottom line is that if you don’t (if one doesn’t, since I didn’t) support the book, no one else will, really.

As I knock around ideas for my next few books, whether I’ll publish them independently or shop them around is something that sticks in my head. I’m fortunate to know an independent publisher who is committed and supportive. I also know that even the very little legwork that my traditional publisher did was more than I probably would have done because I’m lazy or cowardly. I just need to come to terms with the fact that either way, there has to be an investment on my part.

I’ve spent the last year or so increasing my profile both in my niche (narrative nonfiction) as well as among fellow writers and members of the arts community generally. I’ve joined writers’ groups, which was something I never even had considered doing before. In the end, there is no escaping my own responsibility for getting my work into people’s hands. That just isn’t how it is done, no matter who publishes your book.

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