More than 30 authors had tables set up at Saturday’s Author Fair at the Sump Memorial Library in Papillion.
They shook hands, answered questions and shared their stories. Despite coming from a wide variety of backgrounds and covering a vast array of genres, they all had one thing in common: a stack of books next to them.
As Sandra Wendel of Write On, a publishing company, put it: “If you write your story, you’re a writer; if you publish your story, you’re an author.”
Many of the authors present shared their routes to being published, but those paths were as diverse as the writers themselves.
Emma Sherman and Tamsen Butler were both approached by publishers who had read their works online.
Butler has three books out now — guides to online dating, online finance and personal finance for teens and college students.
She said she has written personal finance work for various websites and was contacted by her current publisher and asked to write her financial guide for teens and college students.
Sherman, a junior at Westside High School, had been publishing work on FictionPress for a year when DIP Press contacted her and asked her to send a manuscript in. Her Kill & Cop Adventures trilogy is now available for download on Amazon.
But few authors are lucky enough to be sought out by a publisher. Most have to do the seeking.
Julia Cook was working as a school counselor and wrote a book called “A Bad Case of Tattle Tongue” to combat the school’s tattling problem.
A teacher told her the book seemed to be working, so Cook called a publisher. They called her back and asked her if she had more books.
“I never planned on doing this,” she said. “But I now have over a million copies of my books in print.”
Joy Johnson never planned on writing a book series. Johnson wrote the first of the B.O.O.B. Girls novels (about the Burned Out Old Broads at Table 12) as a present for some of her friends. She started getting phone calls soon after.
“One of the girls wanted 50 copies for the girls in her nursing school class,” she said. “Another wanted 50 copies to give to her clients.”
Johnson is now writing the sixth book in the comedy-mystery series.
“They’ve even been endorsed by Phyllis Diller,” she said.
Not everyone gets so lucky on their first try, though.
Bruce Arant, a children’s book illustrator who recently became a children’s book author as well, said getting acceptance from a publisher can take many tries.
“You can get 20 people who say ‘no’ and then one who says ‘yes,’” he said. “You’re really at the mercy of the thumbs-up or thumbs-down. You just have to keep swinging that bat and keep trying.”
With the difficulty of finding a traditional publisher, self-publishing has gained some popularity in recent years.
“There isn’t a stigma to self-publishing anymore,” Wendel said. “Once Barnes and Noble closes– and you should use your gift cards now– there won’t be another outlet for traditional books, except libraries. There’s never been a better time to self-publish.”
Cort Fernald, a novelist, said he tried traditional publishing before ultimately going through Amazon and CreateSpace.
“I think self-publishing is great,” he said. “It’s the democratization of writing.”
Danielle Airola has two self-published books through Amazon. She created a Kindle edition first before exploring the print world.
“The just-Kindle version is much simpler,” she said. “You just have to submit the text itself and a front cover image. Putting the cover together for the physical work is harder. It’s all custom-designed.”
Wendel cautioned those who would venture into self-publishing to be mindful of how their book looks.
“The criticism of a lot of self-published books is that they are badly edited and poorly designed,” she said. “You want it to look professional, not homemade.”
Kent Sievers, a novelist whose work was published traditionally, said it’s essential for writers who intend to self-publish to hire an editor, but not until their works are ready for that stage.
Sievers said his own experience with the Nebraska Writers Workshop was essential to getting his novel, “Little Man,” ready to publish.
“There’s nothing better than good feedback from talented people,” he said.
He related a story about Sally Walker, the workshop’s facilitator, reading the first page of his novel.
“There was a sentence that used ‘was,’” he said. “She said it was too passive and I could do better. I switched it to ‘loomed.’”
Cook said editors should give that kind of feedback.
“Your editor will tell you what to fix but not take away your voice or your fingerprint,” she said.
She told the audience gathered for the panel discussion at the event’s opening about an editor who sent one of her books back to her with words she would never have written.
Incensed, Cook called her publisher, who let her make the changes in her own way with her own words.
Freelance journalist Leo Adam Biga self-published his work “Alexander Payne: A Journey in Film” in part to share and preserve his own words.
The work is a collection of Biga’s journalism about Payne from 1998 to 2012.
“Nobody but me would collect this all into book form,” he said. “After you publish an article, it kind of disappears.”
Biga said self-publishing is an investment, and he has not quite recouped his money yet, though he anticipates he will.
“This is a book with a shelf life,” he said. “There continues to be interest in him as a filmmaker. His career is at an ascendancy and may even go farther.”
He added that the release of and awards buzz surrounding “Nebraska,” Payne’s latest film, can only help.
Biga’s table was next to Ben Justman, executive director of the Sarpy County Museum. Justman’s work, a pictoral history of Bellevue, involved collecting and cataloging work, though on a different scale.
“The museum has great archives of photographs, but I also dug deeper and saw what members of the community had,” he said. “It’s fun to see what was out there. I imagine there are some pretty great photos in attics and basements.”
Justman is working on another book, a pictoral history of Offutt, that he hopes will be out by Veterans Day this year.
“I’ve always been passionate about history,” he said. “It’s amazing how dynamic and diverse the history of this area is.”
The assemblage of authors on Saturday had their own dynamic and diverse histories, but the true test lies not in the past but in the present and future.
Speaking of self-publishing, Cook acknowledged that it is easy for anyone to be published now.
“What happens after publication depends on if your stuff is good or not,” she said.