SHERIDAN — Three hundred copies of one book fill his office and garage. He’s either a rabid fan or the book’s author.
Forest Dunning is, in fact, the latter. He self-published his book “Between Two Tribes” in November 2015. It was printed a second time in January 2016 and a third a month later after Dunning found errors he couldn’t live with in the first and second runs.
In retrospect, he would not have ordered so many copies on the first printing, but Dunning said the boxes of books, and even the extra headache and expense, were worth it for the satisfaction of telling the story he wanted to tell.
“I wanted to see the book done, and in print, and available to the public,” Dunning said. “I didn’t want it sitting as something I might do someday.”
Self-publishing — and self-marketing — can be expensive and tedious, but local authors who have made it from idea, to writing, to seeing their book in print are glad they made the effort.
As traditional publishers become choosier and e-books gain popularity, self-publishing is booming. The glut has led to plenty of mediocre works, self-publishing consultant Ben Galley said in a post on The Guardian’s books blog, but good books are removing the stigma that self-published means substandard.
Self-publishing differs from vanity publishing where a company charges thousands to print thousands of low-quality, hard-to-sell books with little input from the writer. With self-publishing, authors retain control and can print smaller batches or opt for print-on-demand.
The day the Iraq war started in 2003, local author Abbie Johnson Taylor joined a protest at the courthouse — despite worrying about what it would be like to be arrested as a visually impaired person. The experience planted an idea-seed that eventually grew into Taylor’s first novel, “We Shall Overcome,” a tale about courage, trust and overcoming stereotypes.
Taylor’s husband Bill — who became the inspiration for her memoir “My Ideal Partner” about caregiving for a wheelchair-bound husband as a visually impaired wife — urged her to publish. She eventually self-published the novel and a book of poetry, had a publishing house pick up a second book of poetry and self-published her memoir after her husband’s death.
“I feel like I have a story to tell, ideas to share, and I want to use writing to help others,” Taylor said.
If one caregiver read “My Ideal Partner” and felt inspired and encouraged, Taylor would be happy. She’s had several people read it, so all the effort is worth it.
The biggest bugaboo about self-publishing for Taylor is self-marketing. She doesn’t like it. In that sentiment, she is not alone.
“I am learning now that book sales are 10 percent writing and 90 percent marketing,” Dunning said.
He, too, has struggled with marketing his book, especially when the details of life, like selling a ranch and moving, take up so much time. Dunning has sold dozens of copies at book signings and worked with local bookstore owners to get a few copies on their shelves, but the idea of cold calling is hard for someone who leans toward being an introvert.
Marketing aside, however, Dunning loved the process of researching and writing “Between Two Tribes.” The historical novel is based on actual events that happened on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation near Birney, Montana, in 1890 that resulted in the murder of one of Dunning’s distant relatives by young Cheyenne warriors who left the reservation to kill white settlers’ cattle to feed their own starving families.
When he publishes again — he’s got another idea in the works — he will hire a professional editor, be more meticulous about manuscript formatting, order fewer copies and be more vigorous with his marketing plan. Overall, he is happy to be a published author who made the effort to tell the story he wanted to tell.
“I think I produced something that people will like,” Dunning said. “I just talked to a guy who read the book today. He said he wanted to get two copies for a relative; that makes you feel good.”
By Hannah Sheely