The Death of “Submit-Wait-Pray”: Self Publishing as a Cottage Industry

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By Angela K. Durden

ATLANTA: As late as the start of the twentieth century, cottage industries supported many families. When automation arrived, “cottage industry” became an undeserved term for substandard work.

But the cottage industry has made a comeback.

I know, because I am one. So are my co-authors — Marla Brown, Eleanor Morgan, and Peggy Parks. After meeting through an Atlanta-based women’s business group, we have written a book about the reasons, challenges, and benefits of being in business for yourself, with tips on how to pull it off. Opportunity Meets Motivation: Lessons From Four Women Who Built Passion Into Their Lives and Careers will be published soon.

Cottage industries are coming back through people like musician Ralph Roddenberry (www.ralphroddenberry.com), artist Ann Bailey (www.annartgallery.com), and Tina LoCicero with her mother’s beloved chocolate fudge sauce (www.chocbliss.com). Then there’s me (www.angeladurden.com), going places I never imagined mere words could take me.

We have the cottage industry mindset because we want lives to call our own. But how did we get there? Here’s my story:

By 1992, I was more than frustrated trying to earn money as a freelance writer. By then, a few people were starting to work from home. I started selling writing services to small businesses that could not afford big agencies.

By my second customer, I learned I should become a turnkey operation. My services grew to include printing, graphic design, bulk mail fulfillment, database management, and more. The learning curve was steep, but as I invested in ever more affordable technology that ran inside an even more affordable contraption — the PC — the money got better. I could do things at home that five or ten years earlier were not open to me.

Around my eighth year in business, someone recommended me to a corporation. Knees knocking, I made an appointment with a real, live vice president who liked my ideas and pricing. I won a respected regional automotive dealer group as a customer.

I could be at home with the kids if they were sick and had the freedom to set my schedule. My business horizons expanded, and with low overhead and higher profits, we paid the house off fifteen years early.

Soon, articles on the subject of working from home were everywhere. A national epidemic of downsizing, coupled with advances in technology, fueled the cottage industry boom.

Peggy Parks — downsized from corporate one too many times — opened an image consulting business and runs it out of her home. Eleanor Morgan at times provided business services from home but eventually grew a software and consulting business to 80 employees.

An offshoot of the cottage industry mindset was self-publishing. In the early 1990s, still believing in the old model of submit-wait-pray, I approached publishers large and small. Some of the nice, helpful rejection letters contained the term “platform,” which I had never heard.

Not only did I not have a platform, I didn’t know how to get one. I was a nobody from nowhere.

Unknowns need not apply.

The capper came in the late ‘90s when I received two nasty rejection letters from business and children’s presses, and one offer to publish my children’s book (Send us $10,000. We will own your book and you get two copies).

Publishing appeared to be in a sorry state. But what could I do?

I set up a small publishing company, saved my pennies, and moved forward. I did not invent self-publishing, but I was among those who helped remove its stigma by producing quality books.

My first book in 2000 was printed in the U.S. Perfect binding production costs were so good that I could compete with the big boys. Even dealing with thieving distributors and online resellers, I broke even. G. Gordon Liddy invited me on his national radio show, as did other hosts. I was quoted in publications.

I was building my platform.

My children’s books were another story. A three-year search yielded no U.S. producer whose pricing of full-color, case-bound books would allow me to compete profitably. The printing went overseas, and in six weeks one-thousand high-quality books were mine; these I sell direct.

Production costs will not be recouped for a while, but the book enabled me to teach writing workshops and get paid to speak. My expanding platform has made me a celebrity in some circles — a minor one, to be sure.

In every business I can think of, people are turning to themselves to make a buck. They are identifying niche markets and audiences. B-to-B and B-to-C companies, book publishing, music and film production, and technology firms look nothing like they did even ten years ago.

Yes, some entrepreneurs still chase the next big thing. The difference now is that more people don’t let it define their lives. If their companies go big, they pop the champagne. If not, their lives are still good: They choose to spend time with their families and communities.

I have no grand plan other than to keep my life simple and flexible, pay my own way, have some adventures, meet great people, tell some good stories, and save for the coming rainy days.

This small publisher is not going broke, nor making huge profits. But I refuse to play games with distributors, bookstores and wholesalers, chasing money that never seems to get back to me. The independence is worth it. I own all rights to my work.

Of the four authors mentioned above, I am the only one who did not come “from corporate.” When the founder of our business group was initially approached by a vanity press to do a multi-author book, I knew the company mentioned would not do the job properly. The book would have been poorly written, barely edited, and horribly designed.

I explained the realities of these vanity books to the woman. “If I am a part of this book,” I told her, “I will oversee all the production and I will not allow anyone to dash off some words simply to feed their I-am-a-published-author ego. This may be a book produced for building our platform, but damn it, it will look and read great.” That was the only way it would work.

Three of our authors are members of NAWBO, the National Association of Women Business Owners. Many women in NAWBO are like myself and my co-authors: We went smaller and independent to have the lives we wanted. Eleanor’s business is growing, as she desires. Peggy’s will always be just her, but she is having a ball. Marla has four or five employees in her small business, but she has time for her daughter and husband.

And me? Life is better than ever, with more adventure on the way.

E-books will never completely replace the hard copy versions. Our fingers enjoy the sense of physically turning the page, we enjoy propping on the pillow and getting comfy, and the bookmark is so easy to find. See it sticking right out of the top? Besides, no one can collect autographed digital books. We four will be signing ours at our book launch party. What fun

Angela K. Durden runs WRITER for HIRE! Press and is the co-author and publisher of Opportunity Meets Motivation: Lessons From Four Women Who Built Passion Into Their Lives and Careers by Durden, Brown, Morgan, Parks (2010). Her other books include A Mike and His Grandpa Story: Series, Heroes Need Practice, Too! (2006) and The Balloon That Would Not Pop (2011).

DISCUSS: Is it still “self-publishing” when relying on Lulu and Amazon?

EMAIL: Angela Durden directly.

VISIT: Her website

About the Author

Guest Contributor

Guest contributors to Publishing Perspectives have diverse backgrounds in publishing, media and technology. They live across the globe and bring unique, first-hand experience to their writing.