Yesterday, I reviewed Judith Schwartz’s book The Therapist’s New Clothes, which is printed and published using the first Espresso Book Machine in the country located at the Northshire Bookstore in Vermont. Today, Judith sits down with us to talk about the EBM, her book, and self-publishing:
L: Hi Judy. Thanks for talking with us today. First, tell us a little about yourself and how you came to write the book, The Therapist’s New Clothes.
JS: I didn’t so much choose to write the book as the book demanded to be written. Years back, as an author at an impasse, I decided to become a therapist. The rational reason was that this way I’d have steady income when I was between projects. However, the truth was that therapy had become my life and framed how I saw the world. After I went through the rabbit hole and came out the other side, I could see the huge ironies in what had happened to me, truths that I knew I would best understand through the process of writing out the story.
The book is only 144 pages long. How long did it take you to write and edit it?
The first draft came very quickly: I wrote it in about six weeks. That 90 or so pages had the basic story, structure, etc. But then I kept going back to it, adding scenes and filling in gaps, kind of a process of layering. Editing-wise, a writer friend and my agent offered suggestions. But mostly it grew over time, as I looked back at the manuscript and saw ways to make it better.
Did you explore other avenues of publishing before ultimately deciding on the use of the Espresso Book Machine?
Goodness, yes! I had a top New York literary agent who strongly believed in the book, and she sent it around. It came excruciatingly close. At one house it went all the way up to the founding editor who finally turned it down, saying he feared it would fall into the “small book syndrome”. I could second-guess this till I made myself crazy, but for whatever reason or no reason it didn’t get placed. Then I started reading analyses of problems in the publishing industry, and it started to dawn on me: hey, if this system is such a mess, why am I letting it determine my fate as a writer? I was mulling this over when I started hearing about the Espresso Book Machine and learned that the only bookstore in the world that had it (at the time) was…my bookstore, the Northshire in Manchester, Vermont.
Now, tell us about the EBM. How did you hear about it? How long was the process from beginning to publication? How much of the formatting did you have to do yourself?
It took a couple of months, but that was because I spent time working with a designer on the cover and, well, getting my bearings. After doing books with traditional publishing it would have felt weird, even disorienting, to have a book come out within days! I mean, I needed a bit of time to get geared up. start my blog, etc. The folks at the Northshire helped me with the formatting, but because the shifting between formats kicks up some odd tabs and spacing, it took a few rounds of proofing to get it right.
How long does it take to print one copy of the book? Is the Vermont bookstore also handling distribution for you?
It takes minutes—maybe three or four minutes. The Northshire is getting the newer version of the machine (2.0 rather than the 1.5 prototype) this month, which means it will pop out even faster. The bookstore essentially acts as my publisher, selling the book through their website and dealing with Amazon orders. (I had to pay a small fee for them to put it on Amazon.) They also worked with me to have it available via Lightning Source, Ingram’s print-on-demand program. This way someone can order it through any bookstore that uses Ingram as a distributor. I’m not sure if the Northshire does this regularly, or whether I was their guinea pig for this. I’ve also made the book available as an ebook through Just a year ago, when I brought the book out, it seemed you had to choose between doing a print book or an electronic version. No more.
How is the book doing? Where have you gained the most amount of sales?
To talk about this, I decided to write my essay for you. The book is doing well enough, considered its limited distribution, no marketing, etc. Most of the sales have come from word-of-mouth, and a few events I’ve done, including one at the Northshire and a signing at a library opening in a town where I knew no one – except the librarian! A few blogposts in the mental health area have also sparked interest (not that I compulsively check my sales stats or anything….)
What kind of feedback are you getting?
The feedback from readers has been amazing – people coming up to me on the street or at concerts and thanking me for writing it, saying that they’ve told everyone they know to buy it. Several readers have blamed me for keeping them up late because they couldn’t stop reading it. Often it’s the people I least expect who respond the most powerfully. I casually mentioned to one woman I interviewed for an article that I had written a book. She liked it so much she bought a copy for everyone on her holiday list!
What’s next for you?
I lead something of a double life. On the one hand, I do my own writing, The Therapist’s New Clothes and a novel I’ve finished that’s a love triangle in Freud’s Vienna (based on my grandmother’s psychoanalyst who was a member of Freud’s inner circle). I’ve also started a second novel, also inspired by my grandmother, who was an artist in Greenwich Village in the 1910s. Then, improbably, I’ve been writing about “new economics”, basically the nexus of economics and the environment. I think my experience with publishing left me primed to question assumptions about we live and do business. When the financial downturn hit in late 2008, I started asking things like “what is money?” and found myself in some pretty fascinating, dynamic terrain. My pieces are published in Time, Miller-McCune, Christian Science Monitor, etc.
Any hobbies outside of writing and publishing? What are you reading these days?
We live a mile up a mountain on a nice stretch of forest/meadow and do a lot outdoors—swimming, walking, biking, gardening. I spend a lot of time with my son (within the bounds of what would be cool for a 15-year-old, of course) and love listening to his music; he writes his own rock songs and sings and plays guitar. As for reading, I just read, and loved, Billy Bathgate, and can recommend Jack London’s “John Barleycorn”, which I would call the ultimate addiction memoir with some surprising insights. And since you raised the subject…please indulge me a shameless plug for my husband, Tony Eprile’s, novel The Persistence of Memory, a beautiful and funny book about South Africa in the waning years of apartheid.
Any advice for our authors and readers who may be considering the EBM or self-publishing in general?
Go in with your eyes open. This is an extremely tough time in the book business and there’s a lot of confusion, frustration, and heartbreak out there. Some of us are killer promoters and some of us aren’t, so don’t go into it thinking you’re going to suddenly change. Better to work with your own style. When I decided to self-publish, the smartest thing I did was to make a deal with myself: I would go ahead and do this if I made it fun for myself. So when I start getting stressed or obsessing about numbers I stop myself and remember that it’s only worth it if it’s fun.