Scribd.: the New Self-Publishing Highrise

Donna Levin
California novelist and author of California Street (Simon & Schuster)

You send a manuscript to New York agent.  The agent sends it to an editor who buys it for a lot of money.  Soon your book is on the New York Times bestseller list.

A dream? Well, as Bloody Mary sings in South Pacific, "You gotta have a dream/If you don’t have a dream/How you gonna make a dream come true?"

Time for some different, but no less marvelous dreams.

In a recent post I warned that self-publishing on Kindle was not a ticket on the bullet train to success. But everyone from the editor-in-chief at Random House down knows that the publishing landscape is changing rapidly, and that the power is shifting to the people.

The big new skyscraper on that landscape is Scribd.: a website where writers can upload their manuscripts, from short personal essays to novels of hefty length, and make them available to the reading public for sale or for free.

Hyla Molander is one satisfied Scribd. author.  She explains, "If you do sell your work, Scribd. … takes 20% of the profits.  Authors keeps 80%, as opposed to the measly 15% given by the traditional house."

No-nonsense words from a no-nonsense woman, whose writing is anything but.  Her memoir-in-progress, My Drop Dead Life (http://www.dropdeadlife.net/) deals with the sudden death of her husband, Erik, which Hyla and her infant daughter witnessed in their kitchen one Easter Sunday night.  Hyla was seven months pregnant. Erik was 29.

Hyla is now happily remarried and the mother of four but together, she and new husband/father Evan are dedicated to keeping Erik’s memory alive.

Hyla recently gave an interview to Jane Friedman at Writer’s Digest.  In it she describes a long process of writing proposals for agents who first encouraged her but ultimately declined to offer her representation.  "Then, three months ago, Tammy Nam, VP of Content and Marketing for Scribd, was the guest speaker at our Writing Mamas Salon at Book Passage."  (I quote from this interview with the generous permission of Hyla and blogger Friedman, but I hope you’ll read it in its entirety as it contains a large amount of useful logistical information, as well as more links to launch your daily web adventure.  In fact, the interview started my daily web adventure when I clicked on Jane’s blog, a touching and relevant corner of the Internet.)

Tammy Nam explained how to use Scribd. "as a way to grow our audience. … So, the next day, I uploaded an essay, ‘Grieving Daddy’s Death.’ It was as simple as selecting the Word file and clicking ‘upload.’ I classified the piece under Creative Writing/Memoir and added tags such as grieving children and death. … The following week, I uploaded the first chapter of Drop Dead Life, and I couldn’t believe the response. In 24 hours, it had been read by 3,000 people. The excerpt was placed on Scribd.’s ‘Rising List,’ received all five-star ratings, and many applauding comments that this mama on a mission desperately needed. Within seven days, 7,000 people had read the first chapter of my memoir, and inquiries about where these strangers could purchase the book came rolling in."  (Recently, two editors at major houses have contacted Hyla expressing interest in her memoir.)

I should mention that Molander isn’t just techno-savvy, she’s applied that savitude.  She’s put serious time and effort into getting her words online.  But that is what we all have to do.  Like it or not, readers increasingly choose their books via the Internet, if only in the form of a recommendation from a friend sent by e-mail.

Walt Whitman wrote in the 19th Century,
Oh, to be alive in such an age!
When miracles are everywhere
And every inch of common air
Throbs a tremendous prophecy of greater marvels yet to be.
I can’t imagine what greater marvels are yet to be, but I await them eagerly.

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