January 6, 2013

Senior wordsmiths find voice in self-publishing

Thanks to advanced technology, authors can birth a book for less than the price of a weekend getaway.

By DIANE C. LADE McClatchy Newspapers

Getting older seems to bring out the author in people. And seniors are discovering the booming self-publishing industry is their path to every author's deepest desire: a book.

senior authors
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Zelda Luxenberg, left, and Robert Levinson share a kiss on the balcony of Robert’s condo in Delray Beach, Fla. The two paid $1,000 to see their love story in print.

McClatchy Newspaper photos

There are far more pay-to-publish options today, including on-demand printing that lets customers order one book at a time. Local libraries now are more likely to place donated copies on their shelves, given that self-published works like the erotic "Fifty Shades of Grey" have turned into blockbusters.

Plus, thanks to advanced technology, authors can birth a book for less than the price of a weekend getaway.

"You can be a big shot for a few hundred dollars," joked Robert Levinson, 87, a senior development officer at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., who previously was CEO of the nation's largest steel door manufacturing firm.

He and "permanent fiancee" Zelda Luxenberg, whom he met three years ago in the luxury Delray Beach, Fla., retirement community where they both became widowed, paid $1,000 to bring their "he said-she said" love story to literary life.

So far, with about 500 print and electronic copies of their book "Full Circle" being sold or gifted to friends and family, they haven't come close to recouping their investment. But it doesn't really matter. Their goal, the couple said, was to inspire their peers with the idea that romance and happiness are ageless.

Plus there's nothing like feeling the weight of bound pages in your hands to make you feel like you've accomplished something. "To see your name on a book cover? I wish my parents were alive," Luxenberg said.

Recent research by Bowker, the world's largest information provider for the publishing industry and libraries, shows book self-publishing has taken off, growing by 287 percent from 2006 to 2011. In 2011, according to Bowker data, the 148,424 self-published print books comprised 43 percent of that year's traditional print output.

While Bowker had no statistics by age, other sources suggest older writers are major drivers of the trend.

Keith Ogorek of AuthorSolutions, the nation's largest self-publishing house that produces 28,000 titles annually, estimates half of its clients are 55 or older. Ogorek, the marketing senior vice president, said the company now has a major presence at AARP's massive national conventions, hosting book signings as well as reaching out to literary wannabes.

Judy Borich, the publisher of Middle River Press in Oakland Park, Fla., said about 50 percent of her clients were seniors when she and her husband, Bruce Borich, started the business eight years ago. Today, it's about 75 percent.

Among them: an 85-year-old man who had written his autobiography in longhand shortly before he went blind; a retired gay doctor who penned a memoir about coming out at age 65; and an amateur historian's look at Florida pioneer women.

Borich puts her older clients into two categories: those who want a book to give to their family and friends, and those who think they have a story to sell. Some had first tried the traditional publishing route, she said, but found it too expensive, too time-consuming or closed to first-time writers.

"Most of them say, 'I have been working on this book and now I am ready. At this age, I don't want to wait,' " said Borich. While e-books are an alternative, she said her writers usually want a print version "that they can take down from a bookshelf and turn the pages."

What authors must pay for that privilege varies widely.

Joesph Kahn, 95, said he's now given $6,000 to a large self-publishing house toward the editing, printing and marketing of "No More Cherries in the Bowl," a 70,000-word reflection on his life and pre-World War II New York City. He's disputing the amount, saying the royalties are less than he was led to believe.

But Kahn, a retired salesman who as a kid dreamed of being a journalist, said he has no regrets. "I think the book is great, naturally. ... Everything was written by me, every punctuation mark," said Kahn. He ordered 40 copies, giving them to the staff and his friends at the Boca Raton assisted-living center where he's a resident.

At the other end of the spectrum, those savvy enough for do-it-yourself operations like Amazon.com's CreateSpace can walk away with a book for less than $10.

Midlife and senior wordsmiths range from retired engineers who wrote their last essay in high school to longtime media professionals, such as Sandi Krawchenko Altner, 56, of Boca Raton. A former Canadian television news reporter, she's not only self-published her first novel but has built a second career on helping people tell, publish and market their stories.

She and her husband this year started Franklin and Gallagher, an authors' services company that self-published Altner's historical fiction book "Ravenscraig" in the United States.

"What self-publishing does is help people's dreams come true. Their families can say, 'Hey, Grandma wrote a book!' " she said.

 

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