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Off the Shelves: Festival promotes self-publishing for struggling writers
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If you search online for blogs and articles about breaking into the book publishing business nowadays, many of them say that the printed word is dead.

Yet it seemed alive and well in Decatur this past Labor Day weekend, at the sixth annual AJC Decatur Book Festival.

One of the largest independent book fairs in the country, it brings together book lovers, authors and literary organizations to promote new works, learn about the publishing business and maybe pick up a good book or two.

Writing societies like the Atlanta Writers' Club, the UUCA Women Writers Group and the Florida Writers Association had booths this year to inform aspiring authors about writers' conferences and workshops.

Self-publishing companies such as BookLogix and Bookbaby were also promoting their services to those who wish to start selling their books through online vendors. Many local bookstores had a vast variety of their literary wares for sale.

There were children's parades celebrating their favorite storybook characters, and there was food, frolic and fun to be had for everyone.

I was able to attend the workshop "How to Make Self-Publishing Work for You," hosted by the president and CEO of BookLogix, Ahmed Meradji. Since self-publishing companies were prevalent among the festival's displays this year, it was insightful to see why so many would-be writers are opting to go this route as opposed to traditional publishing through a publishing house or agency.

While the upside to self-publishing is that the author has complete control over the presentation and sales of their book and can make more money per unit sold (if the book sells well), the downside is that the author is the one who must pay for the publishing package and arrange all the marketing for his work.

This requires an excellent savvy in networking and advertising. "You have to become a businessman as well as an author," Meradji explained. When he asked for people at the seminar who had already self-published a book, a good dozen or so raised their hands. When he asked how many had been selling well (meaning having sold 5,000-10,000 units), not a single hand was raised.

Yet it may become necessary within the upcoming decades to focus on online publishing. As of today, e-books cover 16 percent of the book market, while 84 percent is still traditional printed books.

Within the next 20 years, this will almost be a complete reversal: it is projected that e-books will have 89 percent of the market, and printed books will only have 11 percent. As e-readers such as the Kindle, Nook and iPad grow in popularity, mainstream book retailers increasingly suffer, as companies like Borders have already found out.

Whatever the format, whether it is traditional print or e-book, the aspirations of potential writers continue to blossom with exuberance, even in this difficult economy.

The Local Prose Stage, the Local Poetry Stage and the Emerging Authors Stage presented a wide variety of budding bards, and in the pavilion featuring all the newest books by these "emerging authors," one could see any of those books sitting on a retailer's shelf and drawing just as much interest from readers as any publishing house-established author.

Yes, the digital era is changing the rules of the game, but as long as there are festivals like Decatur's annual homage to the tome, our love of the book will always be shared among bibliophiles of all walks of life.

Whether in print or on an electronic device, it is indisputable that we all enjoy a good story, and perhaps we will start to discover some hidden gems through self-publishing that otherwise would never have been printed through the traditional means.

Alison Reeger Cook is a Gainesville resident whose Off the Shelves book review appears every other week in Sunday Life. Know of a good book to review? E-mail her to tell her about it. Her column appears biweekly and on

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