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Author Dons Publishing Cap and it Fits
Author Jon Horton, who writes his mysteries under the pen name J. Royal Horton and his Westerns as Jon R. Horton, will now be known also as Sunlight Publishing.

Born and raised in Wyoming, he says, "I always wanted to express the feelings I got when looking at the enormous landscapes of my state. I also wanted to write about the West from a perspective of someone whose family has been here since the 1840s.

"However, the West has almost always been described by Easterners who may have spent a summer or two in the mountains, but little more. That hasn't changed all that much, with strangers still telling our history."

From his stories, Horton's experiences with editors and publishers have been serial wrecks. A major publishing house wanted his first novel, Murder in Jackson Hole , but demanded a series of politically correct edits that he couldn't accept. Next, a regional publisher took the book and the Munchausian owner of the company led the author on a canard chase that ended when Horton demanded the book rights be returned. Next came a small house in Colorado, Sunlight Publishing. Things went well for three years, but the owner suffered a series of health crises that foundered the three books Horton had written.

"After that, I had three agents who tried to find a home for my books in New York. All of them gave up, finally, and I couldn't figure out what was wrong. The books had been successes in the West, why not in the rest of the country? When my last agent threw in the towel I asked him straight out—'What is wrong? Is it my writing, or what?' He said, 'Jon, the American publishing world is run by women, for women, and your books are way too masculine.'

"I had noticed that when the Jackson Hole Writers put on their July conference, almost all the New York and California participants were women. But I hadn't extrapolated from that sample.

"And this guy, the agent, had been an editor for fifteen years in New York before becoming an agent for ten years! He is looking now for women authors almost exclusively."

It was at this point that Jon decided to take over Sunlight Publishing, even though it meant almost as much work as writing the books. With three books in his Jackson Hole Mysteries series finished and, three more scheduled, that seems a lot to take on.

"Lucky for me," he says, "there has been a happy conjunction of personal computers and publishing software, the World Wide Web, and print-on-demand technology.

"I still have to hire a professional editor and a professional computer graphics person who can do book layouts, brochures, flyers and other ephemera. They are not cheap but when you have toiled scrupulously over a manuscript, sent it to the editor, and got it back awash in a wreck of red ink, you come to realize the value of an editor's eye.

"An ambitious person might buy a copy of Adobe or Quark software, to begin the process of making a book. Forget it. People with four-year degrees in design still spend years learning the ins and outs of those programs. Hire a pro graphics artist, not your friend next door with $69 design software closed out at Office Depot.

"Next. What about a publisher? Unless you are a talented woman who networked successfully with another woman at a writers conference, you can 1. Give up 2. Write another book or two and run the gauntlet again, and again. Or you can look at starting a small publishing corporation of your own. It just takes a couple of hundred dollar bills and a letter to your secretary of state. You can get legal software off the net that will serve, but you are better off getting a cheap, young lawyer who is just starting out in the world. The idea of a corp is to stand between you (and your property) and the guy with the steam whistling out of his ears because he thinks he's been damaged in some way.

"And a printer. The need for a printer is obvious. In order to get a discount from a conventional printer you have to order a bunch of books. One of the items you will almost surely overlook is warehousing this stock for which you got a small discount. I have been pay $45 a month for years to house my four titles. I don't know how much it has cost me, but it is in the thousands of dollars. And I probably saved $200 on the printing discount!

"Print-on-demand is a godsend for small authors. The idea is that instead of printing a bunch of books and sending them to the publisher, the books are stored as an electronic file in the printing press and orders are fulfilled by the press itself. Even if only one book is ordered, the press retrieves the file, prints the book, and shoots it out onto a conveyer belt to the shipping department. Cool.

"Distribution. You have to be able to get books to the people and stores who order them. Baker and Taylor distributes books. Ingram is the biggest book distributor in America and that's why I use their print-on-demand subsidiary, Lightning Source. There are a bunch of other companies who offer this service but remember, caveat emptor . There are scamsters galore out there who will take your money and give you a ride. Check 'em out very closely before you give them any money."

"Public relations. There are lots of free services on the web. There is a lot of software available but you want a package that doesn't cost you $39.95 and comes with access to real professions. For instance, go to Google and type in 'press releases'. You will find several items that will be invaluable for generating buzz for your book. You will also want to get a mailing list or two, especially the one from your regional booksellers organization.

Horton says he's available for talks and seminars on the subject of being your own publisher. Some of his stories will make you blanche while others will make you laugh out loud—and you'll come away with a lot of real world information.

Jon Horton

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