Local Catholic Author Gives Self-Publishing Advice

When Robert Feeney started out as a self-published author, his first concern was how he was going to get all his books out of his garage. "I want to offer you encouragement and information, but also to temper your enthusiasm," since publishing and getting published are difficult endeavors, Feeney told members of the Brent Society’s Catholic Writers Group. The comments were part of a talk on "The Catholic Writing and Publishing Process" held last week at St. Agnes Church in Arlington. The Brent Society is a lay organization of Catholic professional and business men and women who seek to enrich their spiritual lives by bring their faith into their daily working environment. Feeney is the author of The Rosary: The Little Summa. Now in its fifth printing, the book is considered a best-seller in Catholic circles. In addition to his writing endeavors, he is a full-time teacher at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington. He lives in Lees-burg with his wife and daughter. His family prays the rosary each evening in their home, and he believes it’s the reason they’ve been blessed. Feeney feels that they have been used as God’s instruments to share and spread the Word, with the help of the Holy Spirit. "Pray and write and meditate," he said, "and ask Mary to be a shining star for you." He opened the meeting by calling upon the patron saint of writers, St. Francis de Sales, and he said Catholic writers should also pray to St. Bernardine of Siena, the patron saint of advertising and publishing. Feeney admitted to not being a natural-born writer. His first book started as an "apostolic endeavor," after he and his wife joined the Third Order of St. Dominic (Lay Dominicans). It was entitled Mother of the Americas and stressed evangelization through the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe. He resurrected a graduate school Marian research paper from his days at the University of Dayton. After shaping it into a manuscript, Feeney started mailing parts of it out to both Catholic and secular publishers. After unsuccessful attempts to have the book accepted, Feeney and his wife established their own non-profit company, Aquinas Press, to "fulfill the vocation that we are called to as Dominicans." His advice to aspiring authors included taking calculated risks and incorporating creative thinking into the publishing process. Consider contracting or co-oping for all aspects of the publishing process, he said. Read reference books on self-publishing from cover to cover, because "you don’t want to make mistakes," personally or professionally, Feeney advised. It is important to determine how much money is available for printing and advertising, while making certain it will not be a financial drain on your family or those dependent on you, he said. Don’t advertise that you’re a self-publisher, Feeney said. He spent extra effort and money on a nice cover and obtained endorsements from recognizable names. After printing his book, he mailed copies to some members of the Church hierarchy with a request for feedback. "Endorsements from those in the field in which you’re writing are very valuable," according to Feeney. He thought they might be too busy to get back in touch with him, but he was pleasantly surprised by their response. He used their positive comments on subsequent editions of his book. A fortunate occurrence for Feeney was to have one of his books included in the Ignatius Press catalog. Also, one book was included as a fundraising premium promotion by Human Life International (HLI) in Front Royal. The pro-life organization asked for donations, and, in return, sent the benefactors a copy of the book. If you give up your book to be handled by a large publisher, you lose all control over your creation, Feeney said. They have the right to change the cover, edit the title and writing style, and the author receives a significantly smaller royalty. Having the manuscript set by the local printer is too costly. A better option is to use a book-exclusive printer. Feeney advised an initial printing of just enough books for handouts. Send them out for endorsements and reviews and begin word-of-mouth advertising through family and friends, according to Feeney. Having the book printed is the first step, but the marketing is tough, and one needs to be prepared for the task, he said. One needs to investigate, through their own marketing analysis, if the theme will be lasting, he said, especially if the book doesn’t sell immediately. Feeney suggested marketing books at homeschooling conferences. Home-schoolers "buy a lot of books, especially at conferences," bhe said. A writer needs to have resources to design and distribute flyers. It also helps to have contacts in the catalog or wholesale book business. One out of four books are sold through the mail, he said. Feeney suggested that first-time writers begin with a non-fiction work on a subject with which they are knowledgeable, and from which people can benefit.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016