Shepherding Words into Print
Whether it’s a memoir or a novel, for many people, an item on life’s bucket list is to see their name on the cover of a book. But too many of those same aspiring writers unwisely embark on the sometimes tortuous journey to publication without the aid of an experienced guide. The good news for those located in Central Pennsylvania is that they don’t have to travel to New York to get the kind of valuable advice that will make that road a little less bumpy.
I recently sat down over coffee with Jason Liller, the principal of Liller Creative (lillercreative.com). He’s a book-business professional with nearly a quarter century of experience in the industry, who’s now offering his wisdom to writers through his own consulting service. I learned about Liller’s business from a friend who’s currently working with him on a book about his transition from a career as a lawyer into academia and who’s been pleased with the quality of his assistance.
Open-faced and personable, Liller speaks with an infectious passion about books. He entered the business after serving as an Air Force intelligence analyst during the First Gulf War. After his discharge, he “applied for a job that didn’t exist” with the former Encore Books chain at its store in Exton, Pennsylvania, eventually transferring to management of the company’s flagship store in Hampden Township in 1997.
In 1999, Liller was hired by Charlie “Tremendous” Jones, longtime owner of Executive Books (later Tremendous Life Books) in Mechanicsburg. In addition to his book-selling duties, Liller became involved in the publishing arm of the company, which focused on personal development and self-help books. There he worked with New York Times bestselling authors like Ken Blanchard, co-author of The One Minute Manager, and Jim Stovall, well-known motivational speaker and author of the novel, The Ultimate Gift. He remained with the company until August 2016, when he left to devote time to his current venture.
Liller frankly acknowledges that the market of self-published books, where he focuses much of his attention, is “drowning in a sea of mediocrity,” as the barriers to publication largely have disappeared. With the goal of bringing order to this sometimes chaotic environment, he offers a full array of services that include editing, ghostwriting (for those with a marketable book idea but not the time to translate it into print) and marketing.
Liller does not publish books himself but works principally with Amazon’s self-publishing arm, CreateSpace. He confidently says he can collaborate with a writer “to produce something equal in quality to any book they’ll find on the shelves of a brick-and-mortar bookstore.” The most gratifying aspect of his work involves “helping people develop their ideas and seeing them coalesce as words on a page,” an enthusiasm he recalls possessing as far back as his days in middle school.
I asked Liller to identify some of the most common mistakes he sees among novice writers. “Putting the cart before the horse,” was his almost instantaneous reply, noting that some writers approach him to discuss the publishing process, marketing and even cover art before they’ve written the first word of a publishable manuscript. Another rookie error is the failure to revise. To encourage reluctant self-editors, Liller quotes no less a source than James Michener: “I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.”
Although Liller does not personally handle book promotion, he has a wealth of experience with that process to share with first-time authors. The stark truth is that, even in the world of traditional publishing, the days of lengthy book tours and lavish promotional budgets are over for all but the most well-known writers, the ones least likely to need them. “It’s all up to the author,” he observes, pointing out that book sales usually bear a direct relationship to the amount of personal effort expended.
One common flaw in new writers’ promotional efforts is the misuse of social media. Often, writers will wait until their book is published to establish a platform on Facebook and Twitter. “That’s too late,” Liller emphatically says. He also discourages an online presence that’s solely focused on book promotion. He acknowledges the difficulty of getting reviews of self-published books in traditional outlets but urges authors seeking them to “be persistent.”
Liller offers a variety of financial arrangements to his clients, including hourly billing, retainers or flat-rate packages when he has a reasonably accurate idea of a project’s scope. His website includes a robust description of the services he offers and also features links to helpful blog posts. And for anyone interested in learning more about his approach to the writing and publishing process, along with co-author Tracey C. Jones, he’s published Write That Book: The No-Nonsense Guide to Writing, Publishing, and Selling Your Book, available as an eBook on Amazon for $9.95.