by Gene Marrano
Apparently the Raleigh Court neighborhood is a fertile spawning ground for local authors. Four writers who reside there and have recently released books will appear at the Raleigh Court Library on Tuesday, December 13 from 6-8pm. “Four Writers from Raleigh Court” will include two-time novelist Gina Holmes, Roanoke Times columnist Ralph Berrier, Nkorni Tankwa (he has written a murder mystery novel, The Barrister’s Gavel) and Betsy Beisenbach, who has just released “Bits O’ Betsy Beisenbach,” a compilation of the essays and commentaries she has written for a daily newspaper over the years. Beisenbach will also discuss self-publishing.
Beisenbach gravitates towards politics, although her essays in the book lean more towards family life. “I think politics are really funny. All of it’s about Roanoke. I love living here. I’ve been here for 30 years and just love it. I kayak on the [Roanoke] river and go to festivals. I almost drowned there [in the river],” she said with a chuckle.
Memories of growing up – in Europe for a while – are part of the book, as are recollections of her birth family and later goings on during married life with a son. Fresh writings and fresh perspectives “are never out [of style],” said Beisenbach, who received a great deal of feedback when she wrote about the Giles County Ten Commandments flap. “Parenthood,” “Me Me Me,” and “Too Much Time on My Hands,” along with a selection entitled “A Chapter Specifically Designed to Embarrass My Son,” are among the subjects she has tackled over the years.
Beisenbach has a background in radio and TV broadcasting as well and, in fact, attended college with Jim Wilson, the former news director at WFIR 960am (he now writes copy for CNN in Atlanta). The Christmas holiday brings out a lot of memories, both “happy and sad; both are in [the book].”
During the Raleigh Court library appearance on December 13 Beisenbach will also discuss self-publishing and the low cost alternative she found through Amazon.com’s createspace.com publishing arm. “If you have basic computer skills you can lay it out yourself and send it in to get printed. With this model you just buy how many you need.” Vanity press runs, which can often mean a minimum run of a thousand or more books, according to Beisenbach, can often run into many thousands of dollars.
One downside: Amazon takes a much higher percentage of the profits as an alternative and the price per copy is higher, but for an author on a tight budget she said it is a viable option. There is always a chance that a notable book can be picked up by a standard publisher for a later run. “You [also are not] stuck with thousands of them in your basement.” She tries to encourage women who e-mail her, telling them they can be writers as well if they really want to.
These types of small press runs are good, said Beisenbach, when you can discover a niche audience; perhaps the history of a community or neighborhood for example. Former Roanoke City Mayor Nelson Harris has written a handful of picture-heavy books on the Roanoke area and Virginia Tech in much the same manner, releasing them through Arcadia Press. “I wouldn’t really want to try and sell a novel [this way], there are so many novels out there,” cautions Beisenbach. Holmes however, has been successful with her two novels; the first made a Christian Top-Ten books list.
Before you spend any money seeking to publish a book, “show it to lots of people,” warns Beisenbach, “they can tell you if it’s any good or not. If it’s not any good – you may be wasting their time.”
Many people aren’t reading much anymore, said Beisenbach, who hopes that her short chapters in Bits O’ Betsy Beisenbach will enable those who purchase it to pick it up when they have time to try a chapter or two. All four authors will read from their works and sign copies for those who buy them at the Raleigh Court Library on December 13. Beisenbach’s book is also available at amazon.com.