Buzzy Martin at a Copperfield’s book signing in 2010. Martin will be part of a panel next Sunday discussing the ins and outs of the publishing business.

Redwood Writers presents ‘Do All Roads Lead to Rome?’

While just about anyone can write a book, getting it published is an entirely different story and often comes with as many twists and turns as a mystery novel, especially for the novice author.

Hence, Sebastopol’s Buzzy Martin, also known as the Guitar Man, and Santa Rosa author Robbi Sommers Bryant will share their personal experiences and thoughts on the pros and cons of traditional and independent publishing at Redwood Writers next monthly meeting Sunday, in Santa Rosa.

“The publishing world has changed a lot in recent years. It used to be that the way you went was with a mainstream publisher, if you wanted your book to get out into the world,” said Redwood Writers Public Relations Director and meeting moderator Michelle Wing.

“That is the way you went if you wanted a cash advance, and if you wanted your book to be marketed, the publishers would take care of that. The whole idea of doing self-publishing had a real stigma to it; that your book was a vanity press,” Wing said, noting, however, the market potential for publishing independently has changed in recent years with the advent of high quality publishing software, on demand printing, and the availability and access to books via Amazon and other sources.

At the same time, big traditional publishers are not operating they way they used to, she said.

“They are taking very, very few risks, so even if you get that contract, a lot of times you don’t get the cash advance, they ask you to do your own marketing, and they expect you to have your own platform. In other words, they already want you to have a market or blog; a ready readership. They want you to have connections on tap. It is hard to get in with the traditional publishers, so more and more people are turning to self-publishing,” Wing said.

Local authors Martin and Bryant have done both traditional and independent publishing and have had “good and bad experiences in both,” she said. “So they are going to share some of their pits and trials about the things they have learned along the way,” Wing said, referring to the topic of conversation slated for the upcoming meeting.  

“The pros of traditional publishing is that your novel has a better chance of being available in a book store, the editing and the cover art are all handled by the publisher, they guide you through the whole process, and some reviewers only will review traditionally published books,” Bryant said.

“The cons of traditional publishing is you give up control of your work, the pricing of your book is determined by the publisher, and you need to be in the right place at the right time to get a publisher. Unless you are a well known name, especially with the big six publishing houses, your chances of, first of all getting an agent, which most publishers require, are slim and the chances of an agent being able to sell it to a publisher are even slimmer,” Bryant said.

“If you become a writer for the money you are going to be really discouraged. If you do it for the love of writing then you will have satisfaction with what you have done,” said Bryant who has been writing books since the late 1980s and had published with a traditional publisher consistently for about 10 years, averaging a book a year, until she lost a child and as a result experienced writers block for the next 13 years.

Bryant is back at it now, and has been for about four years. She is currently working on her third novel, this time around. She self-published her last two books and then they were both picked up by a traditional publisher, she said.

Martin also self-published his first and only book, “Don’t Shoot! I am the Guitar Man,” but was then offered a movie deal and subsequently picked up by a very large publisher.

“My wife and I self-published the book in 2007 and that was out for two years and we never had a literary agent, any of that. I did send out query letters to publishers and was turned down by every one. Until one day I joined Facebook and within 45 days I secured a movie deal,” Martin said, noting, while on Facebook he read the profile of a man who worked for the mayor of San Francisco and also at Prodigy Motion Pictures, so he sent him a copy of his book and soon after he received a phone call for a movie offer. Within 10 days of signing the movie deal, Penguin Berkley Books picked up his book.

“I have gotten a lot of guff from professional authors and journalism majors over that fact that I never went to college. My experience was through reading Mad Magazine and Guitar Player Magazine,” said Martin, who has been playing music professionally since he was 15 years old and worked from 1988 until 2001 in the prisons mentoring inmates through music.

“I hit the jackpot; I won the lottery twice. Most people don’t even write their own book, they talk about it, but they never do it. My goal was to try to help kids not go to prison, because I work with kids as young as eight who want to go to prison; it’s a badge of honor, just like dad. These kids have no hope,” said Martin, who currently works as a private mentor and also at New Horizons in Santa Rosa, which he described as a charter school for at risk youth.  

Asked if he preferred self publishing or traditional publishing, Martin said: “With self-publishing you make more money, if you know how to sell. You have no control and little money with a major publisher, but you have distribution and that is the holy grail of everything. My book is now around the world; it’s even written in German. I feel like the voice of the incarcerated, nobody stands up for them. And that is what this book and movie are about. We lock up way too many people for stupid things and we don’t lock people up for doing really bad things, like taking homes away from people. Eighty-five percent of the inmates I worked with in San Quentin were there for nonviolent, drug and alcohol crimes, with a third-grade reading level. … Prison has become a cesspool for misfits.”

The movie, “Don’t Shoot! I am the Guitar Man,” comes out in spring of 2014.

The Redwood Writers meeting will be held from 3 to 5 p.m., Sunday (June 9), at the Flamingo Hotel, 2777 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. Guests are encouraged to arrive at 2:30 p.m. to register and network. The cost is $5 for members; $7 for nonmembers. For more information visit

Redwood Writers is the largest of 19 branches of the California Writers Club, which was founded in 1909.The purpose of the club — which currently has more than 260 members — is to provide writers with education and support.

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