Cincy is Creative: Two young scribes use digital age publishing tools & resources to reach audiences

CINCINNATI - To become known as a writer, you don’t have to wait for a publisher to decide the worth of your work. Today, it's possible to take your literary destiny in your own hands, as two young writers have found with self-publishing in the digital age.

Ben Klayer

What: Writer/magician/entertainer

Where: Price Hill. English major at Cincinnati State.
Latest & Greatest: “Over the Hills: A Poetry Collection”

Like many 19-year-olds, Ben Klayer isn’t quite sure how his career will unfold. An avid reader and writer, he is studying to be an English teacher. He can also envision writing for magazines and publishing novels. In the meantime, he isn’t keeping his thoughts to himself. He posts poems on Facebook to give people something different to think about.

Last fall, his debut book, “Over the Hills: A Poetry Collection,” was published by Strebekers Books,  a family-owned, start-up publishing firm in San Antonio, Tx. that specializes in adult and children’s literature. “Over the Hills” is available on Amazon either as a paperback or e-book.

The Stebekers press release calls Ben Klayer “a voice for the next generation” and describes the collection as “a story about a young man trying to find his way in life.”

“Ben really connects with young adults,” said the book’s editor Jennifer Rodriguez, a schoolteacher with experience as an education editor with CTB/McGraw-Hill. While reading Klayer’s poems to eighth-grade students, Rodriguez watched their faces light up as they realized the poems were about subjects they could relate to, such as the vibration of smartphones.

Klayer started writing poetry as a junior at Elder High School. He had written some short stories, but hadn’t tried poetry until inspiration stuck during chemistry class.

“Chemistry was so boring to me, I couldn’t pay attention,” Klayer said. When his thoughts turned to the girl he had a crush on, “The words just came out as a poem. Writing a poem was a new experience for me. I loved it, and just kept writing.”

By the time he graduated last May, Klayer had written enough poems to create a manuscript, which he submitted to publishers. When his work was repeatedly rejected, he didn’t get discouraged because he understood all writers get rejected. Klayer said, “I knew if I set my mind to it, I could find a publisher.”

Strebekers Books provided editorial guidance and handled the cover design, formatting, distribution, and publicity. A writer can pay the company to develop his or her website and social media presence.

“We really focus on working directly with the author to make sure his or her creative vision is authentic and honored,” Rodriguez said.

A few weeks ago, Klayer attended his first Queen City Poetry Slam at the Rohs Street Café in Clifton. He quickly signed up to perform one of his new poems, “SLAM.”

“People are starting to realize that poetry is something fun and exciting you can go out an experience,” Klayer said. Performing isn’t entirely new to him. He is also a magician with The Cincinnati Circus , a company that provides entertainment for parties and corporate events.

Now, the young poet is trying to start an open mic night or poetry slam at the Refuge Coffee Bar in Price Hill:

“I look around Cincinnati and see all types of talented people. I am trying to inspire more people to show their work. Many people just don’t know how to get started.”

He advises aspiring authors and poets to, “Just do it. Start looking for ways to get your work out to a larger audience. Poems and other things you write serve no purpose if no one else sees them.”

The Transformation of Publishing

The old-school publishing business is being transformed by start-ups such as Stebekers Books and a host of services for authors who want to self-publish their work. To help authors better understand current options, Writer’s Digest offers the “2014 Guide to Self-Publishing.”

The guide’s editor, Robert Lee Brewer, has been involved with self-publishing since he was in high school 20 years ago. 

“I remember when self-publishing was basically a scam to rip off writers by offering them best-seller status and charging thousands for a box of books that ultimately collected dust in a garage,” Brewer said.

“With print-on-demand and e-book options, younger writers, and even established writers, are finding self-publishing has never been so affordable. It can offer writers a new avenue of publication with a low risk and high upside. In fact, recent surveys show that hybrid authors (authors who do both self-publishing and traditional publishing) tend to earn the most money.”

Paige Reiring

What: Fiction writer specializing in dark fantasy and quirky horror
Where: Cincinnati native. English major at the Ohio State University
Latest & greatest: “Spawn,” self-published e-single on Smashwords

Paige Reiring knows that good writing doesn’t have to be printed in order to be published. Companies such as Smashwords and Bookbaby

make it easy to publish, distribute, and sell e-books of all lengths and genres.

“E-singles” are hot right now because people who want to read on their mobile devices don’t necessarily want a full-length book. A short story or magazine article that can be read in an hour or two is just fine.

Paige recently published a 7,500 word short story called “Spawn” on Smashwords. It’s a dark fantasy and horror story in which strong personalities bring demons based on the seven deadly sins and seven heavenly virtues into the world.

The Turpin High graduate has been writing fantasy novels since the fourth grade. She originally wrote “Spawn” for a creative writing class at OSU. After classmates provided constructive critiques, she decided, “I really like this story, and think other people would like it too.”

Reiring had the story content edited by a professional editor, T.L. Gray, then bought a cover design from a website that caters to e-book publishers. She followed the meticulous formatting guidelines supplied by Smashwords so the book would look good on all types of smartphones, e-readers, and tablets.

“Spawn” was released August 31, 2013 and is available for $0.99 through Amazon, Smashwords, and other sites. She posted a press release about “Spawn” on and made the story available for review on Goodreads and other sites. To get her name out there, she blogs about writing and participates in the Scribophile online writers’ group.

So far, Reiring says most of the feedback about the short story has been positive. She has since turned her attention back to writing novels, and drafted a 50,000 word novel during National Novel Writing Month.

While she loves writing, Reiring isn’t banking on being able to earn a living as a novelist. She also is studying computer information science so she can try writing scripts for video games.

While it would be great to write a bestseller some day, Reiring likes the artistic freedom that self-publishing provides:

“Self-publishing encourages me to write about what I want to write about, and think less about what I think publishers might want.”

For example, she includes LBGT characters in action-driven stories that focus more on their heroics than their sexual identities and how they came out.

Reiring advises other aspiring authors to join online communities of authors and readers of particular genres of fiction.

“If you are interested in horror, find horror writing groups on Facebook, Goodreads, Tumblr, or Reddit and be active in those communities,” she said.

Reiring also emphasizes the importance of having your work critiqued and edited. People who publish sloppy first drafts make it hard for self-publishing to achieve the same level of respect as traditional publishing.

(Photo 1: Courtesy of B. Klayer/Photo 2: Courtesy of P. Reiring)

Connect with WCPO Contributor Eileen Fritsch on Twitter: @EileenFritsch .

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