Monday, August 10, 2009

Colorado Author -- Teresa Funke

Today it is my great pleasure to feature Northern Colorado author and publisher, Teresa Funke. After reading two of Teresa's novels set during World War II, I wanted to ask her so many questions, probably enough to write a dozen interviews. I've narrowed it down, however, to Teresa's publishing experience.

As I thought about the focus for this post, I remembered much discussion recently among blogs I follow on the topic of self-publishing. As a result, I've asked Teresa questions specific to this topic. Later on in the fall, after her next book for children is published (V for Victory), we'll talk to her more about writing for children and her interest in World War II historical fiction.

And before I go one step further, I wish to tell you I've read all of the stories in the Colorado Book Award Finalist, Dancing in Combat Boots. The writing is excellent, and the content is both uplifting and poignant. The women in these stories are based on real women, from the adventurous who learned to pilot military planes to those who joined the Red Cross and literally danced in their combat boots. This is one of those self-published gems that should be picked up by a major publisher and distributed worldwide.

So, how did Teresa get published? Here are my questions and the author's answers:

Question: How are your books published (the story of Bailiwick Press)?

Teresa: I had originally submitted my first novel, Remember Wake, through an agent to publishers who praised the writing and story but said, “World War II novels don’t sell.” This was pre-release of The Greatest Generation, which renewed interest in WWII. Because one editor had told me she knew by page 50 she wouldn’t be able to take on Remember Wake, but also couldn’t put it down till she finished it, I knew I had a good book. So I self-published that book through Author House.

I then wrote Dancing in Combat Boots. Originally it was an oral history collection, and I had a couple of different agents for the book, but they told me oral history collections don’t sell (which is true). So I spent two years rewriting the book as a short story collection and ten top agents praised the book but said, “Short story collections don’t sell unless you already have a name.” Well, at this point, I could give up on that book or publish it again myself.

A writer friend of mine, Karla Oceanak, suggested we start our own press to publish Dancing and reprint Remember Wake. So that’s what we did. Very shortly thereafter, we decided to also publish my new children’s series, The Home-Front Heroes Collection, so we could do some unique things with that series. I never did submit it to agents. We started Bailiwick in 2007 and knew we could pull off owning a small press because between us, we had nearly 40 years experience in writing, editing, publishing, marketing, etc.

Question: Did you understand the promotional challenges in advance of publication?

Teresa: Even while I was submitting Remember Wake to traditional publishers, I understood that much of the promotion for that book would fall on my shoulders. So even before I decided to self-publish, I joined CIPA (Colorado Independent Publishers Association). I figured the people who knew the most about promoting books must be successful self-pub authors. I learned so much from that organization, and when I did self-publish my book, I knew how to begin. But even within CIPA, most fiction writers weren’t successful with promotion efforts. I was one of the few who gained any ground.

It’s MUCH harder to promote a self-published work of fiction than a work of nonfiction. Nonfiction sells based on the topic and on the credentials of the writer, but fiction is subjective, and many readers aren’t willing to take a chance on a self-published fiction book. More importantly, most bookstores wouldn’t stock the book and reviewers wouldn’t touch it, etc. (especially since I had used a POD). So I got around that by pursuing feature stories in newspapers about the little-known story of Wake Island and about my approach of writing a fiction book based on interviews with real people. Because all of my books are based on real people, I’ve always been able to spin unique angles that attract the attention of the press. And those feature articles are read by more people than read the reviews page anyway.

As a writer’s coach working with a variety of clients (some who go the traditional route and some who choose to self-publish) I always warn my clients that promotion is the hardest part of the job once the book is finished, and that’s especially true if they self-publish. But if you’re willing to invest your time, money and creativity in promoting your self-published book, and if your book was well written and carefully edited to begin with, you can achieve success. By the way, I do recommend PODs for some of my clients. It all depends on their goals for their books.

Question: What do you recommend to fiction writers who have not been able to find an agent or publisher for their work?

Teresa: Back when I started writing, if your book didn’t get picked up by an agent or editor it languished in your drawer forever. I always thought that was so sad. I knew literally a dozen writers who had written GOOD books who couldn’t get their books picked up for various reasons. But I wasn’t willing to let Remember Wake languish. It was a story I thought needed to be told. And I wasn’t about to give up on Dancing in Combat Boots either. What I tell my clients now is that there’s still a bit of a stigma associated with self-publishing fiction, but it’s getting better. And if your book is good, it will slowly build an audience. It might not hit and become an instant best-seller, but I know several self-published writers who are still seeing steady sales of their books ten years after they released them.

The glory of self-publishing is that your book doesn’t have to make a big splash right away. You’ve got time to grow your audience. But with fiction in particular, your book WILL NOT sell if it’s not good. Invest in a good editor, pay attention to the feedback from your writers group, listen to the opinions of your objective readers, put your ego aside and do what’s best for your book. Keep your goals realistic, but your hopes high. It’s not easy to promote or sell a self-published work of fiction, but the satisfaction of hearing that someone enjoyed your book is no different for a self-published author than it is a bestselling author. And isn’t that better than having that story languish in a drawer?

I want to thank Teresa for providing excellent information and advice for those who choose self-publication. Remember that I'll be talking to Teresa again after V for Victory is released in October.


N A Sharpe said...

Thank you - very interesting interview. I agree, you proably can learn the most about marketing from the self-pubs that have the entire marketing responsibility. It can really be overwhelming and it's great to have the blessing of someone else's experience behind you of what works and what may not produce the results as quickly. Time is a precious thing, after all.

I definitely want to check out the links now.

Nancy, from Realms of Thought…

Anonymous said...

Kudos to you, Teresa. Certainly takes a lot of talent AND a lot of guts to accomplish all that you have. I wish you much success, and no doubt - you already are having it!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Your perseverance and belief in your work is wonderful, Teresa. Best wishes for continued success....

Mystery Writing is Murder

Karen Walker said...

This is so inspiring. And so similar to my own story of self-publishing a memoir. It all boils down to what your goals are and how motivated and willing you are to do what it takes to get your work out there. Congratulations.

Kerrie said...

Thanks for the great interview. I love Teresa's books. She gives some excellent advice. I love when she said, "put your ego aside and do what is best for the book."

Anonymous said...

It must take a lot of time to research the world back then, a time before you were alive. Props to you for making it work. My grandparents now deceased) lived through this era and my parents were entering elementary school, so the stories they tell are more interesting than any yarn I can spin.

Stephen Tremp

Galen Kindley--Author said...

Great tips and information. My hat is off to all self-published authors. I imagine it’s a lot of work--and not inexpensive--so, those folks are truly dedicated. I’ve often said that traditionally published or not is almost as much luck (getting your work in front of the right person at the right time) as it is skill. Nice post. Thanks for sharing.

Best Regards, Galen
Imagineering Fiction Blog

Elspeth Antonelli said...

I commend Teresa for her unwavering faith both in her work and in herself and thank you Patricia for bringing this story to your blog!

I wish Teresa every possible success.

(another WWII author)

Patricia Stoltey said...

Good morning everyone. There is such a growing interest in self-publishing that it seemed appropriate to feature some of the Colorado authors who've done it so well. I have a couple of others in mind for later on (one with brilliantly illustrated books for youngsters that make will perfect Christmas gifts).

I also plan to have Teresa back in a couple of months to give us more information about her series for children and the school program she promotes as part of her goals.

Helen Ginger said...

Wonderful interview. It's so interesting and informative to listen to someone who's been through the process. I seem to be encountering more and more writers who are taking the self-publishing route than ever before.

Straight From Hel

Patricia Stoltey said...

Me, too, Helen. And the part that surprised me was the high quality of the books and the editing I'm seeing these days. Less than five years ago, most of the self-published books I saw were not even close to today's standard. Maybe authors who are willing to do the extra work (and spend the extra money) can start giving the power-publishers some good competition.

Marvin D Wilson said...

I'm with Terri - this ...

"put your ego aside and do what is best for the book."

That is SO true. Great feature and best wishes for success, success, success!

The Old Silly

Cricket McRae said...

Interesting interview -- and how great that you've pursued your dreams right into reality, Teresa! Promotion is a huge job, and I wish you the best of luck now and in the future.

Teresa R. Funke said...

Thank you all so much for your kudos and encouragement! I noticed many of you picked up on how much work it is to self-publish and promote books. Shows you are not a naive audience, but I'm honored to think my story provides some inspiration. Best of luck to all of YOU on your writing. And thank you so much, Pat, for the interview. I look forward to speaking to you again. I'm working to expand my website and newsletter this fall and also have a very cool project on my plate that will help all self-pub authors interested in finding good editors! I'll keep you all posted.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Thank you for stopping by Teresa. Looking forward to learning more about your project.