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.