Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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October 7, 2011

How I Became a Publisher

by Kitty Bucholtz

When I started writing, I published a few articles and devotionals, and then I tried to figure out what kind of novel I wanted to write. I discovered that romance novels accounted for about half of the paperback market and I thought: I like romance, I’m happily married, I’ll write one of those.

I wrote and wrote - Christian romances, category romances, stand-alone romances, first person, third person, contemporary, 1940s - whew! I tried everything looking for my voice. Then one day a friend asked me if I’d heard of chick lit. Suddenly, the light dawned and the heavens opened and I danced with angels for a while! I’d found myself!

I quickly signed with an agent who sent my book out to eight of the biggest New York publishers. Both of us had high hopes. But the best we received was two replies of “we almost bought it.” As it turned out, chick lit was dying.

A few more years went by, but no one was enamored with my new stories, including my agent. She’d found her niche and it was Romance with a capital “r”. But that wasn’t precisely what I was writing. After four and half years, we amicably parted company and I sat down to figure myself out once again.

Back in the 1990s, I heard a woman speak at our writers group about all her rejections and how she finally decided to self-publish her book. By the time she spoke to our group, she’d sold over 100,000 copies of her children’s picture book on her own. A couple publishers who had rejected it earlier called her up and offered her 12% royalties to take over. She said no.

So here I was, thinking about my career - or lack thereof - knowing I’d found my voice, and finding everywhere I researched that “everyone” was saying that a humorous voice in a “with romantic elements” story was hard to sell.

I went to grad school to get my MA in Creative Writing thinking I would simply become a better writer and then I’d start getting contracts. But I kept hearing that publishers were buying less than ever due to the economy, and I was getting tired of waiting.

During my final semester in early 2011, I decided to do some more research into digital self-publishing. Things had really started to take off in that arena, but I understood that the biggest obstacle would be finding my audience. What kind of person would like what I wrote enough to buy it, and how would I reach her?

I flew to New York for the Romance Writers of America conference and pitched my superhero book to editors and agents there. Regardless of where the industry was headed, most revenue in books was still being generated by print copies from big publishers and distributors. But I only heard more of the same - “It sounds fun, but I don’t know how to sell it,” and “I like your story idea, but romantic comedy doesn’t sell well. How much sex is in it?”

By the time my plane landed back home in Sydney, I’d decided to self-publish that already-completed book from 2004. It wasn’t doing anything sitting on my computer, and worst case scenario I’d be out about $600. I’d already made notes about some edits I wanted to make to my book and then I was going forward!

It’s true that your friends and family can only buy so many copies of your book, but I’d been hearing potential readers tell me for years, “I just love how you write! When can I buy your book?” If I could find my audience, I could at least make a living, even if it was only barely enough to get by.

I signed up for a 10-day online class about how to format your book for Kindle. Let me just say, this is not a process for the technologically challenged or the faint of heart! I worked *all* day, *every* day for those ten days and barely got my book up on the last day of class.

But it was up! My novel, Little Miss Lovesick, was available for sale on Amazon!

More confusing hard work got the book up on Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Apple’s iTunes/iBookstore. In 2 ½ weeks, I’ve sold 58 copies and have three reviews posted (one, not even written by a friend!).

I have a three-page To Do list that is probably missing a lot of things I need to do that I don’t even know about yet. I had a couple days this week where I got very little done because I was so overwhelmed by both the amount of work and the newness of it all. *How* do I do this or that?

But I’ve never felt better about my career in my life! Even though I have to move to a different country next month, I don’t want to stop. I’m creating business strategies for pricing, for finding my audience, for the publishing order of future books. I’ve got our DBA name registered with the state of California, and I’m working on getting a separate checking account. I’m researching all the small business paperwork that needs to be done, and I’m preparing to write an ebook on that, too!

Self-publishing is a time-consuming and difficult job, and a lot of the work eats away at your writing time. But I talked to a friend who got her first publishing contract this year, and her publisher is asking her to do about 75% of the stuff I’m doing!

She doesn’t lounge on her deck writing her next book every day. She, too, is rushing to meet the next deadline while also creating a Facebook presence, a Twitter presence, building a better web site, brainstorming how to blog differently/better, etc., etc.

Neither of us thinks we have it easier than the other. Publishing your book - no matter how you do it - is more time-consuming in 2011 than it was when the authors we grew up with were doing it. I encourage you to do your research no matter which direction you go.

It’s a rewarding process either way. But it’s also a lot of work. So do the research, choose a path - or take both paths with two different books - and then remind yourself every day, I love my job!

What are your thoughts about self-publishing? Do you have any questions for me? If you've decided to go the e-pub route, what was it that prompted your decision?

Kitty Bucholtz decided to combine her undergraduate degree in business, her years of experience in accounting and finance, and her graduate degree in creative writing to become a writer-turned-independent-publisher.

Her first novel, Little Miss Lovesick, was released in September 2011 as an ebook and will be available by December in print format. Kitty has also written magazine articles, devotionals, and worked as a magazine editor. She is the co-founder of Routines for Writers where she blogs every Wednesday. Her next novel, Love at the Fluff N Fold, will be released in Spring 2012. You can keep up with Kitty on Facebook, Twitter, or at her web site.

0 comments on “How I Became a Publisher”

  1. Congratulations to you, Kitty. It takes determination and courage to find the right path. Each of us are traveling down the same road, but not a one knows where they will go at the crossroads. Like Dorothy, when the time comes, the decision is made and it becomes our fate, our future. There are also those who do it all, self-pub, then go with traditional, have years with agents and traditional and then move into self-pub. None of us knows exactly how our journey will end. Hopefully, we will all make it "home." Thanks 🙂

  2. Congrats to you, Kitty. It takes a lot of courage and perseverance to keep going and then do it yourself. I'm getting ready to query agents for the experience as much as anything. My book doesn't have any real genre issues, but I'm not expecting huge responses. I do believe in the book, and if no one bites, I'll eventually self-publish. I'd like to have at least one more book ready to go before I do that.

    Good luck, and thanks for sharing!

  3. Kitty,
    Great thoughts. Thanks for sharing your experience. When I e-pub, I'm paying someone to do the tech parts--you're very brave to try it yourself. Good luck with your continued writing journey.

    1. Hi Chris,
      There are definite benefits to hiring someone else, and I will beginning with the third or fourth book, I think, depending how on much quicker I get. The good part about doing it yourself is that you see what a mess that can be avoided by formatting your document correctly before you write the first word. But then after you know what you should do to make the job quicker/easier/cheaper to hire out, it's awesome to have the extra time to write the next book. I'd be nearly done with the next book if I weren't doing all these other things. LOL! But I love it so... 🙂

      Thanks for the good wishes!

  4. Kitty,
    I've heard there are services that will format your book for around $200 to 250. I'm not tech savvy at all and time is always an issue. Any reason you did not go this route?

    1. As I mentioned to Chris, part of it was wanting to know "how it works" so that I can create the cleanest file possible. I'm a techy person and I like techy challenges. 🙂 When I hire out, I should be able to save money by not having messy files that need more work to clean up. I'm very much a "why and how" person, so I wanted to know exactly what was going on. I'm also formatting the print version of the book instead of hiring it out, for all the same reasons. (My husband did the cover, and probably will continue to do future covers.)

      But as I start earning more money, I'll invest some of it back into the business like any small business owner. I'll hire out all the formatting pieces, and will probably hire a virtual assistant to help with newsletters, database work, etc. Then I'll get more writing done, and likely make more money to compensate for the money I'm spending. But I like knowing how all the bits of my business work so that I know exactly who I want to hire and what exactly I want them to do. Hopefully those people will be brilliant and think of even better ways to do things, but I'll want them to explain the why and how to me so that we can continue to think up better and better ways to grow the business.

      Thanks for the good question!

  5. Way to go, Kitty! I, too, went the indie route when RWA-sanctioned publishers said they couldn't sell my books either! But one reader at a time (Diana Gabaldon's sage advice to me) I am convincing the world to love Norwegian heroes. Norway IS the new Scotland after all.

    1. LOL! Kris, that's awesome! And there are LOTS of readers out there who love Norwegians! Just ask my friend Lauraine Snelling. She's been writing about Norwegian frontiersmen/immigrants for LOTS of books over the years. One little town adopted her work and they make the town into her fictional town of Blessing once a year and put on a play about the original characters in the first books and everything! You go, girl!!

      P.S. GREAT advice from Diana! I am grateful one sale at a time. 🙂

  6. Congratulations on publishing, Kitty! Nina's class was great, and I'm so glad to see your "graduation project" complete. : ) Love your cover and looking forward to reading your book. Keep writing.

    1. Hey Deb! Thanks so much! That was a great - though often overwhelming - class. I'll tell my husband you love the cover. 😉 I have to admit, I love it too. LOL! Thanks for the kind words! Happy Writing!

  7. I so agree with you on this! I'm getting started creating my own 'brand.' I have loads of books to post up that didn't quite 'fit' on the traditional shelves. I am sooo excited. I'm calling it 'environmental historical fiction' and I'm already planning on publishing other writers with similar work. So its not just me!

    Like you I'm hiring out the formatting issues, I'm going to hire someone to help with the social media (responding to comments), and mostly hiring illustrators/animators. I'm convinced that a missing piece of e-publishing is using these tablets and devices for what they are capable of. I plan to draw the audience into the story by having interactive components.

    (By the way, my publishing will have a sophisticated kid's science-learning element - 12 books written; a steampunk room for my novel(s) and short stories; and rooms for two other authors doing historical writing with a social and environmental twist. The whole site hopefully will be not just for kids, and will have a 'learning through the back door' aspect.) when it's ready, it will be online as Red Phoenix Books! 😉 Wish me luck! And best wishes for your writing. Humor is hard to do, and if you have a voice for it, then you are truly gifted.

  8. Hi Kitty,
    I'm so glad you posted this. Too many good writers sit around waiting for publisher to want them. I think the publishing industry is limiting what we are reading.


    1. Hi Marion,
      Thanks for your comment. It will be exciting to see what kinds of new stuff gets written and read now that there is another way to get stories to readers! I wonder what we'll be reading 5 or 20 years from now that never would've happened if we'd had to wait for a big corporation to take a chance. 🙂

      Happy reading and writing to you!

  9. Great, informative post, Kitty; thanks for sharing! I just recently went the self pubbed route with a Short. I ended up having to pay someone for Formatting and for the Cover, but I lucked out and got a wonderfully talented person who charged me less than $100 to do both. My biggest problem is trying to figure out how to promote it? What works best for you? I have 9 other books pubbed with regular publishers and I promote them through the Yahoo groups Im on. Still, there must be a better way to get the "word" out there....

    Anyhoo. Thanks again for sharing this!

    Hugs, Kari Thomas, http://www.authorkari.com

    1. Hi Kari, sounds like you've had a great experience with self-publishing so far. Congratulations! I agree, finding your audience and helping them be aware of your work is the most challenging part. I'm still working on that and don't have any answers for you yet. I know you need to ask yourself - who are these people, where do they go on the Internet, how do they find stories to read, and how can I be there and let them know about my stories? I'm going to try some of the things John Locke talks about in his ebook, How I Sold 1 million eBooks in 5 Months. We'll see what happens. Good luck!

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