A few days ago I asked my Facebook friends for blogging suggestions. This interview with Marci Seither is one of the results of that post. Some of the other excellent suggestions may be covered in upcoming blogs.
I met Marci several years ago at the Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference when she performed her marvelous Ethel Merman impression for me. Since then, I’ve watched Marci return year after year, always learning her craft and now, experiencing great success. She has written countless articles for local newspapers and since becoming Guideposts Story winner in 2010 has sold over a dozen articles to GP. In April Beacon Hill Press released Marci’s book Empty Nest: Strategies to Help Your Kids Take Flight. Beacon Hill is a fine traditional publisher based in Kansas City, MO. In April, she released her historical novel for children The Adventures of Pearley Monroe as a self-published book. Marci is a great one to comment on the advantages of going with a traditional publisher or simply publishing your book yourself.
Q. Marci, you found a traditional publisher for your empty nest book. What prompted you to self-publish Pearley Monroe? Had you submitted Pearley to traditional publishers before self-publishing?
A. I came across this story over 8 years ago while I was on a field trip with my kids and was challenged to write it by a local historian. I had been writing articles for several years, and would have never considered tackling a fiction project, but I was so moved by the story. I began to take as many classes as I could on plot, character development, and story arc. I knew that traditional publishers would want a series of at least three books, but I really only had the one story I wanted to write in that genre.
I knew schools would be interested in this book because 4th graders in CA take California history. It was my goal to help kids connect with history and the fact that this was based on a real African-American family during the gold rush with a boy as the main character was a huge plus. I wanted to write something our boys would have loved reading. I also created crossword and word search puzzles based on the true facts for each chapter so site- based, charter, or homeschoolers would be able to use this book as part of their curriculum.
Having a traditionally published book often means that the book has a limited shelf life. I knew that it might take a few years for classes to really start using this book and I didn’t want it to be remaindered before it really started to be recognized as a valuable resource. Self-publishing will allow it to grow over the next few years.
Q. What is Sawmill Press, the publisher of PM?
A. If you look on a bookshelf, whether in a library or your own shelf, one of the things that you notice on the spine is the book’s title, the author’s name and a logo with a publishing house. My husband, John, and I decided that we wanted to be as professional as possible and have our book stand up to industry standards. Plus, when working with schools we knew they would be more comfortable placing an order for books with Sawmill Press vs. the author’s name. I purchased a graphic and offset it in a frame. Since John used to operate his own sawmill we figured that was a good, traditional, and solid name for our publishing company.
Q. Self-publishing can be intimidating for some writers. How hard was it to self-publish?
A. Through a fluke in timing I was able to have both books finished and in the publishing shoot at the same time. The traditionally published manuscript was like sending a kid off to boarding school, you help when you can from a distance and expect it to come back all polished. But, the self-published manuscript was like homeschooling. Every detail needs to be thought out and considered to the best of your ability throughout the whole process. Every little step forward feels monumental. It was hard, but it was worth it. Being convinced that it was the best fit for the project helped me persevere to the end.
Q. How long did it take you to see Pearley in print after you made the decision to self-publish?
A. I interviewed someone who had used Createspace and asked a lot of questions in September. I knew traditionally publishing would limit my options, but I didn’t really want to have a garage full of books either. Createspace is tied to Amazon and is a print on demand publisher that lets you set the price of the book. That was a huge issue, since I know that a children’s book is not going to sell for what adult novels sell for, unless your mom buys it. I talked to the editing team at Createspace and went with a formatting package, which added some time to the project.
There were several little things that we were able to hammer out before the final book was printed. I submitted the finished and edited manuscript as well as the 20 photos and the professional cover design to them the first of December. I received my final copy the first week of March.
Seriously, it felt like having a baby and being past your due date.
Q. Describe your “Kickstarter campaign” and how that helped you.
A.I knew that publishing would cost some money. I wanted to make sure the book was professionally formatted, edited, photos were included, marketing expenses and the other things like ISBN codes had to also be taking into consideration. I had heard about Kickstarter from Thomas Umstattd so I decided to look into it.
Basically, you have to pretty much have a solid marketing plan, a great video and some incentives. Since I had worked on this project for so long and grew up in Gold Country there were a lot of people who knew about this book and were excited to see it get written as well.
I thought about my three main audiences- kids, parents and teachers-when I set up my backer levels I targeted their felt needs and wants.
Q. What are the pluses and minuses of traditional publishing?
A. It comes down to understanding your target audience and thinking creatively on how to market to that audience or audiences.
I knew that Empty Nest: Strategies To Help Your Kids Take Flight was a felt need for parents. I also knew that Beacon Hill was a smaller publisher that usually allowed for books to have a longer shelf life. They also were tied to the Nazarene Church…which has 11 universities across the country and one in Canada, including Point Loma Nazerene University.
Parents are anxious about where their soon-to-be leaving child will go. What a great opportunity for the university recruiters to say, “We understand that this is a big decision. We want you to know that we are here for you whether you enroll here or elsewhere.”
That parent is going to feel cared for and understood.
When I sell a book through Amazon or a bookstore, I am usually selling to the end user. Colleges have parents touring the campus all year. Why sell one book when you can sell a box of books? Authors can’t just go where books are…but where readers are. It is important for authors to not only know who their target audience is but also to know which publisher best reaches those audiences.
The plus side is also working with a team who is great at what they do. I have learned a lot of really valuable things working with the marketing team at Beacon Hill.
Q. What are the pluses and minuses of self-publishing?
A. The plus is that if you have something in mind as far as look and feel of your project, you can make it happen. I knew what I wanted my Pearley book to look like and it really fits what I had in mind. Plus, having to work hard makes you more appreciative of the whole publishing process.
The minuses…I am thankful my family was OK eating grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner when we were on the final crunch. I could have never done the project without the help and encouragement of my husband, all of our kids, and other friends and family. Everything is so personal because ultimately your name is tied to every little detail.
Q. When would you advise aspiring writers to consider self-publishing?
A. First off- start a prayer team for the project, not necessarily writers, but people you can be honest with about what is going on with the project.
Like I have mentioned before, you have to understand your audience and have a marketing plan. You have to really ask yourself if self-publishing is the BEST fit for the project and WHY. One size does NOT fit all. There are options and what works for one book, might not work for another.
Q. Who should NOT consider self-publishing?
A. Anyone who thinks it will be easier than going with traditionally publishing or has been turned down by a traditional publisher and would rather see their project in print than have to do rewrites or re-evaluate the manuscript.
If you don’t like to promote your book DO NOT self-publish. But, I would venture to ask this question. If you don’t feel that your project is worth promoting then why did you write it?
Q. What about the importance of having a professional edit of your manuscript before self-publishing? Many people are concerned that self-publishing will have the stigma of being less professional than a traditionally published book.
A. I budgeted for content and line editors. I also paid for professional graphic designer for the cover and for the formatting. It is your name on the cover. Taking short cuts is not going to serve the writing community well and ultimately will hurt your reputation. Think cassette recordings of someone who enjoys singing to Karaoke tracks. Probably not going to get any real air time.
Authors who have a “Field of Dreams” expectation of “If I write it they will buy” should not be surprised when they strike out. You have to be at a professional level, and have others on your team. (I applaud the work of agents who keep the bar high for industry standards. For those who are thinking to self publish they need to ask themselves if an agent would send it on to a pub board or send it back for re-writes).
Q. Two years ago you also self-published FORECLOSURE Is The New “F” Word. That appears to be only an e-book, but your newer self-published book, PM, has a print edition as well. How did you arrive at the decision to make one an e-book only and the other both a print and e-book?
A. At the time Creatspace was not an option. Because it was something our family had gone through and we had been approached by so many in the same situation, especially those who were in the construction industry. It was a booklet I wrote because it was a booklet I wished I had when we were going through it ourselves. I had a whole bunch printed, after I had it professionally formatted and edited to give to people. I love what Lee Roddy said once.. “You never know how Heaven will be different because you wrote.” Sometimes the audience isn’t large and it is a matter of obedience.
Because I can only hand out so many books, I wanted a resource that others could download. Adults will read a book on a tablet, but children’s books are still most popular in print form. Who knows, I might do something different down the road.
I also wrote a children’s book, Pumper John, as a gift for my husband about 14 years ago. A concrete masonary textbook publisher, Hanley Wood, published it in 2005. I am in the process of getting my rights back. The illustrator will be creating some fresh illustrations and I have someone translating it into Spanish. Being able to meet the markets needs is something that can change.
Sometimes we write what is on our heart, or what we wish we had.
I encourage writers to write to the best of their ability. If the result of doing your best ends up in a Christmas letter, an article and booklet or a book, that is great! If not, then maybe the Lord had you write it for a small audience of one, which is you. And that is OK too.
Q. Marci, what parting words of advice do you have for authors dying to see their books published?
A. God is not your “Fast Pass” to publication.
Long gone are the days of fruit baskets and book signings for authors who sign a contract. Whether you have a traditionally published or self-published book you are going to have to roll up your sleeves and work hard. There are a lot of great options out there but the author has to understand the industry enough to be able to navigate the changing course of publishing and be able to define their market.
“And in whatever you do whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).