Last Saturday, October 29, in the lovely space at Duluth’s Unitarian Universalist Congregation, four local authors talked about the road to publishing their most recent books — an event organized by Lake Superior Writers, thanks in part to a grant from Arrowhead Regional Arts Council. All photos above by Maddie Cohen.
I learned something new from each of the four authors:
Alice Springer Marks, Missing, published privately 2016
A former pre-school director and teacher, Alice turned to writing when she retired. She’s published some of her short stories in anthologies, and has written plays for non-profits. She and her husband, Sam, moved to Duluth 3 year ago and live in the Lincoln Park area of Duluth. Alice has a friend who self-published medieval stories set in Texas (I think I have this right!) through Women Addicted To Heroines — this friend encouraged her to join the ranks of “indie” authors to publish Missing, the story of two detectives who solve the mystery of a doctor who goes to lunch one day and never returns. Some of Alice’s points:
- It took her seven years to write Missing, but only one year to write the sequel.
- As an older author (her term, not mine!) she didn’t want to wait around for the typical submission/publishing timeline.
- Revising is hard work.
- She uses her computer like a typewriter, so she hired someone to format her manuscript.
- Next project: sequel to Missing, called Break, starring the same two detectives who solve a double-identity puzzle.
Lucie B. Amundsen, Locally Laid, Penguin 2016
Lucie and her husband, Jason, own Locally Laid Egg Company in Wrenshall, MN, a “middle-agriculture” farming operation, where chickens are pasture-raised. Lucie’s background is in marketing; when her freelance career collapsed in 2008 she entered Hamline University’s MFA program (which she notes is no help at all in selling her writing).
- While there, she wrote a manuscript for a graphic novel, queried five agents (researched them, followed them on Facebook, i.e. “benevolent stalking”). All passed on her manuscript, but one asked to see her next book.
- Locally Laid is narrative non-fiction — Lucie jokes that this means, Where do you shelve it?
- This personal story has a couple of arcs — memoir, then the business story arc, then the teaching stories (among them, explaining “middle agriculture”)
- She sent 10 book proposals over an 8 week period to her agent. More or less a full-time job, on top of real life, getting to a satisfactory book proposal that her agent was willing to sell.
- Offers came from Harper Collins and Penguin within nine days. Lucie chose Penguin because they wanted a teaching book — but Penguin wanted the book to be 40% longer.
- 18 months after submitting the final manuscript, the book came out.
- Then — she began marketing the book, a nearly full-time job on top of other full-time jobs like farmer, mom, marketing department at Glensheen, etc.
- Next project: book about marketing and entrepreneurship for farms; nervous about the first draft — which is like shoveling dirt, then crafting sandcastles.
Felicia Schneiderhan, Newylweds Afloat, Breakaway Books 2015
Felicia worked as a freelance writer for several years in Chicago and elsewhere, and has published essays, short stories and poetry; she’s a regular writer for Lake Superior Magazine.
- Her book started as a blog during her “liveaboard” days, along with her husband, Mark, on his boat Mazurka, in downtown Chicago.
- She published articles based on the blog that later became chapters in the book — this helped her define a larger audience.
- She queried 10 agents — of the 5 who replied, 3 asked for sample chapters or 10 pages of the book.
- Learned BEFORE you query, you should have the whole manuscript ready!
- Applied for and received an ARAC grant to finish a novel during this time, so she was working on more than one project.
- She googled boat book publishers and found Breakaway Books, a small independent publisher, in upstate New York — publishers of outdoor adventure books with a literary tone. The owner and publisher does everything and outsources what he can’t do himself.
- Queried them anonymously — now, she knows better! — but they wanted it.
- Due out in Fall 2015. That August, publisher announced he didn’t have enough time to provide Advanced Reader Copies. (aka ARCs, these are the books sent to reviewers ahead of publication.)
- NOW she knows that ARCs are REALLY important — almost no one reviews a book after it’s published.
- Next project: She likes accumulating the “dirt” of a manuscript; feels elation and grief upon finishing a book, then sees “here’s the next thing and maybe I can say it” with writing.
Julie is an accomplished and award-winning poet who teaches at University of Wisconsin-Superior. She lives in Duluth with her partner, the poet Michelle Mathees. Julie says she’s been a writer all her life; her work has been published in chapbooks and literary journals. The 59 prose poems in Home Studies (a finalist for the 2016 Minnesota Book Award) were expanded from 18 poems she wrote between 2004-2007 when she and Michelle lived in North Dakota and adopted a 9-year-old daughter from Russia.
- The book is divided into three parts. The middle section of the manuscript was going to be another project, but the [poetry] genre is flexible, so work can fit into different genres; this middle section was written in Duluth from 2007-2015.
- She tends to overwrite, then pares back. She also writes more poems than she will use in a collection, then pares back the number.
- In summer of 2012, she decided to put together a book, sent it out to contests and presses and queried 5-8 places.
- Like Minnesota writer, Alison McGhee, she was prepared to go up to 80 queries!
- She knew she wanted small literary presses, rather than an agent. The manuscript for Home Studies was the winner of the 2103 Many Voices project at New Rivers Press, a teaching press located at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
- Next project: Living in the uncertainty of beginning another book. “This (Home Studies) is a book — will my next ideas be a book?”
ASSORTED WISDOM FROM THE Q&A:
- Contests often require a fee; in effect, you’re paying someone to read your manuscript
- Marketing your book is a lot of work — and it’s expected no matter which publishing route you go
- Consider low expectations — then, when people respond it’s great
- Do a great job getting pre-copies out to reviewers (aka Advanced Reader copies)
- Felicia noted that ARAC provided a grant so she could travel to the East Coast (where she’s from) to do readings
- Poets & Writers database is a good resource
- So is Writer’s Digest
- Alice says Reader’s Digest usually pays $100 for 100 words
- Lucie suggests a tiered approach to getting published: devote X number of weeks or months to 1) securing agent, then 2) small press, then 3) self-publishing an e-book.
- With every query you write, you are sharpening the marketing of your book.
- amazon has resources for self-publishing; mixed-genre books can do well with this
- Book talks appeal to larger audiences than a book reading — tell how you wrote the book or researched the subject. An entertaining presentation draws an audience. Lucie: “Making it funny is coping.” (Meaning your book content and/or your presentation.)
- Business Facebook gives you many options for targeting audiences for small cost.
- Couple a visit to a library (for a book signing) with a writing workshop that you teach — much more fun than sitting in a bookstore hoping people come by.
- Write from your gut and heart first. Later, you can fine-tune the message.
So there you go — see what you missed? You’ve gathered by now that none of our four authors published their books expecting, or even hoping, to get rich. But they all found it satisfying. What will you do to make finishing and publishing your book a good experience?
The Arrowhead Regional Arts Council provides funding and support to Lake Superior Writers, and a host of other regional artists and arts organizations. “Funding for ARAC programs and services is provided through appropriations from the Minnesota State Legislature, the Arts and Cultural Heritage Amendment, and a grant from the McKnight Foundation.”