Monday, October 19, 2015

A Decision About Books

Much of my publishing journey of the last years has taken place out of public view.

But now I need a bit of advice from The Public.

I've been writing for the Register-Guard for 15 years, and my columns have accumulated into five books.

I self-published my first collection, Ordinary Days, in 2003.  I wasn't that happy with the process and especially the marketing, which was a miserable ordeal for someone raised Amish and constantly told to be more quiet.

Eventually Good Books picked it up, and they published three books:
Ordinary Days
Upstairs the Peasants are Revolting
Downstairs the Queen is Knitting

They didn't sell that terribly well for Goods, partly because books of essays don't sell nearly as well as, say, Amish novels.

Good Books did quite a bit of publicity, mailing free books to 900 bookstores and such.

But the books never really took off in the general population.  So Goods decided not to publish the fourth book.

So I self-published Tea and Trouble Brewing three years ago, and Footprints on the Ceiling one year ago.

At this stage, I love self-publishing.  I love having control of the process, most of all.  I love having enough years under my belt that some people have actually heard of me and read my other books, and now they WANT to hear about the next one. How astonishing is that??

The industry has changed a lot, and technology is much more friendly toward self-publishing.  Also, the internet has radically changed marketing, so that even an ex-Amish girl can publicize her stuff without making a lot of noise.

Also, I get far more money per book than I ever did with royalties.

Meanwhile, in a strange plot twist, Good Books went bankrupt.  For a nail-biting year, I couldn't get any more of my first three books.  Instead, I got dozens of legal papers in the mail that could be used as evidence that the legal industry is a strange, bizarre, wasteful world of its own, with its own language and systems designed to exclude mere mortals but still make money off them.  And to use up forests of paper.

I digress.

Then, happily, another company bought up what remained of Good Books, along with all the inventory and rights.  I could once again buy books to sell at Loretta's Country Bakery and at the fair.

Recently I've been conversing with this new publisher, whom I won't name except to say that they're in New York City and bigger than Good Books but smaller than HarperCollins.

They're interested in publishing one of my last two books.

As I see it, my books have two very distinct markets: the Eugene community and the Mennonite/Amish community.  There's also a third, the online community, which encompasses parts of the above, plus a random mix of other people.

As a self-publisher, I can easily market to the above groups.

The people I can't reach are the average folks in other parts of the country.  Maybe a 40-year-old teacher in Billings, a grandma in Connecticut, a young mom in Memphis.

Those are the people that a "real" publisher could reach.  But would they buy my books if they haven't been following me in other media for a long time, like most of my lovely readers have, God bless them?

Going with a publisher would work for me only if:
1.They can reach these other readers, actually persuade them to buy books, and be more successful at it than Good Books was.
2. They sell about 10 times more books than I'm selling now, to come out as well financially.
3. They don't try to take over my blog, as so many publishers do when a blogger gets a book deal

I've got to say, it is a wonderful thing to be in a position with a bit of power, where I can hold out for the deal I want.  Or I can simply say No and still have a good system going.

To you beginning writers: it took a long time to get here, so don't despair.

If you have an opinion or expertise and want to speak into this, please do.

Have I mentioned that I appreciate all my readers?  Well, I do.  I think it's amazing that you do so voluntarily, and some of you even spend money to do so, which I wouldn't do myself, so God bless you all a lot.


  1. I know the feeling. It's a tough decision. I made more money in self-publishing but it's a quick hot fire. I can't afford to advertise two books long term and sales dwindle. Royalties from a publisher are diddly. It doesn't seem fair that the publisher and bookstores make more money than the writer who did the work. But I do it for love, not money. I guess it depends on what you want from it.

  2. I have been reading your blog for years, and because of the blog I have ordered your first three books and enjoyed them immensely. I was upset to learn that I could not order your other books (living in Austria I order through Amazon de.), and not being able to read on e-books resigned to the fact that I would only be able to read the first books.
    I do not know if it helps, or means anything, but I would buy another printed book of essays in a heartbeat, if they were from you.


  3. What a great set of problems to have! May I be so cursed one day. ;-) And in all seriousness, I will pray that God guides you to the right answer.

  4. As somebody else said, not a bad dilemma to have! My own personal reaction would be to give the NYC publishing house a chance - I mean, how often does THAT opportunity come calling? and you won't know until you try what avenues it might open up. At the very least, what an experience! But if I can ask a personal question here, does one choice feel more right to you than the other? Do you have some sort of gut reaction? Because if you do, you should probably listen to that prompting.

    By the way, I'm neither Mennonite nor from Eugene, and I own all of your books, and have given some as gifts as well to friends all the way from California to Vermont and Maryland. Your readership is probably wider than you think.

  5. I've just recently come across your books. And I love them. Like the above comment I am not Mennonite nor Amish. (a bit connected through family and people we once worshipped with) However I am intending to give your books as gifts to my family as I just love them so much. I think the comment is right that your readership appeals to more than just Mennonites. It is down to earth, and I found so much in common with you even though our backgrounds are so different. In one of your essays you mention this, that at certain times there is no need to prove a connection. Some things are just common to all of us. And that is what I find when I read your books. You are so much like me or I am so much like you. I read the commonalities, smile and think I do that too.

    And I also agree that you should give the publishing company from NYC a try. Really, to have a publisher "after" your writing material. Such a thing doesn't happen often.

  6. Tough decision...but I vote the NYC crowd. Getting the Word out to the greater masses. What a blessing that would be! Touching lives from all journeys...such a fabulous opportunity! I say-Go For It! :-)

  7. I have self-published and I have used a publisher. Though I am not 100% satisfied with my current publisher (we don't even have a contract--I just get a percentage of the sales) it was a HUGE relief not to have to hassle with storage, shipping, etc. I do miss the contact with customers, though. My book, a wedding planner for conservative Anabaptist people, has a naturally narrow readership, a minority of a minority, so it wouldn't be a huge money maker either way.

    If you dialog with the New York publisher, I suggest you find out ask about the possibilities that concern you, such as taking over your blog. And if you decide to go with them, I think it would be good to stick with one book to start with (as they have suggested).

    Sometimes when I have a decision, I list the reasons for each side. It isn't necessarily the longest list that wins, but the one with the most total "weight".

    As you pray, deliberate in your mind and on paper, weigh the advice of your blog readers, and discuss it with Paul and perhaps others, I believe you will be able to come to a conclusion with peace that it was the right decision.

  8. Why not wait and see what they can do with the three books they have rights to? If they can make good (by your standards) of them, then consider letting the other trickle out.

  9. I refused to hand over my blog even when asked to do so by my publisher. There was nothing in the contract saying I would have to, so there was nothing they could do about it when I declined.

    I have thought of simply starting up a separate author blog where I could publish the things they want me to, or they could guest post when ever they like. There is no way that I'm giving them my original blog.

  10. I'm just a reader. I came across your blog about 2 years ago, through a Google search (maybe something to do with cooking?). I'm not religous at all, not married, no kids, and bunch of other stuff we dont't have in common. But. I love good writing, especially if there's some humor involved, and really enjoy getting a small glimpse into the life and mindset of someone who is naturally curious and interested in people.

    I read a lot, 4 or 5 books a week. I find a lot of new-to-me books and authors while listening to interviews on my local public radio channel. I also come across good recommendations on other blogs. These days I dont find myself in actual bookstores much, maybe every 3 months or so, but a LOT of times I'll find great stuff just poking around on Amazon. I have a BA in English, and am in my mid-50s--i know demographics are important :) Thank you for all your hard work.

  11. What ever you decide, do NOT let them condense your stories. I remember reading your first columns in the paper and then being disappointed when the books came out. You should be the boss, whatever you decide.

  12. ^ What LRM said. Is the NYC publisher (cool!!!!) willing to take you on, without you giving up blog rights? Sooo many blogs start "smelling like a rat", however slightly, when they start courting bigger audiences or paycheck.... then again, who am I to say it's not worth it?

  13. THANK YOU, all of you, for your insights, thoughts, and advice. We needed more outside perspective and you all helped out so much. No for-sure decision yet on our end.