I met Patricia when I joined the Small Publishers Artists and Writers Network (SPAWN) a number of years ago. In 2009, I became the President and Webmaster of the nonprofit organization and redid the Web site, added a blog, and a shopping cart. So Patricia and I have ended up working pretty closely for a number of years now. Patricia is is an incredibly prolific writer and posts to her blog every single day. She’s also the author of 34 (yes 34!) books, so obviously she knows a lot about how books can benefit a business.
Here are her answers to the interview questions, which I found fascinating. (Even after all the time Patricia and I spent emailing and talking, I learned quite a few things!)
Why did you want to write and/or publish a book? How did you know it was the right time?
I started following my dream to write for publication in 1973. I began my career writing articles for magazines. And I supported myself through magazine articles for many years. My first book was a result of a series of articles I’d written for a horse magazine. It was Hints for the Backyard Rider. The first publisher I contacted issued me a contract and the book came out in both paper and hard cover. That was in 1978. I realized then that I loved the process of researching and writing a nonfiction book, so I promptly began another one—all the while continuing to submit articles to magazines. My second book was a comprehensive local history and I decided to establish my own publishing company in order to produce it. I’ve since self-published and traditionally published a total of 34 books. Number 35 is due out in February.
For the sake of this interview, I will focus on my latest book, Promote Your Book, Over 250 Proven, Low-Cost Tips and Techniques for the Enterprising Author.
How long did writing the book take?
I wrote this book under the title, Over 75 Good Ideas for Promoting Your Book in 2000. It was originally a 72-page saddle-stitched book that I self-published. This book took me just a matter of months to write. Fast forward to the year 2010. I decided that this little book was doing so well, that I wanted to revise, update and reprint it. But I got to thinking that maybe I would get more promotional mileage if I landed a traditional publisher of books like this one. Sure enough, Allworth Press/Skyhorse saw the potential and issued me a contract. The revision took somewhere around 4-6 months, as I recall. And the new 200+ page book, Promote Your Book, Over 250 Proven, Low-Cost Tips and Techniques for the Enterprising Author was published in August of 2011.
How have your books affected your overall business?
Every year or so I stop and evaluate my business and attempt to discover what is working and what isn’t. Of course, I factor in what I enjoy most about my work. Here’s what I generally learn: the books (even through there are now 34 of them) don’t actually pay many of the bills.
By 1989 (or so) I had hundreds of articles to my credit and two books. But I didn’t start supporting myself through my writing until that year. I earned my living strictly through my article work, with a little coming in from books, of course, until around 2000. That’s when I began to say “yes” to some of the many people who wanted me to work with them on their book projects. And the editing work then took over as my main business. My book income is still secondary.
With that said, I consider my books valuable to my overall business. Since 2000, I’ve produced books primarily related to writing and publishing. While serving to educate authors, they also give me credibility in my field. For a professional, a book is the new calling card. My books, along with my daily publishing blog, a dozen or so presentations at conferences, articles published in appropriate magazines and newsletters, and the book festivals I participate in every year help attract clients for my editing business.
What challenges did you face in writing your books?
With every book I’ve published there have been challenges. That’s why I tell hopeful authors that, while they will certainly learn many things through the process of publishing a book, no two experiences are the same. With Promote Your Book, I found it a bit challenging learning to work with a new publishing company. It’s especially challenging when you are accustomed to being the publisher. When I sell my own books, for example, I get to keep all of the profit. The difference might be something like $8 to $15 per book. It’s a challenge to wait for royalty statements when you’re accustomed to doing the bookkeeping and knowing the sales figures and sales sources. Book promotion is always a challenge no matter which publishing option you choose.
How do you decide on a topic for your books?
I’ve been writing books for authors for over ten years. I chose topics related to writing, publishing and book promotion because I was meeting (and continue to meet) so many hopeful and struggling authors at book festivals, writers conferences, writing workshops and through SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network).
I began writing books designed to answer the questions these authors ask and to help them avoid the roadblocks they face when they approach the publishing field lacking information and education. It is heartening to know that my books have helped many an author achieve some measure of success.
What resources did you use and how were they beneficial?
Sometimes you don’t know what you know until someone begins to ask you questions. When more and more people decided they want to write books and they started coming to me with questions, I discovered that I had a whole lot of information and resources based on my own publishing experiences over the previous 25 or so years. I combined what I knew with verification from books and presentations by experts and began presenting my own workshops. I also began to write for Writer’s Digest Magazine and several other writing publications. Soon it became obvious that I had enough material to fill a few books for writers and authors.
When I write, I don’t do it alone. I reference books by other experts to verify information and to pick up new resources. I generously acknowledge those authors throughout my books. I also call on experts and other authors and organization leaders for information and anecdotes for my books. I am a strong believer in sharing anecdotes. Not only does it benefit the reader by offering different perspectives and ideas, but it benefits the author/expert by providing exposure for their books.
What have been the results of your efforts?
Certainly, involving other people in your book is a great way to build promotion into your book. The individual featured in your book is eager to tell others about your book, thus you may sell more copies and get more exposure. There are some interesting and creative ways to involve the participants in your book in book promotion activities. For example, with a community blog tour, you ask everyone to blog about your book during a certain week. You’ll pick up readers you might not have attracted. If readers respect the person who participated in your book, he or she is more inclined to respect you. I see this practice as win, win, win.
My second book from Allworth Press comes out in February 2012. It’s called Publish Your Book, Proven Strategies and Resources for Enterprising Authors. A little picture of it appears in the back of Promote Your Book.
What would you do differently next time?
It may be too early to answer this question with regard to my latest book. I find, however, that I learn something from every book I produce. I try to parlay those lessons toward the success of each subsequent book project. I am always doing something differently, while maintaining continuity with the things that are working.
Any other comments?
I’ve seen and experienced many changes in the publishing industry over these 30-something years. While I continue to write because I can’t not write—it’s in my DNA—my focus in recent years is to help the many, many others who are entering the world of publishing. Some of you have a writers’ heart. Others have something to say or to share and you want to do it through a book. While the opportunities abound for authors today, publishing is a tremendously tough competitive business.
The reality is few people actually make money on books today. A nonfiction book should be thought of as a foot-in-the-door for the professional who is attempting to build or expand a business. It is simply a part of the business equation. It helps to demonstrate your abilities and knowledge in your field.
I tell authors that “Publishing is not an extension of your writing.” You will need an entirely different set of tools, skills and mindset for publishing than you are using in the writing process. My advice is to prepare early on by educating yourself.
About Patricia Fry (The Official Bio)
Patricia Fry is the executive director of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network) www.spawn.org. She is the author of 34 books, most of them related to publishing and book promotion. Her latest book is Promote Your Book, Over 250 Proven, Low-Cost Tips and Techniques for the Enterprising Author (Allworth Press, 2011). Patricia works with other authors on their book projects and she also teaches online courses on platform-building, writing a book proposal, establishing a self-publishing company, article-writing and book promotion. www.matilijapress.com. Learn more about Patricia here: www.patriciafry.com. Visit her daily publishing blog here: www.matilijapress.com/publishingblog.