Kim Wolterman is a non-fiction author and focuses much of her work on writing about historical research. In this interview she talks about her books, what you should do before you finish your book, and what led her ultimately to starting her own publishing company.
1. Tell me briefly about your books – what are they about and what motivated you to write them?
Like a lot of people, writing a book was on my list of things to do. But I always thought that my first one would be a book for children on the topic of composting. My husband and I owned a large commercial composting facility, and I frequently went into classrooms to talk about the composting process. There are no up-to-date books for children on this topic. But sometimes our books speak to us and demand to be written. That is what happened with my first book, Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed(room)? Researching a St. Louis County, Missouri Home. While researching the history of our home in order to obtain a century home plaque I became very frustrated with the fact that the records in St. Louis County are scattered here, there, and everywhere. I kept wishing for a guide to help me understand where all the documents are located, and where else to look, when I hit a brick wall. Since there was none available I decided to write a book to help other researchers in this area.
When I approached traditional publishing companies with my book proposal, I was told that my audience was too narrow. Even the local publishing company in my community wanted my book to be broader. But I knew that if I made the book generic for all house researchers, then people in St. Louis County would still struggle to find the resources here. So I wrote it my way and made the decision to start my own publishing company in order to get the book published.
What I was able to do with that first book was to come back to it later and remove all references to St. Louis County, have a new book cover designed, and convert it to an ebook. That is how Keys to Unlocking House History came to be. I would encourage authors to look at other ways to repurpose their work.
The idea for my third book, From Buckeye to G.I. LeRoy C. Kubler The War Years 1942-1945 came about after my father died. As the genealogist in the family I inherited all of dad’s papers, photos, albums, etc. As I looked at the numerous military papers my dad had saved from WWII, as well as the photographs he had taken during his time of service, I realized that they told an interesting story of the China-Burma-India Theater, also known as the Forgotten Theater. I wanted to share the history in an interesting and informative way, so I decided to write this book.
2. How have your sales been?
My first book was published at the end of 2009, and I have sold about 125 copies so far. The other two books just came out mid-2011, so sales numbers are pretty small so far. One of the issues (and it is a big one, I think) with From Buckeye to G.I. LeRoy C. Kubler The War Years 1942-1945 is that I used Lightning Source to print the book and put it into their distribution system. So while Amazon.com shows that my book is available, it indicates a 5-8 week delivery period! Amazon does not play nicely with anyone else in the publishing sandbox, and I feel this is their way of discouraging authors from using anyone besides their own company, CreateSpace, to print books.
3. You’ve started your own publishing company. Tell me about that.
Once I determined that a traditional publishing company was not going to be interested in my book, I researched other ways to get my book into print. After talking with a number of self-published authors, reading a LOT about publishing online and in books (I highly recommend Dan Poynter’s Selp-Publishing Manual) and talking with my accountant, I decided that I wanted total control of my book. Provenance Publishing LLC was formed in 2009.
4. You’ve attempted to work with local publishers. Describe that process and how one would go about trying to do that.
There is a publishing company in St. Louis that publishes local books by local authors. I found out about them through a Google search of local publishers. I tried to first contact them through the email address listed on the website, and then followed up with phone calls. None of those attempts resulted in a response, but I was lucky enough to find the owner of the company sitting in a booth at The Big Read in St. Louis in 2009. I explained my book to him and showed him my book proposal. It was at that point that he informed me my book had too narrow of a market for him to take on.
I would encourage authors to seek out an area publishers association, because a number of new independent publishing companies are interested in taking on the books of other authors.
5. What sort of experience have you had trying to become traditionally published?
Since I tend to write books with a niche market, traditional publishing companies are not at all interested in offering me a book deal.
6. Overall, how do you like self-publishing?
Self-publishing has been a really exciting experience for me. I enjoyed all the research I put into coming up with a company name, working with a designer on the logo, and establishing the company. I like having total control of the design and pricing of the books as well as deciding which markets the books will be in. Oh, and earning 85-100% of the book sales most of the time – that part is awesome!
7. What sort of marketing techniques have you used to sell your book, and which ones have been most successful?
Like most authors I have a website to sell my books, and I cultivate my online presence with Twitter, Facebook, Google+ (just dipping my big toe in that one) and LinkedIn. While my local independent bookstore carries my first book, and has sold a couple dozen copies of it, I also sell my books in non-traditional locations such as historical societies, museums and genealogical societies. But the most successful of all is when I do speaking engagements. When you sell your books in the back of the room at presentations, you get 100% of the book sales. I should add, however, that if a non-profit organization is the one who invited me to speak, I normally make a donation of a certain percentage of sales to them.
8. Are there any marketing techniques you have intentionally avoided or discontinued, and if so, why?
I have avoided trying to get my books into chain bookstores. By the time the distributor takes a cut and the bookstore takes their cut, it just doesn’t seem to be worth the effort.
9. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about self-publishing that you didn’t know when you started out?
The time that it takes to write a book is only the beginning. Taking care of the business end of the publishing company and marketing the books takes a vast amount of time and effort.
10. If you could do one thing differently in publishing your book, what would it be?
I hate to admit this, but I probably would have gone through CreateSpace for From Buckeye to G.I. LeRoy C. Kubler The War Years 1942-1945 had I known that Amazon was going to make it difficult for small publishers to sell their books on Amazon.com. For my first book it really doesn’t matter because my audience is so local. But the WWII book has an international audience, and in this day of instant gratification I don’t see anyone ordering a book with a 5-8 week delivery period on it. And like it or not, an author really has to be on Amazon. For my ebook, Keys to Unlocking House History, I did the initial distribution through smashwords.com, but then I also submitted the ebook through Kindle Direct Publishing so the I wouldn’t run into issues with Amazon on the ebook.
11. Independent authors face the obvious challenge of marketing their books without the resources of traditional publishers. What advice do you have for an indie author just starting out?
Start creating buzz for your book before it is even complete. Establish a web presence and look at your marketing options, because it may impact how you even produce the book. Look for bloggers online who review books of the same genre as yours, and ask them to review your book when it is finished. If you can get popular bloggers to review the book, all of a sudden your audience is way bigger than the people who follow your blog or Twitter feed. Just ask Amanda Hocking!
12. What projects are you currently working on?
Currently I am working with an author who has asked me to publish a business book. I really hadn’t considered publishing books for others, so I am looking into how to structure that type of an arrangement.
13. If you could market your brand – not just one particular book, but your overall brand of writing – in one sentence, what would it be?
Bringing the past into the present.
14. How can readers learn more about your book?
More information about my books can be found at www.provenancepublishing.com or at my author’s page. I blog about researching house history at www.myhousehistory.net and about writing and publishing books at http://writeformation.blogspot.com/.
And if I could add one final piece of advice for authors who are going to self-publish: hire an editor (a book editor, not your sister or a friend who is an English teacher) and a book designer (not a graphic designer, but someone who has designed books in the past) for your project. Just because your book is self-published does not mean it has to look like it is!