Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Novelist Bobby Hutchinson talks about publishing

Bobby Hutchinson, glorious writer of romance novels extraordinaire, is a charming, delightful woman - and a dear friend - whom I've had the pleasure of working with for over eight years.

She's a real treat of a human being, and one heck of a writer. Her latest book is a self-published effort this time and a foray into non-fiction. Blue Collar B&B: Adventures in Hospitality is one of the funniest, warmest books I've read in a long time; the characters come to life and you literally feel like you are in the B&B with them all.

Below is an interview with Bobby. Read it and see the mark of a true writer. We will all learn something to help our craft.

"So, after 55 romances published by various companies, and a career that had earned me a decent living for a lot of years, I came to a place where I truly thought I'd never write again. I'd started having rejections on numerous proposals, and at first I thought it was me. I'd lost "it", whatever "it" was. But I talked to writing friends, and realized I wasn't alone. No one--editors, publishers, agents--seemed to know what the hell they wanted anymore. The economic downturn had hit the publishing industry with a wallop.

As writers, our royalties were going south at an alarming rate, and editors were increasingly dictating exactly what they wanted--even though they didn't seem to know for sure. More babies, they said. More cowboys, more traditional, family oriented stories--but not THAT story, sorry. Could you just work up another proposal? The stress and negativity were overwhelming, so I simply stopped writing and concentrated on my B&B.

But stopping writing is a little like stopping breathing for me. In the afternoons, in my spare time, I started scribbling down little stories about the B&B. And pretty soon I had a book, and because I'm a businessperson at heart, I started looking for an agent or a publisher. And out of the few that bothered even replying to my queries, I repeatedly heard: "This sounds like an amusing story with potential, but at the moment there's no market for this type of material."

Crap. I'm a woman of a certain age, and I began to suspect that by the time I sold this new book I'd be too far gone to remember I even wrote it. Frustrated with a new batch of rejections, boggled by the technology and know-how involved in true self-publishing, I started to research Print On Demand--and fell into a quagmire of options.

It seemed Print On Demand was a huge business, and growing exponentially. No one out there on the Net seemed to be able to say which company was best, mostly because each writer had a different reason for going POD. And to begin with, I knew less than nothing about it. So I read everything I could find, and the best information was in The Fine Print of Self Publishing, by Mark Levine.

I phoned him for personal advice, and he mentioned that he and a partner had a POD company of their own, Mill City Press. It certainly wasn't the least expensive option available--but I'd learned that the royalty fees charged by the majority of companies meant it was nearly impossible to make a profit on a POD book. Mill City Press offered no printing markups and 100% royalties. Their fees were upfront, and the writer could decide which extras they wanted, in the form of book marketing, publicity, etc.

I opted for the plan that I felt would give Blue Collar B&B the best opportunity in a difficult marketplace. I've had tremendous support and enthusiasm from the talented people at Mill City, and from you, Alethea--my all-time favorite editor. I'm delighted with the book. I feel the money I spent on it was a valuable education. I learned more about publishing and publicity and self promotion in the five months it took to produce Blue Collar B&B, Adventures in Hospitality, than I learned during the writing and publishing of the previous fifty-five books. I'm excited about writing again; I can't wait to get the next book underway.

Funny you should ask about promotion. Dan Poynter, the guru of self publishing, asks if there's any other industry but traditional publishing that pushes out thousands of new products a year, but offers marketing support to only a handful, those they already consider best sellers. Look what's happened to the traditional music industry, the movie business, FM radio. It's a digital era. New material goes direct from artist to consumer these days, without the expensive (and outdated) middleman.

I'm asking people who read my book and like it (Love it?? God, I hope so!) to tell their friends on Facebook, on Twitter, on whatever Web connection they use. I'm making the book available as an Ebook, and for those who use Kindle. I'm writing blogs everyday on my website (
www.bobbyhutchinson.com) to attract readers. I'm sending out press releases to ezines, newspapers, shamelessly pursuing interviews on the Net and also with TV and radio. I'm selling the book myself at the B&B at the rate of one or two a day (thank you, guests,) and setting up a tent on weekends at local farmer's markets, offering free advice on writing and romance--and oh yeah, selling Blue Collar. I'm offering my services as a speaker at book clubs (and selling my book.) I'm going to promote the hell out of both me and my baby. Ask me in a year how it's going--this is new territory for me. I had barely an ounce of promotion on any of my previous books. I was too stupid (and too contracted) to get out and do it myself.

What made me write a non fiction book? I was just having fun, doing something I hadn't done before. And I loved it. I plan to do it over and over again. The only thing we truly have that belongs only to us is our life experience. If I can use mine to make someone laugh, make 'em cry, make 'em wait--and make money doing it--where's the downside?

As to making money on non fiction, look at these figures, from non fiction writer Mark McCutcheon and Publisher's Weekly. Of the 50,000 plus commercial books published each year, 3,500 are novels. Romances account for 1/3 of those. Not counting genre titles, only about 120 fiction releases are first novels. Of these, 3 out of 4 will not earn out their advance, usually under $10,000--and these days, more like $5,000.

Which leaves 46,500 nonfiction books being published. So for the aspiring writer, your odds of selling are 15 times greater with non fiction versus fiction--but your odds of having your book stay in print and earn money for you are also much greater.

For those starting out as writers, I'd try the traditional route first. Self publishing, even POD, can be overwhelming, and let's face it, getting paid is nicer than paying. Also, new writers need the feedback that editors supply. I learned so much from my editors, and I'm grateful to them.

But my number one tip? Don't get discouraged by that pile of rejections. Keep sending out material. But also find someone not related to you, who reads a lot, to read your work and give you an HONEST critique. If you--and several independent readers who are not your friends--honestly feel your work is amazing and unique and fascinating and original, and it hasn't sold within a reasonable amount of time (a year or two,) then learn all you can about self publishing.

Email me. I'll help if I can."