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Geppetto Meets Google: A Niche Reality Check

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“Not for us” . . . “Best
proposal I’ve read in a long time” . . . “Good luck” . . . “Intriguing” . . .
“Funny” . . . “Great voices” . . . “But not for us.” Sound familiar? I heard
these words in my sleep during those frustrating months of agent-hunting.

 

After three years of writing and
rewriting Motherhood
Confidential
and another year of mailing out book proposals, my
co-author, Linda Cohen, and I began to have doubts. Doubts about the book, its
niche, its voice. Doubts about ourselves, our writing—our sanity. But as
depressing as the rejection notices were, our intuition (or was it our
insanity?) told us to keep trying. We believed. But could we get anyone else to
believe?

 

Every creator has doubts about a
creation. Will it resonate? Is it universal? Or even meaningful to one niche
group? Could it be—God forbid—just self-indulgent? Is it too
intellectual, not funny enough? Maybe it doesn’t hit people where they live.

 

As co-writers we had the advantage
of two different perspectives, but we still had to face the most humiliating
question writers can ask: Was this written for anyone—but us?

 

Getting Personal

 

When 50 agents and publishers
reject your work and you know that each of them is selecting books for millions
of readers, you begin to wonder about your own gut instincts. The math is
intimidating. Maybe there were only eight people whose literary, emotional,
intellectual, and imaginative needs were not being completely fulfilled by the
marketing choices of Random House, HarperCollins, and their peers.

 

Linda and I had dubbed our <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>momoir noir

the “anti-advice” book because we felt women were already drowning in advice
and working too hard to conform to it. It was time to take some of our own medicine.
Our book encouraged women to personalize their parenting. Maybe we needed to
personalize our publishing. If the dogmas of Big Mother were unhealthy for
women, maybe the dogmas of Big Publishing were bad for our book. Okay, <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Motherhood Confidential
was “not right for” Random House. But had we written it for the powers that be?
No, we’d written it for women alienated by motherhood. Why should we assume Big
Publishing knew any more about what women really needed than Big Mother? It was
time to step out of the dogma-doo.

 

We decided to find out the truth
about our book. To get the answer from the only people who really knew: our
future readers.

 

Like the visionary cottage
industrialist Geppetto, carving his wooden boy, I was anxious to see if our
little Kinko’s copy was good enough to become a real book.

 

Would it resonate with parents as
we hoped it would? Did it give a voice to all the secret feelings women aren’t
supposed to have about motherhood? Would it strike a chord with women who’d
lost a friend in the Bermuda Triangle of Maternity? In short, did it have an
audience?

 

We knew we had to find out.

 

I’d been a Marketing Yahoo back in
my corporate daze so, of the two of us, I was the obvious choice to get the job
done. Cramped in my rustic 10-foot-by-10-foot self-publishing workspace, I
started Googling mothers’ organizations. I hunted for La Leche League leaders,
attachment parenting groups. I found Mothers and More and various homeschooling
lists. I sent out a hundred emails with a brief paragraph about the book. And
it happened. The first hard evidence.

 

Somebody’s Out There After
All

 

They flooded in—emails from
women excited by an idea they “hadn’t heard enough about” and eager to preview
the book; women from all walks of life—married, single, homeschooling,
working, stay-at-home, adoptive, attachment parenting, and beyond.

 

The mom reviews that followed in
email, letters, and orders for more copies told us what we needed to know. The
book that challenged Big Mother was ready to challenge Big Publishing. Now
self-publishing looked not only enticing, but practical as well. We had our
green light.

 

I had always liked the autonomy of
doing-it-yourself: independent filmmaking, running a family daycare,
homeschooling . . . so the autonomy of self-publishing was appealing too. And
it seemed to rile people in a similar way. “You’re homeschooling him? Isn’t
that a little ambitious?” “You’re producing your own film? Isn’t that a little
ambitious?” “Self-publishing . . . isn’t that a little ambitious?”

 

I quickly adopted the label “small
press,” but as I dove into the actual ordeal of self-publishing, I wondered if
the term should really be self-punishment. It’s hard, it’s humiliating, and I’m
quite at home in it. Yeah—feels like self-punishment to me!

 

Still, the pain was worth it. We
birthed our book and watched it toddle out into the Big World—first into
the arms of a small distributor, then onto the palettes of the big wholesalers.
We fussed over finding it the right advertising, radio shows, and reviews. The
checks were tiny at first, but word of mouth kept them growing. Over four
months, wholesale orders crept up slowly, Amazon and Lightning Source jumped
from the tens to the hundreds, and Web-site orders tripled.

 

Obviously, the book has not paid
for itself yet. But we have seen one big return on our investment—the
knowledge that what we wrote was meant to be published.

 

Joan Bechtel is an early
childhood educator and a comedian as well as the co-author and publisher of <span
class=8StoneSans>Motherhood Confidential: The
Strange Disappearance of My Best Friend
, from GynaVision Media:
SocioPathways. You can reach her at www.MotherhoodConfidential.com.

 

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