In 1989, I celebrated my 60th birthday by quitting my day job at the University of New Hampshire to pursue a life-long dream to write full-time. In the 1960s, my late husband Red and I owned and operated the well-known 18th Century Fitzwilliam Inn. Red was a detail junky and kept track of everything. Not only did he record the weather and all dining room, bar, and overnight room sales, but also anything out of the ordinary that involved guests, staff, or the 200-year-old building in which we conducted our business. “Some day you’ll write a book,” he would say. And one day I did!
A Horse in the Ladies’ Room
was finally completed in 1996. “Now what?”I asked myself. I needed an editor and spent days in the library going through literary tomes to find the best source of help. It was overwhelming.
I eventually turned to Kay Amsden, who also retired from UNH. She had taught at the school for 30 years, and although her field was physical education, she agreed to take a look at my manuscript. The first draft came back covered with ugly red comments. I was indignant, until (as we discussed her re-write suggestions) I realized she had tightened my words, sharpened my humor, and given life to the book’s imagery. I was stunned when she said, “You’re too old to wait around for a big-time publisher to accept your manuscript; I think we should publish it ourselves.”
We chose the name KALM, a contraction of our initials, for the name of our publishing company. Secretly we hoped it would keep us“calm” as we approached this new career passage at our advancing ages. We began the adventure by visiting bookstores where Kay and I took notes on size, price, cover style, paper quality, and back cover information. For our book, we settled on a 6″-x-9″ laminated soft cover. Boldly, we decided to order 150copies! I felt even that was risky! The book was a New Hampshire story. Who outside of the region would purchase a copy? When a $12-per-book quote came back from the printer, I was devastated. Who could afford such a cost? I just wanted to tell the story, have a book for my children to enjoy, and leave something of myself behind. The printer suggested we go with 300 copies to cut the cost per book. I was sure that many would never sell.“They’ll have to pack them around me in my casket just to get rid of them,” I told Kay.
I selected “How to be hospitable when the guests keep getting in the way” as the sales gimmick for my book on innkeeping and used that phrase throughout all my publicity. Still I had no idea where to begin to sell my own work and found it extremely difficult to “blow my own horn.” I visited independent bookstores in the local area. Stopping just short of prostrating myself in the presence of the book buyers, I cautiously asked if they’d be willing to purchase one or two copies. The positive response was surprising. They offered to host a book-signing and even advertised the event. My biggest publicity success was when A Horse in the Ladies’ Room appeared in Yankee Magazine. This was a big break and a huge boost to our sales! The book is now in its fourth printing–the first 300 copies sold out in just 30 days.
In an effort to share some of what we learned with other would-be writers/self-publishers, we wrote and published a pamphlet, How to Build a Book–Produce, Publish & Promote Your Creative Work in 10 Successful Steps.
KALM Publishing is bringing out its fourth book in April 2001, and I’m getting ready to hit the road again. This time to promote and publicize Sisters by Heart, Partners in Aging: A Memoir.
Kay and I have refined and streamlined our publishing efforts. We have a graphic artist design our covers. Our books are now assembled in Michigan at a fraction of the cost of the first book. We’re no longer timid about ordering a substantial print run and rush from the house to greet the 18-wheeler when it pulls up out front and off-loads our skids. We are secure enough to give away 100 books to reap good publicity returns. We’ve learned what makes a solid media packet.
We’re now in our 70s. Kay and I are amazed at ourselves and all that a little desire and determination can accomplish. We’ve discovered the joys of promoting our own work, the importance of organizations like PMA, and the rich network of support to be found in the world of writing and self-publishing.
Mary Lou Fuller and Kay Amsden are partners in KALM Publishing, Durham, NH. They are available to present “Is a Career Better the Second Time Around?”–the story of their self-publishing success. Contact Fuller and Amsden via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.