When I left my newspaper job at the St. Petersburg Times to try a second career as a fiction writer, I decided not to wait for New York’s conglomerate-owned publishers to recognize me as a novelist.
As a journalist attending writers’ workshops, I knew the facts of publishing life. It could take years, and luck, to get inside the door of a big-name publisher. At 50+, I figured I didn’t have time to wait. With that decision made, I went forward without an agent, studying the craft and writing instead.
Today I have four award-winning novels out; the newest one–Key To A Cottage,An Intimate Story of Confessions and Discoveries–is being reviewed as a good choice for women’s book clubs, and I’m currently at work on a fifth novel. All my previous titles are steady sellers when bookstores order and put them on the shelves. As a result, I often get invitations to speak at libraries, stores, festivals, and major book fairs. I find that’s the best way to sell books, though I am now with Biblio Distribution and my titles are available from Ingram and Baker & Taylor.
When I began publishing under the SouthLore Press label, it was long before the invitations to get in print via POD surfaced for the many others who also found the New York doors hard to get through. I haven’t changed my approach to go that route. What I do–contract with professionals to create my books–costs far more, but I want books th Aviook as good as any from the “biggies.”
My independent way calls for risking one’s funds, and focusing one’s time. My
rewards are satisfaction and praise from readers and reviewers. “Original, perceptive writer” and “Southern charm and wit and a sense of wonder” are among my favorite quotes from reviews.
I need more, yes! I get discouraged reading about big numbers and big deals in Publishers Weekly. Yet response at events and signings proves there are readers who enjoy/appreciate my character-driven fiction even as I ignore formulas and false glitz and offensive language. Their honest enthusiasm is my payoff, and my vindication.
I began this way. I took my first completed novel, Legacy, to friends at an established independent publisher, Rainbow Books, to do the editing and
production. The book came out in 1993 with my own publishing label. Since then, with the help of a few silent financial backers, SouthLore Press has become an established independent. It’s a member of such organizations as Florida Publishers, Publishers Association of the South, and PMA. Legacy won the Fallot Literary Award given by the National Association of Independent Publishers in 1994, it continues to sell, and the book has been called “a Florida classic” by librarians.
The pattern continued with Marvelous Secrets, which garnered a High Country Writers’ Book of the Year Award along with a good review in Publishers Weekly and endorsements by many well-known authors. We kept going with Eve’s Mountain, which High Country Writers named Book of the Year; Eve’s continues to be a best-seller in the Southeast. A mystery set in contemporary western North Carolina, Eve’s Mountain also became a fiction finalist for PMA’s Ben Franklin Awards in 1999. It won a Clara Award and a Florida Writers Association Award in 2002, plus a Florida Writers Award in 2003. (Even area awards are useful in promotion, so it’s important to keep abreast of every possible award offered that fits your book’s type and has a deadline that you can make. I have been alerted to some awards by writing to newsletters for various groups.)
The Pleasures of Being in Control
While writing and producing without the big-name backing is a huge challenge (yes, even with today’s quick and easy avenues to get in print), I still prefer my way. It means you wear two hats–producer and author–which is tough on the creative writer. But it also means that you are in control and that your company owns your work. My books stay in print and are not tossed out by some big publishing house because they haven’t sold in the huge numbers expected.
To others who might try this path, I also offer a warning… By all means, first have some financial backing and make yourself knowledgeable about the many necessary details of production and distribution–even as you polish your writing. This vital information is out there, in places like Dan Poynter’s books and website (ParaPublishing.com), the book Unlocking the Secrets of Publishing, and through organizations such as PMA, SPAN, and regional publishers’ groups.
Marian Coe has lived in Birmingham and Montgomery, Alabama–two settings, among others, that figure in her latest novel. A creative writing scholarship in her name has been funded for students at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. For more info on her books, visit www.mariancoe.com.