Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Self-Publishing A Wilder Rose

Note from Maggie:  Marvelous mystery author Susan Wittig Albert is guest-posting today.  I loved this post, and I hope you do, too!


Susan Wittig Albert is the author of the China Bayles Mysteries, The Darling Dahlias Garden Club series, The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, and the Robin Paige Victorian-Edwardian mysteries, coauthored with Bill Albert. In addition, she has written two memoirs, two books of nonfiction, and over sixty YA novels.

Since I announced
that I’m publishing my new standalone historical/biographical novel through my own press, I’ve been fielding questions. Why? Couldn’t you find a publisher who wanted the book? Are you leaving your mystery publisher? Are you giving up your mysteries? What’s going on here?  Thanks to my friends at Cozy Chicks for giving me a few moments to answer some of these questions.

A Wilder Rose. This biographical novel (coming in September) is about two women: Rose Wilder Lane and her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder. If you’ve read and enjoyed the Little House books—written in the depths of the Depression—you’ve read their work. What you probably didn’t know was
that the books would not have been written if it hadn’t been for Rose, who was a much-published writer of magazine fiction and nonfiction, newspaper feature stories, travelogues, novels, biographies, and ghostwritten books. Rose took her mother’s stories about her childhood (judged by agents and editors to be unpublishable) and fashioned them into the books we love. They were published under her mother’s name, for reasons the novel explores. Over the eight decades since their publication, Laura has been regarded as an untutored literary genius who—suddenly, in her sixties—bloomed into an accomplished children’s author, the heroine of her own myth, the Laura myth.

A Wilder Rose tells a different story—the real story. Here’s why I decided to publish it myself.

Telling the story—my way

The project began in the usual way: I wrote a proposal and three sample chapters and my agent (Kerry Sparks at Levine/Greenberg) sent the package to two dozen editors. Some of them liked it, some of them loved it, and we got an offer and a couple of strong bites. But every editor had a different idea about how the novel should be shaped—and all of their suggestions moved the story farther away from its true-life base. Mostly, they were concerned that the story would alienate lovers of the Laura myth. They wanted me to preserve the myth or tell another Laura story (as if we didn't already have lots of them!)

But biographical fiction (think The Paris Wife, Loving Frank, The Aviator’s Wife) has to be rooted in reality. To write A Wilder Rose, I relied on Rose’s unpublished diaries and Laura’s letters to set the record straight. That was the true story I wanted to tell, not the story the editors wanted me to write.

Telling the story—now

I've been in the writing business for nearly three decades. I know how it works. If I had sold the book to the first legacy publisher who expressed an interest, it would be another 18 months before it saw print—six months to a year longer, if the editor asked for large-scale changes. I had been working on this project off and on since the late 1980s, and steadily for the past two years. I was feeling urgent about it, and impatient. I wanted to get Rose's story out there—now, not in 2015 or 2016!

Selling the story—myself

It's no deep, dark secret that legacy publishers do scant marketing of most books. Bottom line: if A Wilder Rose went to one of the Big Five publishers, the novel would get a marketing blitz so small it would barely register on anybody's radar. I'd be out there selling the story myself. If I'm going to do that, why not go the whole way? And if I'm going to do all that extra marketing work (it is work, believe me), I'm more than happy to pocket the rewards: a higher royalty rate and a payout measured in weeks, not years. Rose, who carefully managed her own writing career, would appreciate that.

So I requested (and got) endorsements from leading Wilder/Lane researchers.  And I’ve been working to get the book noticed by reviewers and book bloggers by sending out ARCs and posting the e-galley to NetGalley. I’ll also be mailing postcards to libraries and bookstores. And of course I’m using Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. And hey—it’s turning out to be fun!

Learning new stuff

Authors now have many more options than we had when I sold my first YA novel in 1984. In fact, there's so much going on in publishing these days that it's hard to keep up with it. Print-on-demand has revolutionized production; online bookselling has revolutionized marketing; digital books have revolutionized distribution. Knowledge empowers, and I always get a huge kick—a psychological boost--out of learning new ways to do things. What's more, I have the feeling that things are moving so fast that if I don't jump in and start learning now, I'll be in way over my head when I finally get around to it.

Doing it both ways

Here in Texas, we have a saying: "Dance with the one that brung ya.” I'll continue with my two mystery series for Berkley's Prime Crime, while I self-publish historical fiction and republish some of my earlier work. So look for more of the same from me, if that comforts your soul—and more of something different, if that lights your fire.

Meanwhile . . .

While you're waiting for September and A Wilder Rose, check out the book’s website, which offers biographical material, photos, and more about the story behind the Little House books. And if you have questions, please comment and I’ll try to respond.