A Challenge To The Mini Nation by guest blogger Mary Hutchings Reed

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Hello, campers –

I’ve got an interesting guest post for you today, by FAAB (Friend of Author! Author! Blog) Mary Hutchings Reed, as well as a challenge that I hope you’ll find intriguing.

First, the fascinating part: you know how I have been devoting recent posts to my embarrassingly high stack of as-yet-unanswered readers’ questions? Well, some of the questions that turn up most frequently are about the ins and outs of self-publishing, print-on-demand, how to promote a self-published book — and, perhaps most trenchant of all, whether having self-published a book will help a writer land an agent or get published down the line.

There is absolutely nobody currently treading the earth’s crust more qualified to address these questions, as a self-published author who is also represented by one of the best agencies on the West Coast. And she’s been most generous with her mighty storehouse of knowledge, too: as those of you who have been hanging out here at Author! Author! may recall, not only did she weigh in to last spring’s Subtle Censorship series, guest-blogging on how to market an unusual story, but she also loaded aspiring self-publishers with info in our successfully self-publishing fiction, something the common wisdom in the publishing industry generally declares to be impossible, was especially eye-opening.

So I’m absolutely thrilled that she has given in to my blandishments and written this guest post. (Her timing’s great, too: I’m spending most of my time these days by my mother’s hospital bedside; not having to worry about this weekend’s post has been quite helpful. Mother’s on the mend, thanks.)

On to the challenge. I’m going to let Mary fill you in on this worthy cause, but to kick things off, I am hereby pledging to buy the first six copies in this special drive myself — one to give as a holiday gift (I already have a copy of my own), and five to donate to the hospital that’s been so kind to Mother (hospitals are always hurting for reading material for bed-bound patients, and gifts of books are usually tax-deductible in the US! Check with your tax advisor.)

And for the benefit of those not fortunate enough already to be familiar with Mary’s work, here’s the blurb for the book:

CKH_Cover FinalCourting Kathleen Hannigan tells the story of an ambitious woman lawyer, one of the first to join a male-dominated national law firm in the late seventies, whose rise to the top is threatened by a sex discrimination suit brought against the firm by a junior woman lawyer who is passed over for partnership because she doesn’t wear make-up or jewelry. When Kathleen Hannigan is called to testify, she is faced with a choice between her feminist principles and her own career success. Courting Kathleen Hannigan is a story for women and minorities everywhere who are curious about the social history of women in law, business and the professions, institutional firm cultures, and the sexual politics of businesses and law firms.

Oh, and it’s a great read, too. And did I mention that a couple of pretty great causes near and dear to my heart are going to benefit directly from sales of this book, which is easily available both at Amazon and Mary’s website, as well as in Kindle version?

But I said I was going to let Mary tell you about it, didn’t I? Here’s to good karma for all, creating a publishing environment with a broader notion of a salable story, and, of course, keeping up the good work!

Take it away, Mary!

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Thanks, Anne, for the opportunity to share with your readers. My agent (and how I love saying that!) just got back a first round of very positive rejections on a novel she submitted to them (my fifth), and two editors are willing to reread if I make a rather small technical change bringing the two key characters together earlier in the book. She plans to resubmit to some of the editors who “loved” my writing in January one of my other unpublished novels (probably #6.) (Yes, there are 7 novels in all, 1 memoir, and a couple stage plays.) To that end, she suggested that it would be “helpful” if I were to sell 8000 of my self-published novel, Courting Kathleen Hannigan.


That’s what she said! So far, I’ve sold about 1500, mostly by hand and on Amazon.com, and while Anne tells me that’s about three times your normal self-published novel, it’s short of 8000 by 13 times the average sale.

In other words, I need to sell 6500 more copies, to try to prove that my fiction (for and about intelligent, working women) has traction.

Just a couple days after getting this friendly suggestion, I saw these stats for the National Book Award nominees, as reported by Publisher’s Deluxe on November 16, from outlets reporting to Nielsen BookScan (hardbound copies):

LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN, by Colum McCann 17,200 copies

LARK AND TERMITE, by Jayne Anne Phillips 15,250 copies

IN OTHER ROOMS, OTHER WONDERS, by Daniyal Mueenuddin 8,750 copies

FAR NORTH, by Marcel Theroux 1,275 copies

AMERICAN SALVAGE, by Bonnie Jo Campbell 1,100 copies

Wow. It doesn’t seem like very many for such acclaimed authors, does it? Those numbers with the help of major publishers!

I’m just a semi-retired lawyer and writer in Chicago whose first novel tells a story which encompasses the social history of women in large institutional law firms, covering the time when Hilary Clinton got out of law school to the time that Michelle Obama joined the law firm where I was practicing as my associate. My favorite review says:

“With its intelligent writing, fast pace, and brilliant humorous observations, Courting Kathleen Hannigan is as delightful as reading your favorite episode of Sex and the City. Honestly, I started this book and couldn’t (or more accurately wouldn’t) put it down until I was finished.”

I’ve only seen episodes of Sex and the City when I’ve been getting a pedicure, but if this sells books, more power to Wendy Thomas of bookpleasures.com (and thank you!). I know dozens of lawyers, paralegals and accountants who also told me they “couldn’t put it down.”

I know the Internet provides all kinds of ways to get the word out about a book but there is still so much out there, working it is time-consuming, and still to me it still feels like somewhat of a crapshoot as to whether you break through all the noise — the offers to lose weight, refinance, win a new car, earn extra thousands from home — to create a bigger, louder, more incessant buzz. But it happens, and there is no more worthy recommendation for a book than word of mouth.

So, here, thanks to Anne Mini’s diligence in creating this site, and her kindness in letting me guest, I’m going to try the direct approach to selling my book. With added benefits for Anne and for charity at the end.

The other day, Stephen Colbert took on sponsorship of U.S. Speedskating, hoping to raise (and, raising, I believe,) at least $300,000 in small on-line donations from the Colbert Nation. Gosh, I thought, could the MINI NATION do the same? You care about writing and reading, or you wouldn’t be reading Anne’s blog. Can we use our collective power to send a message to publishers about the kinds of books we want to read?

Could you buy Courting Kathleen Hannigan for a lawyer or professional woman on your Christmas list? As a stocking stuffer? Could your book club read it for Women’s History Month and discuss how far you think women have come (or not) in the professional world? We don’t need to raise $300,000, we only need to sell 6500 books (at less than $20 each on Amazon).

Why? Why should we do this?

To prove we can! To prove that women writers and readers support women writers, that there is a viable market for this kind of writing about real women in real situations. You can sample the book atAmazon or my website (where you can also download a book group guide under the “news” section.)

And to show that self-publishing, in today’s world, is a viable option for quality writing.

Plus, I’ll give $1.00 for every book sold between now and December 31, 2009 to Lawyers for the Creative Arts, a volunteer organization here in Chicago providing pro bono legal services to emerging artists, including authors:

Lawyers for the Creative Arts assists emerging artists in all media and arts organizations by providing pro bono legal assistance through its network of volunteer lawyers who specialize in intellectual property, entertainment and arts law, and through educational efforts. In September, LCA offered PEN TO PRESS, a full day of educational seminars and exhibits on the legalities of self-publishing, including sessions on contracts, copyright and privacy. On the individual level, LCA attorneys have advised documentary film makers on defamation and other issues with respect to films about accused criminals, orphanages, school systems and the like. LCA has helped artists recover their paintings from galleries, negotiate loft leases, take options on literary properties for film and/or stage development. LCA attorneys also help recording artists sign with their first manager, their first label, and their first production company. Hundreds of arts organizations have gotten their start through LCA, and many, like Hubbard Street Dance, have grown to be the gems of Chicago’s vibrant cultural scene.

Plus, in honor of Anne Mini and her leadership of and support for women writers, $.50 to the Seattle YWCA for its GirlsFirst project:

The mission of GirlsFirst project YWCA GirlsFirstSM is to encourage leadership, instill confidence, develop skills, and provide opportunities to
girls of color. Our program includes a three-week Summer Leadership Academy, weekend overnight retreat at Seattle University, weekly afterschool sessions, and monthly Leadership in Action Days. Alumnae opportunities include mentoring, tutoring, and paid summer internships. YWCA GirlsFirst is open to all freshman girls in 9 high schools: Franklin, Garfield, Cleveland, Chief Sealth, West Seattle, Rainier Beach, Evergreen, Renton, and Hazen.


Tell your friends. Send a link to Anne Mini’s blog to your writing friends; post a link on your Facebook page. (Anne is a wealth of information, a wonderful teacher, and a superbly entertaining writer—every writer should be reading her!)

Let’s sell 6500 more copies of CKH! And then, let’s do the same for YOUR work!

PS: In case you’re wondering how I can afford to print more copies of Courting Kathleen Hannigan when I have 500 left, I don’t necessarily have to. CKH is now available on Kindle, and it’s also available to bookstores through Lightning Source. I saw a POD copy from Lightning Source the other day and couldn’t tell the difference between it and the original offset edition. The key, in my view, to a good-looking POD book is quality design work (interior as well as cover) in the first instance, and I was very grateful to my publisher, Ampersand, Inc., for its attention to the tell-tale details that distinguish a fully professional publication.

Anne here: I’m going to sweeten the incentive to pitch in a bit more. If this post manages to raise enough money for these good causes, I will happily consider helping authors — self-published and traditional published alike — by running this sort of multiple-beneficiary promotion on a regular basis. I just mention.

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Mary Hutchings Reed is a Chicago attorney and the author of seven novels, a memoir and a musical about golf, Fairways. Her work has won praise from the William Wisdom/William Faulkner Novel Writing Competition and others. Her most recent publication was a short story appearing in ARS Medica.

6 Replies to “A Challenge To The Mini Nation by guest blogger Mary Hutchings Reed”

  1. Your timing couldn’t be better. I saw this post after clicking open a new window to check whether I’d placed an online book order. I was glad to be able to add to my order before hitting submit.

    Even more so now given the state of the publishing industry, I’m doing what I can to help — by talking up my favorite books to friends, making sure I give books as gifts, and buying debut novels.

    Good luck!

  2. Hey- Indie bookstores can supply Mary’s book too. We have copies on hand – Mary & Bill & Alan & I suffered through the 1992 Caribbean 1500 cruising yacht “race” aboard our respective sailboats.

    You can order a copy through our site http://www.villagesquarebooks.com/mary-hutchings-reed

    Request US PS Priority Mail. If you want UPS service, we can order you a Print On Demand Copy from Lightning Source aka Ingram, our normal supplier.

    Indie bookstores support their local economy by supplying local jobs & supporting local charities. And I buy items for myself from our local businesses. Amazon supports WA jobs & charities, but gives nothing to the rest of the country.

    Any indie bookstore that does business with Ingram (most do, they have the largest stock & 4 warehouses) can have one printed for you. Books can be picked up in a store or Ingram has a Direct to Home shipment program. This book would come from their main warehouse in Nashville.

    Our website has book search capabilities, like any of the other American Booksellers Association’s e-commerce members. We even offer e-book downloads. It shows what books we have on hand (on our shelves now), ships 1-5 days means the book is available at Ingram & we can have them ship it out. Special order means it’s not on hand and we’d have to research getting a book from the publisher.

    The book industry is in a mess- the $9 bestsellers from WalMart, Target & online from Sears, as well as the $9 e-books from Amazon might be the nail on the coffin.

    By the way, most indie stores are members of their regional trade association and should have a catalog for the holidays. Ours is listed at http://www.villagesquarebooks.com/holiday/NEIBA/index.html

    We also support the American Booksellers for Children Catalog, but I can’t get a listing for the 267 titles (including selected backlist) for our website.

    Pat Fowler
    Village Square Booksellers
    Bellows Falls, Vermont

  3. Thanks so much for pointing this out, Pat! I’m a great believer in buying from the indies, but as you say, it’s hard to come up with a list of links for other parts of the country/world.

    Best of luck in a tough, tough competitive market!

  4. This raises an interesting question for me as I stand at the crossroads of self publishing vs traditional publishing. Do I have to choose?

    Or in other words, if I decide to self publish, does that mean I can’t sell the rights to a big time publisher somewhere down the road?

  5. It’s not positively unheard-of for a self-published author to get the book out there on his own steam, then later sell the reprint rights to a publisher. However, it tends to happen only in cases where the book has already sold so many copies (at least 10,000, in the instances of which I am aware) that the publisher is hopping on an already-moving train, so to speak.

    It’s a brave and risky route, since having released a self-published book that does not break the impressive-sales threshold is seldom helpful for a writer who is trying to land an agent or publisher for a SECOND book. Perhaps unfairly, unless a self-published book does quite well, the mere fact of having a book already on shelves does not necessarily, in the opinion of the publishing industry, make one a previously-published author. A substantial stigma against self-publishing still lingers: while enough self-published books have sold well that they are no longer automatically dismissed as a group, generally speaking, the usual first response to hearing that a writer self-published his first book is still, “Oh, he couldn’t find an agent for it. How good could it possibly have been?”

    So while any given writer may not have to make a binding choice for all tie between traditional and self-publishing, since the average sales for self-published books are usually under 500 copies, assuming that one is going to do well enough to interest a publisher down the line is betting on a long shot. It might pay off; it might not. For a writer who has the skills and time to do a great deal of promotion on his own, though, it’s certainly not impossible.

    I do think it’s worth noting, though, that the questions you’ve been posting here lately have a common theme: is the normal publication route really worth all of the trouble? That’s a question every writer has to answer for himself, of course.

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