Tips for Self-Publishing: An Interview with Marla O’Brien
(By Lisa Tener)
Eight months ago Marla O’Brien had an idea for her book, Wine Within Your Comfort Zone. She clarified her book concept and wrote her first draft in my Bring Your Book to Life® Program. Within months of finishing the program, she published her book and launched it several weeks later, getting the book in independent bookstores (not an easy task) and garnering support from unlikely partners—including wineries. Impressed by the quality and speed of her publishing, and her marketing inroads, I asked Marla to share some of her experience and tips.
Lisa: What prompted you to write Wine Within Your Comfort Zone?
Marla: I wanted to help women develop moderation, safety, and enjoyment around drinking wine. I also wrote with the hope that women start talking openly about their wine routines.
In Canada, more than 1.4 million people experience alcohol use disorders. I was among them. Wine Within Your Comfort Zone is grounded in my personal story, as a closet wine drinker for over a decade, and tells what I did about it
I knew that if I could heal myself, others could do the same. I wanted to reach out to women like myself—who did not fit the profile of ‘alcoholic.’ As I shared my experiences, tips and strategies within the book, I realized that my message could be delivered to ALL women. We all know someone who has come close to the dark side of alcohol.
Lisa: You have such a beautiful cover. How did you get there? Did you have a specific vision? Who did you work with and what was the process?
Marla: I didn’t have a vision but felt I’d know it when I saw it and that was pretty much how it happened. I did a lot of research to find a book designer and wanted to stay local. I found Jim Bisakowski through my editor who gave me a few names to research. I liked Jim’s website and the testimonials were impressive. Also, his work samples and prices were reasonable. He does quality work and provided me with cost effective options.
I printed each potential cover, and taped each sample on a real book. I set them on my mantle in the living room. Once I saw them all together there was no question. It just popped for me. Jim also did the interior design of the book and this took a lot longer than I anticipated but I am happy with the results. It was worth all the back and forth and decision-making.
Lisa: How did you choose your publishing company?
Marla: As a self-published author I decided to create a publishing name. I wanted to be taken seriously and did not want my name as author and publisher on the same page so I created Earth Dance Press.
Lisa: Any advice or tips for authors who are self publishing?
Marla: 1. Do your research. There’s an ocean of publishers and distributors to choose from. I opened a CreateSpace (Amazon) account to get my book on Amazon and I chose their expanded distribution route. However, I also printed books through Island Blue Printorium so that I had a book that independent bookstores might buy (they won’t buy CreateSpace books).
- DON’T give up, no matter what.
- Quality matters. Do whatever you can to make your book look professional, inside and out
- Be professional in every encounter. For the most part, the response to my book from local independent bookstores has been positive. Recently, however, I had my first rejection. The store owner hadn’t even looked at my book, which was an indication to me NOT to take it personally. She had her system for purchasing and stuck to it. In her words: “Really, self-published authors need to seek the traditional route as they are the real professionals.” Unfortunately, that mentality is still out there. I had to take it in stride and learn from it. The truth is, many bookstores will only purchase books through well-known distributors. I used my conversation with her to ask a lot of questions and to learn. It is sometimes difficult but being respectful is really the only way to deal with rejection. At the very least, you come away with new information.
- Welcome the learning curve. Self-published authors have many decisions to make, including how to go about distribution. The bottom line for me—I enjoyed being in control of the process because I learned something new every step of the way.
- Talk to independent bookstores. I have a list of independent bookstores that will carry my book and it just keeps growing, but not without a lot of hard work. Not all self-published authors like the consignment route, as it can be a logistical nightmare. I look at it this way: This is my first book. The more I do to get the book out there, the more I’ll get back. And it doesn’t always mean consignment. I have a couple of bookstores that bought copies of my book outright at a 40% discount, which is typical.
- Market, market, market! If you decide to self-publish, you also need to be somewhat of an entrepreneur. I knew that whether self-publishing or traditionally publishing I still had to do most of my own marketing, so why not self-publish? It has worked well for me, so far.
I chose to have 250 copies of my book printed by a local, and highly regarded printorium, Island Blue. They also offer a POD program. My plan was to use these for the initial launch, sales to independent bookstores and wineries so that essentially, I am the distributor, for these and any other private sales or giveaways. I went door to door to popular independent bookstores and offered them a free copy to peruse. This went a long way to getting my foot in the door—even if only on consignment.
I also opened a CreateSpace account and put my book on Amazon. Many bookstores frown upon Amazon as a competitor so it’s often hard to break through this barrier. The printorium copies allowed me to get my book out there on my own and into bookstores.
Lisa: Tell us about your official book launch on Nov. 16?
Marla: It was four hours of non-stop action that included wine tasting supported through a local winery, tea tasting supported through a local tea shop, and food pairing/tasting, mingling, and of course, book signings. I sold over 100 copies in two days.
Lisa: You also told me you’ve approached some wineries about working together. That’s pretty exciting. Some people would think the wineries would see it as not in their self interest. How did you approach the wineries?
Marla: My pitch to the wineries came through three key points:
B.C. Winery Supports B.C. Author!
- Wine Within Your Comfort Zone is a book about drinking wine in moderation. Your winery would clearly be demonstrating support of responsible wine consumption, as well as drinking for enjoyment and appreciation of the art and labour that goes into each bottle.
- I have an ever-growing list of social media contacts such as, on twitter, facebook and my website, marlaobrien.com.
- I will be sending out a formal press release complete with dates for upcoming events.
Lisa: Anything else you want to share?
Marla: Setting the launch date was somewhat strategic. I had hoped for a time just before Christmas as the book makes a good gift with a bottle of wine. A lot of people bought a book for themselves, as well as additional books for gifts.
Your local community can offer a great deal of support when it comes to getting your book out there. My community writer’s group, a local group of executive women, a few local wineries, local independent bookstores, and a local tea shop, were a few of the many supporters of my book that helped to support its launch.
Finally, lose any negative self-talk. It doesn’t serve you well. Surround yourself with people who support you in your efforts and your cause. Ignore negativity but pay some attention to feedback, even when it’s negative. When you don’t take it personally, you can often learn from it.