Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Truth about Farm Girl by Karen Jones Gowen

I finally got up the thumbnail for Farm Girl. Hooray for me! (Click photo to order) And next up will be Uncut Diamonds. But first I want to post how this little book about a little farm girl launched WiDo Publishing. (Still a little publishing company but that may change in time.)

Three years ago, I took a folklore class at BYU Salt Lake and filled assignments by interviewing my mom via phone about her growing up years during the Dust Bowl and Depression era in Nebraska. She talked, I typed, and what evolved were some interesting tales of farm life in the 1930's with amazingly accurate detail. We kept going long after the class ended, and I decided to put it all together, along with authentic photographs of amazing artistry, and present it to my mom on her 90th birthday.

My son Don designed the book, including over fifty photographs of the people and places mentioned in the story, and took it to Kinkos to print-- a dozen copies for family members. Many people besides family took a look at it and wanted copies. There were comments like, "these pictures are amazing," "it's a beautiful little book," "I want to sit down and read it right now." A Costco manager said, "I want to see this for sale here." (Unfortunately, that never happened.)

An investor looking to start a publishing company wanted Farm Girl as a first release, and several of the people involved in its creation, design and editing came on board to help round things out. My son William, who had been the primary editor, and my son Don the designer, set things up as WiDo Publishing....get it? Wi for William and Do for Don? It is pronounced "widow" and let's not even go there, ok?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Norton Anthology of English Literature

If any of you majored in English lit at BYU, you had to buy this book. It is gigantic, about 4 inches thick, and nearly 3000 pages. I got one for American Literature, which I also love, but it was quite used and falling apart when I bought it. Whereas the English lit anthology was brand new. Don't even remember how much it cost, but I believe it was enough to feed a family of six for a month.

I love reading the author bios, to see where they came from, how they lived and what drove them to write against all odds. This is from Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797):

"Mary Wollstonecraft's father inherited a substantial fortune and set himself up as a gentleman farmer. He was, however, both extravagant and incompetent, and as one farm after another failed, he became moody and violent and sought solace in heavy bouts of drinking and in tyrannizing over his submissive wife. Mary was the second of five children and the oldest daughter."

Any wonder that she wrote essays on women's rights?

I love reading about the life of Wordsworth. The man walked practically all through Europe, even as a boy. And in college, he and a friend "journeyed on foot through France and the Alps".
He found inspiration for his poetry in nature, and walked daily for long periods of time. I find that so motivational, makes me want to get out there and take a walk.

This is on Robert Browning (1812-1889):

"During the years of his marriage Robert Browning was sometimes referred to as 'Mrs. Browning's husband.' Elizabeth Barrett was at that time a famous poet, whereas her husband was a relatively unknown experimenter whose poems were greeted with misunderstanding or indifference. Not until the 1860's did he at last gain a public and become recognized as the rival or equal of Tennyson."

I find that kind of information incredibly fascinating. I could browse through this volume all day, discovering interesting little tidbits about the lives of writers past. Or I could browse the internet and find interesting tidbits about my fellow writers now. I guess it's pretty much the same thing, learning these things about one another, following their books, seeing the covers, finding out who their publishers are, reading about the editing process, sharing in the joys and frustrations.

It may be 200 years later, but writers still do pretty much the same thing, only with more advanced equipment. We write, we gather to talk about what we are writing, we learn from one another, we sit isolated for long periods of time, we have histories that led us to this point, we care about what others think about our work, we go for long walks to clear our minds.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Book Signings, Yay or Nay?

Okay, I may take some flack for this but I think they are a waste of time. The one I had at Borders recently was a family reunion with my sisters, and I did get to meet two of the new WiDo authors, which was pretty awesome. But I would have enjoyed just inviting them to my home for dinner. That would have been less stressful, more fun, and we would have had more time to get acquainted.

Unless you are a celebrity with a following, they seem pointless. You better invite everyone you know to come, because your friends and family are your following. If you're a celebrity, you don't have to invite friends and family, because the public is your following. Then signings work great.

I went on a tour last summer to Nebraska to promote Farm Girl. The independent booksellers were amazing, wonderful and delightful. They went out of their way to promote my visit, to prominently display the posters WiDo had sent them, some even had cookies out for patrons.

Unfortunately, it wasn't worth it to them. People just didn't care. Who the heck is Karen Jones Gowen? A nobody, why bother? I have no following in the public forum, and it was too far for my friends and family to go.

Although I enjoyed the chance to meet the wonderful folks in these bookstores who bend over backwards to sell books and make it in this business, I didn't get to meet many book readers! Several of the booksellers said a signing used to attract people, didn't matter if they knew the author or not. But not any more. So it isn't just my opinion; these are folks who know.

My mom and I had a memorable trip to Nebraska with several other family members, and that was a great experience. But no way did we sell enough books to even pay for one day of the trip.

Another plus was some media attention in local papers, with some very good reviews of Farm Girl. Which feeds my ego and sells a few books. Again, nice but hardly worth the expense of such a trip.

Costco swears by book signings. If you have a book there, they encourage you to come out and sit at the table with your books stacked in front of you. And they will let you go to as many warehouses as your schedule permits. Maybe Costco knows something I don't, because I just don't see it happening at the bookstores. Again, unless you're a celebrity.... But then Costco does everything big. A bookstore makes an initial order of 6, Costco will order 600--and that's a small, initial order. Give me the chance to try out a signing at Costco....Please! I will sit there looking lonely sipping on my free drink from the food court, for a chance to sell thousands of my books to one store!

Launch parties at a bookstore are a different thing, because that gives you the opportunity to invite all the hundreds of people you know. Invite your following, and the more the merrier. They'll all buy a book, some will buy two. But after the launch party, mmmm, I wouldn't waste money traveling very far for signings. Unless it's to Costco.

If anyone has differing opinions feel free to comment. I'd like to know other people's ideas on this topic.