Karen Jones Gowen, who not only is an author, she runs WiDo Publishing. She was kind enough to answer some questions about running a publishing company.
How did WiDo Publishing get started?
The Gowen family had no idea about getting into publishing but things just kind of evolved that way. I had written the manuscript for Farm Girl as a gift for my mother’s 90th birthday, figuring I’d bind up a few copies by hand. My son Don, who worked at Kinko’s, went beyond that. He collected the old family photos, did the typesetting and layout then printed up a dozen bound books for the family.
As Don was showing the finished product around, an investor saw the book and wanted it to launch a publishing company, with our family members who had helped staying on board to run it. WiDo Publishing is named for my two sons, Don and William, who were key in the creation of Farm Girl.
After Farm Girl, it took awhile to get things going, but we managed to publish five books in three years. The fourth year, 2011, WiDo released nine books. In 2012, most of the family who had helped to start the company had left to carry on their lives, so we hired freelancers to do the editing, covers, typesetting, and formatting. We have since published 42 books. By mid- 2014, our sixth year in business, we will hit our 50-book milestone.
We like to say that most publishers launch a book, but in the case of WiDo, it was a book that launched a publishing company.
What genres do you publish?
We publish fiction with a literary bent, including sci fi/fantasy, contemporary fiction, and historical fiction. We also like memoir that has subject matter of unusual interest along with a strong story line. Fiction is limited to YA and older, although we will consider middle-grade fiction that has potential for a wide appeal. We avoid popular romance and erotica.
What markets do you target - bookstores, libraries, academic, ebooks, etc?
Our primary markets are brick and mortar bookstores for print books, and Kindle for ebooks. Libraries can order from Follett Library Resources, which they are inclined to do when a patron comes in and requests a book. We distribute to bookstores through Ingram, offering the standard discount and full returns the first six months after release. This makes our books competitive in the bookstore marketplace.
We had to learn a LOT. Especially since the entire industry changed between 2007 when Farm Girl came out and 2012, when we went from doing 1000 initial print runs to short-run digital. Also we had to decide where ebooks would fit into our market, and we chose to focus solely on Amazon, utilizing the KDP Select program for maximum exposure and profitability.
We had to evolve in how we published, how we marketed—going from personal phone calls to bookstores to assisting our authors with creating their platforms on social media. It’s amazing the changes that happened in publishing between 2007 and 2012, and we saw many small companies fall by the wayside. We feel very fortunate that we were able to weather the storm and get to the other side stronger than ever.
What are some of the mistakes writers make when querying?
They happen with manuscripts and with the query letters themselves. With manuscripts, it would be sending it out before it’s ready. Not only proofread, but where the narrative style, the voice, the flow of writing is just not polished enough. Often a writer will need to complete 3 or 4 novels and set them aside before they’ve achieved mastery over these elements sufficient to attract a publisher. Just finishing a novel and editing it completely is not always enough. It takes time and practice to achieve the skills necessary to create a manuscript that will make a publisher want to invest time and money in making a book out of it.
Another mistake is not understanding the market, not realizing how important it is for an author to actively promote. In today’s bookselling world, the author is the face of the book, not the publisher. Nobody cares who the publisher is, but if people get to know a writer online and like their blog or their personality, they’ll be much more interested in buying a book by that writer. A query letter should include information about what the writer is doing online, to make the publisher realize this person is serious about promoting themselves and their work.
A query letter is much like applying for a job. If you want to get hired, you’ll need to come across as someone worthy of being hired. Your personality should shine through, because it’s not just about the manuscript or story you’re submitting, it is also about you. If someone comes across as dull or strange or aloof in a query letter, how will they come across on a blog?
Tell us something about yourself. Be someone we’d like to get to know, who we want to work with. And let us know you’ve done your legwork, researched our company and that you want to work with us.
A really good question, and what every writer should ask before submitting to a publisher. Not all small publishers are alike. Some charge fees for editing, cover design, marketing assistance. They offer fee-based publishing services yet split royalties and call themselves publishers. It’s where a lot of the confusion comes in with the term “small publisher.” Who wouldn’t question submitting to a company like that?
A publisher such as WiDo, who takes on the financial risk so the author does not have to, can free up the writer from business concerns to focus instead on writing the next book. Also, when you pay for everything yourself, the people you hire may be excellent but still do not have a vested interest in whether or not your book does well in the marketplace, whereas a publisher does not get paid until your book sells. The publisher who has taken on the financial risk is going to make sure the editing, formatting, cover design and marketing, even the very title, will give that book every chance to succeed.
We can also get your book into libraries and bookstores, which is extremely difficult to do for the self-published. Our distributor is Ingram, the largest distributor world-wide to both physical and online booksellers; and for libraries, it is Follett Library Resources.
What have been some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the past few years?
One of the biggest is the floodgates opening to self-publishing. Even writers who have agents are moving in that direction. Many have said that it will put publishers out of business, but we personally haven’t seen any decrease in our submissions. If anything, our submissions are higher than they’ve ever been. It seems that with the ease of writing and publishing (maybe ease is the wrong word, because it is never easy to write a good book); let’s say with the attention paid to all the books being published, it seems like more and more people are writing and submitting overall.
And who can ignore what Amazon has done for the book business? Before Kindle, it was incredibly difficult for a small press to make it on print books alone. Once ebooks took off, that became a viable source of income quickly surpassing print sales. Bookstores are still caught in the old traditions of returns, of only stocking what is popular, of only ordering a book when someone requests it—simply no way for a small press to survive without ebook income.
Also, the prominence of social media has made a big impact on the marketing and selling of books. WiDo can still sell a book where the author isn’t active on social media, but it is so much easier if they are. And more fun, because then it’s like we are a team working together to give that book every chance at success.
Thank you, Karen!
You can find Karen at her BLOG and WEBSITE, and visit WiDo Publishing HERE.
A while back, Heather Gardner posted an image of three Despicable Me Minion pumpkins - and I knew I had to have one! My husband obliged, and created Steve for me: