Monday, October 21, 2013

The Challenges of Running a Publishing Company

Today I welcome 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.

Most books and websites are geared toward author promotions - what did you have to learn in order to promote as a publisher?

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.

What can a small publisher offer that self-published authors can’t do on their own?

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:


  1. A wonderful interview Diane, good insight to the publishing world.
    Enjoyed the read.

  2. Loved the interview and learning how Karen started her publishing company. And it's interesting how the way publishing has changed has helped her as a small publisher.

  3. My daughter wants to be Minion for Halloween. :) Cute pumpkin!

    Interesting interview--I think it would be incredibly tough, but also rewarding, to be in publishing.

  4. Some helpful thoughts here!

  5. Very informative as always, Diane.

  6. Natalie, the changes have helped some and shut down others.

    Elizabeth, if I still dressed up for Halloween, I'd want to be a Minion.

  7. I follow the lovely KarenG's blog but it is only now that I'm learning of the history of WiDo and why it's called WiDo!! What a fantastic way to start a publishing business!! Yay for the Gowens!!! Take care

  8. I love the origin story! I do think publishers will stay for the very reasons Karen stated.

  9. Interesting times for a publisher, but Karen has a handle of what's happening in the marketplace. Good stuff.

    Love the pumpkin. :)

  10. Great interview, you two. Loved hearing how the name WiDo was derived and how the company has progressed. I love Karen and her blog so it was fun learning these new tidbits.
    And Diane, you'd make an adorable minion.

  11. Excellent interview, Karen. Solidified my knowledge of WiDo, and where the publishing industry is at. And as a WiDo author, how I fit in. -- Dave Kalish

  12. Steve is awesome!
    It didn't take me long to realize how important my online presence was to the success of my books.

  13. Great interview. It sounds like WiDo Publishing is doing just great! Congrats Karen!

    I signed with a small publisher and we are always trying to come up with new ways to publicize the publisher and the books.

    I LOVE STEVE the MINION PUMPKIN!!! That came out amazing. Look at his eyes! Your husband ROCKS! Happy Halloween!


  14. Really interesting story about the creation of a company.
    Love the pumpkin. My neighbor has four on the front porch.

  15. Hey, I've met her before! WiDo visited out writer's league meeting, I think. Good to see a local publisher building onward and upward. :)

  16. Thanks for the great interview!

  17. Karen's got such a great story to tell here. The information provided here is valuable and has practical application. This is an outstanding blog post that contributes to the knowledge base of readers.

    Thank you both!

    Wrote By Rote

  18. Love your minion, Diane! Nice hubby to do that for you.

    Karen's story is interesting, funny how one little thing can get an idea off the ground. Good luck Karen! (I remember one of your recipes that I tried during the A to Z challenge last year).

  19. Karen, I would need to tell Craig NOW that I want a costume for next year though.

    Heather, he turned out amazing, didn't he? Those eyes are mason jar lids, too.

    Susan, 4 Minion pumpkins would be adorable.

  20. Very nice to learn more about WIDO. And I love Steve!

  21. Thank you for hosting Karen, Diane. I can vouch, from my perch as one of WiDo's authors, that she says it like it is.

  22. Aw, that Steve is a cutie :)

    It's great to see Karen here. And great to know what a success her company has become. Way to go, Karen! (And her family, too.)

  23. Enjoyed the interview! Thanks a bunch! :)

  24. Lots of changes in publishing since '07.

    I agree that it takes several completed MS to find your way with writing and learn the craft. Editing usually means making sure the story is typo free and the proper grammar and sentence structure. It doesn't do anything for story content to fit the market.

    I'm a big fan of small publishers who do invest in their authors AND have pride in the finished product. Cover art, well edited correctly formatted and story content is so important. To see any profit there has to be a good story and a competitive looking book that doesn't scream photo shop to compete with the thousands of other books with in that genre.

    I did promotion ground level for a small press a few years ago. There is a lot of work in getting attention for books and getting them into stores or attention of book clubs, libraries even getting them in the catalogs is just an enormous amount of work.Getting the authors to promote themselves is a major thing. Sorry, you can't just write the book you gotta make it work and that means time and working outside your comfort zone.

    Enjoyed the interview, Karen! Glad to see the success.

    Sia McKye Over Coffee

  25. I appreciate Karen's comprehensive perspective - gives me tasty food for thought.

    Your husband's a crafty guy. That pumpkin is adorable.


  26. I always enjoy learning about publishing from those in the business. It's so complicated these days. Thanks Diane and Karen.

  27. Truly a fount of information. I have read so many blog bits from the perspective of a writer. To self publish or query? It is interesting hearing from a small publisher on "how they see it." Writers need to factor that perspective into their decision-making process.

  28. Great interview - Karen is awesome!

    Love the pumpkin!!!

  29. Thank you Karen and L.Diane!! Karen I often wondered how it all happened~ Nice to know-wow! L. Dian thank you for shining the spotlight on Karen! Great interview!

    I love your pumpkin ;D

  30. So glad to be here, Diane! I thank you for the opportunity to talk about my passion for book publishing and share WiDo's story.

  31. Hello L Diane. Hello Karen. This is a timely post as I'm starting to hear a lot of sob stories from blogger friends who've gone with a small press and are just so unhappy with the experience. I'd love to find all the small presses who are righteous. So much time and money is being wasted by some writers in the quest to get published.

    Your best words Karen were not to send out the ms before it's ready. That's why I haven't submitted yet even though under pressure to do so. Also, I've written four novels, and this last one is where I think it's good enough to be published. The best way to learn this craft is to write novels.

    I'll be back to read more comments as I'm sure there's some interesting info there.


  32. Hi, L.DiANE, HI, KAREN...

    How interesting to read how it all began, Karen. I just started to know you back then, so I really didn't know how it all started.


    So cool to see two of my favorite people doing an interview!

  33. Thank you so much for offering this information about WiDo...(clever name, but not sure how to pronounce it!!! Like WiFi only WiDough? or Dew?) I think you are wisely growing your business to assure success in this changing publishing industry. I am going to send the link to the article to my friend who is re-writing a fantastic memoir with a beautiful story. She needs to know about all the marketing AFTER the contract. Great interview, Ladies!

  34. I am with this publishing company and I think they are awesome!

  35. Informative and entertaining interview. It's interesting learning how WiDo Publishing came to be. You do a great service not only for the authors, but for us readers too. Wishing you and WiDo much success Karen.

    Diane, love the pumpkin.

    Thoughts in Progress

  36. JQ Rose, So many people were confused about pronunciation that we have the correct way on our website lol. It is pronounced like "widow" which is a little freaky but there it is.

    Denise, I've seen a lot of these small presses go under since we started. I think it's due to why many small businesses fail-- they try to do too much too soon, often go into debt based on future profits, and then when the economy falters they do too. Also, anyone who runs a small business can't expect to get paid for at least 5 years in yet they must work long hours. That gets old fast and owners will give up. There needs to be another source of income for quite a long time besides the fledgling business. My husband has been a consultant and worked with small businesses for most of his career, has an MBA and has kept us on the straight and narrow with operation. I give him much of the credit of why we are still going when many others have failed.

  37. A fascinating interview. It's great that brick-and-mortar isn't going away Karen.

  38. Lots of really good information thee. Thank you, Karen and Diane.

    And I love Steve.

  39. This is a fascinating interview. I enjoyed reading about how Wido Publishing started, and how they've had to change to accommodate the e-book trend.

  40. I am writing that first Novel Karen. 3 to go and I got you. :-)

  41. It's great to read a story about a small press journey... really interesting to get an insider perspective!
    That pumpkin is cute!

  42. That was a good interview...
    But that's an AWESOME pumpkin!

  43. Fascinating stuff. I can imagine all that can be learned from doing this. It seems like a lot of hard work, but that 50 book milestone will feel great.

  44. Karen has been around our writing circle for a long time, and she's someone I can say 100% has a writer's mentality and best interests at heart--in whatever she's doing. Wishing her a ton of success on this!

  45. Excellent interview. You really show it like it is. I appreciate that. It's taken me a few years to calm down over all the changes in this business. It wasn't that long ago that being self-published was considered equivalent to being deemed unworthy.

  46. A good friend, Nancy Lynn Jarvis, did the same thing. Wrote a book and created a publishing company. Not as busy as yours but still she's a marketer and knows her stuff. Great interview. Good small print publishers will always attract the new authors - self publishing while better accepted today, still has a stigma, but I am glad to see it changing.

    Congrats on all your success!

  47. Hi Karen :) Always lovely to read your advice and helpful quips.

    Hi Diane. You host such awesome authors and publishers. I hope you're having a good week.

    Loved the Pumpkin, lol.


  48. fabulous interview. It's great to learn how WiDo got started.

  49. Dear Diane, this is the first time I've visited your informative web site. I came over from Karen's blog on writing. And I'm so glad I did because I'm in the midst of trying to find an agent to represent my writing. That's a difficult task in today's world.

    I went to WiDo's web site and read the information on submissions and it would appear that an author can submit to this publishing house without having an agent. That's good news for me. Peace.

  50. Great interview!

    That pumpkin is soooo cute! Your husband did an awesome job. : )

  51. Hi Diane and Karen .. sorry for being late - but wouldn't miss this interview ...

    I didn't know all that back history - what an interesting post and backstory to your WIDO publishing business ...

    Fascinating .. and so good to know about ..

    Love Steve - I'll have nightmares about him! ... cheers Hilary