Author parlays newspaper column into book
Published: June 3, 2010
When Florida author Dorothy Fletcher started writing a local history column for her the daily newspaper in her hometown, she had a feeling the content “would make a pretty cool book.”
Kay B. Day
Fletcher had tweaked the history format to focus on more recent times, roughly 1950-1970, leaving the door narrowly open to sometimes include stories about the 1940s. She proceeded with caution because many of her readers would remember the people, places and creatures that filled her ‘By the Wayside’ columns. The Main Street she shopped on as a young mother, the beaches she strolled before suburban sprawl encroached, and personalities who helped shape the city were a few seeds in a big collection of stories Fletcher could grow.
An independent book editor who read her columns mentioned a publisher, History Press, to Fletcher and told her, “You might be interested in this.”
So Fletcher took a look at the HP website and she contacted the publisher by e-mail. She then downloaded the publisher proposal form and filled it in. She had to mail it because the form was a PDF document.
Fletcher said she was surprised by “a very quick response.”
Because she wasn’t familiar with the press, she took a long hard look
at the contract. She laughed about the four magic words that come in
every respectable contract—“at the publisher’s expense.” That alone
told her the contract and the publisher were on the up and up regarding
financials. That eliminated any surprises like a subsidy type
Photo by Michael Glinski
Fletcher wasn’t just happy about getting a contract from a publisher
that she later learned was well-known in the field. She could do more
in the book than she could with her column because of word count
Readers frequently emailed Fletcher to offer new information about
topics she covered in the column. “In the column, I had to leave a lot
out, so with the book, I could add that back in,” she said.
As her book began to progress toward publication, Fletcher recommended
a friend of hers do the artwork for the cover. The friend also happened
to have a blog. She posted the book cover on her site and also an
article about the release. So there was nice potential for
Fletcher relies on her website and on Facebook to keep readers updated.
“I’m not real savvy about Facebook just yet,” she said, “but when
something big happens or is going to happen, I mention it on my wall. I
get quite a bit of response from that.” Fletcher has a lot of local
contacts, so the Facebook page comes in handy for announcing book
signings and talks.
Fletcher said the Web figured heavily in her research as a primary
tool. “I used it to check things—memory is a wonderful thing, but it’s
not always accurate. I’m always consulting websites to make sure names
are spelled right.” And she always checked sites for radio and TV shows
to make sure they aired during the time period she thought they did.
More than anything, the Web helped Fletcher find images. She needed a
minimum of 65 photographs for the book. Some photos, like many on
Google, were copyrighted. So she had to track down the owner and ask
for permission to use them. But she also found photographs at state
archives and the newspaper archives.
|By the time Remembering Jacksonville: By the Wayside was
released, Fletcher had begun to get the word out. She’d had plenty of
experience, having had books published by both national and regional
publishers. And she was very pleased to discover that History Press was
a cut above other publishers in more ways than one.|
“As far as promotion is concerned,” Fletcher said when asked to compare
publishers, “History Press is much, much more efficient. They have a
mechanism in place—this happens and that happens and the next thing I
know, people are calling me.” She said her publisher arranged for her
appearances on NPR, on a local show about history, and for book
signings at top chains and indie stores as well as museums. “All the
events were well-advertised,” she said, “and I signed a lot of books.”
She also learned how useful it is when a publisher has a good
relationship with retail outlets. “The bookstores love this publisher,”
Fletcher said. Aside from marketing, HP fills book orders quickly, and
the publisher has apparently built a brand retailers trust.
There is probably no more powerful external sales driver than a good relationship between a publisher and bookstores.
Fletcher’s book is doing very well—one bookstore owner told her he couldn’t keep it on the shelf.
Fletcher is not only satisfied with sales—she’s always loved history.
She also made a self-discovery when her book came out. “It’s gratifying
because I know I’m competing with a lot of local scholars,” she
remarked. “But I feel like I’m holding my own.”
Author’s official website
Publisher’s official website; includes guidelines and submission requirements
• Sample column at The Florida Times-Union: “Miss Chic made an impression…”
For our next Web Savvy, we journey into the world of justice and look at differences in civilian and military protocol. You’ll be surprised by what we learned and how you can put it to use in your articles and fiction.
Kay B. Day
Florida journalist Kay B. Day has won awards for poetry, nonfiction and fiction. The author of two books, she has written for
The Christian Science Monitor, United Press International,
The Florida Times-Union and Sky News. To learn more about Kay Day, see www.kayday.com. To read Kay's other Web Savvy columns about writing for the Web, click here.