I am pleased to share this wonderful and insightful Q & A with Calgary author, Louise Toffoli McLaughlin, about the joys and challenges of being a self-published author! Louise shares with us her journey and provides excellent tips on what it takes to persevere through the publishing process. To visit Louise’s website, please click here: www.louisetoffolimclaughlin.com.
Please feel free to share your comments on this Q & A on BG Mountain Studio’s blog and Facebook page.
1. What was your biggest challenge during the publishing process and how did you overcome it?
When I began writing my first book, ‘I Am My Father’s Daughter’ which is a true story and focuses on spirituality, enhancing intuitive or psychic abilities, and handling life challenges, I didn’t know anything about the process of publishing. I initially assumed that I needed to get a publishing company to show interest in my book but quickly found that those I contacted made it clear that I required an agent first. I can’t be sure, but think that there must be a few smaller publishing companies that don’t require an agent to be the middle person between a publishing company and author. I will say that the process is tedious and I quickly realized that at least for now, I didn’t and don’t have the time to send my book to numerous agents and then wait for months at times to get any response back. Also, I did read up on this process and realized that just because an agent doesn’t show interest, that doesn’t mean that the book isn’t a good read but just that the topic may not be of interest to the agent or the agent has enough books he/she is promoting in that category so doesn’t want another. Just take a look at some of the books that are in stores that have come through publishers and you will also know that not all of these books are well written, have positive messages to share or even printed with good quality paper, reasonable type size etc. Just because a book is highlighted in a store doesn’t mean it is a good book; just that the publishing company paid extra for that book to be promoted in such a manner. Lessons I have and continue to learn over the years! So really, I only contacted a few agents while in the process of writing this first book and then quickly decided to self-publish.
I have occasionally chatting with an author who does have an agent and that agent has found a publisher. I learned some interesting information about the process. Just because a person has an agent and publisher doesn’t mean that the author easily gets his/her book out there. I have actually had a couple of them ask me how I got my books into Indigo stores as those authors’ agents hadn’t been successful in doing that. I just contacted store managers, left me book for a few days so that the managers could have a look at it and patiently waited at times for the store to have an opening for more consignment books. They are very limited to the number of consignment books they can take. Building good relationships with store managers is the process I have taken so now, when I have a new book ready, that book is taken on by the store. I could have my book in more stores but the big issue with a consignment book is to get the book to the store so places that aren’t close to home are more of a challenge.
Well for me, marketing a book is an agent’s job but of course agents want to get several authors’ books if they can and they don’t always have the time to focus on just one book. I also was not prepared to give up control over my books and some authors have told me that once a publisher takes on a book, the publisher can have far more control over that book, including its content, than I was or am prepared to allow. Every word of my books are my words and since my first book is a true story, I wasn’t allowing anyone to change the focus or messages I wanted to relay. Even my two puppy books about my rescue dogs are true stories but through the dogs’ perspectives so not books I wanted an agent/editor/publisher to change around to suit their preferences. It was just a ‘learn as you go’ process for me and continues to be that.
Since I wanted my first book to get out there so that it could help readers dealing with their life challenges, I wasn’t prepared for the years of delays that could occur if I was determined to get an agent and then a publisher so decided to self-publish. Not to say that maybe someday the right agent will come across my books, like them and assist me with marketing my books. From what I’ve heard, more authors are self-publishing. I will not give up control of my books’ content though and expect that I am involved in any decisions regarding my books if I were to find an agent and then publisher. Not sure if that happens though. I can’t speak from personal knowledge but I have heard from a few authors that they really lost too much power over their books once an agent and then publisher got involved. Each author just has to decide what seems best and go from there. Can’t say that I’ve overcome my challenges but take it day by day and pleased that I know what stores have my books and how many, I send out invoices so make sure that I get paid and I continue to build relationships in the field of writing. Definitely believe in your books and the messages you want to share and with patience you can overcome any challenges. Just be realistic in what you expect to accomplish in writing.
2. What inspired you to write the stories about Keido?
My two books, ‘Keido And Hunter Find Their Family’ and ‘Keido And Hunter Become Big Brothers’ are happy stories about my rescue dogs and have life lessons in them. I’m a volunteer with Alberta Sheltie Rescue and actually found our three rescue dogs (we have a third, Sandy who is in the second book) and my grown son also has a rescue dog Toby who is featured in my second puppy book. Being involved in a rescue organization, I have heard stories of why some people choose to give up their pets and I really wanted to get the message across that animals are not objects. They have personalities, need to be loved, need safe homes, need to be appreciated and cared for just as we need that. Animals can really be wonderful additions to families if the adults take the time to teach their pets what they need to know. I love animals of all types. I hadn’t initially, on getting the dogs, felt that I’d write stories about them but the inspiration just happened. My books need to provide positive messages in a world with so much negativity. When I hear about situations where an animal has been mistreated it hurts and I just hope that in a small way, my messages in my books can at least reach out to some individuals. People who love their pets and treat them as important members of their families also know by reading my stories that I understand their love for their pets. I love my pets too!
3. What is your advice to authors-to-be currently going through the publishing or self-publishing process or those who would one day like to be published authors?
Foremost I’d suggest that they believe in themselves and what they choose to share in their books. Write from your heart! Don’t force the writing; let it happen so I don’t put myself on a timeline. Don’t take rejection personally as not everyone will be interested in what you have written but keep focused on what you want as an outcome. Don’t allow anyone to take control over your work as you may regret this later on. When I decided to research companies that would print my books, I also found that a few individuals were giving me a line about what I needed to do. Thankfully my husband and I didn’t rush into anything and thought out the options. I even had a printer suggest that his company would do me a favour and get my book ISBN number for me which he said took a lot of time. It is an easy process and no, it isn’t time consuming. However, companies that want to do that may do so to register the book in their name and you can’t allow that to happen. Make sure that your books are registered under your name in Ottawa so that you have ownership and control. Also, if self-publishing, find a company that does everything in-house as that way it is easier to keep the company accountable. One place I had initially contacted to print my books made things sound find but when I asked specific questions as to whether the company did all of the work, I found that it had subcontracted some of the work so covers were done in one place, printing in another and the original company just put the books together. Not what I wanted as I have one company do everything so is accountable for all of it.
I am far from being a pushy sales person when I do book signings. That just isn’t my personality and I want those buying my books to want them, not feel pressured to getting them. I smile and say something pleasant to everyone that goes past me at a signing and if some don’t smile back or respond I just figure they may be having a bad day. I don’t allow it to ruin my day. So don’t allow a publisher or printing company manager to frustrate you and drag you down as they are just individuals with their own opinions. Just because they may not agree with your opinions doesn’t make you the one that needs to change. Life is a learning opportunity so listen to others’ suggestions, take what you feel applies to you and will be helpful to you and be comfortable standing up for what is most important to you. Remember, you are dealing with ‘your’ books! If you have strong feelings that you need to have your voice heard on certain topics, have a story that you need to write and know that it is something that has to get done as part of your life plan then believe in yourself and you will accomplish this goal.
4. What do you enjoy most about working on your books?
I really enjoy the sense of accomplishment when I have a book completed and at the printers. It does feel good to hold a copy of a new book in my hands and know that I’ve done the best I can to write something that is positive, has meaningful messages and meant to help individuals on their life journey. I find book signings fun when individuals stop to chat. Yes it can be boring at times if the store is quiet and there aren’t a lot of customers or customers are in a rush and not interested in stopping to look at my books but I hold onto the meaningful chats I have and they keep me going. The majority of store staff are great and will stop by my table to say hi, offer their support and just be friendly and that is definitely something that I appreciate. I also get inspired by readers who email me thanking me for my books as they have enjoyed reading what I have written. I have made interesting contacts and new friendships through my writing and that is definitely a wonderful outcome. For me life is a challenge and I never want to stop learning or challenging myself so working on my books is a positive experience. I also have set a goal for myself that I will eventually sell 5000 copies of at least one of my books and thus become a Canadian Best Selling Author so I enjoy setting that target and gradually getting closer to it getting accomplished. I may be 90 when it happens ha ha but it will happen. Also, when I go into an Indigo store and see my books on the shelves as well as seeing my books listed on the Indigo website, that is an accomplishment and I’m proud that I’ve made this happen. It always makes me feel great when I sell a book off a shelf or at a signing as those buyers have chosen my books over thousands of other choices. Can’t help but smile at that!
5. How do you tackle the promotion of your books and finding buyers?
I’m afraid that I’m definitely not the person to give advice on this question. My personality is quieter at least when it comes to my book sales so I will not push them on people. I have seen a few authors who are very pushy and from my perspective tell potential customers whatever it takes to make a sale but I won’t do that. I’ve actually heard an author tell eight to ten year old children to get their parents to buy the book because it is for all ages where in fact it is at least 500 pages or so and that is not a book for an eight to ten year old. Well at least not the majority of them. I also prefer to make it clear to potential readers what they will find in my books so if it isn’t what they are looking for then that is fine. By doing this though, I end up with satisfied customers. This holds especially true for my New Age book as not everyone is interested in that type of book. More and more people are open to this though and it is that population that I hope to reach.
I had initially thought that my two puppy books would be of interest to younger people but I’m very pleased that many adults are buying them for themselves, for adult friends that have a rescue pet, for their vets etc. I can with legitimacy, tell potential buyers that people of all ages enjoy these puppy books. I have used my first puppy book and I will also use my new one for fundraisers at Alberta Sheltie Rescue events. I did try contacting other rescue organizations offering to do a signing at their fundraising events and then give a percentage to the organization but haven’t had a group take me up on that other than the group where I volunteer. It seems that the groups I have contacted want me to pay for a table at their event to sell my book and the cost for the table is too expensive. That is how they make their money; not from getting a percentage from each book sold. As any author will agree, we just don’t know if a book signing day will be successful or not. It all depends on those who show up and their particular taste in books. However, I haven’t given up on approaching rescue groups and actually have plans on refocusing on this in December as my signings for the year are done then.
Right now I mainly promote my book by doing regular book signings at Indigo/Chapters/Coles stores. I am always interested in adding my books to new stores so do contact store managers. All of this is time consuming so each of us authors can just do what we can in the time we can allot to our books. Writing is also a lengthy process and I spent a great deal of time finishing up my puppy book that just came out this month so time spent doing that, limited my time to focus on promoting my books. With consignment books, the author has to get the books to the stores so that is a limitation on where and when I can expand further. My son does my website, www.louisetoffolimclaughlin.com for me and together we keep it updated. I will be making some changes to it in the next few weeks adding more photos etc. but a website is something that constantly needs to be reviewed and changes made.
I do get book sales through word of mouth too. What would really interest me is to have opportunities to do group sessions and although this hasn’t happened yet, I do let individuals know that I am available for this if there is an interest. I have business cards which I always have available at signings and will look into designing a book mark in the next couple of months. I just do not have the funds at this time to pay for marketing but I do not give up on trying new approaches and trying to find creative ways to market my books. Always a learning process and the longer I’m doing this, the more comfortable I’m getting at it. When Barbori asked me if I’d respond to these questions I was pleased that she asked as this is also a way to connect with more people. Thanks Barbori for this opportunity! I hope that your readers find my comments helpful. Writing is an excellent method to share one’s views. I encourage everyone who feels that they have a story they want to share to write as they never know what positive impact they can have on a reader. When readers take the time to email and let me know that they read my books, found them inspiring and helpful as well as enjoyable, that is so powerful in keeping me writing. I wish that for all authors! Promoting books is a lot about building relationships and that takes time.