Category Archives: Indie Spotlight

When Traditionally Published Authors Make the Leap to Indie Publishing

CarolI’d like you all to meet my friend and mentor, Carol Gorman. She’s the author of more than 40 books for young readers. Dork in Disguise, originally published by HarperCollins, was nominated for 10 state children’s choice awards and was the winner in 5 of those states. Her books have sold to various book fairs and audiobook companies in the U.S. and to publishers in England, France, Germany, Sweden and Finland.

I first met Carol when I moved from Minnesota to Iowa in 1994. She was what I wanted to be: a published author! I’d published a few magazine stories at that point, but nothing else. I could hardly believe that such an accomplished author would be interested in me. But that’s Carol!

She taught me about Three Act Structure, how to audition for and work with book packagers (which started me on my own career), what to look for in an agent, what to look for in a contract, how to put together a good school visit presentation. Much of what I know about writing and publishing, I can trace back to some conversation I had with Carol.

And now she’s set up shop as an indie publisher. I’m so impressed by all she’s learned and accomplished. So here’s a peak at what it’s like for a successful, traditionally published author to make the leap to indie publishing.

You’ve published many books with traditional publishers. What got you interested in indie publishing?

The experience with my 40 traditionally published books was very stressful for me. I’d hope and pray that an editor would like my manuscript, that I’d get a great cover, that the book would come out when it could get noticed, and that it would stay in print for a long time. So the idea of actually getting some control over these things was very appealing. I could choose and hire my editor, approve the cover art, design or approve the interior, publish the book when it would work in my life, manage my own book launch, and maybe best of all, make sure the book is available as long as I’m alive and interested!

Was it hard to learn how to do this?

Yes. I’m still a novice; I have so much more to learn! Business and sales are not in my natural skill sets. But I hooked up with online and onsite courses in Lincoln City, Oregon taught by Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and Allyson Longueira. They taught me the basics and are still teaching me, as I am ready to learn more.

What was the hardest part?

It would have been designing my cover. But I’m realistic and know that I don’t have the talent for that. I’ve seen so many covers that, frankly, look self-published: the 6 x 9-inch cover using a generic photo, no author or book blurbs on the front, amateurish copy, etc. So I’m using a smaller trim size, which is more expensive—printing costs are determined by number of pages—but looks more professional, I think. And I’m hiring artists for the cover illustration and book designs. Claudia McGehee designed the logo for my publishing company, Skylark Lane Press, and I love it. I’m also absolutely thrilled with the illustrations and designs from artist Candace Camling for my Dork novels. She’s interested in doing a lot more of my books, and I’m so happy about that!

Carol's logo

dork cover

I took an online course on interior book design with Dean Wesley Smith and Allyson Longueira which was the best course of any kind I’ve ever taken. I learned enough about InDesign that I can do my book interiors. I know that Joel Friedlander has very reasonably priced print and ebook design templates that many writers use and like. But I didn’t want to be limited to his designs.

What was the easiest?

I don’t think any part of this is easy. But I love it so far! It’s hard work and frustrating, but it’s so gratifying when the book is ready and It looks very good, and I feel confident about the story.

Were there any surprises along the way?

I can’t think of any. I knew I’d have a steep learning curve—or mountain—to climb. I think many people learn these things more easily than I do. People with business acumen, people who have design talent, people who are good at detail work, these people will grasp the minutiae more easily than I have.

Do you think you’ll return to traditional publishing?

No. I don’t want to go back to feeling so helpless. I’ve decided that I’d rather earn less money but have control over the publishing process. I do think, though, that if I learn how to do this right, I should be able to earn a very good living. I’ve started very slowly because of the strain of my husband’s 14-year battle with bone cancer and the grief of losing my sister to breast cancer last summer. It’s hard to focus and learn new things when these crucial life events take over. But over time, I’ll get more books out, I’ll know the steps to take, and I expect the process to become smoother.

Do you have any tips or suggestions for other traditionally published authors who might be considering indie publishing?

Yes. I recommend that you start your own publishing company so that the company name is listed on the copyright page. You want to be an indie publisher, not a “self-published writer.” If you have your own publishing company, it demonstrates that you’re take your writing and your business seriously. You’re going to write and put out a lot of books, not just one or two. (That said, I have to admit that Skylark Lane Press doesn’t yet have a website. That’s the next thing to tackle.) The publisher website can be a part of your website or a separate entity.

Also, take classes from Dean, Kris, and Allyson, and learn everything you can. They hold an on-site 8-day workshop once a year for experienced writers who want to become publishers of their own work. The workshops are tremendously helpful and inspiring. Dean and Kris have written best-selling novels. They’ve had a wealth of experience writing, publishing, and in distribution and promotion, and they like sharing what they’ve learned.

Thanks, Carol, for answering my questions. Please visit Carol’s website to learn more about her and her books.

Dori Hillestad Butler is the author of the Haunted Library series, the Buddy Files series and many other books for middle grade readers. For more information visit her website or look for her on Facebook or Twitter.



Indie Spotlight: The Twig Book Shop, San Antonio TX

Twig books frontIt’s always a pleasure to feature an independent shop that has thrived for decades! We’re talking today with Claudia Maceo, manager of  The Twig Book Shop of San Antonio.  Twig front sign

MUF: How did your shop get its unique name?
Claudia: The legend behind the name of the store is that the previous owner had purchased it from a man who had named the store after himself. Wanting to have a fresh start, at a cocktail party the new owner was discussing the options for a new name for the store. As is not unusual at a party where there might be alcohol, the literate attendees tossed around a few quotes including the one from which The Twig Book Shop sprang. Alexander Pope – “’Tis education forms the common mind; just as the twig is bent the tree’s inclined”

MUF: Great Story! One reviewer recounting a visit to your shop spoke of its “innocent charm.” What sort of atmosphere have you tried to create for your customers? twig interior #2
Claudia: Given the limited space, we want people to be drawn in by the warm colors of the wood and wall color. There are winding ways through the children’s section and nooks and crannies along each wall. Our cash wrap is in the center of the store and has a huge old Italian-made chandelier from a previous Twig owner that has been placed in our care. We have two entrances- the front-front door and the back-front door. We do have some quaint hand-lettered price signs and computer-generated section signs that I would hope seem “innocent” or quaint.

MUF: A small independent shop has to/gets to be very selective about the titles it carries. How do you decide what books to carry?
Claudia: We have several publisher reps who have known us over the years who advise us wisely. They, after all want us to do well, too. That, and our buyer has been at this job a long time; Susanna was the manager before I was. Our “floor” staff also are great listeners tuned into what customers are asking for.Twig LondonTwig Sarah PennypackerTwig DiCamillo

MUF: How do you help browsers find “the” book. As middle-grade authors, we’re curious to know—what books old or new, fiction or nonfiction do your booksellers find themselves recommending to middle-grade readers these days?
Claudia: When a customer comes to us asking for a book, we usually look it up in the system first, but then we go to the shelf with the customer. That is where the magic occurs – wonderful conversations about reading likes and dislikes, favorite books read, or in the case of a gift, what the reader knows about the intended recipient. We sell a lot of the award winners, classics and the popular authors like Pennypacker, DiCamilo, Henkes, Barnett, London… there are so many.

MUF: The Twig is known for its strong collection of Texana and Texas history. Any especially fine books appealing to ages eight through twelve?Twig Mysterious TrunkTwig, Boy in the Alamo, Margaret Cousins
Claudia: We have sold over 100 copies of Goodnight San Antonio which includes local sites and bits of history. There is the age-old classic The Alamo by Margaret Cousins, an Alamo A to Z that includes a bit more text than a typical alphabet book, and the Mr. Barrington’s Mysterious Trunk series that fictionalizes a variety of events in Texas history.

MUF: Most long-successful book shops like the Twig have a strong connection to their communities. Give us an idea what you and San Antonio do for each other.
Claudia: We are very involved with many organizations like church groups and schools, libraries, and literary organizations, non-profits and charities. We provide books for bookfairs, conferences, and author visits that sometimes includes making donations of the proceeds to the non-profits.Twig logo

MUF: If a family from out of town came to visit The Twig, would there be family-friendly places nearby where they could get a snack or meal after ward? And if they could stay a little longer, are there some unique sights and activities nearby that a family shouldn’t miss?
We are located at the Historic Pearl Brewery where all the shops and restaurants are locally owned and operated for a distinctive shopping and dining experience. This summer and fall, several new building projects will be completed like an artistic water feature for kids, informal dining, and a shaded plaza.
We are also on the Museum Reach of the Riverwalk which is the turnaround basin for the river taxis. Along this branch, or reach, a bat colony lives under the Camden St. bridge, water fowl make their homes here, and locks make the river navigable from downtown to Pearl. Within a mile or two of Pearl are the San Antonio Museum of Art, the new children’s Do-seum, and the Witte Museum.

screenshot_2228Thank you , Claudia, for telling us more about the Twig. It sounds like a treasure for those who live in  San Antonio and a great place to visit.  Readers, put this one on your map!
And remember, tomorrow is Independent Bookstore Day, so buy a book or two or more to support the stores that you want to thrive.  Independents are the future!

Sue Cowing lives in Honolulu and is the author of the middle-grade puppet-and-boy novel You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012)



Indie Spotlight: Learned Owl Book Shop, Hudson OH


Ah, the smell of books!  You certainly can’t get that online.  It’s a pleasure to feature yet another successful small bookshop this month, The Learned Owl Book Shop (,) and to interview its owner/manager Kate Schlademan.
MUF: Learned Owl has recently made an apparently seamless transition to new ownership. What do you feel is special about your shop and what keeps you going?
Kate: Over the years The Learned Owl has become a hub for the community.  Being almost 50 years old, many people have grown up coming to the store and now bring their children here.  We are a meeting place and information place.  We are very fortunate to have tremendous support from our community.screenshot_2205

MUF: Describe the atmosphere of Learned Owl. What to you hope people will experience when they come in?
Kate: The store is housed in a building built in 1867.  It has been a number of different things over the years including a carpentry shop, shoe repair, and art gallery.  We have an upstairs and lower level with lots of nooks and crannies to explore. We always hope people will feel welcome and at home when they enter the store.  Many people comment one two things: they love the smell of books when the walk in and it reminds them of the store in the movie You’ve Got Mail.

MUF: A small store has to be selective in its collection. How do you decide what books to carry, and how do you help a customer find his or her next book?13-Story Treehouse Andy Griffiths
Kate: Deciding what inventory to carry is always difficult, especially when you consider the massive amount of books that are published every year.  It is very important that I understand my market and customers.  I try very hard to have a broad selection of titles for customers to choose from.  When helping people select books, I always ask them what they like to read or what they have read recently that they enjoyed.  This really helps me narrow down where to start.screenshot_2201

screenshot_2200MUF: As middle-grade authors, we have to ask: what are some screenshot_2199 13-Story Treehouse Andy Griffiths Warriors Erin Huntertitles– old or new, fiction or poached Stuart Gibsnonfiction– that you find yourselves recommending to middle grade readers these days?
Kate: Some of my current favorites as well as old stand-bys in no particular order are: The Apothecary series by Maile Meloy, School of Good and Evil series by Soman Chaining, The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin, Counting By 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan, Three Times Lucky series by Sheila Turnage, Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd, Poached series, by Stuart Gibb, 13 Story Treehouse series by Andy Griffiths and the Warriors original series by Erin Hunter.

MUF: Do you have any activities or events coming up that would be of special interest to readers ages eight to twelve?flamecaster
Kate: We are having a launch party for Cinda Williams Chima’s new book Flamecaster on 4/5.  She is local to the area and we are big fans.

MUF: How do you plan to celebrate Independent Bookstore Day next month?screenshot_2207
Kate: We will have a number of specialty items for sale that day as well as hourly give aways.  We are partnering with some other stores in the area to create a passport of independent bookstores to show how many are around and in hopes of getting people to visit as many as possible.

MUF: If a family from out of town came to visit the Learned Owl, are there family-friendly places in the neighborhood where they could get a meal or a snack afterward? And if they could spend more time, are there unique activities or places of interest nearby that a family would enjoy?
Kate: We have a number of family friendly restaurants within walking distance.  We also have a few game and novelty shops which are fun to visit.  The Cuyahoga National Park is about 15 minutes away and one of the most visited National Parks in the U.S.  There are tons of trails to explore.  We are only about 30-40 minutes south of Cleveland where we have a wonderful Art Museum, Natural History Museum, and you can’t forget the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  About 20 minutes south of us is Akron which also boasts a beautiful art museum and a minor league ball park which is always a fun option for affordable family fun.

MUF:  Thank you, Kate.  Readers,  don’t you love the idea of a passport for visiting independent bookstores?   If you’re in Ohio or planning to go, you might want to include Learned Owl Book Shop in your itinerary.

Sue Cowing is the author of the middle-grade puppet-and-boy novel, You Will Call Me Drog (Caroldrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012, Harpers UK 2014)