Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Self-Published authors making best-seller lists

HICKORY NC – If you’ve been waiting until you retire to finally write that novel you’ve been putting off, you might want to reconsider.

This spring two unknown writers, Jack and Jasinda Wilder (pen names), cracked the top-10 best selling lists of the New York Times, Amazon, and several other online book distributors.
Out of work, with the proverbial wolf at the front door and Snidely Whiplash holding their mortgage, the two teachers literally wrote their way out of debt.

Reeling off dozens of titles, like, ‘Big Girls do it Better’ – steamy romance novels – they hit the big time with “Falling Into You,” which marched up the book charts, according to a report on CBS news broadcast in mid-June.

In less than a year, the couple has sold close to a million copies of their works altogether, according to the report.

And, they self-published their work.

After their meteoric success, publishers have come knocking. Their response is who needs a publisher?

Ann Chandonnet is both a published and a self-published author. The 70-year-old Vale resident moved to the area with her husband after living 34 years in Alaska. Her books are mostly cookbooks that reflect history and recipes of eras of history, such as “Gold Rush Grub: From Turpentine Stew to Hoochinoo.”

Her first publishing effort was in 1976 – a collection of poems entitled “The Wife,” which reflected her life as a stay-at-home mother.

“Writing about domestic life was not fashionable at the time,” she said, “but I thought that it was important.”

She pasted up typewritten copy and took her manuscript to a printer. Her audience was primarily family and friends, she said.

She wrote “The Wife, Part Two” three years later, using the same production method.
Chandonnet said the motivation to publish her work has never been the money or fame.
“You want to get it out to a body of readers,” she said. Asked why she wrote, she replied, “I just like words.”

She decided when she was 16 she was going to be a poet, she said.

Her journey with words has taken many forms. She worked for two newspapers while in Alaska, The Anchorage Times as a feature writer for 10 years, and at the Juno Empire for three years writing features, business articles and cops news. Her husband, Ferdinand, was a newspaper editor.

Chandonnet has a new book coming out, “Colonial Food,” which is distributed by Random House. It combines a “window into daily life in Colonial America,” according to a promotional flyer and features authentic menus and recipes.

An excerpt from the book talks of how early colonists prepared their food:
“Hearth cooking centered on the simplest of fare – stews of beans, peas and vegetables; or a hash of leftovers. Protein sources ranged from deer to bluebirds, from raccoon to salt pork to smoked ham hocks. Breads were baked in covered cast-iron pots. Few hard-working colonists complained of the food. As Cervantes reckoned, ‘Hunger is the best sauce.’”

John Womack has lived in Hickory for about four years. As a child his family moved about the country. His father worked for the Illinois Central railroad, he said.

Womack has a varied background, having spent time in the Air Force as a navigator watching over Titan II missiles. He also served in Vietnam. He retired from the Air Force as a major, he said.
“Titan Tales” is an historic recount of his service, and he self-published the book.

“I was tired of seeing people I knew getting all kinds of misportrayals,” he said of cinematic reflections of real life.

The book chronicles two years of his experience commanding a Titan ICBM and keeping the nuclear-armed missile ready for instant launch, while at the same time going home to his children at the end of his watch.

Womack said he printed around 1,500 copies of the book.
“I have about 300 left,” he said.

Womack’s writing mission is about informing his readers on what he considers to be interests: spirituality, religion, traveling, hiking and driving the North Carolina mountains.

“I want to explain things. I want to connect on a mental and spiritual level,” he said.
One of his future books will be a cookbook: Cooking for Fun, Eating for Joy.

Most of what he writes is nonfiction. His avid interest in photography over the years translated into “Methods & Procedures of Outdoor Photography.”

“This is not digital photography,” he said, and explained the book covers from A to Z what any photographer needs to know to take good pictures.

Both Chandonnet and Womack are part of a network of writers that meet monthly to share information about the local and state writing community, as well as successes and recommendations regarding their work.

According to Scott Owens, who is the designated leader/moderator, the group combines two aspects. The first part is called Writers Night Out. Anyone is welcome to join the discussion or come to read, which occurs on the second Tuesday of each month at Taste Full of Beans Coffeehouse in downtown Hickory.

“Most of the attendees are pretty regular participants and have been coming for at least a year,” said Owen.

The second part of the gathering is called Poetry Hickory. Often poets of some renown are invited to come to Hickory to read from their work. The July guests were John Thomas York from Greensboro, and Beth Copeland from Fayetteville.

Launched in September 2007, the purpose of the group is to give local poets an opportunity to connect with an audience and to give Hickory the opportunity to hear good contemporary poetry from across the state and the Southeast, according to Owens.

He has been happily surprised at the quality of local poets.

“Honestly, I couldn’t believe that a poet as good as Tim Peeler was living in Hickory and nobody I knew knew about it,” Owens said.

Attendees come from Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Vale, Taylorsville, Statesville, Sherrills Ford and Hickory

A final portion of Poetry Hickory is open mike reading. Participants are invited to read their work to an audience in the coffee shop. The readings tend to be poetry, but it is not constrained to that.
Tony Rankine read from a chapter of a book he is working on. It was a satirical scene involving political notables Dick Cheney and Bill Clinton, among others.

“I had to read it very fast,” said Rankine later of the reading.

Rankine is more into nonfiction and fiction writing – not so much poetry, he said. A computer engineer by trade and experience, he is working on an idea to help new writers crack the barrier every writer has to hurdle: that of getting his work out to the public.

“The first part is to get your writing reviewed by peers,” he said. When a self-publisher posts to a service like Amazon, critiques are made by anybody, and are not filtered, according to Rankine.
His system would provide peer review that would judge the writing on its merit, not so much the content.

“Your writing might not be my cup of tea, but I know and can judge if what you’ve written is quality or not,” he explained.

Through his system, which he referred to as a portal, the author would be able to approve comments or reject them.

“That way, the author of a historical novel, for example, can screen out the critic who focuses in on whether the history is accurate or not, rather than if the writing is quality or not,” he said.

Rankine mentioned that for those who are not poets, and who are trying their hand at prose – fiction or nonfiction – a nearby group meets monthly in Mooresville. The group, Lake Norman Writers, is a membership organization, and offers information about its focus and meetings on their website at www.meetup.com/Lake-Norman-Writers.

While Owens does have experience in self-publishing, he has nine books of poetry in print selected by a press or an editor.

When asked how he would respond to someone who has contemplated writing, but has not been able to overcome the initial fear of exposing their work to others, Owens replied,

“Same thing I say to my daughter when she says she doesn’t like a certain food: “You don’t know until you try.”

By Skip Marsden lmarsden@hickoryrecord.com

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