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Notes from the Writing Life

The Many Paths to Publication Part 2: An Interview With Heather Woodard

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Last week, I interviewed former student Nicole Lataif about her experience publishing with Pauline, a Catholic press. This week, I’m highlighting a pair of former students, Heather Woodard and Pam Wampol, who took my class to work on their Christmas story. Their self-published book was released in time for last Christmas but the full marketing push won’t begin until later this year. I caught up with Heather this week to see how it’s been going.

pam and heather

[Robert Sutton | The Tuscaloosa News]

Dashka: I watched this book go through quite a few drafts before it reached its current state. Tell us a little bit about it.

Heather: The title of our book is Oscar’s Dreamzz: The Story of Santa’s First Elf. It is the story of how Santa came to need elves, how he met and recruited his first elf, and what happened when the elf came back to the North Pole with Santa. There is also a plush toy and an ornament- both of which are created in Oscar’s image.

Dashka: How did you two decide to work together on this project?

Heather: We met in late 2006, when Pam’s middle daughter, Sarah, was one of my English students.  Right away, we clicked, and Pam and I began talking about writing a book back in early 2007.  We kicked around a number of ideas, and then Pam came up with the idea about writing the story about the history of the elves.  The more we researched the idea, the more we were confident that there was nothing in the market that resembled our story.  We developed the story, wrote it in prose, and converted it to rhyme because we wanted to provide maximum appeal to the youngest audiences (primarily children from 2-6), and their parents, grandparents, siblings and teachers.  We want people to use this story to encourage young children to love reading as much as we do. You can read more about Pam and Heather here.

Dashka: You decided to self-publish. Why?

Heather: Pam and I decided to go this route because we wanted to ensure that this book would be published according to our particular specifications.  As well, we had tried for close to two years to persuade traditional publishers to consider our work, but we were told repeatedly either that the economy was too rough right now to take a risk on a concept such as ours, or that a holiday-themed book would be too difficult to sell consistently.

Dashka: Once you decided to self-publish, how did you select a company?

Heather: Our publisher is Friesen Press, out of British Columbia, Canada. Pam took the lead in choosing them. She researched the company online, read testimonials, and confirmed the exemplary reputation of this company through checking the Better Business Bureau.  Once we talked to people who worked there, we both knew that this was the company that we wanted to use.  The representatives are supportive and encouraging without being pushy.

oscar dreamzz book

Dashka: Friesen introduced you to your illustrator, Denis Proulx, who specializes in this kind of project. Did you discover other advantages to self-publishing?

Heather: Pam and I feel like we have more control over the quality of the finished product because we are involved closely in just about every step of this process.  Secondly, we are learning more about the publishing process as a whole because we are doing more ourselves.  We make decisions about any and every aspect of this process as it relates to the publication and production of our book.

Dashka: Are there disadvantages?

Heather: Pam and I are still learning as we go, but right now, the only major disadvantage that we see is that there are certain venues (major retailers and/or review sources) whose members will not consider selling or reviewing our book because it is self-published.

Dashka: That makes it hard to get the word out. So what are you doing to promote the book?

Heather: Pam and I are largely marketing by word-of-mouth.  Our publisher does provide limited help with marketing, and we are also in the midst of building a website that will be connected to various social media pages. Oscar’s Dreamzz: The Story of Santa’s First Elf has a Facebook page, a Pinterest board, and a Twitter account. At this time, people can place orders for the book through links on Friesen Press, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and Books A Million.

Dashka: Are there things you’ve learned along the way that you wish you knew at the outset?

Heather: We have learned that publishing can be an involved, complicated process.  We wish that we had known a bit more about the time that it takes to get a book the way that we want it to be presented to our readers.  Everything takes time, and if you want your book to look—and be-- its best, patience is definitely the key.

Dashka: Do you think you'll self publish your next book?

Heather: At this point, based on initial feedback that we have received from telling others about the book (retailers, bookstore personnel, and others who are interested in our concept), we are keeping our fingers crossed that we will not have to go the self-publishing route for our next book because we are praying that we will have traditional publishers who will be interested in claiming rights to any sequel(s) that may come out. 

Dashka: When that happens, you'll have to come back to the blog to talk about your experience with traditional publishing! Thanks so much for visiting my blog!

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