aking the choice to self-publish is a big step and a massive undertaking. Patricia A. Nugent not only self-published one book but went on to edit and self-publish an anthology and has done well with both. Pat is a retired school administrator and adjunct communication professor. She’s been published numerous times in trade and literary journals and has received awards (including one bestowed by Susan Sontag) for her creative nonfiction work. She’s the author of the book They Live On: Saying Goodbye to Mom and Dad, a compilation of vignettes portraying the stages of caring for and saying goodbye to a loved one. She’s also editor of the anthology, Before They Were Our Mothers: Voices of Women Born Before Rosie Started Riveting. Her play about a modern-day reunion of the early suffragists, The Stone that Started the Ripple, has sold out all performances over the last twenty years and received a stellar arts review. She periodically blogs for Vox Populi and Ms. Magazine; her blog can be found at www.journalartspress.com. She volunteers to teach creative writing to lifelong learners as she works on her current manuscript about how unwanted gifts transform us, hers being a spirited golden retriever puppy.
WOW: Pat, thank you for speaking with our readers about your experiences in the world of self-publishing. You have two books to date which you’ve self-published with a third on the way. Could you tell us a little about the books you have out now?
Pat: I currently have two books on the market. The first, They Live On: Saying Goodbye to Mom and Dad, published in 2010, is a compilation of three hundred vignettes portraying the stages of caring for and saying goodbye to a loved one, as seen through the eyes of a daughter and her terminally ill parents. It’s a memoir of my caregiving experience that still briskly sells because there aren’t a lot of books available to comfort adults losing elderly parents. Plus, the experience of loss is universal. My more recent book that I served as editor for is Before They Were Our Mothers: Voices of Women Born Before Rosie Started Riveting. Published in 2018, it’s an anthology of fifteen true stories about the foremothers of the individual authors. It’s a powerful retrospective on women’s journeys from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s that reminds readers of the lingering cultural issues that women must still transcend to have a seat at the table.
WOW: So many of us can relate to topics of grief and loss as well as the family stories we grew up with. Why did you decide to self-publish versus following a more traditional publication route? Why have you chosen to use paper versus digital self-publishing?
Pat: I’d never intended to publish They Live On at all—it’s drawn from my personal journals. But friends made me aware of the need for the subject matter, so I began to seek an agent. After a couple dozen rejections, I decided to self-publish because I took the rejections hard. I was still grieving, and it felt like my experience as a caregiver was being denied. (Based on the sales figures, I hope there are a few agents now kicking themselves!) I chose paper because I envisioned it as a small book—like a journal—to hold for comfort, especially when you can’t get out of bed in the morning.
The decision to self-publish the second book was simply a matter of timing. I’d received a small grant from the NYS Council on the Arts, and the project had to be completed by the end of that same calendar year. I would have sought a publisher for that powerful historical work had there been more time. And may still do so now, including digital copies!
“Timing is crucial. Before They Were Our Mothers greatly benefited from synchronicity with the #metoo and #timesup movements. We were able to draw the connection between this outrage and our foremothers’ stories.”
WOW: With your first book, They Live On: Saying Goodbye to Mom and Dad, it’s such a personal book, did you feel you had the opportunity to be more engaged in the process than you would have had someone else handled the publishing?
Pat: Good question. Yes, I felt strongly about the size, shape, photos, and format of that book—most likely because it was an edited transcription of my journals. And I wanted it to be small enough for caregivers to carry with them if needed.
WOW: It’s great that you had such strong feelings about how you wanted people to engage and interact with the book itself, not just the subject matter. Once you had this vision, what was your process for becoming self-published? How did you find a printer? Did you hire an editor or pay an upfront fee?
Pat: I originally used a local self-publishing house; but the price/book was higher than reasonable, and I was disappointed in the quality of production. Books should be affordable if the printed word is to compete with digital publishing. A fellow writer highly recommended a printer; so I switched, and now use that company to print both of my books. The only thing I pay upfront is 50 percent of the printing cost. Because I write creative nonfiction, I use actual photos on the covers. And yes, I always recommend engaging an editor. Even editors need editors!
WOW: That’s good advice: even editors need editors. Fresh eyes make all the difference. With 250 being the average number of books sold by a first-time self-published author, did you find success in selling your book?
Pat: I’ve sold thousands of each of my titles—as you point out, that’s unusual for self-published books. That’s because there’s a niche for both; they fill a void in the current literature. It’s important to identify your intended audience, but not narrow your demographic too much. I originally thought of They Live On as a book for daughters, but two of my biggest fans are men—one who lost his wife and the other, a mother-in-law. I even received an order for twelve books for a funeral in South Africa. I also market to nursing homes, hospice, hospitals, churches, etc. Timing is crucial, too. Before They Were Our Mothers greatly benefited from synchronicity with the #metoo and #timesup movements. We were able to draw the connection between this outrage and our foremothers’ stories. We were in demand to read at libraries, women’s groups, colleges, etc. One problem, however, is that marketing is a different skill set than writing. It’s hard for writers to push their work when they’d rather be home writing.
“I regretted not being more inquisitive about my mother’s life, so I decided to create a book that would spark awareness of where we’ve been as a gender and interest in unearthing more of women’s stories. We’ve been silenced for too long.”
WOW: Those are fabulous sales for self-published books. With Before They Were Our Mothers: Before Rosie Started Riveting being an anthology, you had the role of visionary and editor as opposed to the primary writer. Could you tell us how you came up with the idea? How was it different to play this new role?
Pat: The idea for this anthology popped into my head shortly after my mother’s funeral in 2004. A gentleman I’d never met before showed up at the funeral home and filled my head with information about my mom when she was in high school. I’d never asked her about those years—when I was young, I didn’t care about her past. When I told friends about him, they told me things they’d learned about their moms after their deaths. I realized there is a treasure trove of information about our foremothers that we never tap, and it’s all part of women’s history. I regretted not being more inquisitive about my mother’s life, so I decided to create a book that would spark awareness of where we’ve been as a gender and interest in unearthing more of women’s stories. We’ve been silenced for too long.
Editing was such a different role for me that I’d intended to write an essay about it...but time got away from me. It did give me more empathy for editors; one of the hardest duties was rejecting submissions. In working with fifteen different authors, I had to be careful not to insert my voice into their work. Because I know what that feels like, I tried to be respectful of various writers’ styles. Our process was interactive with lots of room for “debate.” We also were under a tight timeline, so I ended up exhausted at the end.
WOW: I can believe you were exhausted. Once you had the idea, what happened next?
Pat: Once I received notice of the grant approval, I sent out a “Call for Submissions” to literary organizations and women’s groups. I also sent a news release to metropolitan areas of the state. There was a fairly short turnaround time, but I received twice as many submissions as we could use. I assembled eight local writers to serve as an editorial board, blindly reading, and ranking all submissions. I then reviewed all the submissions and generally agreed with the editorial board. Each author received preliminary acceptance of her piece if she was willing to edit it based on feedback. Using Google Docs, we worked together on the stories and gathered once in a workshop setting. The authors came from throughout New York (state) to meet each other and me, to learn more about the concept and mission of the literary project, to examine their work for common errors made in writing, and to provide feedback on another author’s work. They were a delightful group of women to work with because they too were passionate about the mission. Our launch had standing room only (over one hundred people), which corresponded to the Women’s March in 2018.
“The best part is that bonds formed among them, and a sisterhood was created. After all, we now know each others’ relatives. This transcends the physical product.”
WOW: That’s an amazing turnout for a book launch. The connection around a project like this is powerful and inspirational. How was it working with so many writers with varying levels of experience?
Pat: I limited it to writers who live in New York simply for ease of access if needed, but their foremothers could live anywhere—and they did! There was a wide range of quality of submissions, but each person took responsibility to create an exceptional anthology very seriously. I learned from each of them and hoped they learned from my experience. The best part is that bonds formed among them, and a sisterhood was created. After all, we now know each others’ relatives. This transcends the physical product.
WOW: With a focus on stories of not famous women, how has Before They Were Our Mothers been received? Have you found that having a larger number of people involved helped with promotion and sales?
Pat: It received a phenomenal reception from all generations of women—and men. Each author was able to buy books at the printer’s cost to sell on their own, as a sort of franchise. They also could arrange their own readings. Some were more deliberate about that than others, based on circumstances in their own lives. But it certainly helped exposure, which boosted sales. We also were fortunate that the Associated Press picked up a story written by a local reporter, so our book was promoted in more than thirty news outlets worldwide, including the New York Times. Timing is everything.
WOW: The passion of the writers sharing their foremothers’ stories must have been contagious for readers. What were some of the tactics you implemented for promoting your books?
Pat: As referenced earlier, connecting with organizations that serve your book’s demographics gives an author a built-in readership. I also have a webpage at www.journalartspress.com and created Facebook pages for each of my titles. I tweet @nugentjournal on rare occasions. Follow us!
“We were fortunate that the Associated Press picked up a story written by a local reporter, so our book was promoted in more than thirty news outlets worldwide, including the New York Times.”
WOW: Self-promotion is a big part of self-publication. For authors who are interested in self-publishing either their work or as a compilation, what advice would you share? Do you work with other authors through your imprint, as an editor, as an advisor?
Pat: Do your homework! There is a wide variety of opportunities for self-publishing out there. Don’t rush into anything. I don’t formally work with other authors at this time; there are still too many things I want to write about. I’m up for informal chatter upon occasion, however.
WOW: With your next and future books, will you continue to self-publish, or will you look for a different approach?
Pat: My next book is Healing with Dolly Lama: Finding God in Dog. It’s a memoir about my experience with an unwanted puppy that changed my life. I believe the combination of canines and spirituality will open some doors with traditional publishing, so I will be pursuing small/independent presses sometime before next fall.
WOW: I look forward to hearing more about your book when it’s out. How can readers find your current books?
Pat: The books can be found online on Amazon or at www.websterbookstore.com. Also, a list of local stores that carry them can be found at www.journalartspress.com/purchase/. Thank you!
WOW: Pat, thank you for spending time with our readers and sharing your insight and experience with self-publishing. For writers who are interested in pursuing that path, your experience is both helpful and informative.
Christy O’Callaghan lives in Upstate New York. She works with incarcerated adults seeking employment. Her favorite pastimes include hiking, gardening, swimming, and collecting sea glass—anything outside in the fresh air. You can learn more about her, her blog about being an over 40 newbie writer, and her work at www.christyflutterby.com.