Monday, December 19, 2011

Interview with Betsy Miller


Briefly describe your journey in writing your book.
I’ve written two nonfiction books, which have print editions and ebook editions. They didn’t go through Untreed Reads because the print publisher wanted to handle both the print book and ebook. Untreed Reads is publishing my short stories. When I started writing fiction, I found that novel length work was too overwhelming for me. So I focused on short stories. I wrote quite a lot of them so that I could practice with beginnings, middles, and ends. That sounds really basic, but that was what gave me the most trouble when I was getting started.

What genre is your fiction?  Do you write in more than one genre?
My work spans several genres. Untreed Reads has published Equilibrium in their Candlelight line, and Half and Half in their Fingerprints line. Those are literary romance and mystery, respectively. I’ve written children’s stories, and am currently writing a young adult novel. I also write nonfiction books about children’s health. And in my day job I’m a technical writer, so I write instructions for wireless equipment too.

If you write in more than one genre, do you use a pen name?
So far I haven’t done that. If I write more in the mystery genre, then I might look at a pen name because that work has a different feel from my other work. 

Did you query agents and traditional publishers?  Did you receive an offer of representation or a book contract?
The first book I wrote was The Parents’ Guide to Hip Dysplasia, which I self-published as a print-on-demand (POD) book. It’s a niche book, so though I did query publishers, it wasn’t enough of a mass-market topic for them to pick up the book. My second book, The Parents’ Guide to Clubfoot, was published print-on-demand through a very small publisher.  A large, bulk order came in, and I was getting requests for an ebook version and for international orders. This was too much for that publisher to manage. They were flexible about my contract, so I researched publishers and queried Untreed Reads and Hunter House (a traditional publisher). Both were interested in the book. Since I knew there was a significant demand for a print edition, in this case I went with Hunter House because they would only do the print edition if they could also do the ebook edition. We signed a contract, and the Hunter House print and ebook editions are coming out in January 2012.

For fiction, I had a few short stories published years ago and just returned to fiction writing recently. There are a lot more opportunities for publishing short stories today because of the emergence of ebooks. It’s possible for a publisher to make individual stories widely available without incurring the cost of a print publication, or having to bundle together a specific collection—though there are opportunities for that too in the form of anthologies.   

What factors influenced your decision to sign with Untreed Reads?
Untreed Reads is a very professional publisher. They are organized, upfront with writers about what they are looking for, and they disclose what their royalty arrangement is. Plus, their distribution is amazing—they make a real effort to stay on top of all the latest opportunities to make ebooks and stories available world-wide. I’ve found the editors to be helpful and responsive.

How involved are you during the creative process for your book’s cover design?
That hasn’t applied to my short stories because Untreed Reads uses standard cover art to identify each of their short story lines. For my nonfiction books, I used professional artists for the cover images. When Hunter House acquired The Parents’ Guide to Clubfoot, they used the same cover art—specifically children’s footprints, and they sent the front cover to me for review.

Do you plan to self-publish any other books or will you stay with Untreed Reads?
I’m moving away from self-publishing and toward traditional publishers and established ebook publishers like Untreed Reads. That frees me up to spend more time writing, and I appreciate the promotional and distribution tasks that publishers help with. You want to find publishers that fit what you do so that you have a mutually beneficial relationship.

I won’t say that I would never self-publish though. If I wrote something I was passionate about and I couldn’t find a publisher that fit the work, then I would self-publish like I did for The Parents’ Guide to Hip Dysplasia. I’m going to update that title in 2012, and Hunter House has expressed an interest in acquiring it. So bear in mind that the publishing industry is changing, and it’s good to stay informed. The Parents’ Guide to Hip Dysplasia might need to stay a print-on-demand book, but I’ll let Hunter House decide how to produce it if and when they acquire the title. That’s a major change right there—a traditional publisher interested in a print-on-demand book with an ebook edition, rather than focusing only on mass market print titles. Part of the Hunter House mission statement involves providing health information to underserved communities—so that goes again to finding a publisher that fits the author.

What kinds of social media [twitter, facebook, webpage, blog, writing forums] are you involved with trying to garner attention for your book(s)?
I use facebook and I recently created an author site at http://betsymillerbooks.weebly.com. I’m in a number of online groups pertaining to children’s health topics, and my position on the Advisory Board of the International Hip Dysplasia Institute (IHDI) helps with both credibility and promotion for my nonfiction books. I’m just starting to join some online groups on the fiction side. I’d like to start a blog, but I haven’t done that yet.

How do you feel about the world of digital publishing?  Do you think it will replace traditional publishing one day?
I strongly believe there is room for both. There have been tremendous changes in print production and book publishing over the last 20 years. There was a huge consolidation of media corporations, and then the emergence of print-on-demand and ebooks that together with the incredible reach of the Internet have opened up new avenues for authors. It’s confusing and exciting at the same time as new companies emerge, others disappear, and many change the way they do things.

What is the biggest thing you’ve learned during your journey as an author?
Don’t give up when your first attempts fall far short of what you hoped for. For most writers it takes lots of practice to get proficient—to reach the place where you can say, “oh, I want to write about this idea that I have, and I can tell it would lend itself to a short story—or wow, that one is so big it would have to be a novel—maybe even a series.” And you have to develop your craft to the point where you have the capacity to execute your idea in a form that conveys your intent and is meaningful to others.

Do you have any advice for new authors?
Keep practicing and don’t write in a vacuum. Read the genre that you are working in so you learn its underlying structure. You might benefit from writing classes and a supportive writing group where you can share your work and get better over time. I’m in a writing group that has been a huge help to me. It’s a drop-in group called Write to the End (http://writetotheend.com). We meet most Tuesdays and are open to new writers.

Write the thing you want to write, and aim to write it the way you’d love to read it. Ideally, you eventually want to end up writing work that you enjoy as a reader—which is all to the good because you’re going to be rereading your work over and over as you revise and edit.

What’s next for you?
On the fiction side, Untreed Reads acquired my story Negative Space for their Candlelight line. I’ve also written a magical realism short story for an upcoming anthology. I’m currently writing a young adult novel with a working title All She Wants to Do Is Dance. It’s about a teenager who loves to dance and undergoes hip surgery. I’m in touch with a number of teens who have gone through hip surgery in real life and they are so inspiring. I know paranormal is popular right now, but I believe there’s room for realistic novels too.

An agent has asked to read All She Wants to Do Is Dance when it’s ready. It’s too soon to know yet if she will represent me, but at least I’ve got a foot in the door. Having my short stories published at Untreed Reads made it easier to approach an agent about my novel

On the nonfiction side, I’m updating The Parents’ Guide to Hip Dysplasia, and co-writing The Parents’ Guide to Legge-Calvé-Perthes Disease (LCPD) with a physician. It isn’t a done deal yet, but I believe both of these titles will be published through Hunter House in print and ebook editions.