We are pleased as punch that in 2013, several Business of Books clients realized their dreams of getting their books finished—and published! To celebrate those accomplishments, we’re launching a series of success stories. We’ll profile these first-time authors, tell you about their projects, and share the ups and downs they experienced on their path to publication. We hope you’ll find inspiration and motivation in their stories. (In 2014, we’d like to profile you and your book! Let us know how we can help you get the job done.)
Our first profile is Judith Gille, who recently published The View from Casa Chepitos. This memoir, set in Mexico, puts a human face on the immigration debate and explores issues faced by women of all cultures and ages. The elevator pitch? Think Eat, Pray, Love on Mexican Time. It’s a formula that’s resonated with readers, garnering Judith gratifying reviews and a #9 spot on the Elliott Bay Books’ best-seller list, as well as the Grand Prize in Writer’s Digest’s Self-Published e-Book Awards. You can meet Judith in person at her reading this Sunday, January 12, at 5:30pm at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park.
Here’s what Judith has to say about the process and her book.
Tell us about your path to publication and the reasons behind it.
I wrote a lot when I was younger. I had essays and articles appear in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Dallas Morning News, the Florida Sun-Sentinel, in magazines, online literary journals and anthologies. But after I started City People’s [the beloved Seattle mercantile and garden stores] and having kids, I no longer found time to write. But the urge to express myself through words was always there. Then, in 2006, I attended a reading by Tony Cohan (On Mexican Time and Mexican Days) in San Miguel. Afterwards I asked if he ever taught classes and he told me about Book Passage’s Travel Writer’s Conference in Corte Madera, CA. I signed up for the conference. I met a bunch of travel editors there, and was soon writing articles about Mexico. I came to realize that writing longer narratives was more interesting than how-to travel pieces for a newspaper industry that was on life support. So I began writing sketches about the people who live on callejón de Chepito, the Mexican alleyway where I live part-time.
Why were you inspired to write this book?
I’ve heard a number of writers say that they experienced an “Aha!” moment that prompted them to write their books. It was like that for me, too. On a train trip into Mexico’s Copper Canyon, I contracted salmonella poisoning and became extremely ill. One night, in a semi-hallucinatory, feverish state, it suddenly dawned on me that the essays I’d been writing about my neighbors on the alley were meant to be a book. I just needed to learn how to write it…
What professional services did you seek out in the process?
Originally I’d hoped to publish the book through a traditional publisher. I honed my first 50 pages, worked hard on my book proposal and hired Jen and Kerry (who did a terrific job) to edit it. I then submitted it to a dozen agents. I got lots of positive feedback about the themes, the quality of the writing, and the story, but they were uniformly dismayed that I didn’t have a well-developed platform. Without it, they said it would be a hard sell to a publishing house. I decided to form my own small press and publish the book independently. Self-publishing, at least in part, has gotten a bad rap because many books are not well-edited or designed and the product values are poor. I was determined to create a top-quality product that readers and book buyers would have a hard time distinguishing from a more traditionally published book.
What surprised you during the publishing process?
My husband was in the printing and publishing industry for 20-some years, so there wasn’t much that surprised us about the process. We decided to produce the book through Lightning Source and ordered 1,500 copies (which they had to print twice because during the first run, the press operator fell asleep and the books were all misaligned). The challenging part, however, has been distribution. Currently the books are only in a dozen bookstores in Western Washington and San Miguel de Allende, but they’re selling so fast that I need to restock the stores frequently. Bookstores don’t always pay attention to whether your book has sold down or is out of stock, so you have to keep track yourself. Ideally, we hope to partner with a larger distributor or publishing house for fulfillment.
What’s been the best moment or aspect about getting published?
The overwhelmingly positive response to the book has been astonishing. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t get an email or a hit on FB, or someone comes into the store to tell me how much they loved it. In only five weeks, it jumped to the #9 spot on Elliott Bay’s best-seller list.
I’ve been surprised by how many readers tell me they couldn’t put it down, or who read it in one or two days (it’s 310 pages, for god’s sake!), or how sad they were when it ended. A few people even said they immediately started reading it all over again! I’m just so grateful that the story resonates with readers and that people are rooting for Lupe and Juan’s success in life because achieving a fair immigration policy toward migrant workers is so important right now.
What one piece of advice would you offer to burgeoning authors?
Be a stickler for quality. Write the best book you possibly can, then find a good editor to help you fine tune it. Hire an experienced book designer (unless you have those skills yourself), insist that the printer does a top-notch job. If you want to pitch to an agent or publisher, use Jen and Kerry to help you produce a professional pitch and book proposal. And as Winston Churchill said, “Never, never, never give up.” The best advice I can offer is to be persistent. Even when it seemed hopeless, and the horrible nagging voice in my head kept telling me that my story sucked and nobody would want to read it, I kept plugging away because I believed in the importance of my story.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently visiting with a lot of women’s book groups and before the evening ends, I inevitably get asked when my next book is coming out and what it’s about. I’ve got at least two more books I want to write. The first follows the story of a young Mexican woman named Vicky. It continues with life on callejón de Chepito, but deals with the changing role of women in Mexico, and Mexico’s burgeoning feminist movement. The second book is a novel that takes place in a remote part of Lake Huron and is based on a true story that my grandmother was fond of recounting, about a young woman who was ostensibly kidnapped by a hermit.
Any upcoming book events?
My next reading is on Sunday, January 12th at 5:30pm at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park. Seattle photographer Lesley Burvill-Holmes will be joining me to show her lovely photographs of sunny San Miguel de Miguel and my neighbors from callejón de Chepito.