Interview with Carolyn Howard-Johnson
by Lea Schizas
Carolyn Howard-Johnson is the author of This Is The Place, Harkening, and The Frugal Book Promoter. Carolyn has won so many awards that I am afraid to list them for fear I will forget some of them. One of her latest awards is the USA Book News “Best Books 2004” Award in the Professional Category for her book, The Frugal Book Promoter: How To Do What Your Publisher Won’t. It is published by Star Publish.
Carolyn is a tireless book promoter who willingly shares with other writers what she has learned through years of experience. Her advice is never given with the “I know better than you” attitude. Instead, Carolyn speaks from the heart, almost like neighbors chatting over the back fence. No wonder her book, The Frugal Book Promoter, is racking up awards and selling like hotcakes.
Q-When did the call for writing hit you?
A-When I was very young, maybe in the sixth grade. My mother explained that one should vary the way each paragraph started. I remember being thrilled when I found that you could use a clause for a subject. I actually remember writing, "That he was interested in geography made it easier for me to do my homework." What a great way that was to vary the topic sentences of paragraphs!
Q-Were your family and friends supportive, or did they stare at you with that “yeah, whatever” look?
A-I don't remember caring! Ha!
Q-We’ve all heard that it’s “passion” that drives us forward; but in your case, Carolyn, I find that it goes deeper than that. As I’ve said many times over, “teacher” is more apt in your case. So, my question is this: Do you find that it is the lack of guidance a new author gets after their book has been published by a traditional or even some nontraditional publishing houses that you decided upon the theme and birth of FRUGAL? What inspired you to write this book?
A-Exactly. I actually have spent some time teaching. I love teaching my class for UCLA Extension's Writers' Program. And, yes, I feel that teaching is somehow related to writing. Writers have a need to share and the very best ones share their souls. I took a hiatus from fiction and poetry--my first loves--to share the
nitty-gritty practicalities of book promotion when I saw so many authors fumbling so badly when they discovered their publishers weren't going to publicize for them.
Q-I know for a fact that you’ve openly expressed your gratitude to your FRUGAL publisher, Star Publish owner Margie K. Tovrea (aka Kristie Leigh Maguire), that thanks to her diligent persuading, you decided to publish FRUGAL in paperback, as well as e-book. Why the hesitance? And why didn’t you even consider the possibility of having FRUGAL printed in paperback?
A-Initially FRUGAL was to be a guide and textbook for my class at UCLA and I wanted my students (struggling writers all) to be able to afford it. I also knew that FRUGAL would need to be published very quickly in order to have it ready for fall quarter. From my experience with trade paperbacks, I didn't think that I could achieve these goals with the more traditional print format. As it turned out, STAR PUBLISH was able to help me meet both goals and deadlines with both e-book and paperback. A miracle publisher, than one!
Q-We know you’ve mentioned in some way or the other comments about subsidy houses. But yet, you chose a subsidy house. Why not a traditional publishing house? And how did you come to your decision to choose Star Publish from all the other nontraditional houses?
A-Oh, it was that speed thing again. My first publisher took one full year from the time I signed a contract and received my advance to the day I held my book in my hands. I knew Margie (the owner of Star Publish) from NUW Independent Authors Community, an e-group I have belonged to for several years. She was the founder of this congenial group of writers who came together to support one another and to share their writing and promotion secrets with one another. I trusted her. And I didn't want to take the time to learn to self-publish. I'm not a detail person. Getting my own ISBN, fooling around with online bookstore entries and distributors, editors and cover artists. Yikes! I'd rather WRITE.
Q-Are you happy with the service you received from Star Publish? And would you recommend them to another writer searching for a Print On Demand publisher?
A-You hear of so many writers who are not happy with their publishers, no matter how they are published. Big or small. POD or letter press. Subsidy or traditional. Mostly that's because communication is lacking. Margie, the publisher of Star, knows how to communicate. She never misses an e-mail. She does more than her contract says she will do. And, even when hurried, a writer knows she has her best interest at heart. I would absolutely, and do for that matter, recommend Star Publish to other writers.
Q-Where did you find the time to write with your heavy workload? My writing (and promotion) IS my heavy work load. (-:
Q-Let’s get to some nit-picking that has become dear to me in the last few months since I’ve started to review. I have noticed for quite some time now that published books are having more and more grammatical errors and typos. Do you find this acceptable?
A-Of course. It has to be "acceptable" because "it is." That doesn't mean we (publishers, writers, editors) shouldn't do everything to avoid even the tiniest typo but a book shouldn't be judged by its cover, the press it is printed on or its typos (assuming the copy doesn't look as if it’s written in another language!). It should be judged by its content.
Q-Is there a recommendation, beyond a writer editing before submitting, that you can suggest to any new writer out there?
A-A writer should not expect than even the best publisher and best editors will be able to catch everything. As a writer, have your most picky Libra friend go over the book. Choose an editor who knows more about English than most writers and more about writing (which IS different from knowing about English) than you do. Edit your book again yourself and then one more time before the book goes to bed.
Q-What general advice do you have for writers who just completed their first novel? What do they do now?
A-Promote. Keep learning more about the craft of writing. Just because we are now published authors doesn't mean we get to sit back on our ....um.....laurels and vegetate.
Q-I know of many writers who openly say that writers who submit their work for free only hurt the rest of them. What is your opinion on this heavy subject that has the writing community split in two divisions?
A-That word "free" is open to interpretation and therein lies the problem. I do see both sides of the argument. I believe, however, that a writer who gets some exposure--maybe even some advertising--in return is not writing for free. I've written for newspapers that pay only $75 for a column and once I wrote for a slick monthly magazine that paid only $35 for a short piece. Those very slim dollars aren't as valuable to me as an ad, including my book cover art and a few blurbs, that shout to the world that I have something out there. Published!!! Something that, I WANT them to read!!
Q-You have written now both nonfiction and fiction. Would you consider one more difficult than the other? Why or why not?"
A-They are so very different. There is a learning curve for each. When an author writes one and moves to another without taking time to learn the new craft, she can get into trouble.
Q-Will you continue to teach?
A-Writing is teaching, in a sense. It's a way to reach more people that you can in a classroom. Yes, I'll always teach. Writing will always be first for me but having the feedback from students is a
wonderful experience, too.
Q-Is there another writing project in the works now?
Perhaps a FRUGAL #2?
A-I've talked about a FRUGAL II. I just keep learning new ways to promote books that may need to be shared. I also have a book of poetry in the works and the rudiments of another novel.
Lea Schizas, a short story competition winner, lives in Montreal with her husband Jimmy and five children. She is the co-founder and Editor in Chief of the Preditors and Editors award-winning Zine ‘Apollo’s Lyre’ –founder of the online writing critique club ‘The MuseItUp Club and publicist for the small press print-on-demand publishing house Star Publish. She is a member of the Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and Senior Editor of the new 2005 print Coffee Cramp Magazine.
Her YA fantasy novel ‘The Rock of Realm’ will be released in 2005 by Star Publish.
You can read more of Lea’s bio and accomplishments at: