The Sun magazine, I probably would never have met Amy Bonaccorso—Amy and I joined the same Sun discussion group a couple of months ago. When the conversation turned to e-books that first day, I made my usual “E-books, yuk!” refrain. But Amy didn’t agree with me because, she said, e-books can offer higher royalties for authors. She knew, because her book, How to Get to 'I Do': A Dating Guide for Catholic Women, is available in both Kindle and hard copy editions. When I told her that I wanted to know more about her publishing experiences, and how she has been marketing her book, she graciously consented to this email interview.
Amy is a senior communications specialist within the federal government, where she manages an internal newsletter, arranges big events, and works to improve communication. For more information on Amy and her book, see her web site.
How did you get the idea to write your book?
When I dated in my twenties, a lot of the guidance I got was unrealistic and not very helpful. Much of it was written by unmarried people or concerned parents. After I became engaged, I could see what I did wrong, what I did right, what advice was worth taking, and which words should have been ignored. It was something I wanted to capture in writing. I am sure lots of people have great moments of hindsight like I did...they just don't write anything down. I thought I should publish my lessons learned for others, though.
I had a diverse dating portfolio by the time I met my husband on Match.com. And that’s the point I try to get across in my book. Women, even very traditional Catholic women, need to put themselves out there in a variety of ways. A man can’t find you if you aren’t anywhere to be found. I also think some Catholic women need to relax a bit and not be so hyper-pious.
The Amazon.com blurb for your book says, “…plenty of good men are waiting for a woman like you to throw away the checklist of idealized mate material.” What was on your original "list"? What did you find instead?
Here is the list:
- Catholic, like me
- Building a good career
- College educated
- Marriage minded
- Physically attractive
- Willing to support a full-time mom/housewife role for me
My husband was not incredibly devout, and although he had a good career plan, he made less than me when I met him... so I couldn't expect a quick 1950s lifestyle. He is a lot more secular and "modern" than the man I thought I was looking for. I couldn't see it then, but I have a rather bohemian background and a sometimes contradictory set of interests, personality traits, goals, and beliefs. I could probably drive a cookie cutter Catholic man crazy. One ex, for example, wanted me to quit going to acupuncture because it weirded him out. I got to talk to an old Andy Warhol protégé in New York City a few months ago, and it was one of the thrills of my life. Discerning religious life at a Carmelite convent was also one of my most memorable life experiences. Not everyone can accept that kind of dichotomy. (We’ve been married nearly three years now.)
Since you work full-time, when/where did you write the book?
I wrote during my lunch breaks, in the evenings, and on weekends. I'd sometimes write on the backs of receipts or little pieces of scrap paper when I was out at lunch. Or, I would eat at my desk and write my thoughts in an email message. The book came very quickly. It only took about six months. I credit my muses for that.
How did you find your publisher?
I didn't have an agent. I looked at books that I was reacting against and saw who published them. They were small Catholic publishers. Since I could easily refer to other books on their list when pitching mine, I targeted them with a book proposal. Within weeks, I had an offer.
Why did you decide to do a Kindle edition?
My husband recommended that I suggest a Kindle edition to the publisher. I also had people around me who were into their Kindles and weren't buying paperbacks anymore. I had a feeling that some women would want the book quickly too if they were having a dating crisis. It's the first e-book for Servant Books.
Is Kindle publishing a good deal for the author?
It can be—it depends on the contract if you are working through a publisher. My contract is generous on e-book purchases. I have a higher royalty rate on them than physical books. This is because e-books cost less and the publisher was concerned about fairness to the author. If a royalty rate doesn't change for an e-book, authors can feel like they lose money on them. However, my publisher says that it looks like sales are 10:1 in favor of paper copies still.
How have you been marketing the book?
I started out publishing articles with Catholic web sites and publications. I also launched a blog in 2008. Those things helped me build a platform for my book, and I've continued publishing articles online and blogging. It gives me an opportunity to elaborate on ideas in my book. All of those bylines help get my book title out there too. I’ve done a lot of interviews and a few people have been kind enough to publish glowing book reviews. I am slowly getting into non-religious publications. The local paper did a piece for Valentine’s Day.
In addition to publishing and blogging, I have appeared on about 20 radio shows. Most of them have been Catholic, but a few were secular. Over the next few months, I should appear on more secular web sites. Catholics are everywhere. I don't think my book is just for Catholic media outlets. And, I originally wanted the book to be for all Christians anyway. Readers also frequently reach out to me via Facebook and Twitter.
Do you think that marketing is an essential part of being a published writer these days?
Yes, I do. The competition these days is stiff and if you want to break out of the pack, good publicity and steady marketing will help. You could have the best points and the best writing, but if nobody knows you are out there, your book won't get read. How depressing is that?
My publisher supported some marketing efforts for my book, but I've also spent my own time and money to get my name out there. I've followed modern day best practices of having a good web site, a social media presence, and I am also working with publicists.
I like the look of your web site. Did you have someone design it for you?
The web site was designed by a pro. I knew it was important to have a professional looking web site and didn't feel like I had the skills to do it independently. I emailed the designer a lot about the vibe I wanted to create. She typically designs web sites for romance novelists and I was very impressed with how the digital imagery on those web sites conveyed emotional messages and a sense of place. So even though I am a non-fiction writer, I wanted to try that outreach strategy. I wanted my web site to be welcoming, and to convey that a lot of my writing will make readers feel like they are at a coffee shop conversing with a good friend.
Some authors do basic web sites with a Mac, and I did that initially, but I could tell it was homemade and it wasn't enough for me. My web site is based on Wordpress and I can do a lot of tinkering on my own.
Do you do any other type of writing or in any other genre?
So far, I just do non-fiction. I’m open to business, relationships, cooking, and anything spiritual.
I have some ideas for fiction, but I haven't had the energy or motivation to chase the inspirations the full mile at this point. And I would like to try poetry, but my husband has a natural gift for poetry and songs, so I know he could out-do anything I attempt in that area!
Have you always aspired to be a writer?
In my first college class, we went around the room and did introductions. I said I might like to be a writer. The professor laughed it off and said I better find a more practical career goal. Later, an English professor urged me to consider writing and I laughed him off because I allowed the first professor to shake my confidence and extinguish my enthusiasm. So yeah, writing was always an idea, but it took years for me to de-program myself with the defeatist thoughts that teachers and others had sent my way.
When you say, "I want to be a writer," it's like saying "I want to be a rock star or artist." The statement can attract skepticism and a lot of "get real!" sort of sentiments. The dream killers think they are helping you, but they aren't. Both my brother and I have stories of teachers squashing our inspirations and aspirations. When that one great English professor finally came around to encourage me, some damage had already been done. I was living alone near Capitol Hill, years later, with nobody around to question my dreams, when I finally started writing and publishing.