Howard County authors make the leap into self-publishing

For Howard Magazine
Ever thought about writing a book? These women made it happen on their own.

It started with a routine procedure.

When Connie Bowman’s daughter Meghan was in kindergarten at Hammond Elementary School, she went to the doctor for a catheterization, a regular occurence for a child diagnosed with a congenital heart disease at birth. But there was nothing routine about her visit. Meghan died a couple of weeks later, following complications from the procedure.

This was just the beginning of the road to healing for Bowman and her family following the grief that comes with the loss of a child. Little did she know, it was also the beginning of her journey to become a self-published author.

Bowman is among a growing number of authors choosing the self-publishing route, a process that allows them to bypass the often lengthy practice of finding a traditional publisher to coordinate a book’s production, distribution and sale. A 2014 report from Bowker, the official International Standard Book Number agency for the U.S., showed that 458,564 titles were self-published in 2013, up from 85,468 in 2008.

For many local authors, the creative freedom and shortened timeline self-publishing provides were worth the work, expense and lack of prestige that come with it.

Bowman says she chose self-publishing over a major publisher like Penguin Random House or HarperCollins to “get it done.”

She sent the manuscript of her book, “Back to Happy: A Journey of Hope, Healing and Waking Up,” to an editor in California who suggested that she try Amazon’s CreateSpace, a publishing and distribution service for authors.

“It was really easy, which was important to me because it was my first book, and I never thought I’d write one in the first place,” Bowman says.

Patty Sroka of Woodbine also decided to kick off her writing career using CreateSpace after researching her options. She publishes under the pen name P.J. O’Dwyer.

“I thought about writing, but I never followed that path,” says Sroka, who followed her childhood dream of becoming an author after having children and opening her own travel agency.

When she took some of her daughters’ Girl Scout troop friends to Deep Creek Lake for a retreat, she took along a Nora Roberts book and became inspired.

At first, she didn’t view self-publishing as an option.

“Back then, when I would run into authors and they said that they were self-published, I would kind of stick my nose in the air and say, ‘Oh no, I don’t want to be self-published. I want a major publisher.’ But then I realized that it doesn’t mean you have a poorly written book. It could be that publishers don’t have room on their lists that year or they already have reached their quota of books like yours,” Sroka says.

She started writing in 2008 and made the leap into self-publishing in 2012, releasing her romantic suspense novels, “The Fallon Sisters Trilogy.”

Sroka then approached Howard Community College with an idea for teaching a course to help others in the area navigate the world of self-publishing. She now teaches a series of noncredit classes focusing on writing fiction, self-publishing and marketing fiction.

“I wanted to share my experiences of what I learned not to do and how to save yourself money and time,” Sroka says.

In her class, students learn to navigate the ins and outs of self-publishing, from the editing process to finding the right place to send the finished product. Sroka and other local authors say to make sure to spend money on an editor who’s not just a close friend to ensure the final product is as professional as possible.

“It’s your reputation on the line, and you want people to read your book, so it’s important to keep it as error-free as possible,” Sroka says.

The process stands in contrast to working through big publishers, which have in-house editors and often take months or even years to get a book on the market. Working with a big publisher often involves hiring an agent to get their attention and negotiate your deal — if you can get one at all. They accept a limited number of books per genre per year.

When it comes to self-publishing, you’re more on your own schedule, according to Sroka.

Since 2013, she has seen three groups of authors take her courses and continue their critique groups after their time in the classroom, resulting in 11 self-published books with three additional books to come this spring.

“It’s great to see them interact with each other and become friends,” Sroka says. “It’s important to remember that writing can be solitary, but not isolating,” she says.

This was true for Toni Cross and Kira Decker, who met at a writing class and publish under the pen name “Toni Decker.” Together, they took on the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge to finish a novel in just four weeks.

“We did it in 2012, and in December of that year we decided that we both really liked the story and that we wanted to keep going,” says Cross, who lives in Ellicott City.

The pair chose self-publishing for their paranormal fantasy books “Images Eternal” and “Shoalman Immortal” in the Shoalman Chronicles series because they wanted to be able to fit their two visions for the book seamlessly together.

“There weren’t a lot of co-writers publishing, and we decided we really wanted control over the final product,” Cross says. “It made it a little harder because we had to do all of the marketing ourselves, but we really enjoyed the journey.”

For those looking to self-publish, Rachel Rawlings, author of the “Maurin Kincaide Series” — five books and a short story in the dark paranormal, urban fantasy and horror genres — says that the opportunities are out there. You just have to do the research.

“There’s really no limit to what you can do,” says Rawlings, now an Aberdeen resident who works at her family’s business, Salon Marielle, in Ellicott City. “There’s such a broad pool of editors and writers who can help get you on the right path. I have learned a lot, and it’s really broadened my horizons.”

One of the lessons she learned, Rawlings says, is that self-publishing means ultimate responsibility for every step of the process.

“It’s nice that you have almost complete control over the final product, but remember that it’s your name going out there and you’re responsible for every success and every failure,” Rawlings says.

That responsibility was appealing to Tammy Bowers of Ellicott City, who spearheaded the publishing efforts for a book of stories from nine different authors navigating the challenges of life.

“The reason why I decided to self-publish our stories is that I wanted the ease of it,” says Bowers of the book, “A Journey of Hearts: Navigating Heartfelt Life Experiences.”

She chose Dog Ear publishing because she liked the options for customizing the final product.

“We talked as a group, and we wanted it to travel in a spiral motion representing the journeys we all are on and sharing with our readers, ending in a heart, showing the love that we have for our families and friends,” Bowers says.

But the self-publishing process wasn’t without its challenges.

“Look at the small print,” Bowers says. “There were a lot of extra things being added to the book that I didn’t know would mean extra fees.”

Despite the fuss, local authors say self-publishing is still worthwhile. For Bowman, self-publishing was all about making sure her story got out to help others.

“I had no big dreams from this, but if it could help one person along the way I would be really happy, and that was my goal,” Bowman said. 

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