Paths to Publication: Interview with Judith Gille

For the last two episodes of Paths to Publication, I featured two writers who were published by traditional publishers. So I thought it was about time to showcase a self-published author. I’m especially happy to introduce Judith Gille and her beautiful book, The View from Casa Chepitos, a book I’ve watched grow up and a book that seems poised on the brink of great success, if Judith’s standing-room-only book launch at Elliott Bay Book Company is any indication of its popularity. Of course, Judith is a savvy entrepreneur, one of the founders of the beloved Seattle mercantile, City People’s, and also a member of my Shipping Group. 

I know you have been working on this book for a while. Can you tell me when you began?

In reality I began writing the book the minute I took up writing again (after attending a Travel Writer’s conference in Corte Madera, California in 2006). But I didn’t realize it until a year later when I woke up with a 104 degree fever in Mexico’s remote Copper Canyon. In the feverish, hallucinatory state very sick people often find themselves in, I realized that the stories I’d been writing were supposed to be a book. I like to say that The View from Casa Chepitos: A Journey Beyond the Border was the result of an hallucination.

Tell me more about the process of writing. What resources did you use?

The stories pretty much poured out of me, especially in the early days. Slowly it dawned on me how poorly written they were. So I began taking classes at Hugo House and the UW Extension and joined various writing groups. And poco a poco, as we say in Spanish, I learned enough about the craft of writing to begin really writing the book.

Then, when I had about 100 pages written, I hit a wall. The book was an amorphous mess. The story had no shape, no forward momentum, no clear themes. That’s when editor extraordinaire, Barbara Sjoholm, stepped in. Together we found a structure for the story, then we started fitting the stories into the structure. Many of my “darlings,” as Anne Lamott calls the writing we get attached to, got cut from the book because they didn’t add to the forward momentum of the story.

Why and when did you decide to publish it yourself?

I attended several conferences and pitched the idea to a number of agents, all of whom wanted to see more. (That’s their job at these conferences, so they pretty much request to see any manuscript, if it’s in their genre). I came pretty close to placing it with a couple of agents and one editor, but couldn’t close the deal because I had no track record and no “platform.”

From what I heard at conferences and read about the current state of traditional publishing, I figured my chances of landing an agent and a book contract with a major publishing house were pretty dismal, so I decided to go it on my own.

(My other dirty little secret is that I’m a control freak and like having complete control over every aspect of my projects, so it’s worked out well for me. I’m pretty happy with the end result.)

What steps did you need to take to create the published book?

After I decided to self-publish, I did research on how to accomplish that (I signed up for Waverly’s Self-Publishing class and learned a ton about all of my choices there).  The biggest decision was whether I wanted to do it myself or pay for a package of services from a company like Abbott Press, Amazon, or Archway. After analyzing the costs and value of the packages they offered (most cost anywhere from $999 to $7,999), I somewhat naively decided to form my own small press (Davis Bay Press) and publish the book myself.

I say naively because doing it yourself entails a ton of choices and even more work. In effect I was launching a second business. Here’s a short list of my tasks:

  • Apply for a Business License and a Reseller Permit with the State of Washington
  • Purchase Quick Books (accounting software for creating invoices and tracking expenses)
  • Purchase an ISBN number from R.R. Bowker
  • File for a copyright
  • Design a logo for Davis Bay Press
  • Hire a designer to create the cover of the book
  • Hire a designer to design the interior pages
  • Hire a copy editor
  • Hire a proofreader
  • Set up an account and negotiate the price with Lightning Source, the printer
  • Design the Kindle version
  • Set the book up on Kindle
  • Design a sell sheet, a terms and conditions sheet, and personalized letters to give to buyers at bookstores
  • Place books in bookstores. (I will need to follow up to see if they’re selling–the hardest part since I still have my first business to manage!)
  • Create a marketing plan
  • Create a blog (I still need to create a web page for Davis Bay Press)
  • Create a fan page on Facebook for the book
  • Create an author page for Amazon
  • File to become a GoodReads Author
  • Host book launches in Seattle and San Miguel de Allende

What did you learn along the way?

1) That if you want a quality product, it’s not going to be cheap.

2) A good editor is worth their weight in gold.

3) Shameless self-promotion is key to the marketing success of most writers. You have to be willing to get out there and promote your book. Cheryl Strayed is a great example. She was a keynote speaker at nearly every writer’s conference in the U.S. last year!

Do you have any cautions for other writers who are considering self-publishing?

There’s still a stigma around self-published books and you’ll be fighting an uphill battle if you choose this route. (You’ll also be fighting an uphill battle if you decide to pursue an agent, you just have to figure out which uphill battle you want to fight.)

It’s difficult for self-published authors to get their books into bookstores (although I’m happy to say my book is on the bestseller list at Elliott Bay Book Company) and it’s hard to get reviews and endorsements.  I was lucky to get several endorsements including this lovely sentence from Mary Morris, author of Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone.  “Reminiscent of Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun, Judith Gille tells us in elegant and evocative prose, how a tourist becomes a traveler and how a place where we were once a stranger can become home.” 

If you do choose the SP route, you can help your cause enormously by being a stickler for quality. Most book buyers can spot a self-published book a mile away and if yours isn’t professionally edited or produced, they won’t touch it.

What’s next?

The idea for my next book is still gelling in my mind, but I know it’s about Mexico,  feminism, and a young Mexican named Vicky who is determined to rise above the poverty she was born into.

And I’m doing a reading from The View from Casa Chepitos at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park on January 12 at 5:30 PM.

Judith Gille divides her time between homes in Seattle and San Miguel de Allende. She’s been traveling the world for nearly forty years, but has discovered her passion is writing about Mexico. She has authored numerous travel articles which have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Dallas Morning News, and The Florida Sun-Sentinel, and in magazines and other news venues. Last month one of her essays was featured in the Modern Love column of the New York Times.



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