Literarily Speaking’s Self-Publishing Report: Interview with Valerie Stocking
Valerie Stocking was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, and wrote her first short story when she was five. When she was eight, she won a short story contest in Jack and Jill Magazine. She wrote her first play at the age of ten. In 1966, when she was twelve, she and her mother moved to a small town in Florida where they lived for a year. During this time, Valerie experienced difficulties with the public school system, tried a Seventh Day Adventist school briefly, and then dropped out altogether. It was her experiences during this year that inspired The Promised Land. Later, she would finish high school, graduate from college and earn a Master’s degree in Cinema Studies from NYU.
For nearly 30 years, she wrote and edited in various capacities, including copywriting, newspaper articles, and short stories. She wrote nearly 20 full-length and one act plays over a ten year period, which have been performed throughout the U.S. and Canada. She edited books for audio, abridging over 100 novels in a 6-year period. In 2010, she published her first novel, A Touch of Murder, which is the first of what will become the Samantha Kern mystery series. It was nominated for a Global eBook Award in 2011 for Best Mystery.
Valerie lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with her dog and cat, and is working on her next novel.
You can visit her website at www.valeriestocking.com.
About The Promised Land
It’s 1966, just two years after President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law, and twelve-year-old Joy Bradford’s life is changing dramatically. Born and raised in the white suburbs of Connecticut, Joy is moving to Willets Point, Florida, to live with her mother Jessica because her parents are divorcing. Hoping it really is the Promised Land that her mother describes, she joins in Jessica’s enthusiasm only to find out how horribly wrong that vision is.
Unfortunately for Joy, the move does nothing to change her mother’s emotional and mental instability, resulting in a continuation of the physical and verbal abuse she is all too used to receiving. Her new school is years behind her old one, the kids dress and act differently, and on just the second day, Joy has a run-in with her geography teacher. Things are going from bad to worse until Clay Dooley, a mixed-race boy from that same geography class, offers his friendship. The two become close, sending shockwaves that dovetail with a growing sense of tension and unease in the community as a whole. Clay’s father Clytus, a well-educated black man, attempts to open his own clothing store in the white section of downtown Willets Point. This causes Jessica’s new lawyer cum boyfriend and leader of the local Klan chapter, Bill McKendrick, to join with other white citizens in using great force to block Clytus’ dreams. Tempers flare and emotions run high when Clytus refuses the Klan’s subsequent demand that he and his family move out of the white neighborhood they live in, setting off an explosive confrontation that will change them all forever.
An absorbing and suspenseful coming of age story set against the tumultuous backdrop of racial tensions in mid-1960’s America, Stocking’s blend of historical fact and fiction is as relevant today as it was during the explosive Civil Rights era. Probing the human psyche for the deep-seated fears that fuel the fires of racism and bigotry, she expertly builds characters who feel their very lives are at stake by the changing times. Full of insight and intensity, The Promised Land is a spellbinding journey you won’t want to miss.
Thank you for this interview, Valerie. You self-published your latest book, The Promised Land. Would you please tell us why you chose the self-publishing route?
Sure. In 2010, I self-published a mystery called A Touch of Murder. I loved the whole process, of calling the shots and being in control of every phase of getting the book published. So when it came time to find a publisher for The Promised Land, it was a no-brainer. The only thing different is the publisher. For PL, I used CreateSpace, since my former publisher is now defunct.
Take us through the process. You had an idea for your book, you wrote it, then you decided to find a publisher. What were your experiences with that? Or did you decide to self-publish without looking any further?
This book is based to a certain degree on my own experiences of living in a small town on the Gulf coast of Florida in 1966-67. I did manufacture some of the events and characters, but the germ of the idea came from fact.
The Promised Land took me three years to write. In many ways, it was one of the easiest, if not the easiest, thing I’ve ever written. I had all my ideas for scenes down on index cards, and at a few points I reshuffled them, shifting some scenes around in terms of the timeline. I wrote the book out of sequence, and I think the most tedious part of the whole process was literally taking paper-clipped pages of scenes and putting them in the right order.
I decided to self-publish right away. I’m not the most patient person in the world, and trying to find an agent or a publisher can take a lot of time. Plus, I’d enjoyed the experience a lot when I published Touch of Murder. So it was the obvious solution for me.
What different online stores carry your book?
Amazon.com, and Kindle. The iPad has a Kindle app, so if someone has that they can still get my book.
Do you think that having your book self-published makes any difference to the media? Are they open to interviewing self-published authors or reviewing their books?
I think things have opened up. First of all, I don’t know of any reader, including myself, who checks to see who published a book as a consideration for buying it. Readers don’t care!
Self-published books still have a bad rep, though. Experts stress the importance of rewriting, of finding a good editor and taking direction from them. So I think overall the quality of self-published books is improving. There’s still a lot of garbage out there, however.
As far as the media go, some places won’t even consider you if you’re self-published. I’m fortunate in that the local NBC affiliate here has a show on in the mornings where they occasionally interview writers. And it doesn’t matter to them if you’re self-published or not. I’ve been on Good Day New Mexico twice.
Authors who go the traditional route have an edge over self-published authors in regards to distribution to bookstores. How did you handle that as a self-published author?
Well, with the demise of Borders, there aren’t a lot of bookstores out there to get your books into. My book is in the major bookstore in Santa Fe, Collected Works. There are a couple of others, but they are smaller and I’m not that concerned with being in them. As far as Barnes and Noble goes, they are just about the only game in town. When they announced they weren’t going to be carrying any Kindle books for the Nook, I thought they were shooting themselves in the foot. Kindle is the largest ebookstore around. So the short answer to your question is, I’m not that concerned with not being carried in a lot of bookstores. I think more and more people are buying books online now. I know I do.
On the other hand, self-published authors have the edge over traditional books in the regards that the author has all the control. I’d like to begin with your cover. Did you make it or did you have someone else design it? If you had someone else, can you tell us who it is?
I must say I absolutely LOVE the cover of my book! It was my idea to have the image of the burning cross, but the artist from CreateSpace (whose name I don’t know) filled in the rest with actually locating the image and doing the color scheme. It only required a minor revision from the first proof, and we were set.
Did you get someone to format it for you or did you do that?
Someone else formatted the book. I bought a publishing package from CreateSpace that included that.
What was the hardest challenge for you to self-publish your book?
Going through the book’s interior design. It’s my least favorite part of publishing, because it is so tedious and takes the longest amount of time. I read every word of The Promised Land 5-6 times, and each time I saw changes I wanted to make. Not major changes; just words here and there. And of course, in the earlier drafts there were formatting changes and CreateSpace made some errors. But those were quickly corrected. Finally, I just had to let the book go.
What steps are you taking to promote it?
I am having a 30 stop, two-month long blog tour. I’ve participated in two local open mic readings, and will have two full-fledged readings/signings here in Santa Fe. I’ve been on Good Day NM, and will hopefully have a radio interview with a station in the Four Corners Area (NW part of the state) of New Mexico. I am pursuing leads to try and get as many reviews as I can. I am promoting on Facebook and Twitter regularly. I am having a giveaway on Goodreads, and also on my blog.
What has been the best marketing tool or method you have used that has resulted in the most sales?
With my first book, I wasn’t familiar with how to promote, and as a result, I didn’t do much and my sales were almost nonexistent. This time, I am pulling out all the stops, but it is too soon for me to say what tool or method is most effective.
Do you have any advice you’d like to share with other self-published authors?
Promote, promote, promote! And don’t stop writing, whatever you do.
Thank you for this interview, Valerie. We wish you much success!