Mary-Ann Kirkby, who grew up in a Canadian Hutterite colony until the age of ten, and whose memoir has been a publishing sensation in Canada, has kindly agreed to answer some questions. I chose her publishing story as the focus of my questions, and Mary-Ann gave generous answers that may surprise you. How did she go from a self-published to best-selling author? Read on!
Q. Tell us what it’s like to publish your own book. Was this a conscious choice, a preference from the beginning, or did you try larger publishers before deciding to go it alone?
A. I most definitely did not want to self publish. It was a complete act of desperation. Every major publisher in Canada turned me down, many medium sized ones did too and even little struggling ones did not imagine there could possibly be a market for such a book. I have so many rejection letters I could dance to them!
Q. Where did you get the clever marketing ideas described on your website? Did you start off small or did you start off with all these ideas?
A. The ideas evolved and in fact still do. I listen closely to what my readers tell me because they made me who I am. So I will take their thoughts and ideas and toss them about with my wonderful friend and editor Arvel Gray. Add a glass of wine or a generous piece of pie to the mix and our creative juices really get going. My motto is simple and soulful…a balance between enough information or too much information.
Q. Do you still have a day job? How much of your time are you spending in speaking and marketing your book?
I Am Hutterite has become a full time job. I am a member of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers so I do a number of speaking engagements every month and of course I sell many books at venues after people hear my story. I am also in the process of writing a sequel that is scheduled to be released in Canada next spring. It is much awaited and anticipated and I am honored that my fans are so anxious to hear more from me.
Q. How and when were you approached by Thomas Nelson?
A. After my sensational debut here in Canada one of the reps for Wal-mart suggested that we ship to the U.S. I realized that I had to act quickly to get proper representation and distribution in the U.S so I approached a few major publishers with my dilemma and Matt Baugher from Thomas Nelson flew to Canada to meet me and I really liked him. I took him to a Hutterite Colony and he was just “wowed”. Thomas Nelson really extended themselves by giving me a 6 figure deal for U.S. and world rights and flew me to Nashville to meet everyone. It was wonderful. Earlier this year my book was also published in Germany entitled, Ich Bin Eine Hutterin. I am of course, thrilled!
Q. What’s been the biggest difference for you between self-publishing and now being with Thomas Nelson? Are they OK with Polka Dot Press continuing?
A. Oh yes, because I didn’t sell my Canadian rights. So Polka Dot Press is my little treasure and thriving. Self publishing is difficult when you live in another country. I live in Canada so I know Canada and the people and how the media works and that makes all the difference.
Q. Does having a big publisher now make it easier to sell your book or not and why?
A. I suppose it is more widely available having a big publisher but connecting to my readers the way I did in Canada really rocked my sales here at home and I regret not having that same opportunity in the U.S.
Q. How has your story been received by your family and the larger Hutterite community?
A. My family loves the book, but it is controversial among some Hutterites whose relatives are named in the book who might have had a hand in why we left. Of course it is difficult to hear negative things about a relative or family member and so I understand that. I had to weigh very carefully the value of the book against possibly hurting some feelings.
Q. In retrospect, what are a couple things you wish you had done differently in publishing this book?
A. It was all such an exciting and hectic experience, such a wonderful learning curve I just wish I had kept all the newspapers clippings and letters people sent me and organized them in a scrap book so when I’m in the old folks home I’d be able to look back at all the fun I had!
Q. What advice would you have for other memoirists from small/closed/Anabaptist communities?
A. My biggest lesson: Just because someone rejects you and tells you there is no market for your book doesn’t mean they’re right. Trust your instincts!
Q. What are the most frequently asked questions when you speak?
A. How did you do it?
Readers, what do you take from this story? What else would you like to know from our guest author?