Subject: Inside a Best-Selling Author’s Mind (Interview with Carol Bodensteiner)

An overnight success - this is how many would define Carol Bodensteiner's independently published novel, which was picked up by a traditional publisher, re-launched on July 7th and is now on top of the charts.

How exactly did that happen?

I'm honored to have been able to interview Carol and get her to talk about everything that led to this big event.
BIO: Carol Bodensteiner is a writer who finds inspiration in the places, people, culture and history of the Midwest. Born in Iowa and raised on her family’s dairy farm, Carol grew up with a love of the land and an appreciation for family that form the foundation of her writing. A graduate of the University of Northern Iowa and Drake University, Carol built a successful career in public relations consulting before turning to creative writing. She is a regular participant in the University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival. Carol blogs about writing, her prairie, gardening, and whatever in life interests her at the moment. Her writing has been published in several anthologies. She published a memoir Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl in 2008. Her debut novel Go Away Home - indie published in 2014 - was acquired by Lake Union Publishing and re-launched in July 2015.

Your self-published book Go Away Home has been picked up by Lake Union (An Amazon Imprint) and is now on top of the charts! This is a spectacular success but let’s start from the beginning:

How long have you been writing? 

I’ve been writing all my life, but until about 10 years, ago, the emphasis was business writing. I spent my career in marketing and public relations (useful background for an author), promoting products for my clients. Gradually, I felt the pull to creative writing, and I’ve focused on creative non-fiction and fiction since 2005.

How long have you been in the self-publishing business?

I embarked on self-publishing in 2007 when I published my memoir Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl. I learned so much, enjoyed the process, and achieved sales success, so when it came time to publish my debut novel Go Away Home, I never hesitated to indie publish again.

Is writing/publishing your full-time job? If not, what is?

Since I left a full-time job – and a full-time paycheck – more than 15 years ago, I don’t think about full-time in the way I once did. My life is full of a number of things any of which is a full time job at the moment I do it. I am compensated in the currency of the realm to write and consult. I spent about a quarter of the hours in a day on these activities. Meanwhile, I receive huge psychic reward from grandchildren, family, friends, travel, and the prairie I planted in our front yard. I feel lucky every day for flexibility and fullness of this life I live.

What is your daily work schedule?

After a long walk, I eat breakfast and read the newspaper. My goal is to be at my keyboard ready to write by 9 a.m. Email and social media shut off. Door closed. Plenty of coffee at hand. I can be productive writing until noon or 1 p.m. In the afternoon, I follow one of Arthur Miller’s writing commandments: “When you can’t create, you can work.” Afternoons include marketing activities like writing blogs, contacting media, networking. And doing the laundry.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

I’ve been blessed to learn from many wise writers and teachers. Five bits of wisdom rose to the top a while ago and I captured them on my blog. The piece most relevant at the moment is “Apply Butt Glue.” Most books don’t get written because the writer didn’t commit to being at the keyboard to do the hard work of writing – one word, one sentence, one paragraph, one scene, one chapter at a time. My experience has been that if I stay at the keyboard, something will get written. Maybe not what I thought when I sat down, but something, and that’s good enough for me. I am writing the first draft of a new novel and I need to stay at the keyboard – no matter what. Those interested in my other four bits of best writing wisdom, will find it here:

What is the best marketing advice you’ve ever gotten?

Practice shameless self-promotion. For many authors this is the toughest part, but it’s necessary. You can write the best book in the world but no one will buy it if they don’t know about it. And who better – or more committed – than the author to carry the good news?

What has been your best marketing decision so far?

ready to help readers make a decision. So I worked to do the same. I delayed the publication of Go Away Home for five months while I got advance review copies in the hands of readers. In the first month after publication, I racked up almost 50 reviews, and they kept coming in. That decision was key. The Lake Union Publishing acquisition editor told me the first thing that caught her eye was all the positive reviews. Because of the reviews, she read the novel. When she loved the story, she contacted me about partnering with them. And the rest, as they say, is history. Here’s a link to my post about getting reviews:

What has been your worst decision as a writer and how did you bounce back?

Actually, I can’t think of a worst decision. I really can’t. But the way I think about it, the only bad decision is one you don’t learn from, and I learn from everything.

Let’s talk specifically about your deal with Lake Union: how did that happen?

After Go Away Home had been on the market for six months, an email from an acquisition editor at Lake Union Publishing dropped into my inbox. The editor told me she’d been attracted by the many rave reviews, read the book, loved the story and wanted to talk. I was stunned – and skeptical. I contacted a knowledgeable author friend who said the only reason not to sign on was if I was selling head over heels on my own. I was doing fine by indie standards, but knew it could be better. I joined Lake Union.

Were you involved in the process of republishing your book?

Lake Union is very author friendly; they want the author involved every step of the way. The manuscript went through three rounds of editing – developmental, copy, and proofreading. The editors suggested; I re-wrote or didn’t. It was all my choice. The truth is that I agreed with most of what the editors said. My story is still the same story but it’s stronger. I liken the editing process to going to the gym. By working hard at the gym, I’m still me, but I’m a tighter, stronger, better version of me. That’s what editing with Lake Union was like. 

Go Away Home also has a new cover. I really liked my first edition cover, but they felt the cover could do more to convey the historical time period and content of the story. I worked with the cover designer, and together we came up with another good cover.

At the launch, Lake Union told me I could leave marketing in their hands – I could share the news on social media and do local events if I wanted, or not. I’ve been happy to turn the reins over to them though I can’t help but share the news through interviews like this one and with my social media contacts. I’m giddy.

There’s been a lot of talk about the pros and cons of traditional publishing. Is your profit higher now that the book has been republished by Lake Union?

It’s too early to say, since the book just re-launched on July 7. What I can say is that, yes, I made more per copy as an indie publisher. The trade off, I believe, is that Lake Union has the ability to reach far more readers worldwide than I could on my own. While my per copy income will be less, I anticipate I’ll more than make that up in quantity. Time will tell.

What have been the key factors to your success?

I can point to many factors, starting with:
  • My mother. She was the first to encourage me to write, and she never varied in urging, cajoling, nagging me to keep writing. I owe her a great deal. By association, my success is in many ways due to a supportive community of critique partners, workshop leaders and participants, beta readers, and readers in general. I’m grateful to everyone in the village that surrounds my writing.
  • Beyond the community, I believe the foremost factor in my success, is that my goal always has been to write the very best stories I can. I’m convinced that’s what readers want. I know that’s what I want when I pick up a book.
  • To accomplish that, I regularly attend workshops to learn and hone my writing craft. 
  • I invest in the people who can help me publish the very best product: developmental and copy editors, proofreaders, and cover and content designers. 
  • I learn from everyone and put what I learn into practice. 
  • I network and pay it forward. Whatever I learn, I happily share, on my blog, one-to-one, or with groups.
What are your tips for fellow authors who’d like to score a similar deal?

There’s no magic formula, and I recognize that luck played a role in getting a contract with Lake Union. But setting me up for luck was hard work. I wrote the best story I could and got the input of workshops, critique partners, beta readers, and editors to make it better. I hired a professional designer to make the finished book indistinguishable from any book from a traditional publisher. I developed a marketing plan and implemented it. Even with all that, there’s no assurance a book will attract a publisher. But you can put yourself in the best position for it to happen.

What do you think traditional publishers should learn from self-publishers?

Traditional publishers could learn to be more flexible and nimble. My experience is that Lake Union and the other Amazon Publishing imprints have stepped into this nimble middle ground between indie publishers and the big traditional publishers. They can make decisions and turn a book in a very short period of time. They are partners with their authors. They have embraced digital marketing. Lake Union books can be bought in bricks and mortar stores, but they don’t put their energy in getting stacks of books in bookstores.

What should self-publishers learn from traditional publishers?

I think many indie authors take short cuts and rush to publication because technology allows it. It’s only my opinion, but I think self-publishers should follow the lead of traditional publishers when it comes to investing in editors to make the books the best they can be.

What do you think the publishing landscape will look like in 5 years?

There are really smart people paying attention to that and I’m not one of them. I think the thing that will remain the same in five years is that readers will still want to read good stories.

Do you think of yourself as an author or as an entrepreneur?

An author when I’m writing; an entrepreneur when I’m marketing. Because I spent 30 years in the marketing and public relations consulting, the business side runs on autopilot. I’m fortunate in that regard.

Please share some words of encouragement to authors who are still struggling.

Keep writing. Give yourself permission to write and enjoy the process. It’s most important that you like what you do and are proud of what you write. If you accomplish that, it’s all worthwhile.

Thank you!

Connect with Carol below:

Growing Up Country:


Do YOU have a success story too? Let me know and you might be featured in this newsletter!

Join thousands of subscribers getting exclusive content, private Q&As, giveaways, and more. No spam, ever. Just great stuff.