Publishing with tenacity

Many dream of writing just one book in their life. Shanna Hatfield can do that in a few weeks.

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Shanna Hatfield knew she could do better. So she did. And she’s still doing.

In the short space of two years she has written 17 self-published books that are selling by the hundreds through amazon.com. Still, she hasn’t run out of ideas and has more books scheduled.

What finally pushed her over the edge from doing a little bit of writing through the years to amping up her output was this:

“I read a book in January 2010 and it was so awful,” the 42-year-old Walla Walla woman said. “And it was from one of the big publishing houses, so I decided to see if I could write.”

Her novels include her “Women of Tenacity” series featuring strong women in Tenacity, a fictional town that could easily have been named after Hatfield’s work ethic. The four books in the series are primarily love stories with a contemporary western flavor.

Another contemporary western romance series is the “Grass Valley Cowboys,” set in the fictional Triple T Ranch in the very real town of Grass Valley, Ore. “I think the theme running through this series is to believe in your dreams, don’t lose the faith and never give up on those you love,” she said.

Her top selling book right now is her latest, “The Christmas Bargain.” It was published in mid-November 2012 and as of the beginning of January 2013 had sold 4,500 copies.

As one who grew up on a farm in Vale, Ore., Hatfield writes from personal observations, integrating her background and her professional experience. With a bachelor’s degree in communications from Southern Oregon University, she wrote for a series of newspapers. She and husband Scott moved to the Walla Walla area in the fall of 1999, when she took a job writing for a now-defunct Milton-Freewater weekly newspaper, then became marketing manager of the former Blue Mountain Mall. For the past nine years she’s been the director of marketing at the Marcus Whitman Hotel & Conference Center.

Writing books developed naturally from her love of reading them. She said that in college one teacher told her she would never make a good journalist but she would be a good romance writer. In newspaper work she loved feature writing most because she loves getting to know people more close up and telling their story.

“I missed the feature stories but I kept my fingers in writing,” she said.

Story ideas just come to her, Hatfield said. “I’ve always had a very active imagination. I love to people watch. If we go to a big mall, I love to sit there and just watch people. I get so many fun ideas.

“... An idea just sparks your imagination and gets your creative juices going. You think ‘What if?’ and ‘How could?’ ‘That would be a good book idea.’ So far the ideas for characters have just come to me, some stronger than others. I have a lot of fun with the characters; especially the Grass Valley series. I’m sad about writing the last one, I’ve become pretty attached to the family,” Hatfield said.

She also likes to roll up her sleeves and do necessary research.

“I like to challenge myself,” she said. “Country-western writing was a thing beyond my comfort zone. My friends say I live in a pink sparkly world, so this was a challenge for me.”

One book that challenged her is “The Christmas Bargain,” a historical romance set in the 1890s.

“The amount of research into something like that is extensive,” she said. “It’s important to get the facts straight.”

Adept at organizing, she works in her marketing job, devotes time to her husband and spends hours at her keyboard.

“We don’t have any children, if we did, something would have to give,” she said.

“I usually write in the evenings for a couple of hours, and on the weekends when I’m done doing stuff that needs to be done around the house. My husband is really good about helping. He’s very supportive. His cooking skills have vastly improved since I started writing,” Hatfield said.

While many dream of writing just one book, Hatfield’s goal for 2012 was to do 10. After her husband suggested she dial it back a little, her goal for 2013 became six books.

“Six is minimal,” she said. “It takes me two-three weeks to crank out a book. So two months from start to finish. So in 12 months I should be able to do six.”

Six books or 10 books a year, she never intended to just sneak up on the book market one offering at a time.

“I published the whole ‘Women of Tenacity’ series at once,” she said. “‘Heart of Clay,’ I started in February 2010 and finished that summer. In six weeks I had the first draft. I started sending out query letters and I got 65 rejection letters.”

Then she wrote the third book of the series in March 2011, in three weeks. The second book took three more weeks. Then the “Prelude” short story. She published all four in June 2011.

Undaunted by rejection letters, she saw the sunny side of being told thanks but no thanks.

“Getting back personal rejection letters is a good thing. You’re not being ignored, it’s not a form letter,” she said, adding that potential publishers at least took some time to consider the work.

When she extensively researched self publishing, she read that one author got 2,000 rejection letters.

“Some of us just don’t know when to give up,” she said.

SIDEBAR:

When Shanna Hatfield got the idea to self-publish her books, she first did what all good writers do: Research.

Then she applied “trial and error.”

She started learning by following the blogs of self published authors and digging around for even more information.

“Go to Smashwords and download the two free guides to marketing and publishing,” she advised as a next step.

Then came applying polish to drafts.

Find a proofreader, or two or more, she emphasized.

“I have three proofreaders,” Hatfield said. Each person sees different things, some focus on errors in spelling and questionable grammar. Others see problems with storyline and content.

Self-publishing also requires following manuscript procedures.

“You definitely have to do formatting,” Hatfield said. For example, smashwords.com has several guidelines for preparing manuscripts.

“Don’t put in tabs, take the technical steps to make it ready to be downloaded. The guidelines are about font size, margins, line spacing, and any hidden characters, so you can send them a clean copy. Then you submit it to Amazon and they say ‘Approved.’”

Then comes managing the business of writing.

On Amazon, payment is a commission based off the book price. And the author doesn’t have the worry and expense of taking credit cards because Amazon handles that.

“It’s almost like you’re employed by them,” she said.

How much a self-published author makes depends on the price they choose to set for their book and how well it sells.

“My ebook, digital format, romance novels are priced at $2.99 to keep the price down but maximize the percent of commission I earn, which averages around 70 percent,” Hatfield said. “If I go any lower on the price, my commission would drop to 30 percent, any higher and I probably wouldn’t sell very many copies.”

Her paperback books vary in price but the average is $11-12. Her commission on those varies from 10-60 percent depending on the outlet where they are sold.

She learned as she went along: “Trial and error,” she said. “There’s also the cover design, I do mine myself so I have more control of all aspects. The last step is marketing. It’s still a learning experience every day.”

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