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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

So here's how it Indie published biography to film option contract.

I'm writing this because so many Indie published authors bemoan the fact that they get little recognition or else they silently accept that their book might languish in the land of 'read, but not by many' for years. I had both feelings and many others that might be found in an Indie author's 'what am I doing?' file, but I knew why I was an self-publishing. I am soon to be 75 years old. I want to see my books published, not under contract to be published. I want to enjoy them, and I do. I publish for me.

My first self-published (Tommy: The Civil War Childhood of a President) was truly self-published for this was before print on demand. I did everything, even drove the typewriter-generated manuscript 50 miles to the printer and weeks later, with first grandchild (now 22 years old) in my arms picked up my first paper baby. I thought it would languished in 'thank heavens for family and friends' land but I had two things going for me. We owned an independent bookstore, and my book belonged in a historical niche. The niche actually became the most important factor in the number of sales.

That niche could be seen as being very wide, Civil War, or very narrow, Civil War childhood of presidents.  Through that niche I was able to promoted it, give book talks across the state and sell 2000+ copies (the number of the first printing) before I ran out of steam. One night alone I was able to sell 300+ copies for I was in the home of the subject of my book. It is still selling on Amazon, through Createspace and at gift shops. For my first Indie effort, I felt pretty good. 

Think about your project or idea. Do you have a niche? If so, use it. If you don't think you do, search your themes, look at society and history. Try to find a niche or two. Then use them!

Because we owned a bookstore I was assured of a book signing and prominent shelf placement. One week I was our store's best seller until somewhere around Thursday of that week J. K. Rowling published a new eagerly awaited masterpiece. Down I went!

My other books have been traditionally print on demand through Createspace. I've been happy seeing my books in print and making a little money, but nothing spectacular. Now comes the subject of today's post.

I have sold the film rights of my latest book, Something to Prove, A biography of Ann Lowe, America's Forgotten Designer.  It has sold fairly well, and I would have been satisfied, but again it is a niche book. And luckily for me, I found that niche just as it became highly marketable.

I think the book's blurb will tell you why the book is now marketable and why I have sold the movie rights to a respected, successful producer.

From  the book's blurb:
"For any designer, designing the wedding dress to be worn by Jacqueline Bouvier, future First Lady of the United States, for her marriage to John F. Kennedy would be a lifetime achievement. For Ann Lowe, it became a statement. The iconic gown would become the most photographed wedding gown in American history proving that (in Ann’s own words), “a Negro can become a major dress designer.”

Years earlier, as the sun rose on the morning of Ann’s birth, no one in the small town of Clayton, Alabama could have dreamed of the heights she would achieve for she was born a squirming, scrawny, little black girl in the Jim Crow South.

From an early age she recognized her dreams. Her path would not be easy, and any success she might have was certain to be achieved only with steadfast effort and fortitude on her part. Armed with a great inner strength and natural talent, she rose above all obstacles and forged her own future. 

When she designed and produced Jacqueline Bouvier’s wedding dress, very few knew her name. No one but her staff knew of the disaster that preceded the delivery of that now-historic wedding gown to the home of the bride. Fewer knew that she was the granddaughter of a former slave.

Even today, few know her story."
Publication day was September  5, 2016. By May 12, 2017 I had received four offers from producers and since then four more. Again, niche! In early May I chose between the two best offers, the one that suited my desires and that I felt would do the best presentation of the subject. I signed and have never looked back. 

No, I had never heard of the producer or her production company just as she had never heard of me, but research proved to me that she knew her business and the right people.(The Hundred Foot Journey, It's a Very Muppet Christmas, Border Wars, Farscape, The National Geographic Channel, and several episodes of Ted Talks among other things).  
An online search also showed photos of her with Oprah and Spielberg, producers with who she has co-produced. 

She and I have talked, emailed, and video-conferenced enough for me to know that I made the right decision. I can't wait to see how she and her associates present Ann's story.
How did she find my little book about Ann? Her associate found the book through a referral and things took off from there. Every time I get an email from another producer, I wonder, how are they finding this little self-published biography? I don't know, but it keeps a smile on my face. 

So, any advice from me to all my fellow self-publishers? I truly believe this happened because of my choice of subject. Though dead for over 35 years, Ann Lowe guided me, introduced me to wonderful ladies and fashion, and told me a fascinating story. 
I met Ann Lowe in an airport last fall. I was in the airport, she wasn't of course. Waiting for my plane I was 'surfing the net'. I came upon two sentences about her. A 'did you know' kind of post. I was blown away, for no, I didn't know and I thought the circumstances were such that I should.

And so, my research was born and Ann came to life. Born in 1898, the great-granddaughter of a slave and a plantation owner, the granddaughter of a slave and a free man of color, she entered the world in a small, rural town in the Jim Crow South. Through talent, determination, and a desire to reach a goal, she refused to let the circumstances of her birth keep her down. She didn't preach; she didn't march, she didn't give up. She allowed a dream to be born in her heart and in her own personal way, she overcame all obstacles and achieved her dream.

When I began my research, I was writing historical fiction. Soon it became clear to me that her story, her true, unvarnished story had to be told. It was at that point told only in bits and pieces and often with the bits inaccurate and the pieces changing with each retelling. I began my research to clarify things for myself and found myself getting to know a strong woman from a family of strong women.  

Along the way I have learned to marvel at what she overcame, and at the people she met. This woman who under normal circumstance would not be welcomed in their homes, became a darling to the Duponts, Rothschilds, the Rockefellers, Roosevelts, Lodges, Posts, Auchinclosses, the Bouviers,..well you get my drift. Soon I knew I wanted Ann to speak for herself. And she does. On my part, I wanted to share her story and present her to the world as the inspiration she is.

Concrete advice:
Back in the practical word of Indie publishing, I admit that I did agonize over the search terms for Createspace and Amazon. As an Indie, think long and hard about your terms. Are readers searching through words that fit into your description? In other words are there some 'niche' words that you could use? For Something to Prove... I made a list of possible words: Ann Lowe, designer, African American designers, African American women, fashion designers, Alabamians, Tampa, Fl., Gasparilla, Jacqueline Kennedy, John and Jacqueline Kennedy wedding, New York City, Harlem, Harlem Renaissance, etc. Narrowing this list down was the hard part.

Do your best when researching, then research some more. Verify every fact you find, several times over. If you see inconsistances in various sources, it is up to you to verify before you use one of them. I read old newspapers, ordered back copies of magazines, back to the 1960's, and read any and all items I could find online. I visited her hometown, spoke with people who still refer to Ann and her mother as if they are just around the corner. Strong, accurate research, even when the amount of factual items is small, is a must.

When writing, reread what you've written several times silently and aloud. When editing, do your own, have a trusted reader or two do an edit, then send it off to someone who truly knows how to edit. Publishing, ask others for advice on their choice of POD publishers, and always, ALWAYS get a physical proof copy no matter how many times your've proved on the computer. I must have more than a dozen physical proof copies. I want to see how it looks on paper and when I make changes, I want to see how they affect the end product.  

Advertising? You might want to get advice from others on this area for I'm not a heavy advertiser. I know that I don't give it enough time but I have contacted various newspapers which have a connection to my subject or which I think  would be interested in my niche baby. Ann and I made the front page of our local newspaper after aa very long wait. Don't get discouraged. On the 'net I've joined book groups and spread the word that I have this wonderful creation out there. I've written about Ann several times in this blog and shared that. I don't spend much, if any, money on advertising. If you have it to spend, spend wisely.

Reviews...check my books on Amazon and you will find that my reviews are practically non-existant. Oh, well. I have some beautiful letters from readers. They seem to feel more comfortable writing to me personally than publishing their thoughts. And the ladies I wrote about by name in the book, all of whom gave me prior permission to use their photos and thoughts about Ann, have been most complimentary. Ann's family? They are thrilled. 
Finally, then, enjoy it all and never give up on yourself. I know I never will, even as I get older and my thoughts come out as gobbledygook, I'm not giving up on myself. You shouldn't either. When you're pulling your hair out or yelling for more chocolate and wine. enjoy the process. If it takes off, wonderful. If not, I hope you have written something you enjoyed writing.
Good luck, 
Julia Faye Smith

I have a color version (color photographs of Ann's designs), a black and white version, and a Kindle version which shows well on some devices and not so well on others. We're working on that problem. I also have created a pinterest page showing the gowns found in the dress. 
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