Via the Globe and Mail: Oh heck, I'll just publish it myself. Excerpt:
The biggest surprise Saskatchewan author Mary-Ann Kirkby got over the seven years it took her to produce I Am Hutterite, an intimate portrait of a little-known, secretive Prairie culture, was that no publisher wanted it.
“No one has ever told our story,” says Kirkby, who grew up in the Fairholme Hutterite Colony in southern Manitoba, and later became a television reporter in Prince Albert, Sask.
“The Hutterites have been so private. And here I am an insider who speaks the language and knows the culture very well. I just thought it was a no-brainer.”
In fact it was – but not the one she had imagined. Like so many aspirants before her, Kirkby says she was “devastated” by the unilateral response to her book from Canadian publishers.
“I approached all the majors in Toronto,” she says. “I have all the rejection letters.”
But she also had sufficient faith to continue, and ultimately published the book herself under an imprint she called Polka Dot Press. Today, Kirkby's trove of rejections should cause considerable embarrassment among the literati south of Bloor Street.
Using a $35,000 line of credit to print the first 5,000 copies of I Am Hutterite two years ago, she has since sold more than 50,000. In its first year, hers was the fourth-bestselling title in the Saskatoon store of bookseller McNally Robinson, and won the prize for non-fiction at the Saskatchewan Book Awards.
Today, major retailers are ordering copies by the pallet-load; Kirkby is negotiating the sale of worldwide rights for a new edition with a U.S. publisher.I'm delighted for Ms. Kirkby, but I wouldn't counsel such a venture for everyone. Nor would I scorn the publishers who turned her down.
Betting $35,000 on the success of a book is absurdly risky; the story is in the paper because she won her bet, while any number of entrepreneurs, in more fields than writing, lose such sums and are never heard from again.
And thank heaven publishers make mistakes about what the market wants. If they knew exactly what would succeed, they wouldn't publish anything except sure-fire bestsellers. In that case, hundreds of Hutterites would be breaking into print, and everyone else would be thinking about self-publishing.