peeps: Vanessa Gray Bartal
Author Vanessa Gray Bartal says she’s “an avid reader who also loves to write.” That describes just about every author I know. The following bit of background detail, however, is a rarity and quite unique: She was a 911 dispatcher before embarking on her writing career.
Although she now resides “tucked away in the Ohio countryside” with her family, she loves big cities “and the cultural kaleidoscope each provides,” something she says she developed while attending Olivet Nazarene University (which many of you football fans will probably recognize as the Chicago Bears’ summer training camp).
She now has over fifty novels under her belt. A romance author primarily, she also dabbles in other genres, such as fantasy and mystery, like her popular Lacy Steel Mystery Series.
How Vanessa Got Started Self-Publishing
Writing was Vanessa’s little secret. A hobby that no one else but her husband knew about. When she quit her 911 dispatcher job to become a stay-at-home mom, she was understandably physically exhausted, but found herself “with excess mental energy.” That’s when the words started flowing out. “Some days I wrote 20,000 words,” she remembers.
Soon enough, she had a pile of book manuscripts “never supposed to be read by anyone.” And no one really did know about it, not her family nor her closest friends, until the tally was almost two dozen finished books. “I first shared the news with a group of friends. They stared at me like I had horns but asked to read the books, and — gulp — I agreed. Their support was so overwhelming (and so gratifying), that I began to think maybe I should do something about it.”
She started sending out bunches of query letters to agents, but soon was getting just as many rejections back in return. Her father-in-law then sent her an article on self-publishing.
Vanessa wasn’t really big on the idea at first. “I was reluctant. I had the image of myself as a pusher, shilling books from the trunk of my car. But after realizing how very anonymous the process is, I was sold. I put my first book out with no fanfare, once again swearing my husband to secrecy.”
Despite her under-the-radar tendencies, on her very first day as a self-publisher, “I sold one and received a fan letter. That was it for me; I was hooked on the process!” She made a very important discovery that first day. “I suddenly realized that what I wanted most wasn’t the validation of a major publishing house, but the chance to connect personally with readers.”
That she then began publishing more books is an understatement. But sales weren’t easy to come by. “I was terrible at following the ‘rules’ of self-publishing,” she reports. “I didn’t self-promote; I didn’t network; I didn’t blog. My books were limping along, selling modestly, until I released Morning Cup of Murder, the first book in the Lacy Steele Mystery Series. Suddenly those little numbers beside the rank went from five digits to four, three, two, and — with the release of Class Reunion of Murder — number one in its genre.”
Self-Publishing Tips and Observations
- “Perhaps my favorite thing about self-publishing is the chance to find a niche. If I had been published the mainstream way, I would have been pigeonholed into mystery or romance, Christian or secular, young adult or adult. Publishing on my own has allowed me not only to be my own mish-mash of all those things, but to connect with a target audience who somehow understands.”
- “You can’t edit your own work. Hire someone, even if you’re so poor you have to pay them in pies.”
- “You can never edit too much.”
- “As much as you edit, readers will still find your mistakes.”
- “When readers find your mistakes, it is a good lesson in humility. Take your lumps and learn from them.”
- “You can’t please everyone; there comes a time when you have to stop reading reviews and focus on what’s important.”
- “Writing is what’s important. After all, the secret of writing is just to write.”