Gatekeeper Press Author Q&A
Carla Bass is the author of two editions of Write to Influence.
- When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
I faced a crossroad while in 7th grade … become an officer in Air Force intelligence (following my father’s path) or author children’s fairy tales. Love of country dictated the former. However, I had no clue that my proclivity for writing (inherited from both parents) would coincide with and propel my Air Force career. Writing a published fairy tale remains on my bucket list.
- How long have you been writing? How many books have you written?
From one perspective, I’ve written professionally for 43 years. The ability to compose text – focused, concise, and compelling – was central to my 30-year career in the U.S. Air Force (USAF) and subsequent 13 years with the federal government. Throughout, I composed products for Congress, the White House, generals, and ambassadors, and others whose time was literally measured in seconds. Each word mattered.
From another perspective, I composed my first book, “Write to Influence!” in 2017. The catalyst? A poignant USAF experience. I once took command of a 480-person unit that consistently lost in statewide, professional award competitions, impeding careers of many deserving troops. In no time, I transformed our unit into the one to beat. How? I developed my writing methodology, created a one-hour workshop, and taught them to write … well. That experience prompted my battle cry, “Powerful writing changes lives!” … because it does.
When I retired, I noted that same gap in communication skills, ubiquitous in government, corporations, private businesses, NGOs, and even academia. So, I wrote the book to share my writing strategies and techniques. For the next two years, I presented workshops, applying the methodology to daily life (e.g., grants, resumes, input for performance reviews, email, and college application essays). This generated so much new material, I authored the second edition in mid-2019. Of course, Gatekeeper Press (GKP) published it!
Will I compose a third edition? Eventually, yes. I’m already accruing new material!
- What made you want to self-publish?
Time, patience (lack thereof), and the desire to control the fate of my work. I concluded self-publishing is the best course after investing a year analyzing the alternatives. Why? I submitted to four publishers and learned in this process that one must:
- Compose riveting query letters, conduct in-depth market analysis, and submit packages responding to detailed questions about your work. This requires lots of time to generate.
- Document the extent of your social platform (publishers prefer thousands of followers). I didn’t know what a “social platform” was! Followers? I had none! Poor showing here dissuades publishers from reading your submission.
- Invest time and effort to obtain an agent … a task as daunting as wooing a publisher. Many publishers won’t consider un-agented submissions.
- Wait to receive a response from agents and publishers that may never arrive, because they never read your submission or did not deign to reply.
If accepted by a conventional publisher, one must:
- Relinquish authority in determining changes to the content and cover design.
- Market your own book – on your time and dime.
- Realize royalties will be minimal – not that we’re engaging in a money making enterprise, but earning only a dollar or two per copy just doesn’t seem right.
- Pay the agent … were you able to obtain one.
To be fair, conventional publishing has some advantages, most notable is access to book stores. I don’t think I’ll ever see “Write to Influence!” on shelves other than those in libraries. But, that’s OK given the discussion above.
- Would you recommend new authors self-publish, and would you recommend GKP?
Resoundingly, yes to both questions. Self-publish for the reasons delineated above. But, do your homework. For the uninitiated, this is a deep, complex, and expensive foxhole. The mechanics of self-publishing can be as hands on as you’d like: designing the cover; determining the size and margins of pages; depth of the spine; type of paper, ink, and font; etc. And then, you must determine how to print, store, and distribute your work, and process the payments.
Do I recommend GKP? In a heartbeat! Bottom line up front, GKP is foundational to my success. It is an incredible company with a skilled, responsive, and dedicated staff that offers a range of services. I describe GKP as a hybrid organization – it enables an author to self-publish without becoming immersed in – or overwhelmed by – the multitude of technical aspects. The author informs GKP of the desired look and feel of the book; GKP then transforms the manuscript into the final product, coordinating with the author and making requisite changes along the way. When the book is complete, GKP functions as the turnstile to distributors and processes the finances.
- What do you do to help announce, market, and sell your books?
Everything possible … except blogging (yes, this counters conventional wisdom, but hosting a blog didn’t apply to my audience or mission). When reading the “thou shalts” of marketing and promotion (e.g., compose a monthly newsletter, articles for external publication, and guest blogs), my visceral reaction was, “Who’s got time for THAT?” Well, I made time; an author must. This is how I spread the word:
- Compose articles regularly published by professional, on-line magazines (e.g., IndustryToday.com, Recruiter.com, YoungUpstarts.com, and HR.com) and print magazines (e.g., Military Officers of America Association)
- Contribute guest blogs (e.g., GingerSoftware.com)
- Generate a short, monthly e-newsletter with writing tips (visit www.WriteToInfluence.net to request this)
- Interview on podcasts, radio, and television (e.g., Federal News Network, Q104.3 in NYC, Sara Holtz’ podcast Advice to My Younger Self, and Great Day Washington)
- Present workshops at public libraries, conventions, and seminars
- Teach as an adjunct instructor at a local university and for a variety of other clients
- Post on social media
- Participate in local book shows
- Display and sign books at major conventions (e.g., American Library Association’s annual events). I participate under the auspices of the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA)
- Participate in professional organizations and post to their web pages and newsletters (e.g., Women’s National Book Association, the Non-fiction Authors Association [NFAA], and military associations)
- Have marketing material readily available
- Carry a box of books in the car
- Chat with strangers in check-out lines, whenever opportunity arises!
- Establish a virtual library (pun intended) on my web site’s media page, where readers can find all my interviews and published articles
Items listed here are in addition to my full-time job supporting the federal government (I have a patient, understanding husband).
- What advice do you have for a new or fledgling author?
- Study the book business. The learning curve for becoming a published author is steeper than any encountered in my AF career. Suggestions: 1) Join professional organizations (e.g., IBPA and, if appropriate, NFAA) and leverage their educational offerings, 2) Participate in the many available, free, on-line webinars, and 3) Read how-to books about this business.
- Write, write, write. While practice does not make perfect, it certainly helps! Two quick tips: 1) An author takes readers on a journey; outline your thoughts — this serves as your roadmap and 2) Your initial draft equates to a chunk of clay. Mold the text – push here, prod there, move paragraphs to achieve the desired form. Revise it to convey your vision. Don’t forget to edit and proofread!
- Know your audience. This is the cardinal rule in all communication. Who is it? What does it know about your subject? What does it hope to achieve from your work? What message do you want to impart? What do you hope to achieve from the audience? Use appropriate vocabulary. If addressing experts, don’t communicate in elementary terms; for novices, don’t speak in technical jargon.
- Determine your purpose. For writers seeking publication, do you intend to create something with gravitas (i.e., staying power) or a product for family or friends? This decision has many ramifications. Be advised, creating a product with gravitas is an expensive endeavor.
- Hire experts and delegate. For authors creating that product with gravitas, invest in a professional editor, cover designer, and web site designer. Be selective in choosing these individuals; they will make or break the final product.
- Pursue your dream. Don’t merely follow it. Like my mother emphasized (daily), “There’s no such word as can’t” … She was right!
- What social media platforms are you on?
True confession, this “old dog” sometimes struggles with “new tricks.” I’m on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter (barely), and Instagram (two months ago). However, I haven’t yet learned how to post on Instagram – my son posts for me. Learning that a New Year’s resolution.
- What is the one piece of advice you wish you had when you began?
I offer two pieces of advice. First, don’t be profligate in spending money … tread carefully, choose wisely. An author’s path is littered with opportunities to invest in others’ services, e.g., composing text for your back cover, programs to market your work, and advice on SEOs. I almost killed my fledgling manuscript out of abject ignorance by signing a contract with a less-than-desirable company. Fortunately, I averted disaster, discovering this error while still qualifying for the time-limited escape clause.
Second, I was woefully ignorant about what constitutes a formidable, professional, and effective web site. I still shudder at my debut attempt – but I didn’t know! It was a significant and costly false start. Happily, few people visited it in those nascent months, so my credibility and reputation didn’t suffer.
- What do you feel is the biggest challenge authors face going into 2020 (and beyond)?
Marketing and promotion. Writing a book is the easy part. You must continually and diligently help the public discover it. This complex task spans many aspects – trying to understand and show well on Amazon’s algorithms, placing ads on Google and Facebook, making your website discoverable, obtaining those interviews … and so forth. For me, this is a daily labor of love. But, I emphasize … daily.
- Have you won any awards or contests that you would like to mention?
Yes, “Write to Influence!” (first edition) won four awards in such quick succession, Melissa Stevens (my brilliant cover designer) and GKP had to peddle hard to keep the cover current!
- E-Lit Awards – Bronze Medal
- Best Book Awards – Finalist
- Reader’s Favorite Book Awards – Honorable Mention
- Next Generation Independent Book Awards – Finalist
I’m honored the judges validated the content and quality of this work. In equal measure, this was shocking, because I was a complete novice to this book world.
I entered the second edition in two competitions; results will be announced in early-mid 2020. Wish me luck!
I conclude the response to this question with the best news of 2019 – The U.S. Air Force Academy added the second edition of “Write to Influence!” to its Writing Center, citing its benefits not only for cadets but for faculty and staff, as well! That validation brings the book full circle, since the Air Force was the catalyst for my journey.