By Elizabeth Christopher
Linda Malcolm’s book Cornfields to Codfish celebrates life in the Midwest and New England through more than 50 short personal essays and 18 recipes. Reading her essays is like looking through an old photo album, at snapshots that point to a simpler way of life. Malcolm published her book in November 2019 with iUniverse. Here’s her story about how the book came to be:
—Linda Malcolm, Cornfields to Codfish
Ten years ago after undergoing breast cancer treatment that curtailed her and her husband’s passion for travel, Malcolm turned her traveler’s sense of observation inward. What started as letters to a small circle of family and friends soon grew into weekly essays about growing up as a Midwest farm girl and her life as a New Englander. Today more than 200 people follow Malcolm’s blog, Musings.
At the time, “friends encouraged me to put these essays into a book,” says Malcolm, who was busy raising her two young boys while her husband managed a heavy work travel schedule. “So, I kept thinking, a book is off in the distance.”
A Structured Routine
Committing to producing weekly essays for a blog takes discipline. Malcolm, who lives in Wakefield, MA, started by dedicating one day a week to writing. “It almost sounds OCD,” Malcolm says of her routine. “I would drop my kids off at school at 8:00 a.m. on Tuesdays and then write for an hour in a coffee shop before going to the library until noon. In that time, I can write an essay,” she says. Posting the essay on her blog and emailing to her distribution list gets done later in the day. “I am very structured and I don’t change that structure for anything.”
Malcolm keeps a notebook by her side as she writes “so if anything outside of writing strikes me I can just jot down notes on other topics,” she says. “As writers we are pulled in so many directions. That little pad of paper is my way of protecting the period of time I created for writing.”
Deciding to Publish
About three years ago Malcolm decided she was ready to assemble a selection of her essays for a book. “My kids were in their teens and I had more time,” she says. She was able to add a second day to her writing routine, giving her one day to write her “musings” and a second day to work on her book.
Malcolm could see from her email platform which essays were the most popular. “That was my starting point for making the collection,” she says.
Although her essays were well received by her readers, Malcolm wanted to share her work with a wider audience before publishing. She found a critique group in Boston through MeetUp. The author was not allowed to say anything as their work was discussed. “That group was a huge step in me putting my work out there. I’ve been in critique groups ever since then. They have been my editing team.”
In 2018 Malcolm was selected to be one of only 16 non-fiction writers to attend the New York State Summer Writers Institute—two weeks dedicated to workshopping student work led by a Columbia University writing professor. While there, Malcolm spoke to the director of the program about her desire to publish a book. Because Malcolm hadn’t published outside of her blog, he said the traditional route of finding an agent would be tough. “That confirmed for me that I should self-publish,” says Malcolm.
“One important thing for me in deciding on a publisher was I needed to be able to talk to a real person, not just through a web forum.” Malcolm looked at Amazon’s self-publishing platform and couldn’t find a phone number or email address to get through to a live person. She had met an author who had a good experience publishing with iUniverse. “I was up at 1 a.m. on the iUniverse web site and a chat box came up and asked if they could help. The next day I was on the phone with someone and two days later I had a contract.”
Malcolm admits the publishing road was confusing at first. For example, iUniverse steered her toward print on demand, which many authors choose because it saves them from having to pay hefty upfront print costs. Malcolm discovered that if she went ahead with print on demand, her book would end up costing consumers $22. “My book is a 275-page paperback; I felt $22 was too expensive,” says Malcolm. But iUniverse wouldn’t move on the print on demand price.
Eventually they came to an agreement: iUniverse would print 1,500 copies of Malcolm’s book the traditional way, through offset printing, and Malcolm would purchase the books up front. This enabled her book to be sold for $16.99 retail—a price point she was comfortable with. “I was confident I could sell 1,000 copies to my readers,” she said. She launched her book in November 2019 and within 6 weeks sold 400 signed books from her personal inventory, making back 75% of her outlay. “I had a ripe market, and I launched before the holidays,” so many people bought multiple signed copies to give as gifts, she says.
Malcolm is now focused on marketing her book so it reaches more readers. “My target market is regional—the Midwest and New England,” she says. While iUniverse offers marketing services to its authors for a price, Malcolm is putting her business degree and marketing know-how to work. Her marketing plan includes identifying independent bookstores in her target regions as well as pitching to radio personalities who regularly interview authors.
“I love the way indie bookstores lend a richness to the fabric of local communities, so I wanted to make it easy for indie bookstores to sell my book. It is important that they can buy a book from a wholesaler and also for it to be returnable because they don’t want inventory they can’t sell. Print on demand books are not always returnable,” she says.
iUniverse uses Ingram Sparks—one of the largest book distributors and wholesalers in the United States—which makes it easier to get my book into national and independent bookstores, says Malcolm.
“You need to know your audience you want to sell to and how you want to sell,” says Malcolm about marketing, who noticed that her readers skew older. “I think older people connect because even though we don’t all have the same memories, my book helps them remember good times of their own.”
Malcolm feels positive about her book launch. “I knew what my plan was, I knew I wanted to launch my book at the end of the year, and I knew I had a ripe audience to buy it. Looking back, I wish I had sent out advanced reader copies before the book came out. I wish I had researched that,” says Malcolm, whose Facebook page and email inbox are full of readers’ reviews but who only has fewer reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. “It’s definitely worth reaching out to bookshops to see if they accept advance reader copies. And there are review organizations that will read books and publish reviews for a fee,” she says.
Malcolm enjoyed the artistic control she had over the book cover design, which features a photo of Iowa corn. She bought the rights to that photo from Angie Carlyle, a photographer she met on a Facebook group called “I grew up in Iowa.” The cover was designed by local author/graphic designer Sally M. Chetwynd. “I’m proud of that cover because I supported two small business owners and I love the way it turned out.”
Malcolm used an online proofreading company in Iowa City to proofread her book before publication. “Most of the proofreaders are professors or have been through the Iowa Writers’ Workshop,” she says.
Back to Routine
Malcolm is trying to get back to her weekly writing routine but finds that marketing her book takes a lot of time and headspace. “A bookseller I met says there are days you are a writer and days you are an author. I’m trying to get a day back in my week to be a writer.”
But even the marketing and publishing process provides fodder for Malcom’s Musings. “My Followers love hearing about the publishing process,” she says, and she has seen her mailing list grow since launching her book.
To order a signed copy of Cornfields to Codfish, visit: https://www.lindamalcolm.com/
To read Linda Malcolm’s blog, Musings, visit: https://www.lindamalcolm.com/musings