Mary-Ann Kirkby, author of I am Hutterite (Lee Atkinson)
Mary-Ann Kirkby has sold 75,000 copies of her self-published book I Am Hutterite, and last year she signed a world-wide publishing deal for the book. This weekend Mary-Ann Kirkby is the keynote speaker at the Elementary, My Dear Writers: Demystifying the Publishing Process workshop.
SCENE caught up with Mary-Ann to find out the secret of her success.
I heard that you sold the movie rights to I Am Hutterite. Will you be writing the screenplay for the movie? I have not sold the movie rights as yet, but I have had a pretty high level of interest from south of the border. I don't want I Am Hutterite to be "Hollywoodized" so I am somewhat protective about who I sell those rights to. I would want to retain a role as story consultant. What surprises me the most is the interest I get from Americans and lack of interest on this side of the border even though Canada is home to the highest concentration of Hutterites in the world! It's such a piece of Canadiana but east of Manitoba most people think a Hutterite is something good to eat. I have work to do! I would love to write the screen play but I would need to work with a professional.
How many publishers turned you down? Every major publisher in Canada turned me down, many medium sized ones did too and even little struggling ones did not imagine there could possibly be a market for such a book. I have so many rejection letters I could dance to them!
How did you sell 75 thousand copies of your book?
You will have to come to the conference (and I encourage any aspiring writer, editor or publisher to do so) to get the full answer but I will give you the "drive thru" version. When you read a book that really touches you and blows your socks off, what do you do? You tell a friend, who tells another and the book gets passed around and gets recommended and gets chosen for book clubs. That's what happened with I Am Hutterite . Major newspapers don't give a fig about self published books and will toss them in the garbage sooner than give them the time of day. But word of mouth and consequent customer demand opened doors for me. I owe everything to people who spread the word and to libraries that invited me to come because so many people in their community wanted to hear my story and buy my book. As for cost...Donovan Bergman from Friesen's who printed my books will be at the conference. He is a fountain of information regarding costs and printing, etc.
What is the biggest lesson you learned from doing this? Just because someone rejects you and tells you there is no market for your book doesn't mean they're right. Trust your instincts!
Would you self-publish your next book? Yes, and I did. My children's book Make A Rabbit was published by Polka Dot Press in October 2010 and is available at Chapters, McNally Robinson, Walmart and online.
If you did it again what would you do differently? I would not worry so much!!
What's next for Mary-Ann Kirkby? So many I Am Hutterite readers told me I made them hungry and are demanding the recipes that right now I'm in the process of writing Secrets of a Hutterite Kitchen . But it will be much more than a cookbook. It will be filled with extraordinary photos of Hutterite women working and creating magic in kitchens that would be the envy of any chef from the Food Network. It will include the fun, the camaraderie, the laughter and the "kitchen stories" that make a Hutterite kitchen unlike anything else! And yes I will offer up the recipe for cottage cheese pie so you can all put your cheese cake recipes at the bottom of the drawer. Honestly, it's that good! Watch for it in Spring 2012.
Mary-Ann Kirkby is an award-winning author, whose first book, I Am Hutterite chronicles her childhood experiences of life on a Hutterite colony and the aftermath of leaving community life.