We thought it was about time we picked the brain of our “accidental-author-in-residence,” writer of Memphis Type History, Caitlin Horton.
Caitlin talks about the little happenstances that led to Memphis Type History (we’ll refer to it as “MTH” from here on) becoming a reality. She discusses how she came to collaborate with local artist, Rebecca Phillips on MTH, how a publisher sparked the idea for what would become a self-published book, and how she balanced writing the book with her daily work as a brand strategist (Hint: In this case, the very early bird got the proverbial worm). She goes on to talk about the perks and challenges of self-publishing and the “my book is out there for the world to see” experience. Finally, we discuss how getting a little help from her friends proved to be the key to making this whole thing happen.
Where did you get the idea to write Memphis Type History?
Before Memphis Type History ever existed, Jeremy Greene started capturing signs and graffiti around Memphis. That was in 2010. Rebecca Phillips, the artist I collaborated with on the book, took interest in what he was capturing around town… sometimes with just an iPhone. With his permission, she did a series of paintings based on his photos. Her style is like that of illustrated postcards from decades ago – there’s a really unique quality to it that makes you stop and appreciate the craftsmanship of the signs.
A few years later, I came along and ran a Kickstarter campaign for Rebecca because I was selling her artwork through an online art shop I used to run. She wanted to turn her Memphis Type Illustrated paintings into a set of posters. Since many of the signs had come down, preserving them in this way was like preserving history.
The Kickstarter campaign caught the attention of a book publisher – soon thereafter, we launched the Memphis Type History project.
Can you describe the little daily details of writing? How did you incorporate writing MTH into your life?
Oh, the daily details of writing! I think of myself as an accidental author, which means the opportunity fell into my lap without me having developed the skill and craft of writing. It was pretty difficult for me. As with everything I do, I researched how to write. There are a lot of great tips out there, like “just write and edit later.” However, since I didn’t have the practice built up of doing something like that, I really struggled with that concept. So each chapter took me a long, long time to complete.
I wrote some blog posts for our website in the beginning, but as we got closer to our very tight deadline with the publisher, Rebecca took over a lot of the blog posts. The last few months before the manuscript was due, I was up before dawn most mornings. I wanted to get as much writing done before distractions and work requirements rolled in for the day. I was pretty sleepy back then!
Did you always intend to self publish? Did you attempt to work with a publisher?
The funny thing about the whole project is that the publisher sparked the idea. We likely wouldn’t have thought about it on our own. However, we ended up self-publishing in the end. That turned out great, though, because we had complete creative control of everything. This included things like the title and the cover design – even the little touches like hand-lettered section titles, for example. You don’t always get that level of choice when working with a traditional publisher.
Tell us a little about the self-publishing process. What hurdles did you face? How did you handle these obstacles? What made self-publishing work for you?
Self-publishing is hard, but it’s not as complicated as it used to be. There really are a lot of options out there – from printing a large run of books and selling them yourself to finding a print-on-demand distributor like we did.
The biggest hurdles come with having to take care of everything the publisher would have done, like editing, book design, marketing, and sales. Rebecca and I were definitely uniquely qualified to handle all of those areas. We did hire an editor, however. That really is a must.
I’m so happy we published this book ourselves. Now, it has so many personal touches, even down to the hand-painted cover design!
How did you promote MTH? How did you get the word out about the book?
Memphis is a fantastic city to be in if you want to do something cool. People here will support someone doing something positive in the city. Everyone from booksellers and shops to the media were so supportive of what we were trying to do – discover Memphis through it’s rich history… the more signs involved in that the better!
Since we’d been preparing for our book release since the year before, we’d developed a blog and social media following while the book was in development. That definitely helped build anticipation and got the word out once we released the book.
We also had a lot of live events, from traditional book signings to meet-and-greets and even a couple of Pint Nights where anyone who bought a book got a free pint. It was so much fun to be able to step out of the box and allow the community to support us by hosting live events.
What’s been the best most challenging thing about this process (from the first day you began writing MTH until now)? What’s the most rewarding thing about all this?
The most challenging thing is knowing that it’s not perfect. No matter how many passes I took, how many edits the editor did and how many times we proofread the whole thing, there are always going to be little mistakes to catch. I just remind myself of how often I see typos and small errors in traditionally published books I read on a daily basis. I just noticed one in a book I was reading the other day, in fact.
In the middle of finalizing the book, I had a mini freakout moment because it suddenly hit me that this book was going to be on Amazon… which meant reviews! I really had to talk myself down in that moment. It was the first time I realized that my work was going to be publicly critiqued. Thankfully, all the reviews continue to be very thoughtful and positive. But even if some weren’t, I think I would be okay.
Maybe that’s a good side note for anyone reading this – be gentle with people who are putting themselves out there, especially in your critiques. It might not show on the outside, but please know that it’s very scary for us on the inside!
The most rewarding thing is having had a hand in starting something bigger than the book. Rebecca and I love the Memphis Type History blog and all the readers we have now who love discovering more about Memphis. We even have contributing writers and photographers now, so more voices and perspectives are represented, which is very cool. We’re working on some fun products too for people who love Memphis and its signs, so stay tuned for that!
Anything you’d like to add? What do you want others considering writing and self-publishing a book to know?
On a practical note, having a well-designed book and a professional editor or proofreader on board will make a difference in your sales. That’s really the main takeaway for someone thinking about self-publishing.
Really though, I don’t think I could have done this without Rebecca. Of course her artwork inspired the whole thing to begin with, and she did a lot of interviewing and research for the book. Beyond that, though, it was having the encouragement of a collaborator that really made the difference for me, as someone who had not initially set out to write a book one day. If you’re going to do this too, get some people around you and onto your team – people to encourage you and help you out where they can.
We hope you enjoyed hearing Caitlin’s Memphis Type History story.
Caitlin teaches a self-publishing workshop at Studio688. Click here to get email updates on when her next workshop will take place.
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