Swimming Backwards: Author Cori Howard's Peculiar Publication Journey

Cori Howard’s book, Between Interruptions: Thirty Women Tell the Truth About Motherhood, began its life at a traditional publisher, with an editor and a publicist. Just like you read about. But a funny thing happened on the way to the bookseller that forced Cori to learn a lot about DIY publishing in a hurry.
—Sarah P.

Last spring, I got a phone call from my agent. It wasn't the kind of phone call writers get every day. In fact, what had happened to my book was so unusual, so unprecedented, that no one knew what to do. My publisher, H.B. Fenn and Company (formerly Key Porter) had gone bankrupt, leaving 125 employees out of work, the publishing world slack jawed and many, many writers wondering what that meant for them and their books. The bankruptcy was so unusual it even made news in the US, a country that doesn't normally pay attention to what’s happening in the world of Canadian publishing – despite the rise in numbers of Canadian authors winning the world's top literary awards. South of the border, publishers, agents and writers wondered if the H.B. Fenn bankruptcy was the first death-knell for an industry in massive transition. Turns out, it wasn't. Yet.

What it meant for a large number of writers though was stress. Some writers had their books taken over by other publishers. Some writers – who had yet to complete their manuscripts – lost the rights to publication entirely. My book, Between Interruptions: Thirty Women Tell the Truth about Motherhood – an anthology that was published in 2007 – became mine again. That's why my agent was calling. The rights to my book, she said, were reverting to me. What that really meant was: I was on my own. I had to buy back as many printed, paperback books as I could afford, pay for them to be shipped from a Toronto warehouse to Vancouver and figure out how to sell them on my own.

At some point, I was so exasperated and confused, I thought I would just let the book die and mourn its passing. But there was this part of me that believed books should last forever. That they go on to live in libraries and bookstores and now, online as e-books and I wanted for my baby the same future that others books would have. A bankruptcy shouldn't kill that dream, right?

So, I went online and researched and read and got more and more confused. How would I go from traditional publishing to self-publishing? I read the rules for posting a book as an E-book and decided it was all way too much. I hired iuniverse to do it for me. It was a compromise. It was expensive, and they are not book people. In fact, when I told their sales people the story, they were more confused than I was. They had never, once, turned a traditionally-published book into one that was self-published. I can't tell you how many times I had to tell them the whole story. "But ma'am," they would say, "you already have printed copies of the book?"

"Yes, I do," I would respond, patiently and slightly irritated. "I have 700 copies in my basement. Would you like one?"

But – the silver lining: Between Interruptions is now finally available as an E-book. It's cheap. It's accessible. And the big challenge now is accepting that I am my own publicity department, whether I like it or not. I am not out to make a million in royalties. I am out to ensure my baby survives, that the heartfelt, poignant stories of transformation, of becoming mothers, aren't lost. The essays in that book have meant a lot to many readers over the years. I know because since it was published, I’ve received thousands of emails and those emails encouraged me to start The Momoir Project, where I teach other moms how to write their own stories and publish them, just like the stories in the anthology.

Sarah: So… how will those 700 copies go out and greet the world?

I have a growing list of writing students who are also mothers through my online education website, The Momoir Project. They are my best buyers and they also spread the word. I sell the book through The Momoir Project's website because I use the anthology as part of the curriculum for my Writing for Moms online classes. But that's not enough. I do as much guest blogging as I can. I am going to sign up for a book blog tour to promote the book. And I'm hoping to convince some big mom bloggers to write about the book or excerpt it - there are some provocative stories - to bring it to more people's attention.

Of course, I'm eager to see how this self-publishing experiment turns out. I’m looking at e-book blog tours and spending too many hours each day learning about an industry that hasn’t even really formed yet. We’re at a new frontier and like any new frontier – it’s both exciting and nerve-wracking.

Sarah: When the book was published originally, were there actions that the publisher's publicist did for you which you now have to do yourself? Does it feel different, when talking about your book to readers, to not have that publisher standing between you and the public?

When the book was originally published, the publisher's publicist helped get the book mentioned and reviewed in tons of Canadian publications and websites.They did nothing to promote the book in the US, where it counts. I dropped the ball myself, believing that eventually they would do something but that never happened. Even when I had a publisher, most of the publicity efforts were mine. That's always the way it's been in the Canadian industry - unless you are Margaret Atwood. So really, on the publicity front, it's not much different. It's just so lonely and overwhelming when you know you're doing it all by yourself, and when the online publishing world is changing so fast and there are always new blogs and new places to get your books reviewed. It's hard to keep up when you have other work to do. This could easily be a full time job. It’s both exciting and nerve-wracking.

Wish me luck!

Sarah: I hear you about the full time job, and I wish you the best of luck!

Cori Howard can be found at The Momoir Project and @writingmomoirs.


  1. Cori,
    How brave of you to give your project a lifeline, when it would have been so easy to just give up.

    I have a feeling your basement will be emptying out at a steady pace.

    Best of luck to you!

  2. This is quite a story. I congratulate you on keeping your book alive and I think you'll do well.

    You say your book became yours again but other authors, "who had yet to complete their manuscripts – lost the rights to publication entirely." Was this because of a difference in your contracts or because yours was completed?

    I ask because I wonder if the answer might tell us what to look for in a contract to protect ourselves from the fate of your colleagues.