Wendy Hinman is an adventurer, speaker and the award-winning author of two books, Tightwads on the Loose and Sea Trials. Tightwads on the Loose is a lighthearted travel adventure book about the 7-year, 34,000-mile voyage she took with her husband aboard a small violently rocking sailboat where she alternated between feats worthy of Wonder Woman or Suzy Homemaker. It’s full of humor and armchair thrills. Tightwads on the Loose was selected for the literature program for Western Washington University, won the Journey Award for best true life adventure story and was selected as a top travel book for women. Sea Trials, her second book, has earned a Kirkus starred review and was selected best book of the month. It’s the story of a family’s quest to finish sailing around the world despite being shipwrecked. It’s a timeless true story of resilience and determination as they also face wild weather, threats from pirates, gun boats, mines and thieves, a broken rig, scurvy and starvation in a journey that tests them to their limits.
In your first novel Tightwads on the Loose, you write about the unbelievable, seven-year journey you and your husband undertook traveling across the world in a small boat. What instigated that leap between wanting to undertake such a journey, and actually doing it?
The two of us are lifelong sailors. In fact, my husband had already sailed around the world. He was eager for another chance to voyage using the hard-won lessons he’d learned the hard way (as I detailed in my book, Sea Trials.) We were both tired of the “rat race” and wanted to explore the world. Combining our love of sailing and travel seemed ideal because we carried our house with us as we went. We also found it to a less expensive way to travel, given that we already had a weakness for boats, since that addressed our food and lodging needs. We’d been saving money with the hopes of using it to “free us” from the bonds of 9-5 jobs someday. We used it to pay off our modest house and then lived off the rent that came in each month, about $1,000 net. We focused on enjoying the best things of life that are free.
If you had to redo the whole marketing and publishing process for your book, what is one piece of advice would you give yourself?
The primary advice I would give myself is to plan for a longer lead time before expecting to have printed books in hand. (I had two book events before the books had arrived! But fortunately I was able to take orders and then deliver the books the following day.) Everything takes longer than you expect and I would have been less frazzled if I hadn’t scheduled book events that pushed right up to my publication date. That said, publishing a book is always stressful because there is so much to learn and things are always changing, making what you’ve already learned subject to irrelevance soon after. Even for my second book I had a steep learning curve, partially because I expanded my expectations and tried new approaches. I would have made better use of pre-orders to help generate advance publicity online.
What aspect of independent publishing was the most difficult for you?
Getting the files set up for publication (both print and digital) requires a lot of detail work and I had many headaches related to mistakes I made. For an indie author, distribution and getting into bookstores is extremely difficult. Distributors and bookstores have become the new gatekeepers. Some stores are willing to take books on consignment. I had very good luck with it, because I had taken time to develop relationships years in advance and was willing to work very hard at it, plus I had good publicity already so they were willing to take a chance on me. Now progressively more bookstores are demanding consignment and events fees. That can make indie bookstores cost-prohibitive to do business with. Distributing through Ingram and allowing returns can get you into more bookstores, but returns can exact a high price if bookstores order too many that don’t sell. I haven’t had any returns so far, but I have friends who have lost big money from them, so I worry about the possibility.) When I distribute the books myself I make far more money, but that includes lots of accounting.
What aspect of working with an independent press did you love?
I love having control over the look and feel of the book. I love being able to buy my books at cost and knowing that when I do an event, books will be there (because I handle that myself). I love knowing that I can implement any marketing idea without stepping on anyone’s toes. I love having a direct relationship with readers. I love knowing how much more I am earning than I would if a publisher were taking most of the profits. I love being able to do presentations and sell books afterwards and keeping the entire margin between the cost of the book printing and my retail price.
What was the best expenditure of money you have made throughout this process?
My Book Bub ad generated thousands of sales within a few days. Giving away books to carefully targeted influencers created dividends far in excess of the cost of a book (and any postage I paid). Those are techniques I can easily prove were effective. Others, like posting promotional materials on bulletin boards at marinas and coffee shops are more challenging to quantify results.
How did you market your book?
The most effective way to market my book came from targeting my primary readers – sailors and adventurers and reaching them through publications they read (articles and press releases), events they attend (boat shows, club meetings). On a secondary basis, I did presentations for other groups that need speakers on a regular basis. That allows me to sell books afterward at the back of the room. It also gives me free publicity and marketing which can lead to online sales before and after the event, plus excuses to post on social media (announcing events) and to send newsletter updates to that large mailing list I developed while we were out sailing.
Which scene in your book was the most difficult to write?
The most difficult scene to write was the shipwreck scene that opens Sea Trials. Because it was the opening scene, it had to be compelling, of course. What made it more difficult was that I had to accurately depict how an event unfolded when I was not there. I had to know where four people were and what they were doing each and every second. Based on interviews I had an idea of what happened, but it wasn’t until I’d imagined and written an exciting moment-by-moment depiction of events as they unfolded and showed it to family members that I’d find assumptions I’d made were incorrect. They’d say, “Wow, that’s really good … except that I was outside when our boat hit the reef.” So I’d go back and revise based on those comments. I went through several iterations where I changed details for accuracy without losing the drama that I had so carefully crafted and then would recheck and refine as necessary. Ultimately, sharing the story with them in its entirety was immensely satisfying because I had taken the time to get things correct.