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Author Up Close: Kathleen Troy — The Difference Between Publishing and Distribution

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A woman with red hair stands on a path holding a white American Cocker Spaniel

Kathleen Troy and Dylan

I’m very excited to present today’s Author Up Close featured writer to the WU community. I met Kathleen Troy through her publicist and have been delighted to follow her journey to publication. Kathleen is an author, movie producer, and a writing and law professor at Cypress College, but her passion is dog training. Kathleen has combined her love of writing with her love of dogs in her Middle-Grade mystery series Dylan’s Dog Squad. Three books in, she’s learned a lot about the industry and why it’s important that self-published authors understand the difference between publishing their work and finding distribution for it. In this Q&A, Kathleen shares lots of valuable insight, including one of the most important lessons she says she’s learned: find good people who can help you achieve your goals.

GW: Thanks for agreeing to share your writing and publishing experiences with the Writer Unboxed community. I like to start by asking writers about their author origin story; it’s kind of like a superhero origin story but with a pen. What’s yours?

KT: Writing has always been a part of my life.  When I was growing up, if I had a bad day at school, I just came home and wrote myself a better one. No denial there.  In undergrad, I minored in journalism. My father always liked to read my stories. When he was diagnosed with cancer at forty-seven, we were told from the onset it was fatal. So when he was in the hospital, I started writing a murder mystery novel for adults.  When I visited with him, I would read him a new chapter. Sadly, he died before I finished the book, and I put it away.

One night I was at a very bad play, and I told my friend that my book was better than the play.  He said, “Everyone always says that.” I insisted my book really was better and decided to finish writing it. I got an agent on my first try and an offer on my first submission. I was excited until I learned the offer was to sell the novel outright. It would no longer be mine. I really, really wanted to be published but I turned down the offer. I’d written the book for my father, and I realized that I didn’t want to sell a memory.

GW: You write Middle Grade fiction, and specifically, you’ve written a series about a group of friends and their dog, Dylan, solving mysteries together. How did the idea for the series come about?

KT: The Dylan’s Dog Squad Series is largely based upon Dylan, an American Cocker Spaniel, and his true-life experiences, adventures, and training.

In the series, Casey’s brother Aiden, an American professor living in South Korea, bought Dylan but got frustrated with the dog and sent him to Casey, his twelve-year-old brother in California. Casey is thrilled to have a dog, his mother less so. Casey and Dylan have thirty days: Casey to learn the responsibilities of dog ownership and Dylan to learn to be a good dog—or else. They form an inseparable bond, are never apart, and, in each book, they continue to grow as a unit.

The idea for the series began when my acquaintances, an American professor and his wife, living in South Korea, bought Dylan from Walmart.  I suggested dog training, but they disagreed,  insisting training would be a waste of time. After Dylan destroyed their apartment, ate the interior of their new BMW, and ate their wedding pictures and negatives, they decided owning a dog was too much trouble.

Dylan’s time was up.

I agreed to take Dylan with the promise I would find him a good home.  (I’m sure you can guess what happened next.) Dylan came to me when he was eighteen-months old. At that time, he didn’t know his own name and wasn’t housebroken. Within a week, Dylan was involved in basic training and agility training.  From there he went on to become the poster pup of success. Eventually he became American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen certified and a hospice service dog; could count to ten; could contact 9-1-1 with a special device; had a five-hundred word and phrase vocabulary; was bilingual understanding (English and Korean); knowledgeable in American Sign Language; and performed search and rescue—all the things Dylan and Casey do in the series.

Since Dylan was a service dog, he went with me everywhere:  To the movies, the theatre, concerts, and restaurants. When I taught my classes at Cypress College, he went too.  The only time we were apart was when he went to the groomer. Dylan and I worked on his training every day, and we always ended each session the same way.  I would raise my right hand showing my thumb, index finger, and little finger—American Sign Language for I love you. 

GW: Tell us a bit about your writing career and your journey to publication.

KT: Becoming an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) was my first—and best—step. Their conferences are an excellent source of information and networking.  My second-best step was to join a critique group and receive constructive feedback on my work.  This took a few tries. I was looking for members who would not only give me help but also constructive criticism.  It’s important to know why your writing is liked/not liked.

I was off to a great start. My young adult novel, Never Believe A Lie Twice, won several awards.  Agents and editors asked for full manuscripts after the initial submission of fifty pages. Getting an agent and getting published was right around the corner, right?

It just didn’t happen. After a time I decided to make my own luck and contacted Jonathan Yanez, a writer acquaintance who was self-published and doing very well.  He and his wife, Jynafer, own Archimedes Books Imprint.  Jynafer, aka Wonder Woman, agreed to take me as a client, and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.

From there I thought I needed a publicist. I received a referral to Rockelle Henderson, owner of Rocked Inked.  Rockelle carefully explained to me that I didn’t need a publicist—yet.  What I needed was good distribution and ultimately, she connected me with Ingram Spark—another life changer.  This opened so many doors for me.  Because of them, my books are available wherever books are sold.

The lesson here is to find good people who can help you achieve the results you’re seeking.  Jynafer and Rockelle changed my life.  Today, a little more than a year later, I have four published books with the expectation of releasing two more in 2023. When I count my blessings, Jynafer and Rockelle are at the top of the list.

GW: It’s important for aspiring authors to understand that self-publishing, when done well, is about much more than just uploading your book to your retailer of choice. What are some of the things you do/have done to promote your work? What are the things that have been most successful for you thus far?

 KT: Learn the difference between publishing and distribution: Publishing your book is wonderful, but the point is to get your book into the hands of readers.  Amazon is useful, but I’ve been told approximately seventeen hundred books are uploaded each day.  Also, to say you distribute via Amazon only is the Kiss of Death when dealing with bookstores, public libraries, and school libraries.  They need to be able to find your books in their system. As I mentioned, I use IngramSpark for that.

Kirkus reviews: Yes, they are expensive, but they cast a wide net. Librarians and bookstores respect the reviews, and you can use a Kirkus review to promote your book.

Book signings: Rather than email, physically go into your local bookstores on the weekends when the manager or assistant manager will be working. These are busy people so bring copies of your books to show and have a sixty-second pitch prepared.  Also bring a letter that you can leave with them, introducing yourself and a list of your books with their ISBNs.  (Again, proving you are in their system.)

Book festivals: Make sure your table is well-presented and as eye-catching as possible.  Since I write the Dylan’s Dog Squad series, which is about an American Cocker Spaniel (Dylan) and two twelve-year-old boys who do search and rescue, I have a sixteen-inch blond, plush American Cocker Spaniel stuffed animal on my table. People come over to ask about it, making it easy for me to talk about my books.  The stuffed animal is also wearing a royal blue Dylan’s Dog Squad bandana and I am wearing a royal blue Dylan’s Dog Squad T-shirt, again eye-catching.  I also have a royal blue Dylan’s Dog Squad table runner that I use on top of a black tablecloth.

Raffles: At every event, I include a raffle for books and Dylan’s Dog Squad bandanas.  This is an easy way to increase my email audience.  Since my books are geared to middle-grade readers, the winners are usually in middle school.  As a follow up I inquire about doing a school visit.

School visits: Most teachers are eager to have an author visit, so you already have a built-in audience. When I first started, I would suggest a classroom presentation.  This quickly transformed into a presentation in front of an auditorium, with preorders of my books.

Libraries: Libraries have a submission policy, but it is helpful to stop in and introduce yourself and your books.  Find out who is in charge of programs and offer to do a reading. Suggest donating your books, too.

A newsletter: Make sure your newsletter is professional and appealing and most importantly, newsworthy.  You want your readers to eagerly read the latest development, not click the Unsubscribe button.

GW: What advice would you give a newbie writer who someday wants to be doing what you’re doing?

KT: Before you publish, have your work professionally edited.  So many writers rely on a spouse or friends. Although it is nice to have the love and support of people close to you, they are not editors.

It’s important to realize you may be able to do anything, but you can’t do everything.  Yes, it’s expensive to hire professionals to assist with publishing, distribution, and social media, but that is what they do best.  Writing is what you do best.

Lastly, writers are generous by nature and are often willing to give advice. Accept their generosity. When a new writer comes to you for help, share.  Remember, writing is a gift and gifts should be freely given.


Many thanks to Kathleen Troy for her valuable insight into self-publishing. To learn more about Kathleen and the Dylan’s Dog Squad series, visit www.kathleentroy.com. You can follow Kathleen on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/kathleentroyauthor or on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/kathleentroyauthor/.

Over to you: If you’re already published, what are some of the marketing and PR activities that have worked well for you? If publishing is in your near future, what kind of plan have you created for marketing your work?

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