In Dot to Dot, Kit Bakke’s self-published first book for children, 12-year-old Dot comes to terms with her mother’s recent death with some across-the-centuries help from Mary Wollstonecraft, Jane Austen, and Dorothy Wordsworth.
Both Dot to Dot and your first book, Miss Alcott’s E-mail (Godine, 2006), revolve around contemporary figures coming into contact with significant women writers of the past. What draws you to this particular device?
I never took a history class in college and now I read almost nothing but history and biography. It’s so interesting, and there is so much of it! There are centuries of wonderful people “back there,” and many of them are women. I’m just doing my part to drag them into the 21st century, where we are in need of their good sense and wonderful life examples.
Can you discuss how this novel took shape? I understand it didn’t start out as a book for children.
Right. It began as an adult novel—Dot, the main character, was 55 years old, and there were several subplots involving her sons, her husband, a kidney transplant, and a suspected marital infidelity. Dot still went to England, and still sorted out problems with the help of three historical women. Then my husband more or less said that since my real purpose was to help readers think more clearly about their life choices, I should focus on younger people, since older people are too set in their ways to learn new tricks. So I made Dot 12 years old and ripped out all the subplots. It was a very liberating experience. It was fun being 12 years old again.
How did you arrive at the decision to self-publish Dot to Dot? Did you shop it around with publishers?
I spent about a year shopping the manuscript to both agents and publishers. Lots of encouraging feedback, “but it just isn’t right for our list.” Finally I got tired of collecting rejections and decided to take matters into my own hands. Shortly after the book came out, an agent appeared and liked it enough to sign me on. So we’ll see what happens next.
What sort of marketing efforts are you undertaking to get the word out about the book?
That’s the hard part about self-publishing. The usual channels of print reviews and distribution to booksellers don’t exist. Interestingly, blog reviewers have sprung up everywhere, and they don’t buy into the (false) stereotype that mainstream-published books are ipso facto “better” than self-published books. Besides sending copies of Dot to Dot to blog reviewers, I am also taking copies to local bookstores for consignment sales, and am volunteering or submitting myself to speak everywhere I can. In this case, I am aiming at children’s librarian and teacher meetings as well as the usual writers’ conferences and panel discussions. I’d love to exchange marketing ideas with other self-published authors.
What’s next for you? Will your next project also involve interplay between past and present?
I am working on two projects now about the 1960s, drawing on my own political days in the anti–Vietnam war movement. I also have a fragment of a novel that will include historical characters related to the women’s suffrage struggle in the U.S.