Kate Whouley's path to publishing was almost as daunting—and rewarding—as the story she tells in her memoir of relocating a cottage and attaching it to her house, Cottage for Sale, Must Be Moved: A Woman Moves a House to Make a Home (Commonwealth Editions, May).
Like finding the $3,000 cottage, which was listed in the classified ads in the local Pennysaver, finding agent Julia Lord was the easy part for Whouley, who used to write the "Bookseller at Large" column for American Bookseller. But after collecting a sheaf of I-loved-it-but... letters, Whouley did what any smart former independent bookseller would do: she partnered with a small independent publisher: Commonwealth Editions in Beverly, Mass., not far from where she lives.
"When I got the proposal, I recognized that it had a large audience, especially after every woman in the office read it and loved it," said Commonwealth founder and publisher Webster Bull. Though Commonwealth has changed its focus from vanity publishing under the name Memoirs Unlimited to regional publishing, Bull has been flexible about the company's mission as "a publisher of gift-quality nonfiction about the history and beauty of New England." In fact, roughly 40% of Commonwealth's sales come from Journey Around, a series of children's books by Martha Zschock and Heather Zschock, about cities in various parts of the country.
"Because it's a small press, my role was larger than if it would have been in a larger house," said Whouley, who helped develop the book jacket and interior design, and wrote it into her contract that the company must produce galleys for 300 booksellers.
Whouley also contacted former St. Martin's editor Bob Wyatt, who agreed to handle the book's sub rights for Commonwealth. Book-of-the-Month Club has since made it a featured alternate for June, while Ballantine bought the paperback rights for $105,000.
Of course, none of this would have been possible if the book didn't deliver, especially for women like Whouley who, at 42, has come to accept her unmarried state and has created a welcoming home and fulfilling life. "The book is quite wonderful," said Barbara Theroux, owner of Fact & Fiction in Missoula, Mont. "For many reasons, I think it's going to transcend New England. I thought her writing was wonderful and so was the whole concept of a woman doing it on her own." Bob Hugo, owner of Spirit of '76 Bookstore in Marblehead, Mass., and several others in the New England area, said, "I love the book; it's such a joy to handsell. The woman can write, and she has a story to tell." He sold 25 copies the week it arrived and plans to keep on selling it all summer long.
Commonwealth has printed 5,000 copies of the memoir and has already gone back to press before publication for another 5,000. In addition to signings throughout New England, Whouley has also enlisted Open Book Publicity to set up radio interviews. To date, she has 20 on-air interviews lined up, mostly in the Midwest