Tips for Becoming a Catholic Historical Writer
Today's "I Want to Be" series features Joan Stromberg, who is a Catholic historical writer. She and her husband, Bob, met in college at Virginia Tech and have been married for 29 years and have 10 children--5 boys and 5 girls, ages 27, 25, 23, 20, 18, 16, 13, 10, 7, and 5. She has homeschooled all of her children. The oldest, Joe, is a college graduate and works as the office manager and publisher's assistant for Behold Publications. Elizabeth is a missionary in Mexico. Mick will soon graduate with an engineering degree. Mary is studying media, and John is just leaving for college to study mechanical engineering. The younger ones are still at home. Find out how to connect with Joan at the end of this article.
How long have you had your business?
Fifteen years. I started my business as a sole proprietorship DBA Ecce Homo Press in 1998. It incorporated as Behold Publications, LLC in 2010.
What led you to pursue it?
I felt there was a lack of good Catholic books for children that I could use in my homeschooling. I started with my series of historical Catholic series on American saints (the Glory of America series) and then started publishing the Little Flowers Girls' Club and Blue Knights Catholic Boys programs soon after that. The creator of the Little Flowers Girls' Club is a good friend of mine, Rachel Watkins, who homeschools several of her 11 children in Elkton, MD. Rachel and I collaborate on the direction and development of Little Flowers, which is our most popular product line.
Are you full time or part time? If part-time, do you anticipate switching to full time?
When you have your own business, it is hard to say if you work full or part time. I'm on the computer a lot, thinking about products and marketing strategies whether I'm folding laundry, running or doing the dishes. I keep a notebook near me so I can jot down ideas and items on my to do list.
How do you market your business?
I have a website which constitutes about 80-85% of my business. I have Google ads running presently, but I have used them on and off. Most people find me through a Google search. I go to independent Catholic homeschool conferences. I use Constant Contact to send out a monthly newsletter to help the clubs in their activities. I have a catalog that I mail out to new and established customers. I have done in the past print ads, but they weren't very cost effective. I offer a free informational CD which has been very effective.
What is your favorite part of the business?
I think product development. I have a variety of interests including writing, designing, sewing, crafts, web development, etc. A small business owner needs to be a jack of all trades, and since my interests are varied, I'm never bored.
What one question do you get most from people about your business?
Usually they have an idea they want to know if I will publish it if they write it. Or they have a son or daughter who has written something they want me to publish.
What one myth or misconception do you want to dispel about the work you do?
That photocopying or taking intellectual property without permission is illegal. Although we develop other items besides books, the intellectual property, the work that are contained in the books, belongs to the producers of that work. We price our books very reasonably, but we still have a huge problem with people taking the intellectual property without permission, making it their own and even distributing it illegally. I really believe it is out of ignorance rather than malice.
What advice do you have for others who want to get into a similar opportunity?
Do your homework. Know the market. Grow slowly. We always said that we did things in "mom time," so that as our family grew, we altered how much time we could put into it. There did come a point where, if we wanted to continue to grow, we had to shed the "cottage industry" and become more professional...that came when we hired my son Joe full time and moved out of the cottage, so to speak.
What is the first step?
I would look around to see if your idea has a market. You would also need to secure some start up money. We printed our first book by cashing in a bond option for about $1,800.00. Today, our inventory cost value is about $60,000.
What websites or books do you recommend for tips?
I did use Score (score.org) when I first started up. They were very helpful especially in answering tax questions and meeting with me to help with business plans and things. Legal Zoom is also very helpful and a whole lot cheaper than a lawyer. I've filed trademarks on my own and through Legal Zoom, and the Legal Zoom was much easier and cheaper.
You can learn more about what Joan does at her website, Behold Publications as well as the two blogs she maintains, Little Flower Girls' Club and Glory of America! Catholic Fiction for Kids. You can also connect with her on Facebook.
*Photo by Rennett Stowe via Flickr.