By Marty Meitus
Kathy L. Murphy counts best-selling author Pat Conroy as a friend. She’s such good buddies with Jamie Ford, author of Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, that he recently told the Shreveport Times, “In this industry, (Kathy) is a type of fairy godmother who makes your dreams come true. When she finds a book she likes, she shares it with the sweet spot in the publishing industry — the reader.”
Murphy (formerly Kathy L. Patrick) is the founder of The Pulpwood Queens Book Club, a national book club that has grown into a powerhouse. It boasts 700 chapters across the country, championing traditionally published and self-published books alike.
Murphy started the club in January 2000 when the only other book club in her small town of Jefferson, Texas, didn’t have room for her at their kitchen table — literally. “(They) could only fit eight around their table, so unless someone died or went away, I could only be a guest, not a member.”
A former publisher’s representative turned hairdresser, she opened a combination hair salon and bookstore, and decided to start a book club that would “break the book club stereotypes.” She invited six women – fully expecting never to see them again – but the concept took off. There are only two requirements: Members must read the book and wear tiaras to the meetings. Murphy hand-selects the books, and she doesn’t care if they’re self-published or released by a major imprint. “All I care is that it’s a good story and one we haven’t heard before,” she says, by phone.
She has a “knack for picking books,” she says, which she proved in 2002 when she was asked to launch Good Morning America’s “Read This!” book club. She chose Ann Packer’s The Dive from Clausen’s Pier (Knopf), which immediately began topping best-seller lists.
Every year, she organizes the Annual Pulpwood Queens Book Club Convention (known as “Girlfriend Weekend”), where attendees dress up to the theme (this year, it’s “Once Upon a Time”) and attend panel discussions and dinners with more than 50 authors (some of whom serve as waiters). The event is capped off by “The Great Big Ball of Hair Ball.”
By now, Pulpwood Queens is a small industry. Even so, the recently divorced Murphy still works as a hairdresser by day, taking care of the Pulpwood Queens’ business at night. She is also a successful author. Dreamworks bought Murphy’s 2008 book The Pulpwood Queens’ Tiara Wearing, Book Sharing Guide to Life (Grand Central Publishing), and production is already underway. The book is out of print, although still available online, but she plans to re-print it when the movie comes out.
We recently spoke with Murphy by phone, asking her if she’d self-publish this time around, how she chooses books for the club and how far she’ll go for a worthy self-published book.
Q.: Your 2008 book was not self-published when it first came out. You took back the rights and plan to re-release it when the film comes out. Will you go the traditional route or self-publish?
A.: I would never say never (to a publisher), because I’ve found that sometimes opportunities arise, but right now, my film agent and I decided it would be silly (to take that route), because I’ll make all the profits.
Q.: You’ve championed a lot of books through the years. Do you have a favorite in the self-publishing world?
A.: I think I’m most proud of My Orange Duffel Bag [by Sam Bracken] because it was a self-published book, and I can’t tell you how many rejections he had. It’s a memoir. … He was a drug addict and he had this epiphany that if he was going to make it, he had to do it himself. He’s now the general manager of FranklinCovey Media Publishing and spokesperson for the My Orange Duffel Bag Foundation. The story amazed me…I loved it so much.
Q.: It’s been written that you dyed your hair to get the book noticed. Was that true?
A.: Yes. The book came in an orange zippered bag — it’s the craziest book you’ve ever seen — and people said, “What is this – a novelty or a book?” But I put it on Facebook because I’m gonna tell you, it was the best book, and I said, “If I can sell 1,000 copies in a month, I’m going to make my hair the orange color of the book.” Within two weeks, I sold 1,000 copies and I ended up taking it to Random House and first they turned it down, then they ended up taking it and they gave him a contract, so he got published in a big way. But it’s an amazing story – and that’s the ones I like to pick: books that change your life.
Q.: That brings up an interesting question: An author obviously wants to get his or her book into the hands of as many people as possible. But if you’re a self-published author, should your goal be to get it into the hands of a publishing house or just to sell, hopefully, a million copies?
A.: My book club members don’t care who publishes it. They have no idea about imprints; the average person who reads doesn’t care if it’s Random House or Simon and Schuster. I think at first people thought I was crazy (to pick a self-published book) and they’d say, “If it can’t get published, it can’t be good,” but with all the ways to publish a book, anybody can publish a book. It doesn’t mean they should—but it means if you do it right and you do it well, I want to help.
Q.: What advice do you have for an author who is thinking of self-publishing?
A.: I would say, don’t quit your day job: Save up all your money and put every bit of it into hiring a good editor, and print it yourself. Get an outstanding cover. There are many ways that you can get a book to look “not so self-published.” I (often) get a book and I go, “I can’t believe that’s self-published.”
Q.: If I were a self-published author, how would I get your attention?
A.: I look at every single book that comes my way, even if it has a crappy cover…But if I start out and I see 50,000 editorial errors, it goes into the give-it-to-my-book club members or my free library pile. Basically I get 30 books a week and I have people across the country helping me now; I just can’t read them all.
Q.: How do people get hold of you?
A.: Don’t call me (laughter), go to the website – beautyandthebook.com – and the “Contact Kathy” tag. Just send me a copy and say, “Here’s my book, I’d like you to look at it for a book club selection.” That’s all they need to say.
Marty Meitus is a freelance writer based in Denver, CO.
BlueInk Review offers credible and unbiased reviews of self-published books exclusively. Visit us at www.blueinkreview.com.