Mare Cromwell is the author of the award-winning book If I Gave You God’s Phone Number . . . Searching for Spirituality in America. It was a finalist in the ForeWord Magazine 2003 Book of the Year Awards and received honorable mention in the 2003 DIY Book Competition. We met at a small coffee shop a little while ago to discuss her book, the interviews featured in the work, why she decided to write it and self-publish, and her upcoming projects.
If I Gave You God’s Phone Number . . . explores spirituality from many different perspectives—from an 8 year old child raised Episcopalian, to an atheist, a prison inmate, a Sufi spiritual master and others. The book was self-published through her company, Pamoon Press (http://www.pamoonpress.com). As many know, self-publishing in this way is far from easy and often very costly. It requires–among other things–purchasing one’s own block of ISBNs, finding a printer, hiring an editor, and finding a cover designer. For those that are interested in knowing more about it, this interview may also help to shed some light on the process.
About the Author (from the author website): Mare Cromwell is the Director of Sacred Dog Productions. She is a sustainability specialist and author. With a Masters in Natural Resources from the University of Michigan, she has worked in the environmental field for 26 years both internationally and locally in the Baltimore-Washington region. Most recently Mare was the Executive Director of the Prettyboy Watershed Alliance. She trained in The Natural Step framework under Karl-Henrik Robért and Paul Hawken and has led dozens of sustainability workshops in the Mid-Atlantic region. In addition to her sustainability consulting efforts, Mare occasionally speaks on Deep Ecology, simplicity and “Right Relationship”.
Interview with Mare Cromwell
NG: What inspired you to seek out different perspectives for this book?
MC: I was raised Catholic but since my early twenties I was sort of spirituality shopping, or whatever you want to call it, and I wrote the book in my thirties. The Catholic church didn’t fill me up; while there are many good points about the religion, it just wasn’t for me. It took me seven years from the start of the book to complete it.
NG: What does the question mean to you?
MC: Well, spirituality is really an ongoing thing. It’s not like you can just come to a point where you’ve stopped growing spiritually. It’s an ongoing dialog, so I guess that would really be it. The ongoing activity of asking questions and finding your personal spiritual answers that resonate and feel like spiritual truths.
NG: What interview did you find yourself connecting with the most when you edited the book?
MC: There are so many. As you know, there is the Sufi mystic, and that interview took place just after 9/11, so that was very powerful. But I didn’t connect with the religion itself, you know what I mean? Now I’m studying with a Native American spiritual healer, and that’s what works for me.
NG: You encountered some interesting people while you were doing your book tour for this book. Some people loved it, some thought it was sacrilegious. Can you tell us a little about that?
MC: It was an adventure. There were a lot of people that wanted to debate and get into arguments about what is spiritually right and what is not right, and that’s not what I’m about. I wanted to present this for people to make up their own minds, to ask their own questions about who they are and what a spiritual life means for them, and for people to see religion and spirituality from other points of view. And there were times when I got rather upset, when people said some pretty hateful things.
NG: Why did you decide to form your own publishing company for If I Gave You God’s Phone Number . . . ?
MC: There were a number of reasons for that. I had sent it out to a few agents but did not find one that understood what I was trying to do. They wanted to change the title or other things about it because they weren’t sure how to promote it to publishers. It had God in the title, but it didn’t fit strictly into the Christian category. Also, time was a factor. I just wanted to put it out there. The book took years to write, and I didn’t want to wait any longer to have it published the way I wanted it published.
NG: What was the process like?
MC: I hired a consultant and printed about 10,000 hardcover copies. The paper used for the book was 100% recycled so there were no trees cut, and that was an expensive process. The company had to be formed, ISBN purchased. And there was a book designer, a copy editor. There are a lot of people you need to hire to put out a book, you have to hire everyone yourself and make sure they understand your vision. This was before Print on Demand (POD) was really an alternative, when most of the POD companies you see now were in their infancy and didn’t provide many options, like editing or custom cover designs, or the option to ship books to stores on a ‘return’ policy–a big factor in getting your book accepted by book stores. Getting a book distributed successfully to a broad set of bookstores is another huge challenge for small mom and pop publishers. I liked the process of putting everything together, but it was difficult.
NG: What about promotion?
MC: That’s a huge amount of work also. I worked with several promotional companies which were not inexpensive. I spoke at churches, went on book tours all over the country, did radio shows, and arranged other speaking engagements. There’s so much to go through, and it really is amazing if you break even. I still have copies of the book at my house, if anyone would like to purchase one!
NG: What are you working on now?
MC: I’m working on a spiritual journey memoir. It incorporates much of what I’ve studied—yoga, Catholicism, and it covers my work with the Cherokee spiritual teacher.
NG: How has working on If I Gave You God’s Phone Number . . . prepared you for your next project?
MC: I’m just writing and not concentrating on anything but that. Obviously you want your book to be interesting. I think it’s a rare person that doesn’t care about the reader. And that is a part of the promotional aspect. But right now I’m just writing, just trying to get it all out; I’m not worrying about that aspect.
NG: What was the hardest thing about working on your last book?
MC: Promotion, definitely. Major reviewers aren’t often interested in self-published books. And I had a hard time, I think mostly because God was so prominent in the title. One promotional company stated, after the fact, that they believe that they were not able to get good publicity on the book because of that. Barnes and Noble initially shelved the book in the Christian Inspiration section, but the book is far more than that. However, there are no general spirituality sections in their stores. I eventually convinced them to put it in the New Age section. It seemed the only okay fit for the book. Libraries are a huge chunk of the market, but they base their selection primarily on certain types of reviews, like the Library Journal. And publications like that are wary of self-published books no matter what.
NG: What advice would you give to writers?
MC: Just get it written. Don’t criticize yourself while you’re writing, because there are going to be plenty of people/editors out there to do that when you’re finished with the book. Don’t give up, just allow the creative process. For anyone interested in publishing their writing, I highly recommend going to Elizabeth Gilbert’s website [http://www.elizabethgilbert.com/writing.htm. Author of Eat, Pray, Love]. She has posted a letter that she wrote for writers, and it gives the best advice to encourage us writers to not get held up by our internal critical voice.
If I Gave You God’s Phone Number . . . can be purchased at the book website at http://www.tocallgod.net/html/tcg_orde.html, or at any online book vendor site. You can also visit Mare Cromwell’s website at http://www.sacreddogllc.com.