Her given name is Bunni Simpson, but readers of spiritual books may know her as B. Graham Simpson, her pen name.
A resident of Fort Washington, Simpson, 54, wrote her first book, "Behold the Bridegroom Cometh," in 1999. The book, directed at single women who hope to marry, encourages them to lean on their faith as they search for the right mate.
Last year, Simpson came out with a second book, "Behold the State I'm In," which chronicles the lives of the fictitious Christianson family through the eyes of its central character, Patience, as she embarks on a spiritual journey.
Simpson said she sought publishers for both her works. But after getting no takers, she decided to take her material to on-demand publishers -- the lesser-known ones that print the books the big publishing houses turn down. They printed copies for her, and then Simpson persuaded bookstores to put them on the shelves. Like other self-publishers, Simpson forked over her own money to finance her projects.
She is not alone.
Authors across Prince George's County, many of whom classify themselves as Christian writers, are finding it easier to produce their works themselves rather than shop their books and proposals to the big publishing houses such as Random House and Hyperion.
Unlike authors who land contracts with the big companies, self-publishers pride themselves in not having to secure an agent, submit a book proposal or wait for a phone call to see if someone is interested in their work.
"I wrote the manuscript," Simpson said. "I found an editor who edited for content first, and then she went back and copy-edited it." She has spent several thousand dollars on each of her books, she said.
Local do-it-yourself writers have made a name, not only for themselves but also the county, which is gaining a reputation as a haven for self-publishers.
Carla Nelson is one of them.
In 2003, she published, "Keep 'Company' With God," a book about Christian entrepreneurship.
"Just because you don't have a book deal with a major publishing house doesn't mean you don't have a story to tell," said Nelson, who lives in Lanham.
Some local writers publish their works by paying small, lesser-known or independent printing companies to assemble their text in book form. The authors also find artists or illustrators to design their book jackets, if they don't do it themselves.
Then the authors sell their books on their own, through their churches, for example. Some take their works to bookstores, both chains and independent companies, and try to persuade the sellers to put them on the shelves.
A number of the county's authors brought copies of their books, along with pens to sign them, to Saturday's first Capital BookFest at the Boulevard at the Capital Centre in Largo. The event was created to promote and celebrate the county's literary community, regardless of who publishes their works.
Simpson said the Potomac Adventist Bookstore in Silver Spring carries her work because the store's buyer, Paul Glenn, has a heart for local Christian authors, including those who self-publish. "I try to buy a book if I think it is a good book and I think that the author has some kind of presence in the area," Glenn said. Still, he said, "it's hard for self-publishers to break into the marketplace."
Going on Faith
The Rev. Barbara Reynolds, a former columnist for USA Today and now associate minister at Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church in the District, can attest to the difficulties of self-publishing. She said she had creative differences with a major publisher for whom she was writing a book on the Rev. Jesse Jackson, so she spent $15,000 to publish it herself under a company she founded called JFJ -- Journalist for Jesus. She went on to write several other books, which were published by mainstream and self-publishing companies or her own.
"Every book has a different set of challenges, whether the author is published by a company or self-publishes," said Reynolds, who also teaches at Howard University's School of Communications.
Reynolds said she paid about $5,000 to get her last book published. She has more than recouped that money, she said, but it's still hard work to self-publish.
"I have to market the book, distribute it, travel across the country to promote it and then try to keep it in the store," she said, adding that she is trying to hire an assistant to help her keep track of the bookkeeping and other administrative work.
About a decade ago, Eugene Williams, a retired school administrator and author from Upper Marlboro, wrote a religious study guide for college entrance exams called "Grounded in the Word." He, too, knows the hardships of self-publishing.
"Many of us have stories or testimonies to tell," said Williams of Christian authors like himself. "But we are often not looked on favorably by the major publishing houses."
Some Christian writers do attract the attention of the big publishing houses, however.
Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Lanham, is one of them. He co-authored a book with noted church researcher George Barna, "High Impact African-American Churches," which was published last year by California-based Regal Books.
Betty Savoy, 69, of Accokeek, self-published 1,500 copies of her autobiography, "Called, But Not to Preach," in 2003. The book describes her road to becoming a layperson in the ministry -- which began 16 years ago when she interviewed for a job as pastor's secretary at Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Fort Washington.
During that interview, she said, the Rev. Grainger Browning asked her to pray out loud, and she realized afterward that he had made the request to determine her ability to help someone if he or other church leaders were not available.
"Persons have called me, desperate to speak to the pastors or members of the ministerial staff and none would be available," Savoy wrote in her book. "They would be in such a state that they didn't want someone to call them back later."
Indeed, Prince George's large faith community has inspired many to write and publish their own works.
"The county is a strong market for Christian books because there are so many well-known churches in the county," said Williams, a member of Jericho City of Praise church in Landover.
'An Investment in Myself'
For Simpson, who works full time as a Web site manager for Computer Sciences Corp. in Falls Church, the advantages of self-publishing outweigh the disadvantages.
"Self-publishing is like giving birth," she said. "I like conceiving of the idea and working it through and getting the first copy of my book from the printer. It's like seeing a newborn baby. There is that same kind of pride and joy."
Moreover, Simpson said, despite having to spend her own money to produce her own books, it's worth it.
"I look at this as an investment in myself," Simpson said. "And I have gotten a great return."
People who buy her books can benefit, too, she said.
"My books are ministering tools,'' she said. "People might not sit down and listen to a sermon, but they might read a good book."