We’re going to take a little break from talking about my creative writing class to focus on publishing.
One of the scariest things – to me, at least – about being a writer is getting published. I mean, getting published itself isn’t scary, it’s wonderful! But the road to getting published can be daunting. How do you find an agent? How do you deal with rejection letter after rejection letter after stupid rejection letter? Should you go to every writers conference around and try to sell your book in a five-minute meeting with an agent? What helps you keep your chin up?
It’s frankly terrifying. I’m still gonna do it, of course.
Some writers choose to self-publish instead, and there are plenty of tools for that (for example, lulu.com). Others decide to go to a small press or independent publishing house, which can be a little easier to crack than the big publishing houses. My friend Jennifer McBay Barry successfully published her first novel, The Kingdom (which is the first in a series), with an indie publisher, and I asked her if she would mind sharing a little bit about her experience.
So, you wrote a novel. What happened next?
When I was about halfway through writing the book, my husband advised me to start a Facebook fan page so that I could begin to build a fan base. I didn’t even know if there was a point to building a fan base for a book that might not ever be published, but I put one together anyway. I posted the first three chapters of the book to give potential readers a chance to test drive before buying, and that turned out to be an excellent idea. Before I even typed the last word of The Kingdom, the book had over four hundred fans.
When I finished the book, I began researching agents and publishers and began putting together my query letter according to the specifications that each agent or publisher put forth. As I worked through the editing process, I was also sending off dozens of letters. I received dozens of rejections, two letters expressing interest, and one acceptance.
What made you decide to go with an indie publishing house?
I listen to independent music almost exclusively, and I don’t watch very many Hollywood blockbuster films. So many independent musicians and moviemakers are finding fantastic success, as long as they are patient and willing to work hard. In the end, their success is even sweeter, because they know that they brought every bit of it upon themselves. That idea appealed to me a great deal- to know that people bought my book because others enjoyed it and not because some marketing machine told them to do so.
How has your experience been so far?
There is no doubt that this is a hard road. There are not very many successful independent authors as of yet, but there are many that are hoping to change that. Marketing is expensive, traveling is expensive, and there is not enough income from sales to cover these expenses. I do, however, get to interact with the people that are buying and reading the book. I develop relationships with the new fans, and I listen to what they would like to see in future installments of the series. It’s far more rewarding than any huge advance paycheck could be, and I know that it will pay off in spades.
How much of the groundwork must you do yourself?
I did a lot of groundwork for myself to see the book stocked in stores, only to find that the bookstores don’t want to hear from the authors at all. They will accommodate the publisher, or they will try their best to accommodate possible customers. Every author, however, thinks their book is good enough to sit on the shelves in a bookstore. Until the book is stocked in the stores, these store managers have no desire to hold an event with the author. I won’t name the chain, but I contacted them several times to see if I might get the book on their shelves. I was put on hold, transferred, hung up on, and patronized. When the publisher managed to get the book in the stores, the managers suddenly couldn’t wait to have me in for a signing. It seems there isn’t much I can do for myself without the support of fans and my publisher.
If a major publishing house wanted to pick up your book series, would you do it? Is that possible under your contract with your current publisher?
I would immediately think no. However, it boils down to the amount of creative control that I could have, and the amount of interaction that I could have with the readers. I think a place like Random House would swallow me whole. If there was a middle ground, I’d be more likely to consider it. And as far as I understand, for the right amount of money, any contract can be reversed.
Any insights for other writers who are considering indie publishing?
It’s expensive, it’s hard, and it’s outrageously rewarding. If you have a full-time job, prepare to take on the responsibilities of another job and a half. If you’re married on top of all of this, then you’ll feel like you need a 48-hour day to get everything done. However, you’re not relying on someone else to tell you whether or not your work is good enough; you’re passing that privilege directly to your readers.
Tell us a little about your book!
If you’re interested at all in Irish mythology, Irish history, fantasy, and romance, then you’ll love The Kingdom. The main character and narrator, Rioghan, is a man that has seen entirely too much to get excited, and yet he finds a girl that manages to awaken something inside him. As they get to know each other, Rioghan shows her the truth behind many of the myths and legends that we hold dear. You can read the first three chapters on the Facebook fan page here.
The Kingdom is also sponsoring a contest for aspiring writers. You can check out the rules and the prizes at the Key to the Kingdom Contest. The grand prize winner will have their short story published in the second installment of The Kingdom Saga. I am excited to see the submissions!
I want to thank Jen for sharing her experience with me and the handful of people who read this blog. By the way, she’s very nice and The Kingdom is a really fun read. She’s still working on getting it stocked in major bookstores, but you can always find it on Amazon (and it’s even available for Kindle). And if you write – submit a short story for her contest! The contest is accepting entries until May 31st, so there’s still time.