Sunday, July 1, 2012

One Year

Today is a big day for me. Exactly one year ago, on July 1, 2011, I officially released my first ebook, The Boyfriend Thief. That means that today I've been self-publishing for one year!

A little bit of backstory about my journey into publishing: I first decided I wanted to be a writer when I was about 10 or 11. That's when I figured out that people actually wrote the books I liked to read as their jobs and that they weren't magical beings from another planet, they were just ordinary people who loved to write. I loved to write. I had been writing stories since I was eight. So that's what I decided I wanted to do. I was probably one of the few thirteen-year-olds with a subscription to Writer's Digest magazine. I saved up my allowance and joined Writer's Digest Book Club in order to get books on writing. I highlighted and reread those books over and over, absorbing ideas about story construction, plot and character development, and revision methods. I figured out what worked for me and what didn't.

And I wrote. And wrote and wrote. I sent out short stories and then novels during my college years and early years of my marriage. I got rejected. Probably hundreds of times. A lot of form letters, a lot no responses, but also a few handwritten notes every now and then with tips or encouragement. Getting rejected sucked. But after a good round of moping, I'd go back and either send the story out again or figure out why it wasn't working.

I have this huge fantasy trilogy I spent four or five years on. I sent it out to every agent I could find that represented fantasy. All of them rejected it. In early 2005, I decided to give up publishing and just write for myself. I wrote a book that was just for fun and wasn't a fantasy or literary novel, which were what I was writing back then. I fell in love with that book. I decided to try publishing one last time. I revised and then sent it out to agents. I got some interest, but then rejections again. Eleven months after I first sent it out, I finally got an offer of representation.

Then I revised again. It went out to editors. It got rejected. I revised again. It went out to some more editors. Finally, it went to auction and sold in a two book deal. The first book was Something to Blog About, the second book would become Troy High (which had only just been written as a messy, confusing first draft during that year's NaNoWriMo and no one else had yet seen).

Getting a publishing contract is still one of my proudest achievements. I loved working with my editor. I loved getting an inside look at the process of publishing a book--the multiple rounds of revisions, the copyediting, the first pass pages, the cover design. I loved going to conferences and booksignings, even the ones where I sat there alone for an hour and no one bought my book. I wouldn't trade any of it!

But I wrote contemporary in a time when paranormal was taking off. Troy High still did fairly well, but not a bestseller by any means. It was picked up by Scholastic for their book fairs. My agent sold audio rights to both of my traditionally published books. Something to Blog About sold to an Italian publisher.

But then my "option book" (a clause written into some book contracts allowing the publisher first consideration of your next book) was rejected. It happens. Probably more often than you think. I went back out on submission to other editors with Surfacing. It had some interest, but was rejected because of the publishers already having a mermaid book. That also happens. A lot of books get rejected because they don't fit into the market, the market is already saturated with similar stories, or a myriad of other reasons.

I was getting antsy. I was getting a lot of emails from readers who had bought Troy High at their school book fair and I didn't want to lose out on the exposure and momentum that opportunity gave me. I wanted other books out there that my readers could find. So with my agent's blessing, I self-published The Boyfriend Thief in ebook format.

Honestly, I didn't expect it to do as well as it has. It's a story very close to my heart because I had worked on it for years and had really gotten to know the characters. It's a story where I really tried to delve into the complications of relationships--family, friendly, and romantic. I put so much into it and worked so hard on it that I hated the thought of it sitting on my flash drive not being read. So I put it out there.

In the past year, it's sold about 15,000 copies across all ebook formats (Amazon, B&N, iTunes, Kobo, Sony, Smashwords). It has outsold Something to Blog About, which has been out for over four years. Within a few months of self-publishing The Boyfriend Thief, we started getting interest from foreign publishers, and so far has sold to publishers in the Czech Republic, Germany, and China.

That's my self-published success story. Not all work out that well. Surfacing lags way behind, having sold only a couple hundred copies since November. It happens. I learned from traditional publishing that you can't know what to expect. Getting a publishing contract is not a guarantee of success. Having one self-published success doesn't guarantee that everything else will do the same. Also, the month can change at any time. In December, sales slowed to almost a complete stop. I thought it was going to be my worst month ever, with only a handful of sales. Then Christmas Day hit, and suddenly I sold over a thousand ebooks within two days.

The thing I've learned over this past year and the years before it: the market is hard, whether you're self-publishing or traditional publishing. You put yourself out there either way. It takes talent, but it's also takes determination and belief in yourself, no matter which path you take. Whether you decide to pursue traditional publishing or self-publishing, do your homework beforehand. Read stories from both sides of the fence. Apply ideas from the other side to the path you're taking. Read about writing. Study books you like and books you don't like. Figure out why they work or don't work. When you put your work out there, whether it's directly in ebook format or else to an agent or editor, make sure it is the best possible work you can create at this point in your career.

This past year has been a lot of fun. Thank you to everyone who has read one of my ebooks or helped to spread the word. I write to reach readers and I love every second of it, whether its through my print books or my ebooks. If you're a writer trying to get published, think hard about which way you want your career to go and do what works best for you. Maybe, like me, it will be combination of both. There is no wrong way, there are only different options that lead to the same end.

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