In October of this year, I published the first book in my fantasy series, Heirs of War all by my onesy-savvy. Okay, not really, because I have an amazing team of supporters behind me, from my editor and cover artist, to my CPs and betas, and to my cohorts here and other writerly friends. Seriously, seriously awesome. But the road to hitting “publish” all on your own isn’t a smooth one, as Rachel O’Laughlin already talked about in her self-publishing story in August. In fact, a lot of people do it way too soon, before their manuscript is anywhere near ready.
I sincerely hope I am not one of those people.
My journey into the publishing world started last summer, though it feels like it has been much longer. I’d finished writing the first and second books of Heirs of War, and had started doing revisions on the latter. HoW1 had been rewritten at least a dozen times at that point, so I felt confident that it was ready.
It really, really wasn’t. Like shamefully far away from being ready.
But I didn’t realize that because I didn’t even know what a CP or beta was at that point. So I started researching querying and dove in head first. I queried everyone I could find who might be interested and even joined some query contests. I built wonderful connections that make me very happy that I did things all backwards like (like usual, for me) and got mostly form rejections from agents and small press publishers. Looking back on my query, I can see why. To be honest, I’m still not happy with my blurb, which as the writerly ones out there know, is typically part of your query letter. Well, until you get published. Then maybe you get a better blurb.
I digress. So, rejection after rejection led to a lot of disheartening thoughts. No one was telling me if I was doing anything wrong, and it was testing well with readers. So what was going on? I entered the Haunted Writing Clinic and Contest and wound up with not just one, but two mentors who taught me the error of my writerly ways. Head jumping, passive voice–the works. And I got a couple of requests after that, but only from people who wanted me to R&R (revise and resubmit) and the revisions were massive. Narrowing down POVs to just one or two characters would completely trash the story I have in mind, so I couldn’t do it. Granted, I found a way to narrow down my eleven (!!!!) POVs to five thanks to my amazing editor who knows exactly what to say to me, but still. Two was not doable.
But more than one person had requested these types of revisions, so it led me to some heavy thinking. Was I wasting my time trying to get this book published when it wasn’t going to appeal to the masses? Or did I trust the readers I already had and take a chance on it?
I chose the latter, and I’m really glad I did. Why? Because everything is a learning experience for me, and self-publishing has taught me so much. So much that I’ll have to save that for another post. The short list:
- I learned about myself as a writer. I can commit to deadlines, comply with rewrites, and I can strengthen my prose, which I view to be a weakness (I’m no Tolkien or Rowling–I’m a better storyteller than I am writer).
- I can build a fanbase. I’ve started doing this through Wattpad. HoW was featured there the month before it released (and in a previous version, not the version that was rewritten and published) and it is still ranked, which feels awesome. Almost 6,000 people have finished reading my book, which has connected me to a lot more readers in a more immediate fashion than I could have ever hoped for. Will this translate into sales for book two? I don’t know, but I’m not worried about it. The most important part for me has been sharing my book and thanks to Wattpad, I’ve done that.
- Giving away free stuff is fun! So is swag! Seriously, I could go broke doing this.
The book debuted October 13 and I have only sold 41 copies so far, but that’s about 30 more than I expected with little to no advertising or promotion. I ran a blog tour and have participated in giveaways, donating copies of the book and swag, but nothing over the top. No Facebook ads or anything like that. Just good, old fashioned word of mouth. We’ll see how that works out for me. =) All in all, even though I’m not selling thousands of books already, I feel like I’ve succeeded. People are reading my words, which is beyond awesome. But I’m not anti-traditional, pro-self-publishing by any means.
A long story to lead up to what I hope to be the next stage of my writing career: The Hybrid Author. Hybrid Authors are, put simply, authors who juggle self-publishing and traditionally publishing their books. Most of the time, from what I’ve seen, it is traditionally published authors branching out and deciding to self-publish their works for their own reasons. They already have a fanbase and already have books for sale out there. You don’t hear many stories of self-published authors getting a deal on another book series.
I’m not talking about self-published authors that get “discovered” like Amanda Hocking or EL James. I’m talking about a self-published author who maybe sold 41 copies of their book deciding to query their next series and actually succeeding. This is really rough and new territory. Last year, a lot of people in the publishing industry would have advised against this sort of move or told me to take my book off sale while I query the other one. To be clear, I just finished writing a YA dystopian that I plan to turn into a series. I don’t want to shop HoW around again. That’s my baby. No touchy.
But this dystopian has a wider audience, I think, and is just easier to market in general. It took me forever to figure out that HoW was New Adult, but this book is most definitely Young Adult. It’s also first person POV, which was odd for me but paid off in the end. Anyway, bottom line: Easier to market, and traditionally publishing still appeals to me. I think a publisher can do a lot more with this book than I have the power to right now.
But what will an agent say when they find out I have another book out that isn’t making any best seller lists? Will they care that I was featured on Wattpad or how many followers I have there? How can a self-published author move into traditional territory?
I guess we’ll see where this next year takes me and if I have any answers for those questions. Until then, tell me your thoughts. What do you think of the hybrid author model, and do you think it’s possible to work backwards from self-publishing? Or is it traditional all the way for you? There is no one right path, but I love hearing about yours!~Mara Valderran