Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Self-Publishing Success Story

I know, I know. You never thought C. Hope Clark would allow a positive story on self-publishing to touch her blog. Corinne, however, emailed me, letting me know that self-publishing can work for some people, and how she made it work for her. She is the author of A Feast of Small Surprises and estimates her sales to be around 2,500 or more - not bad at all for someone who self-publishes and starts promoting herself from scratch. So I decided time to allow a self-publisher to tell her tale, from the self-publishing side of the business. She does endorse what I've always said, though . . . you still have to work your butt off. Read on . . . and enjoy.

Dear Hope,

I wanted to address an issue that comes up often in your newsletters, that of making the decision to self-publish. I would like to share my experience and the reasons I am happy I decided to self-publish.

Like most writers, when I finished my novel, I expected to follow the traditional (rapidly changing as that is!) route to publication, ie, finding an agent and then a publisher. You can imagine my excitement when I got an agent from the “A”s (I had decided to go through the Writer's Digest Guide To Literary Agents alphabetically) who “loved” my book and wanted to give me a contract. Unfortunately, this agent, though accredited in The Guide with a fair publishing record, proved to be the wrong agent for the novel, and a year later my book remained unpublished and un-publishable because it had already been “shopped around.” What was even more galling was that a second (quite well-known) agent contacted me two months after I signed the contract with the first agent saying she, too, was interested in the novel.

Frustrated and disappointed but unwilling to give up my dream of seeing my novel published, I decided to leave the agency and self-publish. This decision was fraught with all the problems you have so often addressed in your newsletters. First, I knew that self-publishing was and still is considered to be vanity publishing, and that, therefore, the book lacked legitimacy in the eyes of all the major bookstores and much of the reading public. Knowing this I realized that I would have to work much harder to get attention and attract readers. Second, self-publishing is, in general, a lonely and expensive proposition. I had to shoulder everything regarding the book: final editing, decision on type, front and back cover designs, press release, book signings, reviews, in fact, any and all promotion. I knew I would be on my own and I am not, generally speaking, much of a self-promotional kind of person so I was beset with anxiety regarding the book's possibility for success (or failure).

All that said, I still felt compelled to publish the book. I could not move on until I had put it “out there” and tested its merits in the murky depths of the publishing world. All the negatives aside, I went ahead and published my novel in July of 2005, and I have never regretted it. Here are the reasons I am happy that I made this decision and the reason I am writing you to encourage other authors who are considering self-publishing.

First, it was a huge relief to have the book officially published and to hold a copy in my hands. Although I did make some changes and add reviews for a second addition, I felt free for the first time in five years from my obsessive and continual re-working of the novel.

Second, I was delighted and astounded to see that many people actually liked the book. I received many wonderful reviews from people I knew as well as from strangers.

Third, the book gave me opportunities to speak to groups and share my experience writing and publishing the book that I would never have had if I had not published the novel. For example, I participated in conferences where the novel was used as a jumping off point for discussion of language, art and the Internet, the novel was used in a course on language and image at San Francisco State University, I gave numerous readings for book clubs and independent bookstores, I met a Frenchwoman who translated the novel into French so her friends could read it and I participated in several radio interviews that were loosely connected to women and women’s issues. On top of that, I now have a book that has given me some (if not quite the same as a traditionally published book) legitimacy as a published author.

Bottom line, my experience is that if you believe in your work, are willing to work hard and to accept the fact that self-publishing, in general, will not result in immediate rewards you will be glad you made the decision to follow this alternative route. Although the book certainly hasn’t become a best-seller (something which is rare even if you do publish traditionally) the benefits, both financially and personally, have been satisfying, gratifying and, most important, educational both in terms of learning to promote myself and in terms of the discussions and critiques, both positive and negative, I received regarding the novel.

Thanks for listening to me. I really do appreciate your inspiring yet pragmatic reflections on writing and getting published. I also love the image of your smiling face at the beginning of each newsletter as well as particular moments you share from your personal life. Love the glimpses of your garden and the animals you care for with such tenderness and respect. Now back to focusing on my next novel.

Yours truly,
Corinne Van Houten
Author of A Feast of Small Surprises


Ellie Garratt said...

Thank you, Hope and Corinne. Very illuminating!

Anne R. Allen said...

Thanks for this! Self-publishers are definitely having more and more success. A number of agents are even promoting it--and taking on clients to help with self-publishing. Uber- agent Nathan Bransford says he plans to move in that direction.

The rules are changing rapidly. The fact this post is on your blog is one more indication of the change!

Anonymous said...

Good guest post thanks.
This is one of the most useful I have read on self-publishing.

Barbara Techel said...

What an uplifting story on self-publishing. I agree that if you work your butt off, believe in your story and are willing to get it out there you can make it work. I'm happy to say both my children's books have sold about 5,000 copies between the two. I work hard at each day, and also believe I was brought here to share my stories to change the lives of disabled doxie's, as well as change the lives of children (and adults) with challenges.
So encouraging to hear other SP authors having success too.
Thanks for posting this lovely, uplifting letter.

Barbara Techel

Cheryl Pickett said...

I'm really glad you shared this success story as it encouraged Barb to do the same (she's got a lot of good stuff going on). I absolutely agree it takes a ton of hard work to go the independent route, but for some people it's definitely the right choice. An important part of the puzzle is to able to figure out if it is right for you or not. If so, it's also important to go into it as educated and "eyes wide open" as possible.

Thanks for the great work you do and inspiration you provide for all kinds of writers.

Jessie Mac said...

Very inspirational - thanks.

It's good to know that if the traditional way doesn't work out for some reason or other that there is the self-publishing way - and it could be successful.