I read an interesting article a few days ago. It was entitled “How I Became a Best-Selling Author,” and was written by Alexandra Alter and reprinted from the Wall Street Journal on Yahoo Finance. The article concerned a self-published author, Darcie Chan, whose debut novel, “The Mill River Recluse,” became a hit after she self-published it, and so far has sold over 400,000 copies. (Way to go, Darcie.) Basically, the article describes how Ms. Chan went about self-publishing her novel and the route it took to the top. She did everything right.
She started writing the book in 2002, and finished it 2 1/2 years later. She tried the traditional route to publication by querying over 100 agents, but no one took a chance with it because it didn’t really fit any well-honed genre. Finally, she landed an agent who sent the manuscript to over a dozen publishers who all turned it down. It sat around for several years, and then Ms. Chan decided to self-publish.
First she uploaded the manuscript to Kindle through Amazon’s self-publishing program, then later to Barnes and Noble’s Nook and through Smashwords, which got the book on Apple’s i-books, Sony and Kobo. Not surprisingly, for a self-published book by an unknown author, it didn’t sell.
So, she got smart and began self-marketing. (If there’s self-publishing, why can’t there be self-marketing?) She bought ads and paid for reviews, especially through Kirkus, and got an ad posted on their website. Sales began to climb, and as I understand it, they are still going up.
That’s all great, of course, but behind the ads and the paid-for reviews, is a book that people actually want to read. I haven’t read it, but it must have hit a nerve with the American public, or the sales wouldn’t have been all that good. There has to be an intelligent, well-written book behind all the uproar.
She got several offers from respected publishers after the book hit the best-seller lists of course, but their motives and propositions were almost laughable. She wouldn’t get as much from the publishers as she got in royalties from self-publishing. And, mixed in with the offers, was a comment from one person at a respectable publishing house (it wasn’t actually named in the article) that the book likely had “run its course.”
That’s the comment that really surprised me. And frightened me. How absolutely shortsighted and senseless can you get? Apparently there are a lot of hard feelings in the publishing industry toward self-published novelists. I knew that, of course, but I didn’t realize how deep it ran. The book is popular and makes money, and yet they still find a way to disparage it. Looking at this from the point of view of an unpublished novelist with designs on the future, I’m confused and even a little appalled. I’m trying to get my books–I have a trilogy, actually–published the old-fashioned way, and if they aren’t picked up by a publisher, I will probably go the way Ms. Chan did and self-publish. On the other hand, I’m not sure I want to have anything to do with an industry that is that short-sighted. I keep wondering when the traditional publishing industry is going to wake up and start helping authors sell books instead of hindering them. No wonder people are running to self-publish. Realistically, I don’t expect my books to sell anywhere near the level of Ms. Chan, but her experience is a damn good model to follow. Self-publishing will cost me more out-of-pocket in the beginning, but so be it.