Many of these posts are dedicated to writing and publishing a first novel, and I have to say there is nothing better. It is magic when you receive that first ARC, hold it in your hands, and see your name on the cover.
But what happens after that is something we don’t often talk about. Especially when what happens isn’t magic.
I don’t often discuss my route to publication, partly because I was asked not to by my first publisher, who had never before bought a previously self-published book and wanted to hide the fact that they had just done so, and partly because I don’t want to jump on the bandwagon with those selling the dream. I know the odds. I know it’s easier to self-publish than ever before. But I also know what a huge issue discoverability can be. What I do say when asked about publishing my first book is a well rehearsed answer: “Emboldened by our ignorance, my husband and I decided to self-publish.”
We started a small imprint, intending to publish the fiction of local writers. As software publishers who had won awards for our products, we were accustomed to selling into the retail channel and had successfully negotiated licensing and distribution deals with major companies, an accomplishment we hoped to duplicate in the world of letters. “How hard could it be?” we asked ourselves. I’m glad now that I didn’t know the odds.
The truth is, it can be amazingly difficult, not just to have your book noticed, but to get reviews, find a distributor for a one book company, and to acquire shelf-space that is more than one copy, spine-out as opposed to the front-of-store displays larger publishers negotiate. This was back in 2007, but, even now, finding an e-book marketing hook for fiction is very challenging. That is not said to discourage, but because it is true. Unless you’re incredibly lucky. We did our homework, though, and decided to proceed. We hired an editor, a PR company, and a printer. Then we held our breaths, wishing for the kind of magic all first time writers need.
I was one of the lucky ones. A starred review from Publisher’s Weekly led to a publishing deal with one of the big five, one that would allow both myself and my husband to leave our day jobs and pursue our long suppressed artistic yearnings full-time. If I said I wasn’t eternally grateful, I would be lying.
But—and this is a big but—my publishing deal came with a contract for a second book, then a third and fourth. My two-week book tour turned into almost six months on the road. Thirty foreign translations (with translators’ questions) came and went, along with interviews and blog posts and all the other promotional details of the writer’s life. I made the deadline for the second book by only 45 minutes. Still, I did make it, and my editor liked the book. I’m on my way now, I thought, still trying to dismiss the impostor syndrome I’d been harboring since self-publishing. I began to relax. My first book had become a New York Times and international best seller. My second book was about to come out. My wildest dreams had come true.
And then, I missed the deadline for my third book by almost two years. [Read more…]