Please welcome Katina Ferguson to Writer Unboxed today! Katina recently reached out to WU, at the recommendation of our own Grace Wynter, with a unique story. She’d come appreciate the work of (then) indie author Jonathan French after hearing him speak as a guest for another author’s book launch in Atlanta. Months later, she learned that one of his novels had been picked up by an imprint of Random House. Her inquiring mind wanted to know…everything! We’re thrilled she’s with us today to share some of what she discovered.
More about Katina from her bio:
Katina Ferguson is a bilingual French Canadian freelance writer and a literary translator in the making. She has contributed to WritersDigest.com, written articles for Vinings Lifestyle Magazine, and blogged for local small businesses.
Beyond the pen, Katina nurtures the growth and camaraderie of the writing community in Atlanta by organizing and facilitating critique sessions through her meetup group Atlanta Writes.
Learn more about her at: www.katinawrites.com
Any Means Necessary: A Hybrid Success Story
In the critique group I facilitate, the same pesky question comes up time and time again: Should I pitch my manuscript to agents and editors or go indie with it?
There is no right or wrong answer, but writers in the group have mixed opinions nonetheless—and by mixed, I mean polarized. Some writers refuse to consider indie publishing while others firmly stand in favor of self-publishing, no matter where it will take them. All cards on the table, I used to be on team #IndieForLife until I met Jonathan French, a local author willing to move forward by any means necessary. He is a rising star with his grimdark fantasy series, his third indie novel snagging him a two-book deal with Crown Publishing, a subsidiary of Random House. And you guessed it: Now he enjoys hybrid publishing success.
In a quest to understand French’s story and what led him to hybrid publishing, I reached out for an interview.
Here is what I learned:
1. It’s important to keep an open mind and know when to shift gears.
French completed his first novel, The Exiled Heir, in 2010. At the time, he fully intended to publish his book traditionally. His wife worked as a ghostwriter and beta-reader for a mid-list thriller novelist, and her position put him in contact with some good-to-know folks. He pitched his book to agents and editors at writers’ conferences and even captured the attention of a couple of agents, but none were able to land him a deal.
In 2012, he completed The Errantry of Bantam Flyn, the sequel to The Exiled Heir, and shopped that book around as well, but found no takers. That was when a highly-esteemed friend convinced French to move forward and self-publish his books—which he did. The significance of that decision is important to note because when writers have invested so much time into querying agents and solidifying their pitch, to no avail, choosing to go indie may not feel like progress; it can feel a lot more like giving up. For French, it was all about shifting gears and moving forward.
Sales weren’t phenomenal when he branched out on his own, but at that point, he was fully committed to finding success as an indie author. He attended conventions and book festivals across the country, joined self-publishing panels as a guest speaker, and fervently expressed the need for indie authors to write quality books and invest in professional packaging to compete in the marketplace.
2. The right contest can yield much more than exposure.
French went on to write his third indie novel, The Grey Bastards, which proved to be a game-changer. He and his wife had tightened their belts for months to save up for quality editing and artwork from industry professionals. Per the recommendation of readers from the grimdark fantasy community, French entered his book into the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off contest (SPFBO), hosted by grimdark fantasy author Mark Lawrence.
The purpose of SPFBO is to provide a platform where indie writers can be seen and heard by community influencers. Lawrence recognized that established authors face less of a challenge promoting their books than new or self-published writers do, so he leveled the playing field. What that meant for Jonathan French is that his book would gain much-needed exposure and hopefully get favorable ratings from influential bloggers.
As his book ascended the ranks, something interesting happened; French got an email from an editor. Julian Pavia—editor of The Martian by Andy Weir, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, and City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett— took note of the stellar scores bloggers had given The Grey Bastards, and reached out to French.
“I’d vaguely followed the contest in its first year and had checked out one or two [writers] of that first batch of finalists,” Pavia said, “so I already knew it was finding talented writers. As I saw how the judges were responding to The Grey Bastards, I was intrigued enough to pick it up.” Furthermore, on the topic of considering an indie book, Pavia added, “I mostly just want to feel that an author’s made an effort to put together a real product, [and] that they hold themselves to a high standard. That was definitely the case with the package Jonathan had put together… It’s important to get the little things right.”
And that, French did. It wasn’t long before he signed with an agent from Donald Maass Literary Agency and finalized a contract with Crown Publishing.
3. Hybrid publishing provides a unique learning opportunity.
The irony of French’s story speaks volumes about the importance of being flexible as we strive for success. It also says a lot about humility and giving ourselves permission to change our minds about how (and if) we want to break into print.
“I admit it,” French confessed during our interview. “I was that guy that used to go to cons, railing against the gatekeepers, then I started dealing with these people, and it was like, I’m wrong—at least about the people who really know what they’re doing.”
Crown Publishing relaunched The Grey Bastards on June 19th, 2018, and the benefits of that launch rippled over to French’s two indie books with an uptick in sales. To anyone considering a hybrid publishing strategy, French has words of encouragement:
“Each side is making you better at the other. Being a self-published author makes me a better traditionally published author, and now I’m hopeful that what I learn being a traditional guy is going to make me a better self-published guy.”