Rejection precedes success: A guide to self-publishing
The world is full of encouraging stories of failure. I recently read Stephen King’s book On Writing and learned that he collects rejection letters, and he has many. Alexandra Alter wrote an amazing article about Darcie Chan’s experience with rejection and her ultimate success as a self-published author.
Ms. Darcie Chan’s novel, The Mill River Recluse, which tells the story of a wealthy Vermont widow who bestows her fortune on town residents who barely knew her, would have languished in a drawer. A dozen publishers and more than 100 literary agents rejected it.
“Nobody was willing to take a chance,” says Ms. Chan. “It was too much of a publishing risk.”
Ms. Chan decided to digitally publish it herself, hoping to gain a few readers and some feedback. She bought some ads on Web sites targeting e-book readers, paid for a review from Kirkus Reviews, and strategically priced her book at 99 cents to encourage readers to try it. She’s now attracting bids from foreign imprints, movie studios and audio-book publishers, without selling a single copy in print (Alter, 2011).
That’s twelve publishers and more that 100 agents that rejected Ms. Chan’s novel. As of the date the article was written, she already sold half a million copies. Collect those rejection letters and never give up. In another article Ms. Alter describes the success of one of the best-selling authors of all time:
Ms. Mary Higgins Clark–who [now in her late 80’s] still churns out at least one book a year–remains as lucrative a brand as ever. Her books have sold 100 million copies in the U.S. alone. All 42 of her books have been best sellers. Ms. Clark is the top-selling author across the seven imprints of her publisher, Simon & Schuster. Each year, her novels, which are published in 34 countries, sell 3.7 million copies globally.
Industry insiders credit Ms. Clark’s longevity to sheer drive–she collected 40 rejection slips before her first short story was published in 1956 (Alter, 2011, March 25).
If you are an aspiring writer, I hope that you are motivated. There have been other authors who have less experience than you, come from worse circumstances than you and have inferior ideas than yours that have gone on to be wildly successful. Rejection and failure always precedes success.
I can only lift you to where I am. What I am about to share is a solid couple of years of research, failure and trial and error. I in no way profess to be a publishing expert and if you are privy to a better way to go about this please let me know so that I can jump on board. Lift me to where you are and we can help others together. Here is what I have done so far to publish my own books:
Started Camistin Publishing
You do not have to start your own publishing company to self-publish your book. Once you have your manuscript you can use any number of businesses that help authors self-publish their work. I know several people who have used Smashwords (this link will walk you through the process of self-publishing with them). You will have to consider the purchasing of ISBN numbers (one for each version of your book i.e. digital, print). I invested in 1000 and got each ISBN number for $1. I guess I have a lot of books I need to write. If you buy them individually they will cost you $125. I bought from Bowker.
I was in the zone in 2012. I wrote a couple of articles for a local news station (no previous experience writing at all) and was published a couple of times. I then noticed that they were looking for individuals that would write as paid contributors to a site called FamilyShare. I submitted a link to my published articles expressing a desire and commitment to writing and was offered a position as a paid contributor ($10 per article). I started to see what I felt were significant numbers on my articles (sit at about 200k views) and decided to try my hand at a book. I wrote 180 Experiences that will Strengthen your Marriage and 180 Experiences that will Change your life both of which are very similar just reaching out to different readers.
Had stuff edited, professionally
Twitter is awesome. I used this as a resource to find an editor that I felt would fit my style. I found Keidi Keating who is the author of The Light. The vibe I got from her felt like it would be a good fit. I did not regret my decision at all. She is super positive and optimistic and brought an additional level of awesomeness to my books. To edit both books, it cost me about $500. All I did was search “editor” and had a myriad of options.
Competitions for cover designs
This part was a headache…sort of. I used a site called 99Designs to help me with the design process.
Here is what I like: multiple designers compete for your business, you can pick and choose what you like and don’t like while giving feedback to the designers and you can create polls and test the designs out before you choose one.
Now, here is what I don’t like: there can be only one winner (basically…you can actually pay for more than one design). My point is, out of the 20-50 designers that compete for your business 19-49 of them sort of want to kill you after the competition. Check out the worst review for 180 Experiences that will Strengthen your Marriage and you will know what I mean. Using 99Designs will cost you $299 per cover and about a week of your time.
Connecting with a book distribution company is a must. These are the guys that connect the publisher with the retail outlets of the world. Google the title of one of my books and you will see that there are hundreds of online bookstores in several countries that allow you to order it. They also track sales for you and will be the ones to pay you. My relationship with a book distribution company is one of the reasons I wanted to start a publishing company as opposed to “self-publish” through one of the many options.
To break it down, my $19.99 retail price book is sold to bookstores for around $9.00 (retail outlets get a 55% discount). The author would get between $0.90-$1.35 for each book sold. As the author and publisher, I’d get around $9.00 per book sold (minus small market access fees). I signed up with Ingram which is one of the bigger companies. I am currently using Ingram Spark (which I am not super happy with because of the lack of customer service) but would recommend using Lightning Source because I have heard they are much better at customer service. Both are Ingram companies and both will allow you access to the market.
Ask for reviews
I’ve researched bloggers that I feel would be a good fit for the book and have extended an invitation for them to write a review. These are the current online reviews:
Most of the bloggers I have reached out to have been super friendly.
Wonder, work, worry and wait
No one is in as big of a hurry to sell your books as you are. Don’t be surprised when you follow up with someone who has agreed to blog about you book and they haven’t even looked at it yet. The first reviews for me have taken over a month from first contact to publication. Be professionally persistent in marketing your books.
Remember to always be kind when it comes to rejection. Collect those rejection slips as trophies! Remember that rejection and failure always precedes success.
Alter, A. (2011, Dec 09). FRIDAY JOURNAL — how I became a best-selling author — self-publishing is upending the book industry; one woman’s unlikely road to a hit novel. Wall Street Journal.
Alter, A. (2011, Mar 25). The case of the best-selling author; how a former pan am stewardess has stayed at the top of the publishing game since 1975. Wall Street Journal (Online).