So there I was, a budding author with two manuscripts clogging up my hard-drive, an enthusiastic literary agent, and a phone that was ominously quiet. Depressingly so.
Despite phlegmatic assurances from my agent, I couldn't get a book published to save my self-esteem. On two heart-stopping occasions we got oh so close. Each time, we'd jump the first few hurdles with gusto, managing to impress not one but two official 'readers' assigned by a publisher, then the publisher herself, then make it to what is euphemistically termed an 'Acquisitions Meeting'. That's where the marketing/distribution people at a traditional publishing house have their say, and in both cases they said, "No way."
Despite two separate publishers (and four speed-reading lackeys) loving it, the number crunchers thought it stank.
"Can't sell it," claimed one.
"Got too many books just like it this year," declared another.
One didn't bother with explanations. He might as well have put a finger to his throat and made a slashing motion.
And so I was left back at square one--a budding author with two manuscripts in my hard-drive, an enthusiastic literary agent, and a mockingly quiet phone.
That's when I decided to take a little peek at the world of self-publishing. For the briefest of moments I felt like I was holding up the white flag. After all, anyone worth their weight in printing paper knows, self-publishing is for losers who haven't got a book worth publishing, right?
It didn't take long to turn my view around.
Deciding to do a little research, I logged onto Amazon's book page, went straight to their 'Mystery/Thriller/Suspense' section and clicked on the 'Best Sellers' button. Right at the top, in the number one possie, with a cover that looked a little like something my teenage son could've whipped up, was a book called One Deadly Sister by a bloke called Rod Hoisington.
I'd never heard of him, yet there he was at Number One, out-selling traditionally published Crime Gods like Harlan Coben and Janet Evanovich.
Impressed and intrigued at the same time, I logged into Hoisington's web site and found he had provided an email, the foolish, foolish man. So I tried my luck and sent him a quick note, telling him I was a budding author and asking for some advice--if he could manage to find the time. Feeling emboldened, I also tracked down a contact email for Coben and sent him a similar request, not expecting a reply.
And from Mr Coben, none was forthcoming but Hoisington couldn't have been more accommodating. Within hours of receiving my email, he sent me a three-page reply crammed with all the tips and tricks he could muster. He told me how to format my manuscripts into digital versions and where to upload them. He suggested promotion sites and wished me all the best without asking for payment or even suggesting I buy a single book. And he did it knowing I was a mystery writer who might one day be his competition (not that I knew that then, of course, my ego was pancake-flat at that stage).
Rod offered me help without any expectation of return, and it's an experience that's been repeated over and over now that I am fully immersed in Self-publishing Land (I have now freed eight manuscripts from my hard-drive and they couldn't be happier zinging their way around the digital globe).
I can't speak for all genres of course, but in the world of crime fiction, you'll never meet a nicer bunch than those who have gone it alone.
I've had total strangers reach out and offer me advice--how to target my blogs, find a good editor, post giveaways online. I've been invited to join online mystery support groups and had my tweets and promotions reposted over and over by other authors whose only motive is wishing me more sales. And I've reciprocated, paying it forward to those I encounter and offering advice to newbies like I once was.
Self-published authors are an incredibly generous, supportive bunch. I wonder whether those in the Big Five Publishing Houses can say the same? I don't know, I wasn't invited into their club, but I know this mob and they're a terrific bunch.
Perhaps it's because self-published authors have fewer airs and graces--we've all been rejected in one way or another--or perhaps it says something about the kinds of people who go ahead and do it alone? Who don't sit around waiting for a few men in marketing to determine their path.
I know, now, that if a traditional publisher did phone and offer me a publishing contract, if they could convince me they'd get me through a dreaded Acquisitions Meeting with my self-esteem intact, I'd say thanks but no thanks.
Why would I bother, guys? I'm doing a Rod Hoisington and I'm succeeding on my own.