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Lessons from a Friend: "How My Ebook Helped Me Nab a Publishing Contract"

Lessons from a Friend: "How My Ebook Helped Me Nab a Publishing Contract"

Kathy Lynn Harris and I go way back – all the way to the first writing conference I ever attended, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, some 15 odd years ago. The conference, in addition to solidifying my ambitions to become a published author, also gave me a great gift ― our enduring long-distance friendship. I’ve shared Kathy’s frustrations when her worthy novels were passed over for publication ― many times getting very close.  Now I am thrilled to share the story of her eBook success as today’s guest blogger at The Writers Circle. — Michelle Cameron, TWC Associate Director.

bluestraggler_cover2-basic-11I began my fiction-writing journey by just putting pen to paper, joining a critique group, reading everything I could get my hands on, and attending writer’s workshops and conferences as much as my day-job would allow. Through the years, I finished one novel, and then another. My manuscripts placed in a couple of regional novel-writing contests. I landed a New York literary agent, then an even better one on the West Coast. My novels were pitched to all the Big Publishing Houses. The result was a “maybe” here and a “maybe” there, all of which eventually turned into a solid “no”. The feedback? Interesting stories, good character development, but plots that were “too quiet” to make it past the All-Powerful Marketing Departments.

I licked my wounds for several more years but kept writing, having some moderate success publishing children’s books, poetry and essays. But one of my fiction manuscripts ― Blue Straggler ― persisted in keeping me up nights. I loved my characters — Bailey, Idamarie and Rudy, a quirky threesome of unlikely friends. I loved my settings — rural South Texas, the city of San Antonio and a small mountain town in Colorado. I liked what the story had to say about friendship and family secrets and discovering who we really are inside. I liked that no matter how many times I reread chapters, I smiled. I knew it was a polished and well-edited manuscript. Readers (and not just family members or friends, by the way!) seemed to enjoy it. It just seemed like such a waste to have it sitting in that proverbial desk drawer gathering dust.

Then, in 2011, I began to travel by plane a lot for my job. I noticed the gradual rise of the e-reader — probably two out of every three fellow travelers were now reading on Nooks and Kindles, and then iPads and other tablets. The ebook was reaching a tipping point.

I reconsidered why I wrote Blue Straggler in the first place. I quickly realized that what matters to me most is pretty simple. I want readers to enjoy the story and characters. To read a passage and laugh. To think about something just a little bit longer than they might have otherwise. To read the last page and consider that their time with my story had been time well spent.

And I recognized that I didn’t really need to be on a Random House bestseller list to feel good about my work.

I made the decision to get in on the ebook action. I spoke with a friend, Jeremy Kron, who helped me navigate the ebook formatting world. He was also — lucky for me — a wonderful interactive designer who designed my book cover. Together, we prepared Blue Straggler for publication as an ebook via Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing Program and Barnes & Noble’s PubIt! Program in August 2011.

Positive reviews began to come in from readers and bloggers. People began to talk about the book via social media. Sales were promising. And then an independent publisher, 30 Day Books, emailed me with interest in publishing Blue Straggler as a trade paperback in early 2012.

Within four months of releasing my novel as an ebook, I signed a contract. The paperback’s official release date is March 1, 2012 (even though it can be ordered right now via Amazon).

The moral of my story? Well, I could stick with the age-old adage, “persistence eventually pays off.” But really, what I’d rather other writers know is this: Technology and ebooks have opened up a whole new path to publishing, whether it be self-publishing or catching the attention of traditional and indie publishers. If the conventional gatekeepers have declined your work, but you still believe in it with all your heart, and you want and need to get it out into the universe, it can pay to take a chance. It did for me.

Stay tuned for Kathy’s second guest blog in a few weeks; she’ll be discussing her experiences working with a small indie publisher as her first novel debuts.

You can read more about Kathy Lynn Harris and Blue Straggler via her author website at http://www.kathylynnharris.com/. Check out Kathy’s blog, as well. And connect with her via Twitter (@KathyLynnHarris) and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/BlueStragglerFiction).

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3 thoughts on “Lessons from a Friend: "How My Ebook Helped Me Nab a Publishing Contract"”

  • Thanks Kathy! Funny how your years-long process can seem so neat and buttoned up in a short blog format. I can just imagine the hours of blood, sweat, and tears that went into this project. I am curious to know how costly self-publishing can be and if you’ll do it again for future projects. Obviously getting your book in public hands right away is a major benefit, but are there additional reasons you might choose to self-publish even if offered a contract? Mahalo for the advice!

  • Hi Lindsey! You mentioned blood, sweat and tears, but forgot vodka. Ha!

    So, self-publishing an ebook is pretty low-cost. In fact, if you are skilled in a few areas, it can be no-cost. You’ll need professional editing, or confidence that you can do that well yourself. You’ll want a wonderful cover design, which you could also do yourself or pay someone to do for $200 or so. You’ll want to format the ebook specifically to Kindle or other platform guidelines. If you’re tech-savvy, you can also do that yourself. Now, if you chose to self-pub in print, costs definitely are a factor. I haven’t gone that route, so am not familiar with specific costs for print-on-demand service providers.

    And good question on self-publishing in the future, even if I had another path to publication. That’s something that I’m still thinking about and will likely cover in my next post for The Writers’ Circle blog. I loved the absolute control of publishing my ebook myself, but there are benefits to having a publisher, too.

    Thanks for reading! Oh, and Aloha!

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