Sunday, 1 April 2012

Celebrating One Year of Independence

Every morning while I'm standing in the shower I take a minute to go over the things I need to do during the day. When I'm writing, I remind myself where I am in the story, which chapter is next, and what I want to do with it. Today, however, I realized it was the first day of April and there was something special I needed to do.

I'm taking a moment today to celebrate my first year as an independent author.

Exactly one year ago today I stood in the same shower, rinsing soap out of my eyes, and decided to honor a commitment I'd made to myself four months before. I was tired, frustrated, and fiesty. It was time to take control of the bus.

It's a story familiar to most independents. In May 2009 I published my first novel, The Ghost Man, with a small publisher in Alberta. At that time, being a writer and not a published author, I didn't understand the responsibilities that would fall to me with regard to marketing and promoting my book. I thought the publisher would handle that sort of stuff, but was sadly mistaken. In addition, the publisher was going through a turbulent time and was unresponsive to many of my questions. In addition, they refused to deal with the major book chain that might carry my novel. It was a failure.

At the beginning of 2009 I completed my next manuscript, which would become Blood Passage, and began the search for a different publisher. I quickly realized that publishers no longer entertained over-the-transom, unsolicited submissions, and shifted my sights to agents. From the spring of 2009 to the winter of 2010 I hunted for an agent. I struggled to master the art of the e-mail pitch. I kept a chart of all the agents and agencies I'd queried, dates of submission, and dates of response. I learned that every literary agent on the planet was swamped with queries. Many, for this reason, didn't respond to mine. I stopped taking it personally very early and simply persisted, fine-tuning my pitch as I went.

By Christmas 2010 I realized it wasn't going to happen. I always use the holiday period between Christmas and New Year's Day as a time of stock-taking, and I now understood I would need a better plan if Blood Passage were going to see the light of day. I decided to continue sending out queries into the new year but also to begin researching self-publishing. I knew the industry was changing and that hundreds of people were taking a chance on publishing independently, but I was also very aware of the "vanity press" stigma attached to Print on Demand and e-book self-publishing. I gave myself the first quarter of the calendar year to become fully informed and to make a decision. If, by April 1, 2011, I didn't have an agent willing to represent Blood Passage, I'd either publish the book myself or find something else to do with the rest of my life.

I must say, the next few months were a lot of fun. The search for independent publishing models on which I could base my own decisions led me to the obvious success stories: Amanda Hocking, J.A. Konrath, John Locke, Scott Nicholson. I also studied authors such as Andrew Smith, who had independently published his own literary fiction after having been told by a prospective agent he was "too old." Each author provided a piece of the puzzle, either in the way they structured their website, used their blog, marketed through Facebook, or something else that worked for them that might work for me as well. My own model began to take shape in my head.

Before I knew it, I was standing in the shower, eyes stinging, hot water pounding on the top of my head on April Fool's Day, and I had to decide whether or not to play the fool.

Truth was, I'd already made up my mind.

It was too much fun to pass up on, and I don't mind saying that although it has been by turns stressful, worrisome, embarrassing, exhausting, and occasionally pricey, it has also been enormously enjoyable. I can't imagine a more rewarding way to have spent a year. The new things I've learned, the people I've met, whether locally in Ottawa or online throughout the world, the experiences I've had as an independent publisher and author have been entirely worth the endless hours of work I've put into it all.

And now, today, I begin the second year of the three-year plan I put together when The Plaid Raccoon was born. This morning the printer received the production files for my next book, Marcie's Murder. The following one, The Fregoli Delusion, is well on its way to being ready for publication this fall. I can't wait.

I'm proud of what I've done in the past year. I'm proud of what I've learned so far as a published author responsible for my own marketing and promotion. I'm proud of the quality of the books I've produced. I'm proud of the work I've done to build my own website, run my own blog, attract almost a thousand Twitter followers, get up and running on Pinterest and Facebook and Goodreads and all the other accounts I've set up to help market the books. And I'm proud to be independent, to have done all this work myself, without any help, teaching myself as I go.

This year I'm going to bring on a publicist to help me with the aspects of marketing and promotion I can't do myself. The Raccoon has room in the budget for it, and I think it's a wise investment. One of the questions the publicist asked me during our first meeting gave me pause to consider. If a publisher were to show an interest in picking up the Donaghue and Stainer series, given the positive reception Blood Passage has received and the imminent publication of the next two novels in the series, would I sign a contract with them?

I don't know, I replied. I've done a lot of work to get to where I am right now, and as it stands I keep 100% of whatever revenue is generated by my sales. I'd still have to work just as hard even if I switched from the Raccoon to a legacy publisher, and for a lesser cut. On the other hand, the books would probably get into the bricks-and-mortar bookstores more easily and would be easier to pitch to the major newspapers and magazines for review.

It would depend on what their offer would be, I said. They could make an offer. I'd have to see what it is.

The truth of the matter is that it would have to be a great offer, and it would have to include creative control over Donaghue and Stainer and where I take them as the series progresses. Right now I enjoy full control, and you know what?

I love having full control. That’s what being an independent is all about.

And anyway, I've got Year Two to get busy with. So let's get going!

As Karen Stainer would say: time's a-wastin.'


  1. This is such an inspiring post! I've been tossing up for a while now whether I should self publish or try and go the traditional route. One of the biggest surprises for me is that publishing houses do very little marketing. Makes no sense. Happy anniversary Michael. I'm so glad to know it's been a fun ride. Something to look forward to!

  2. Thank you so much, Lan, for this comment and for your support over the year. You have been a terrific commenter here at The Overnight Bestseller and I value your insight. All the best to you. Mike