From Self-Published to Harper Perennial

Last night, Redbird Studio and RedBird-Red Oak (both offer classes and writing retreats in Milwaukee, WI) sponsored a panel of five published authors. Each author spoke on their experiences and their individual approaches towards publication. The discussion ranged from self-publishing (where the author fronts all the costs) to subsidy publishing (the author pays a fee to a POD publisher) to the traditional route of a book in print released by a major publishing house.

Some of the authors’ experiences, and the advice they offered, stuck with me and warranted a post.

Karen McQuestion was already a successful freelance writer – with articles in Newsweek, the Chicago Tribune, and more – when she branched out into fiction. She shared that though she was an agented writer for several years, her books were not picked up by a publisher.

“I couldn’t get in the front door of publishing, so I went through the side door.”

She published her first fiction novel on Amazon’s Kindle. She uploaded the manuscript herself, used the free marketing on Amazon, and had amazing success. Now, she has six novels on Amazon’s Kindle, one of which (Scattered Life) has been optioned for film. To publish on Amazon’s Kindle, she said, you are responsible for designing the cover art and ensuring your work has been professionally edited. However, she spoke highly of her e-publishing experiences. While Amazon keeps a significant percentage of the royalties, one of her stories has sold 25,000 copies. I don’t have a Kindle. I hope to go the traditional route of publishing. Yet, Karen’s story certainly caught my attention.

Kirk Farber, a Wisconsin native, climbed to success through traditional means: published short stories, an agent, a book deal. With just a few short stories published in the literary arena, Harper Perennial still took notice of his first novel and decided to release it. Kirk’s debut novel, Postcards from a Dead Girl, has received rave reviews. His experience proves that an emerging writer with only a few writing credits can still succeed in the traditional print world. He emphasized that, for him, his success was also a result of simply getting out of his comfort zone. Even with great writing, authors must be willing to step away from the corner table in the coffee shop. Go to writing conferences and meet agents face to face. Show your work to other writers. He suggested two sites for those interested in fiction:

  • Fictionaut, where writers post short stories for critque by other writers.
  • Authonomy, a site designed by book editors at HarperCollins where writers showcase their work for editors, readers, and publishers.

The discussion also dipped into whether or not a writer should post essays or short stories on a personal blog. As is the custom, the worlds of nonfiction and fiction differ in perspectives.

For nonfiction, posting essays on your blog may get you noticed and will likely help cultivate your audience and build your platform. Later, those same essays can undergo a few rewrites and still be valuable for publication in a book.

For fiction, however, the answer came with shoulder shrugs and a look of “it depends.” Posting short stories, or chapters of a novel, on a blog will still get a writer noticed. However, the work may be pushed aside in lieu of a writer whose work is unseen by the public eye. Of course, never say never. If the writing is steller, it may not matter that the story has been viewed online before. Another side of the “to post or not to post” coin for me, is that if I continue to showcase my stories here, I have to pump out more creative writing elsewhere. Talk about accountability….

The last important piece of advice I took away reminded me, again, that I have to make social media my friend — get my name out there, find my own community, step out of my comfort zone. As a writer, I am rarely a social creature. The fact that I attended the panel last night, sat near the front, and actually spoke to published authors proves that I am committed. But, it isn’t always easy. Still, places like Twitter, Facebook, GoodReads, and She Writes offer portals of support and connection that writers, ten years ago, couldn’t tap.

I could go on about the evening, but instead I’ll leave you with a few more links to suggested sites for writers:

Phew! That’s all I’ve got folks. It’s Friday, and I’m diving back into my novel tonight. Watch out.

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11 responses to “From Self-Published to Harper Perennial

  1. Sounds like this event was worth the effort of stepping out of your comfort zone. Plus as a writer, it’s good to support local events like this. Thanks for the report.

  2. The fact that I attended the panel last night, sat near the front, and actually spoke to published authors proves that I am committed.

    I hear ya. I was always one to sneak in, sit in the back, first to leave types, until, that is, I became a writer. It hurts, it’s wrong, but if it’s writing related, I get there early so I can have a seat in the front. Still working on the nerve to speak to them when it’s over. I keep hoping the speaker will come to me, single me out, lay their hand upon my shoulder and say, “What is it you’re afraid of, Grasshopper?”

    Thanks for the links. I would like to know more about Google alerts. How does that work? Do you have an example on fiction. I imagine if you are writing a non-fiction about cats, Google alerts would help you find blogs cat related, but what about fiction?

    • “What is it you’re afraid of, Grasshopper?” — I love that.

      Google alerts put out searches for whatever you want to know about (and don’t have the time to dig around the internet for yourself). If you have a gmail acct, you can set up any kind of alert (even put your name in quotes and see where you pop up on the internet :)…).

      I don’t have a good example for fiction related Google Alerts. The speaker who mentioned it writes nonfiction, but, I imagine, for fiction, you could “google alert” a specific topic, and see what kinds of things come up. Or, you could google alert the name of a character, a town. Who knows.

  3. Thanks for an overview of writers’ varying paths. I’m also intrigued by Seth Harwood http://www.sethharwood.com

    With an MFA from Iowa and a number of short story credits in literary and crime magazines, he starting podcasting his crime novel. He was then picked up by a traditional publisher.

    I’m taking his workshop at Stanford next month and your post inspires me to give a report. Great idea.

    • I’ve heard of Seth Harwood. And, well…never say never!

      The moderator of the panel mentioned how the internet and self-publishing has put a little more power back into the writer’s hand.

      I guess podcasting is another self-publishing route, with the benefit of getting noticed as well.

      I’m sure his workshop will be great. I hope you do post a report!

    • Cathryn (et al), here’s a link from Jane Friedman’s “Best Tweets” at Writer’s Digest on why self-published books are picked up by commercial publishers: http://bit.ly/dqGtDV

      I read the post and thought of your comment about Seth Harwood again. Podcasting seems-to me-to be a kind of self-publishing format. Besides, the post itself is interesting.

  4. Meant to respond earlier to this very generous sharing of experience, thank you for taking the time to pass it on.

  5. I particularly liked the reference to social networking as a marketing tool. Instinctively, this feels right as so much of the historical structure of communication is having to make way for this new popular force. What has to happen next is education of consumers so they can filter out the dross for themselves and actually be able to choose what they like instead of having it chosen for them by self appointed experts. This doesn’t go for factual material so much though – even wikipedia has figured that much out – peer reviewed articles give you a fighting chance of looking at state of the art information. ‘Viva la revolution’!

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