April 12, 2010

How’d I End Up Here?

path9icI didn’t start out to be a publisher, book packager, book shepherd, editor or distributor. All I wanted was to see my novel in print.

Twelve years ago, I finished writing my book, Captain Mary, Buccaneer. It’s an adult pirate adventure, about a woman pirate captain, loosely based on the real women pirates, Ann Bonney and Mary Reade. I knew there wasn’t anything like it out on the market at the time, but felt that it was a very saleable project. I started sending queries out. (It seems odd to think that, just 12 years ago, agent queries were done by snail-mail.) I got a stack of rejections. I was able to connect with one big publisher acquisitions editor through a friend. She sent the ms to an agent friend for evaluation. That women said the book was a mid-list product, and did not recommend the editor pick it up. Heck, I thought that being mid-list meant it would sell. Silly me.

I really felt that there was a market for the book. So I decided to self-publish. I worked with a company to print the book, and followed Dan Poynter’s “The Self-Publishing Manual” step-by-step. (I’ve come to call Dan’s book the “gateway drug” of publishing.) In a couple of months, I had a very large stack of books in my garage. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this blog, I had no clue how to market the book or get it out into the world.

My husband helped me as I learned about wholesalers, the reality of bookstores, marketing and everything else involved in being an actual publisher.

A year later, Lisa Jensen approached us with a pirate novel, The Witch from the Sea. I knew that a one-book publisher rarely succeeds—only because I’d been in business before and know that selling only 1 product limits your abilities. So we put that book out. Then 12 more. We learned a lot from each. The main thing we discovered was that novels are hard to sell. Non-fiction is much easier. So we changed our focus from novels to non-fiction for women.

I never even considered how this was changing my path.

Meantime, Ingram—the world’s largest book wholesaler—threw out almost every small publisher in their database. Curiously, they missed us. As distributors went under, we were approached by more and more people who knew we had access to the big wholesalers. Shazam, we were a distributor. And not just women’s interest titles.

Then, some people came to us with a book that we didn’t want to publish, but felt had merit. So we agreed to edit, typeset, do the cover design, help market and distribute. Shazam, we were a book packaging company. And we turned our attention from traditional publishing to the services side of the business.

I got a call one day from someone who wanted to start a publshing company.. They didn’t really want our services, but they did want advice and tips as they grew. Suddenly, I was a book shepherd/publishing consultant.

One day I woke up and realized I hadn’t written anything in a long time. But I was OK with that, because I was so busy and working on more projects and ideas than I knew what to do with. And I realized I’d really found my place in the world. This is my dream job, I finally figured out what I was going to do when I grew up—and it only took until I was in my 40s!

The point I’m making here is that one should be open to where paths lead. I could have been stubborn, and I might eventually have written something that some publisher would have found worth publishing. I still might. But I allowed myself to follow where various opportunities took me. I’m not saying you have to stop being an author, or whatever it is you do. That may be your path. But we don’t always know what our path is. Allow yourself to be open to unintended consequences. You may like the results!

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  • Hi,
    thanks for that post. It really struck a chord. When I was at High School, I won a creative writing prize and decided that I probably wanted to write professionally. Then I got sidetracked into Marine Biology and studied and all my energy got sucked into writing professional scientific papers, so writing creatively took a back seat. next, an opportunity arose to switch from zoology to human biology and I studied for a medical degree, then I fell in love with surgery, then plastic surgery. Now I’m a practicing plastic surgeon and after all the whirlwind of training and endless clinical hours, I have settled into private practice and have finally turned back to my creative writing . I wrote a novel but couldn’t find a publisher or agent, despite endless queries ( sound familiar?), so finally answered the siren song of a joint-venture publisher and now find myself neck deep in all sorts of marketing like blogging, writing reviews on Amazon and the like, which I never ever anticipated. Still, it has been good to see “Wolf’s Paw” available online, if not in any bookstores. I’m working on my second novel, and still looking for an agent. If you know any, do send them my way. But good on you for following where the path led. I did and I have few regrets, but I still, and I suspect you do too, want to write.
    Tristan de Chalain
    author of “Wolf’s Paw”

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