Luck in Retrospect

I will admit that when I first decided to upload The Enemy We Know to KDP in March 2011, self-publishing was not my first choice. In fact, it was my last. I’d already traveled a convoluted, but rather typical, journey in my attempts to snag sign with a publishing house and, having not done so, decided I had nothing to lose… except, maybe, a little self-respect. (This was “Then” thinking.)

One thing that was clear to me was that it really was a last resort. I felt confident that I had exhausted all other routes, and indeed, had come close a few times. For instance, the first book that I wrote (now the third in the series) finaled in a Malice Domestic/ St. Martin’s Press “First Novel” contest. That, all by itself, was a confidence builder. And shortly after I was signed up by an agent, which was really heady stuff.

Agent #1 was just starting out and most of her connections were in the Christian market. Still… an agent! She started sending the mss. on the rounds and we received some good feedback, but no offers. After a few months, my agent stopped responding to emails and when I called it went to voice mail oblivion.

Ah well. We had an agreement that allowed for cancellation with a 30-day notice, so after weeks of no response, I sent a formal letter and yada yada yada. Overall, I was lucky because, despite the way we parted, she was ethical and provided me a list of all houses where she had submitted my mss. It could have been worse.

By that time I had been learning more about publishing, and specifically about branding and the benefits of writing in a series. I’d come up with the idea to use the 12 Steps of AA as a series hook.  Unfortunately, (I thought at the time) because of the current book’s plot, now titled The Secrets We Keep would logically fall into place around third or fourth in the series. Thus, the first book I wrote ended up the third in the series. Of course, I’d been writing a follow up book, so that meant the second book I was writing was now going to be the fourth book. Books one and two still needed to be written.

Le sigh…

Confused yet? I know I was. However, I buckled down and got busy on The Enemy We Know. After polishing it up through my critique group, several beta readers, and a professional editor, I started querying agents again. Not long after, I signed with Kristin Lindquist. She was terribly excited by Enemy and after tweaking a few things, we sent it on its rounds to the Big Six and all of their incestuous imprints. We came close. Again. But no go.

By New Year’s 2011, I had two full novels, three-quarters of a third, and a detailed outline for a fourth. Was it all for nothing?

No. No way.

While learning about the business of publishing, I’d come across Joe Konrath’s blog, “A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing” and had started to get excited about the opportunities of self-publishing. I’d met and heard Joe talk at several conferences and knew his credentials. So, why not self-publish?

And so I did. The joy of holding a print copy of my very own book was just as sweet as I’d ever imagined. Watching the ebook version making sales bit by bit was enormously gratifying. But still, an element of embarrassment clung to me like stink on a skunk. A part of me still felt if I had had just a little more talent, a little more skill—a little more luck—the series would have been picked up by a “real” publisher. When I mentioned having published a book, I invariably would add, “Well, I self-published, but it has good reviews.”

Over the years, I’ve outgrown that sense of lesser-than.  In fact, I’ve gone completely 360 now, and I just feel incredibly lucky that my Letty Whittaker series wasn’t discovered” by a traditional publisher. For me, being discovered by readers has completely supplanted the desire for a trad pub. Readers are my validation.

In my case, the advantages of self-publishing have far out-weighed the costs of the latter route. Aside from arguments re: royalty splits or control over cover choices or such, one of the biggest benefits of being my own boss is I make my own release schedule. I don’t have to stress deadlines, except those I set myself. For someone saddled with a disability, that flexibility is priceless. There are simply days I can’t write. Yet now, I don’t have to feel like I’m letting anyone down when I can’t.

It’s funny what a little time and perspective can do. Instead of regret, I feel very, very lucky about the career decision I made in March 2011.


Author: donnawhiteglaser

Donna White Glaser is the author of The Letty Whittaker 12 Step Mystery series. Like her main character, Donna is a psychotherapist and lives northwestern Wisconsin. As if that weren’t enough, she and her husband own a residential construction company where it’s Donna’s job to deal with any overly emotional, what-do-you-mean-you-can’t-put-roof-trusses-up-in-a-thunderstorm? clients. Strangely enough, she often comes up with ideas for creative murders and hiding bodies during business hours. Currently she is at work on the fourth Letty Whittaker 12 Step Mystery-THE BLOOD WE SPILL. Donna would love to hear from you via her website at or on Twitter: @readdonnaglaser.

12 thoughts on “Luck in Retrospect”

  1. Glad to hear that you’re happy with where you are! I think we authors are lucky that we have a choice now, sometimes anyway, as to how to release a book. But being on one’s own schedule whichever way is wonderful, isn’t it? I have not been doing a mystery a year. I’ve published seven, but also published in many other genres because I have always read widely and written widely. I would not flourish being tied to a one-a-year contract.


  2. I agree that the choices are so much better than ever before. Traditional publisher, self-publish, small publisher, hybrid. I think the important thing is to figure out which best suits your personality.


  3. It’s great to read about other people’s journeys through the publishing maze. Yesterday at our Auraria Writers Week, a newbie asked for a guide to how to get published, “You know, A to Z.” Some of us hid our smiles. Then folks on the panel all answered the same, “There is no such thing.” I think people need to learn the business instead. There is a certain amount of luck involved, though.


      1. Aren’t covers exciting? I’m not a visual person so it’s always a surprise when I see what my designer comes up with. For me, at this time, I probably would say no to a trad pub deal unless 1) it was w/ an Amazon imprint or 2) I could keep ebook rights and have the option of the other rights reverting after a specified period of time. As if that’s every going to happen. 🙂


  4. Donna, I love hearing your story. I’m facing the same thing right now. My cover artist for the middle-grade series bailed, so I’m on the hunt for a new one – and boy, has my outlook changed! I’m not content to let it sit with a guy who doesn’t answer email, so I’m being far more aggressive and business-oriented this time (because if I want the series to even have a chance, I have to take it seriously, right?). I *just* got the cover for my first LAUREL HIGHLANDS MYSTERY short-story (the one that was published by Mysterical-e last fall), so I’ll be jumping into getting that out and available. I wouldn’t automatically say “no” to a traditional deal, but yes, I feel incredibly lucky that there are so many choices available now and I can make the best decision for me (sometimes on a per-series basis).

    And I’m another who couldn’t do “one book per year” – the idea of setting my own schedule is very enticing.


  5. Donna, I got to watch some of that story unfolding when we were both in AgentQuest. My history is so similar! I too have reached the bottom of the short list of big publishers and decided not to leave my series under the digital mattress. Feedback from my agent and even from the editors who rejected it tell me that I’ve written a darn good book. It’s only ‘flaw’ is that it isn’t anything like any book that has recently hit a bestseller list. I’m not looking for bestsellerdom. I’m looking for readers who will enjoy my books. And I’m looking forward to joining you in the ranks of the happily self-published.
    Thanks for a very encouraging post!


  6. Hi Donna,
    So great to hear your story. I think I must have known you in AgentQuest because I definitely remember chatting with Anna a lot (Hi ANNA!) There are many different paths, but you hit the nail on the head — the response from readers is all that counts. And remember, I promised to punch anyone in the neck who makes you feel bad about it. (Lol. Just kidding. Sort of. Not really.)


  7. Great post, Donna! I have heard similar stories from authors who are also very happy about the indy experience. As Theresa mentioned, at our university, we’ve had two panels comprised of writers and agents who have talked about how much the business is changing and what some of the benefits are from having more control as an author. It’s fascinating!

    But back to you: I’m so glad you published your books because I loved reading them. 🙂


  8. I’m so glad you shared your story! The industry has changed so much, even in the last 1-2 years, and it’s hard to keep up. It really should be about putting a great book in front of appreciative readers! It makes me sad sometimes to look at the new release shelves and see fourteen variations of the same book, rather than fourteen unique, interesting books. Great post!


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