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.
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.