There And Back Again: A Story About Publishing By Kait Nolan

Author Kait Nolan is here to share her story about going from self published author to *almost* trad published and back to self publishing again. I know you want to read this …

In The Beginning

Dream-Rocks_OPWhen I was a wee nerdling, dreaming of a career as an author (one which did not involve me starving in a garret), there was only one path to achieving it: New York and traditional publishing. This was, more or less, the One True Path, so I went into it knowing that a long string of rejection letters lay in my future. I accrued my first ones at fifteen, but it wasn’t until a decade later, while I was finishing my Master’s degree, that I acknowledged that all practicality aside, no career was ever going to make me as happy as writing, and I began to pursue publication in earnest.

The Wild West of Self-Publishing

While I was in the midst of busting my butt to finish stuff and improve my craft, Amazon launched Kindle Direct Publishing. This was the very early days of the Wild West of self publishing, and another writer friend of mine was hard core into it. She had absolutely no interest in dealing with New York and their rules and deadlines and such. At that point I still had stars in my eyes and dreams of that epic contract that would let me quit my day job (quit laughing–it was the dream), but I figured I could self publish some shorter stuff to start building an audience for the series I wanted to pitch to New York eventually. So I put out my novella Forsaken By Shadow in March 2010. I put out another novella in that series (Devil’s Eye) in December that year (when Barnes and Noble entered the scene with Pubit). They did pretty well. Enough that I was able to pay off my car and some other bills and have a bit of money to play with each month.

And I really liked self publishing. I liked the control, the fact that I set the deadlines and I had final say over cover decisions. I wrote what I wanted to write with no worries about the market or having to listen to someone else say “I really don’t care if you’re into this thing, we want you to write this other thing.” I’d been working two jobs since I got out of grad school, so writing was something I had to fit in small spaces, which meant that I produced slowly. Being able to eliminate the lag time between submission and publication meant that I could continue to build a fanbase despite my slower production schedule. So I took the leap and decided self publishing was it for me. I was also kind of loud about it on social media, correcting misconceptions (of which there were many) of those who hadn’t done it (remember, this was the early days). In the course of one of these discussions, a crazy thing happened:

I landed an agent.

Never wrote a query letter in my life. Try not to hate me.

Why Hello New York. Do You Wanna Dance?

I was, at the time, taking a break from my Mirus series to write my YA novel Red. We decided to try an experiment–I’d go ahead and publish it, and we’d use those sales numbers when she shopped it in New York. Red did well (and remains my highest grossing title)–but not the kind of sales numbers that it turned out New York was looking for to pick up an already self-published title.

In the year or so it was on submission, I was all but paralyzed in my writing. I was still working two jobs and still didn’t have a lot of time, so I could only work on one project. And that project was another YA intended for New York because, you know, when you have an agent, they have to have something to shop so that they can eat, too. The self publishing fell by the wayside. I worried about it. Sales numbers predictably began to fall. But I could only do so much. Then the book I wrote ended up a total disaster (lots of external stresses that year, too) and I had an epic crisis of personal faith, questioning whether I ought to be in this business at all.

My agent was awesome, not pressuring me to produce (since I was already my own pressure cooker and I might have ESPLODED if anything else was added), listening to my ideas and giving feedback on whether she thought the concepts were strong enough or would fit in the current publishing climate. And I heard a lot of nos. Which was incredibly frustrating. I knew readers wanted some of these things but New York didn’t–either because they simply weren’t buying that kind of book or because they’d already bought a bunch of those kinds of books (remember that what’s published this year was bought two years ago).

I spent most of 2013 in recovery, slowly rediscovering my Mirus series and going through three drafts of the short novel (Riven) that would be my eventual return to the self publishing front–a full TWO YEARS since my last published title. It was an incredibly painful process–like going through physical therapy with atrophied muscles. But it was so, so vital because I’d gone so far down the rabbit hole of looking at my work as a PRODUCT and myself as some kind of MACHINE that I couldn’t function. My agent was totally supportive of my returning to my self-publishing roots and the series that garnered her attention in the first place. My brain was kicking again and I was writing and not freaked out and stressed for the first time in ages. I hadn’t yet decided what I wanted to pitch to New York next but she was giving me time to figure it out.

Back To My Roots

What I figured out is that I’m happier being completely in control. It was no failure on my agent’s part, no disagreement in vision. She absolutely did her job. But I simply couldn’t function enough to do mine under the pressures of the traditional path. I don’t have the patience to hurry up and wait. I want to write what I want to write when I want to write it. The relationship between self publishing and the traditional path continues to morph and change almost by the day. New York publishers continue to make idiot decisions, and nothing I saw with more of an inside view ever made me change my mind that traditional publishing is like playing futures on the stock market. They never REALLY know what will catch on. And, frankly, absolutely nobody is going to care as much about my work and making sure it does well as I do myself.

So earlier this year, my agent and I parted ways, completely amicably. I still hold her in much respect and affection, but I’m so much happier on my own. I’m branching out, I’m experimenting, and most of all I’ve remembered how to do all of this for fun. I haven’t yet made up for those two years out of the game, but I’ll get there. And I’ll do it at my own pace.

~*~

headshot formal smallKait Nolan is stuck in an office all day, sometimes juggling all three of her jobs at once with the skill of a trained bear—sometimes with a similar temperament. After hours, she uses her powers for good, creating escapist fiction. This Mississippi native has something for everyone, from short and sweet to Southern contemporary romance to action-packed paranormal—all featuring heroes you’d want to sweep you off your feet and rescue you from work-day drudgery. When not working or writing, Kait’s hanging out in her kitchen cooking and wishing life were a Broadway musical.

A passionate believer in helping others, she has founded a writing challenge designed for people who have a life (aka we NaNoWriMo rejects who can’t give everything up for the month of November). Please check out A Round of Words in 80 Days.

You can catch up with her at her blog, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Pots and Plots.

Readers, has anyone had a similar experience – given up on trad publishing to pursue the self publishing path? Or, do you have a question for Kait about juggling all the hats self publishers wear? Leave a comment and share!

Enjoy this article? Subscribe to my blog and you’ll never miss my weekly posts! Your email address will NOT be sold, shared, abused, or rented – that’s a promise. If you’re not already, please follow @mollygreene on Twitter! And last but not least, this original content by Molly Greene is copyright protected. Mwah! Thank you so much.

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30 Responses to There And Back Again: A Story About Publishing By Kait Nolan

  1. Kait Nolan August 18, 2014 at 1:30 pm #

    :waves: Thanks for having me!

    • Molly Greene August 18, 2014 at 1:36 pm #

      Kait, I believe the exchange of ideas and experiences among self published authors is one of the best things about our industry and THE most valuable support we can offer one another – Thank YOU so much for sharing!

  2. Pamela Beason August 18, 2014 at 4:11 pm #

    Excellent tale, Kait! So many new writers don’t even know about the incredible lag time between purchase and publish date in traditional publishing. Add to that many more months (or years) of waiting for payment, and authors find that going the traditional route can be incredibly frustrating. My books are half traditionally published, half self-published. I wish I’d self-published them all, because then I could control promotions and sales and pay myself when I’ve earned it, not six months after the fact. Neither publishing route is easy, but having control is definitely better than having none. Thanks, Kait and Molly, for sharing this story.

    • Molly Greene August 18, 2014 at 4:37 pm #

      Thanks Pam AND Kait, for telling us how it all really works. I know I didn’t have a clue!

  3. Debbie Johansson August 18, 2014 at 4:42 pm #

    As an unpublished writer, it can be difficult to give up the dream of being traditionally published. I can understand why so many writers choose to self publish and the more I read about self publishing, the more I believe that may well be the path I’ll also be pursuing. Thanks for sharing Kait and Molly.

    • Kait Nolan August 18, 2014 at 6:07 pm #

      It’s still a viable option, but I think everybody needs to be aware of the potential issues from both sides.

    • Molly Greene August 18, 2014 at 6:09 pm #

      I hear you, Debbie! I can understand how it would be tough to leave ANY dream behind. And who knows, trad publishing might be right for you – you’ll have to see what happens. And we wish you all the best on your journey!

  4. Anna Celeste Burke August 18, 2014 at 4:49 pm #

    This is a wonderful post–hope it gets shared widely so others of us who are finding our way in the self-published can take heed. I remember reading somewhere years ago that the typical ‘shelf-life’ of a traditionally published book in a brick and mortar store was 3 days. That’s what happened to ‘winners’ who found their way onto a shelf in the first place. Ay yi yi. So glad Kait Nolan that you’re still writing…will check out your books mentioned here. Cheers!

    • Kait Nolan August 18, 2014 at 6:08 pm #

      3 days? SERIOUSLY? I hadn’t heard that.

  5. Lauralynn Elliott August 18, 2014 at 5:06 pm #

    I started self-publishing in, I think, in 2009 and I’ve never looked back. I, too, like the control and have never sought a publisher.

    I wanted to also mention to everyone, I’ve read ALL of Kait’s books. 🙂

    • Molly Greene August 18, 2014 at 5:14 pm #

      YAAAAAY! Thanks so much, Lauralynn!

    • Kait Nolan August 18, 2014 at 6:06 pm #

      She’s awesome like that 😀

  6. Julie Musil August 18, 2014 at 8:58 pm #

    What a great story! I love that she found her own path and has total control.

    I haven’t given up on anything. I’m open to just about anything. BUT…I absolutely love indie publishing. My next title releases tomorrow and I’m excited and PROUD of it. It’s been a lot of fun, and I don’t put pressure on myself. Life is too short to be freaked out about something we love as much as writing.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Kait Nolan August 19, 2014 at 6:02 am #

      Loud and proud, that’s me! 😀

  7. Elizabeth Ducie August 19, 2014 at 4:50 am #

    Thanks for a great post, Kait, and to Molly for making it happen. It’s wonderful to hear someone who sees indie publishing as a positive choice, rather than a last resort. I’m trying so hard NOT to apologise every time I tell someone I’m going down the indie route.

    • Kait Nolan August 19, 2014 at 6:01 am #

      I feel no compulsion to apologize to anyone in publishing or the writing world. I DO find myself reluctant to bring it up when talking to non publishing people (largely IRL) because they don’t know anything about it and there’s still some prejudice that goes along with it. The public still largely has that very simplified understanding of legitimacy coming from traditional publishing (and don’t understand that that’s not the only path).

  8. Holly Robinson August 19, 2014 at 7:23 am #

    Ah, Kait, what a great story–so inspirational, because you found the path that makes you happy, and kept writing despite being frustrated by rejections and obstacles tossed your way. I’m a hybrid author–I published a memoir with Random House in 2009, then self-published a novel in 2011 because I was so incredibly frustrated by all of the rejections. Then, wouldn’t you know it, my agent sold my next novel to Penguin about 2 weeks later, so I had a foot in both camps at the same time. Penguin then bought my next novel (on the basis of a synopsis) and, after that, gave me a contract for two more. I’m finishing the fourth novel now, and don’t know what will happen next. But, either way, I find this whole writing & publishing journey so exciting, because writers DO have so many more options than we ever did before to get our work out there the way we want to do it. In my case, I love the team work inherent in traditional publishing (I happen to have a fabulous editor who has become a good friend), and I do better financially this way. But every book–and every writer–is different, and hooray for all of us for being brave enough to put words on the page. Good luck with your journey!

    • Molly Greene August 19, 2014 at 2:25 pm #

      Mwah! Love you, Holly.

  9. Deborah Jay August 19, 2014 at 2:10 pm #

    Kait, thanks for sharing. Your story sounds so like mine, it’s great to know that others are making the same decisions.
    I’ve wavered. I signed with an agent at first attempt, and my novel spent a year (yes, it DOES take that long) doing the rounds of the Big Six (as they were then), but didn’t sell. I moved to another agent, same result. I got myself (un-agented) a publishing deal for a non-fiction book, and have had 2 published, hoping it might help me to sell my fiction.
    It didn’t work.
    So last year I self-published my first novel (the same one that got me my agent) and it’s selling pretty well. Then I went into melt down with self-imposed pressure of writing the sequel (all that advice, that we must publish 2,3 or 4 books a year), and found I couldn’t write except at snail’s pace.
    So I stepped back, decided I deserved a life, and removed the pressure. Now the sequel is sailing along, but it will take as long as it takes. That’s when I realised I probably would never be able to write for a trad publisher (non-fiction is a breeze – it’s the imagination that I can’t force), and decided there was no point in pursuing a traditional deal.
    I’ve just been to a convention, with the usual publishers urging that theirs is the only way, and dangling that ‘physical book on shelves in a book store’ incentive, which had me dithering for about 2 days, before I remembered that I’d have to write what THEY want, not what I want.
    Forget that, I like what I write, and I’m going to keep right on doing it!

    • Molly Greene August 19, 2014 at 2:19 pm #

      Deborah, what a story! Sometimes I think the trials and tribulations we go through are worth the character-building aspect of it all. Other times, I’m not so sure. But it sounds like you’ve hit on exactly the right path for you, and we’re so happy for you! Best to you in all you do, and thanks so much for sharing.

    • Kait Nolan August 19, 2014 at 2:51 pm #

      It is SO so hard for me not to give in to that pressure to PRODUCE PRODUCE PRODUCE, and it’s SO very bad for me. It’s not at all how my brain works and it’s a really toxic expectation for myself.

      • Deborah Jay August 19, 2014 at 4:03 pm #

        Not to mention how it affects those around us… 😉

  10. Roston P. Jones August 19, 2014 at 4:39 pm #

    I started writing back in February 2011. I went through this website owned by Amazon called createspace.com. I had my first book, submitted through createspace.com. Amazon.com, then took the submitted pieces and put it on their website. For every purchased copy, of my book, amazon.com takes their cut, createspace.com takes their cut, and I get what is left, as royalties. That is why I am fighting to make more sales. The time I spent, with my book on amazon.com, I had only had around 10 copies sold. I only, thus far, made only $5.02 in royalties. That is another reason why I am drumming up sales for my first book.

    I am disabled enough that the Social Security Administration has granted me my Social Security Disability Benefits. But my (SSDI) payments, each month, only covers living expenses. Nothing extra. I want to share, to the world, my God given gift of writing. But the world, don’t know it exists as of yet. Please give me feedback.

    • Molly Greene August 19, 2014 at 5:51 pm #

      Royston, I don’t know if this will be helpful or if you’ve tried these avenues, but here goes: If you’re looking to improve your writing as far as craft goes, writing groups, beta readers, critique partners, and library books about writing are all free. Free sites such as Wattpad (and others) will help you expose your book to potential readers.

      Several reader-centric websites will offer your bargain-priced book to their subscribers at no cost. I wrote a post about it here: http://www.molly-greene.com/market-a-99-cent-ebook-sale/ In addition, your local bookstores and your local library might stock your books if you ask.

      Many, many successful self-published authors also blog freely about their experiences – David Gaughran, Joe Konrath, Joanna Penn, Russell Blake, Google them –they might give you some ideas. And in closing, most successful authors say that completing your second book will help sell the first. So keep writing, and I hope this helps!

  11. Laura Fredericks August 23, 2014 at 4:54 am #

    Thanks for sharing your story Kait! The way you described that “nobody would care more about the success of your book than you” is such a nice, succinct way of explaining the allure and reasoning for self publishing. It is definitely one of the better ways I have heard the reasons for that route described. Thanks for helping us all understand some of the factors to consider!

  12. deniz August 24, 2014 at 11:47 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your story, Kait! It’s interesting to see how many variations there can be — even though I’d like to get an agent it’s always good to remember that it’s not the be-all and end-all of publishing.

    • Kait Nolan August 25, 2014 at 9:06 am #

      It’s a great time to be an author simply because there ARE options and we aren’t constrained by a single path.

  13. Geraldine Evans (@gerrieevans) August 25, 2014 at 3:54 am #

    Thanks for sharing, Kait.

    As a trad-turned-indie author, I can sympathise with your story. I hear it more and more as authors become disenchanted with big publishers and the endless merry-go-round you have to play on. Why bother? Like you, I like the control. I mostly used to hate my covers, but now I get to choose my own which is great. I’ve just, for the very first time, been able to afford custom covers for the fifteen books in my main mystery series and I can’t wait to see what the designer produces from my specs. Exciting times!

  14. Faith Simone August 25, 2014 at 7:08 am #

    Thanks for giving insight about the publishing industry to a newbie. I spent the last year debating whether or not to pursue traditional publishing to independent publishing. I finally went with independent simply because I observed that a lot of authors that previoulsy went the traditional route were turning to self publishing in droves. So I thought why take a detour when I could plow full steam ahead? You’ve just confirmed my decision!

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