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
When 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:
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.
Kait 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.
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!
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