We’ve heard the stories of famous authors getting one rejection letter after another before they were finally published. For example, at least 38 of them didn’t “give a damn” about Margaret Mitchell’s epic “Gone With the Wind” and resolutely passed. Publishing behemoths Penguin and HarperCollins notoriously ignored J.K. Rowling when she and her Harry Potter came knocking.
Today, many writers, even ones with past or current publishing deals, are bypassing the traditional methods of publishing and stocking their tomes on cybershelves and finding success. They’re also finding it a great way to get their out-of-print works back into circulation.
Atlanta fantasy author Dan McGirt, 45, published three paperbacks with Penguin USA (Signet & Roc imprints) from 1989 to 1993. “Jason Cosmo” (1989), “Royal Chaos” (1990) and “Dirty Work” (1993) all went out of print by the mid-’90s and were relegated to used bookstores. Sad to see his leading man languishing, McGirt, who is also an attorney, got all the rights back and made his own printing press via the Internet.
By offering the first book, renamed “Hero Wanted,” as a free download, not only did he garner a whole new audience for Jason, it served as a conduit for the next two and also for his latest, “Noble Cause.” “Hero” has since been downloaded more than 20,000 times.
“I have not yet sold thousands of copies or made millions of dollars at this,” McGirt said, “but, from a writer’s point of view, I count it a success that I’m able to resurrect a series my original publisher left for dead, and publish new books at will.”
McGirt persuaded his romance novelist mother, Andrea Parnell of Conyers, to follow suit. Having published 10 novels the “old-fashioned way,” she was a bit skeptical. The two collaborated on releasing three of her books in 2011: “Dark Splendor,” “Whispers at Midnight” and a Western romance, “Delilah’s Flame,” as e-books.
“Sales were pretty sporadic at first, but then things began picking up,” Parnell said. “In November 2011, we released ‘Dark Prelude,’ a free e-book novella that leads into ‘Dark Splendor.’ Sales took off and both ‘Prelude’ and ‘Splendor’ landed on a couple of Amazon’s category e-book best-seller lists.”
In fact, it’s all been going so well that McGirt will upload more portions of his mom’s back catalog and release her next romance online only.
“I recommend it to others,” McGirt said, “but first, be sure you’ve written the best book you can. Then decide what tasks you will do yourself and what it might be better to hire someone else to do. Realize you’re in charge of the whole process.”
Just do it
Atlanta mom Shelli Johannes-Wells, 41, gave up a lucrative career in corporate America and traded it for time with her children and her love of writing. She’d seen the other side of publishing and became so frustrated with it that she opted to self-publish her book “Untraceable.”
“I realized after almost 10 years of attempting to get published, I was in the same place,” Johannes-Wells said. “Personally, I felt my book needed to be out. It’s a teen wilderness story that touches on the issue of conservation of nature and animals. Professionally, I needed to move forward in my writing.”
Within the first month, “Untraceable” hit Amazon’s best-sellers list.
“Seeing my book right under Suzanne Collins [‘Hunger Games’] was a huge moment for me,” Johannes-Wells said. “In six months, I’ve sold almost 10,000 copies, been nominated for Young Adult Georgia Author of the Year and just been named the winner of the Indie Reader Discovery Awards for Young Adult.”
Johannes-Wells took her corporate marketing experience and put it to good use. She researched the best way to construct the book and launch it online. To ensure a high-quality product, she farmed out the formatting, hired a designer to create the cover and invested in marketing and professional editing.
“At first, it was hard to get past the stigma of self-publishing,” Johannes-Wells said, “but once Kirkus Reviews gave it a great review, I think people in the industry started to come around and take notice that, just because a book doesn’t make it in the Big Six publishing houses, does not mean it isn’t good or it won’t sell.”
“Uncontrollable,” the second book in the series, is scheduled for e-release in September.
“It has been hard work, but it is paying off. I’ve loved the process, and knowing I did it all myself is a great accomplishment,” she said.
Secrets of success
Even though Michael Alvear has been published in Newsweek and The New York Times and made regular appearances on National Public Radio, the author was at the end of his rope when he decided to give online self-publishing a shot. Virtually penniless, he scraped together the funds to hire a graphic artist to design a book cover and get his work online.
“I’m definitely of the belief that you hire someone to do what you cannot,” Alvear said from his home in Midtown. “Nothing screams amateur like a bad book cover. It devalues the work, in my opinion.”
Alvear’s experience proved so positive that he is now sharing the secrets of his success and in late April released “Make a Killing on Kindle,” a guerrilla guide to selling books on Amazon.
It peaked at No. 5 on Amazon’s e-book best-seller list under the writing skills subcategory and has sold nearly 7,000 copies in less than two months on Amazon.
“I know those numbers don’t sound staggering, but I’ve made more money by self-publishing my works online than I ever did as a columnist,” Alvear said.
TOOLS FOR e-Book SELF-PUBLISHING
Smashwords: E-book publishing and distribution platform that has distribution agreements with Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, Sony and other e-book stores with an average “affiliate” royalty rate of 70 percent, 85 percent for purchases via www.smashwords.com, and it’s free to download .
iBooks Author: A surefire way to get your work on iTunes with a royalty rate of 70 percent and available as a free download for Mac owners at www.apple.com/ibooks-author.
LuLu: Get your e-book into Apple’s iBookstore through Lulu and sell it in Lulu’s Marketplace. Going this way will get you only half of your royalties, but you’ll gain exposure in two markets. Free to download at www.lulu.com.
Xlibris: This publishing service comes with a live person and fees starting around $299. They help design your book, and once you approve it, it’s yours and you can sell it wherever and to whomever. See www2.xlibris.com for pricing packages.
Amazon KDP (Kindle Digital Platform): Books self-published through KDP can participate in the 70 percent royalty program and are available for purchase on Kindle devices and Kindle apps for iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, PC, Mac, BlackBerry and Android-based devices. See https://kdp.amazon.com to download.
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