Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

“Reading and writing are acts of empathy and faith. Guard that trust carefully — in this rapidly changing business, it’s the only sure thing.” ~Erin Keane
"Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in." ~ Louise Brown

"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it."
~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Sunday, May 23, 2010

How I Got Published after Giving up on the Dream

I posted about this once before here, but I thought I'd go into more detail on how I happened to publish a book that would never have gotten picked up by an agent, never gotten a publishing deal and in fact was rejected numerous times as being "too short," "too personal," and "not marketable." Even WiDo Publishing's distributor didn't want it, saying, "I can't sell books like that. I had one similar to it. The author promoted, did signings and everything, but he barely sold 1000 copies. So thanks but no thanks."

Truthfully, I had given up on ever being published. What I like to write, and what I like to read aren't generally the kinds of books being published in today's climate. (why I read mostly classics) I just got lucky with Farm Girl.. And since then, I've been looking really hard to find other unlikely books that snuck through the cracks to somehow see the light of publication. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert is one of them. What an amazing surprise hit that was! Who would have thought that a book written by a depressed divorcee heading off to find spiritual healing through eating pasta and washing floors at an ashram would become a bestseller?

At first, I didn't intend Farm Girl to be published. I planned on putting together a little printed booklet of my mom's stories to surprise her on her 90th birthday, and to pass out to family members. Until it came together and I saw the possibilities. That's when I submitted it to several small and regional presses, thinking they might be interested. No dice. But then, through a series of (fortunate) events, an investor saw it and wanted to launch a publishing company with this unlikely little book as the first release. And since my family members had been involved in the editing and design, he wanted them on board as editors and as the typesetting/design team. I got sucked in later on and now work as an editor for WiDo Publishing.

Now I'd love to tell a rags to riches story here about how Farm Girl went from being the book nobody wanted to publish to the book that everybody wanted to read. Hahahahahhahahahhaha *laughing hysterically* That's not what happened. Although I always hold out hope lol!! And there were people who read it who said, "You can sell a million copies of this book!" (What were they smoking? Nothing, they were little old ladies who read it and loved it. Not a huge book-buying demographic. Oh, and one 12 year-old fantasy-loving girl who couldn't believe she liked it so much.)

Farm Girl sold well beyond 1000 copies and still sells. It has something that appeals to readers of all ages. It touches the heart. But it would never have gotten an agent or a publisher through traditional means. It still wouldn't snag an agent, if that's what I wanted, because sales aren't remarkable. But the publisher wasn't expecting a bestseller. He wanted it as a first release and as learning tool. He also wanted everyone involved to be on board with future releases.  WiDo remains a very small company, with only 4 books out, two of them mine, and several more planned for release this year, with another half dozen in editing. The investor is very cautious and careful and picky.

No, Farm Girl isn't the big seller an author dreams of, but I felt vindicated after all those initial rejections when the first review came out in the Omaha Reader, saying "It concerns real life, relatively ordinary activities, drawn with the precision of a Norman Rockwell painting." And I feel rewarded every time someone who reads it contacts me and tells me what it meant to them.

Moral of this too long as usual story? I'm not sure the post got too long and I forgot my point-- you tell me. Never give up on your dreams? Write what you want regardless of the market? Just because you can't get an agent doesn't mean you can't get a publisher? Whatever the moral is, I hope that my experience gives encouragement to others who feel rejected by the current publishing climate, perhaps because they're writing something that just isn't selling right now.

(I'm fascinated by other writers' paths to publication, especially when it falls outside the box. If you have a story you want to share, contact me because I'm thinking of doing a series of feature interviews on writers who have gotten published by luck or chance or through nontraditional channels.)

42 comments:

  1. Good for you for sticking it out!

    A wise author once told me not to hold out for an agent - go after a publisher first. (And she does have an agent, too.)

    I started with subsidy publishing, which is the kiss of death for over 99% of the writers who take that path. I was lucky to land a deal with a new small publisher who not only wanted my non-fiction, but took on the series I'd so foolishly begun with a subsidy press. (I'm one of only three authors there with more in the works.)

    I'm under no delusions I'll ever be a best seller. Only 300 authors in America make their living as an author. (Not good odds!) So that I can make it as an author AND a speaker I think is pretty darned good! So I'm happy.

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  2. Diane, I think I'd like to feature these kinds of small, start-up presses on my sidebar. It can be a place for authors who have something good but a little different to research. Who is your publisher?

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  3. That's a pretty remarkable story. I envy you Karen, I really do. I have a book which, I imagine, will never be picked up. It is out to a few agents, but I really do not hold many hopes. A frequent response to my queries are, "I'm afraid we can't take on anything that won't be easy to sell." Then why have so many of my readers devoured it in one sitting because they couldn't put it down? I really don't want to sound like I'm boasting here, I'm just genuinely confused.

    Why is my book difficult to sell? Why? If they would only read it. On the outside it seems odd. When condensed into a couple of paragraphs it seems bland in comparison to its actual content. If only I could portray the intense emotional rollercoaster my protagonist faces in my story in a couple of words - if only. I've been querying for a year, I'm almost ready to shelve it. And I feel incredibly sad. :(

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  4. Great post, Karen...inspirational...makes me want to look in other directions for a couple pieces. :)

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  5. This is such a wonderful thing you are doing here for other writers, Karen, because you are right. Out of the thousands of us who write and wish to be published, only a handful are lucky enough to find an agent/publisher. Notice I didn't say talented enough, because talent has little to do with it. I chose self-publishing because I couldn't snag an agent. My memoir has almost sold out of its first printing. If this had been about the money, I'd be a dismal failure. But it's about reaching people who can connect with my story. And that is happening, one book at a time. Thanks for all you're doing here.
    Karen

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  6. That is an awesome story. Lots of money would be great, but sometimes it just isn't about the cash.

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  7. thanks for this post!

    how wonderful to have been the first book printed by this publisher.

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  8. Thanks for the inspirational push, Karen.

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  9. Awww - this is really great!

    Brilliant post and fab inspirational story of how Farm Girl was published. I love this story - it shows guts and courage and taking chances - all paying off - well done you and well done WiDo!

    take care
    x

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  10. Jessica, I hope you will research many of the small presses that might be a good fit for your work. Many of them will accept unagented submissions, since they're unable to pay out the kind of advances that attract agents.

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  11. What's the likelyhood of a small press taking on an author that lives in Greece though? Probably pretty slim, I'd imagine. What do you think?

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  12. Jessica, well you do speak English lol, so that's a plus! If you published with a press in the U.S., your book would need to be marketed online since foreign rights might be difficult to obtain right off. So you're doing the right thing by creating a large following to your blog, any publisher would consider that as potential buyers for your books. Right now WiDo is really pushing its authors to get on social media. Bookstore sales are tough for even established authors these days and really tough for the unknown. So a lot of sales are happening online which is a benefit for someone like you living out of the country.

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  13. (I said that about speaking English because WiDo gets a lot of submissions from foreign countries where clearly English is their second language. Very *like impossible* to edit."

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  14. Wonderful post, Karen and interesting reading your conversation with Jessica.

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  15. Thanks for sharing your story. You're just at the early stage of your writing journey. You'll keep writing and submitting and printing. One of these days, something will take off I'm sure. Few have it happen with their first books.

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  16. Hi! Saw a referral to your blog on Alex J. Cavanaugh's blog. Now following. :)

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  17. Wonderful, inspiring story I'm tucking away for a rainy day...I don't understand how some books get published. I mean, there's nothing there...just blah. Then, I read excerpts from various blogs and think this far outshines lots of the blah on shelves. I sometimes think publishers create a market that forces writers to either comply with blah or look elsewhere.

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  18. Awesome, inspiring post. It gives hope to me and others and I thank you for sharing it. :)

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  19. If you aren't an inspiration to the masses, I don't know who is. Well, apart from Walter Knight on my blog, but you've already read that :)

    Well done, Karen. Perseverance, is indeed an invaluable asset.

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  20. Melinda GardinerMay 23, 2010 at 7:54 PM

    To me, your story isn't a story of mere luck or chance. It's a testament to first doing all you can do and then letting/making things fall into place after that. It's being prepared for the opportunity before it comes. I'm certainly trying to follow your lead on that one, Karen...I can't say I've been successful, however...not YET anyway. My mantra: first write the book - then make it sell. I've got the first part down. :)

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  21. I love that you didn't give up! That's the most inspirational part of this. Who cares that it didn't instantly become a bestseller. If you can reach even one person with your writing, that's a best seller. Well done.

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  22. I'm glad you persevered! And I think it's really cool that your book is a collection of your mom's stories- that's really sweet and personal.

    Thanks for sharing!

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  23. Great story and this is the time for writers to explore other options to be published. E-books are opening up the market for many writers. There are loads of good editors and designers out there that can help create a professional saleable book. I think small presses will always be around.

    Kudos for not giving up. Cheers, Simon.

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  24. Great positive post... and good luck to WiDo.. and more books.. keep plugging away!

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  25. I hadn't read about that part of your journey before. Thanks for sharing!

    Do you laugh at the guy who predicted you couldn't sell a thousand copies when you exceeded it?

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  26. Gosh, not sure what is going on with comments today. I am adding them to wrong ones. I hope I get this one right!

    Interesting post, you have done well. Good on you!

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  27. this is a great reminder that there are so many different routes to getting published!

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  28. An inspiring story - and the moral, I think, is to write what you want/have to write ...

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  29. I think it's great that you worked your way AROUND the system and got your book out there. I like the idea, too, that a small publisher is looking for things like that--the gems the big guys won't take a chance on.

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  30. Thats a very inspiring post, Karen, its so important to believe in your own story.

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  31. This is a great story, Karen. You know mine already - I don't have an agent, and I definitely have taken a roundabout route, through non-fiction to fiction, where I really want to be. There are many paths to publication, and lots of different ways to get there. Thanks for sharing your route!

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  32. You always put up the most interesting and useful posts. The road to publication certainly isn't an easy one in today's world. The key to getting there is a powerful story that's superbly written. Simple as that (lol) !!

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  33. I think we can do our best on the writing end of things. On the publishing side, it pretty much needs to be in front of the right person at the right time. So there's a bit of luck and/or fate in that.

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  34. Thanks for an encouraging post. It's something I really need right now :)

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  35. Encouraging story – I’m glad you stuck it out. I feel the path to publication also includes luck – being in the right place at the right time. I happened to meet my small traditional publisher when my stars were in perfect alignment!)

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  36. @KarenG; Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment on Barbara's post.
    Loved your own post, as it's kind of close to what I'm doing right now. I write children's books and as Irish publishers don't publish picture-books, I decided to set up my own publishing company, to publish my own. It has been a great experience and book number 3 is out in Autumn. Great to hear of your own experiences too.

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  37. Thank you so much for sharing! This post was very inspirational and I applaud your resilience. Thanks again! :)

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  38. I love your "how I got published" story!

    I have a shout out to you on my blog today. Thanks for all your help to the rest of us!

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  39. Julie,

    Thanks! I thought of you and how you wanted to hear the whole story and all i had posted was that little bit. So yeah, here it is!

    Karen

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  40. Thank you for sharing your story! I'm also inspired when I hear different paths, because it reminds me: I'm making my own path, I'm making my own path. Each of us do, but sometimes we yearn for something different.

    Thanks for the reminder to be true to ourselves!

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  41. Great story! I'm actually researching small presses more and more. I'm beginning to think they are the wave of the future!

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