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How I First Published: Robin Johns Grant

First time holding a copy of my first book,  Summer's Winter.
First time holding a copy of my first book, Summer’s Winter.

This is the first in what I hope  to be a regular series of posts in which authors tell us about their first publication experience. I’m going first, experimenting on myself, as usual. If you’re a published author–indie, traditional, small press, whatever–and would like to be featured, use the Contact tab at the top of the page and let me know. You would be answering these same questions–and can plug  any current project you would like to, naturally! Your book(s) don’t have to be specifically Christian, but I won’t feature books that are offensive or contrary to a mainstream Christian worldview. Hey, it’s my blog, right?

HOW I FIRST PUBLISHED

What was your first published novel?

Summer’s Winter, which I published in January of this year. I just happen to have the tagline handy: When preacher’s daughter Jeanine meets her obsession, movie star Jamie, his dark secrets threaten her faith and her life.

I call it a love story wrapped in a mystery. When forced to choose a genre for it, I have to choose Christian romantic suspense. There is most definitely love and suspense!

Was it a traditional publishing contract or did you go indie?

After trying to land a traditional publishing contract for literally decades, I finally went indie, although I used Story Merchant Books to do the publishing work for me instead  of doing everything myself.

How did that come about?

It came at the end of an incredibly long and winding road. If you want to know more about that journey, click on the tab at the top of this page that says The Queen’s Archives. That’s my old blog, from the days I was trying so desperately to land a contract and dealing with frustration and particularly with learning to trust and wait on the Lord. This post is my announcement that I had finally decided to go Indie. I was afraid my writer friends would see me as a quitter, but they’ve been very supportive.

But I digress. As I reached one of those points in my life when I was ready to give up on the whole thing and take up knitting or quilting or almost anything other than writing, I went to a Nancy Grace book signing. Nancy is a well-known TV personality and has her own show on HLN, as well as having written two NYT best-selling suspense novels. She is also a childhood friend of mine. She asked about my writing and then, hallelujah!—she offered to help me.

Now, if I was telling any story other than my own life story, at this point Nancy would have gotten me a fat publishing contract and I, too, would be a best-selling author today. I would also have lived happily ever after. Possibly in a castle.

But this is my life story and if there’s one thing God wants to teach me, it’s patience. Nancy referred me to a man named Ken Atchity, who has worn many hats: writer, literary agent,  publicist, even film producer. He suggested major edits to the manuscript of Summer’s Winter, and then when we both thought it was in great shape, he gave me a choice. Choice one, he would represent me as a traditional literary agent. But he warned me that the traditional publishing model was getting harder and harder for a new writer to break into. I should be prepared to…guess what…WAIT. It might take a long time. Choice two, I could go ahead and get Summer’s Winter out there. Based on what he was seeing happen in the publishing world, he believed not only that indie authors can be successful these days, but also that traditional publishers get a lot of their new talent by scooping up successful indie authors. It sort of stinks, but it also makes sense from their point to sign authors who have already proved they can market their books—and write stories that people want to read.

So, I opted to go indie and see what would happen. I was just coming off an unsuccessful five-year stint with another agent and was ready to try something different.

How did this first publication make you feel? Has it been as good as you expected, or a letdown, or exhausting, for example?

All of the above! Plus just about every other emotion you can imagine. I have loved interacting with readers who enjoyed Summer’s  Winter.

 

It's a great book. Really. I swear.
It’s a great book. Really. I swear.

I’ve had really exciting times when I was receiving good reviews and selling well. Probably the most exciting thing to me was that John Granger, who writes books of literary analysis and is a Harry Potter expert, read my book, loved it, and interviewed me on his blog! What an honor that was! (I mean, hey, this man is an expert on REAL literature!)

And then there have been times like this past week, when sales and reviews have dried up and I’m incredibly frustrated again. I never would have dreamed how much time it takes to market a book. I have a full-time job as a librarian, and I feel like marketing is another full-timer. And oh yeah, I need to squeeze in family and writing more books somewhere!

When you self-publish, you can feel it’s all on your shoulders, that you’re bearing the burden alone. Fortunately I belong to a wonderful Christian marketing group called  the John 3:16 Marketing Network. Just today, they were reminding me that it’s NOT all in my hands, but in God’s. I should know that myself, but sometimes you need brothers and sisters around to remind you.

Tell us what’s happened with your writing journey since.

I finished writing my next book, Jordan’s Shadow, which is a creepy gothic young adult novel. It’s still in the hands of two traditional publishers who have shown interest, but the process is just so slow. I’m trying to decide whether to keep waiting on them or continue this indie path. It’s still up in the air right now. I also just started writing the sequel to Summer’s Winter.

 

 

 

 

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Self-Publishing Explosion: Good or Bad for Readers?

Reading a Kindle in the beautiful sunshine.
Reading a Kindle in the beautiful sunshine. Used under Creative Commons License from tripu on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tripu/8661744360/

I keep reading about the huge shift that’s happening in the publishing world, mainly due to the explosion of indie books. One figure said there are at least 3,500 books being published in the U.S. every day, and that figure isn’t complete because not all of the self-published books will have an ISBN and be counted.

Usually I hear discussions of what this means to authors—whether they can make more money self-publishing than with a traditional contract, whether they should jump on board the self-publishing train, how they should tackle the marketing.

But I started wondering…just what does this self-publishing explosion mean for readers, for the people who need to decide where to spend their precious book money?

Partially it depends on where you buy your books. If you still mainly get your books from a physical bookstore or a library, you may be missing the publishing revolution altogether. It’s still deadly hard for an indie author to get their work into those physical venues, for a variety of reasons. But if this describes you, did you know you’re in a very small minority—that most people buy their books online these days?

And the biggest retailer by far is, of course, Amazon.

So if you buy from Amazon or another online retailer—whether ebooks or print—you are now faced with far more reading choices than ever. Thousands more choices in any genre or style or cross-over than you could imagine. Self-published mingled with small presses mingled with traditional offerings from large houses—sometimes hard to tell apart unless you really do your research.

For you, the reader, is that good or bad? Again…it depends.

The very idea of all those self-published books out there, with no quality controls at all, just flung out there willy-nilly by anyone with a computer and the ability to type, may fill you with a nameless dread. They’re bound to be chock full of mistakes and bad writing, right? If they weren’t, their authors would get a real publishing contract, wouldn’t they?

I won’t lie. That’s probably true for some of the books out there. But let me ask you something. If you’ve mainly been reading the popular current fiction, or genre fiction put out by traditional houses, do you ever start to feel a little…let down? As though you’re reading the same thing over and over? Do those books ever seem a little bland and predictable?

As a reader myself, I had frankly been growing less and less enthusiastic about reading. I even noticed something strange I was starting to do. I would read a book all the way until the last couple of chapters and then quit. I wasn’t hating the book, and I had stuck with it that long. But there didn’t even seem any reason to read the last chapter, because without even reading it, I could tell you exactly what was going to happen to wrap things up.

As I started going to writers’ conferences—where we were warned about the evils of self-publishing and not “learning our craft”—one of the teachers on writing romantic suspense basically gave a laundry list of what a romantic suspense book must contain. (For example, the heroine has to be in a certain age range, and she must have an interesting profession.) In the climax, the heroine must be backed into a corner and her life endangered by the villain, and her hero must come to her aid, but she must not be passive. She should find a way to escape or to at least help overcome the villain. And then she and the hero come together in triumph and love.

Then I realized—that’s why I was putting those books down when I reached the predictable ending.

That’s also why my romantic suspense book, in which I tried to dash people’s expectations of the predictable ending, was getting turned down with suggestions for rewrites.

As blogger Jack Woe wrote, “A publisher’s job is to sell books. It’s safer to choose books that fit into the current trend than to take a chance, even though the chances tend to create trends when they’re successful…I don’t want to read the same story over and over and over again, only written by different authors. I want something new.”

Of course, as Hugh Howey points out, when you look at traditional vs. self-published books, you’re comparing “the tip of one iceberg (the books that made it through the gauntlet and into bookstores) with an entire iceberg (all self-published books).” In other words, readers now become the judges of what’s good and what they should read—but that means they’re faced with that huge slush pile that publishers usually wade through for them.

But there is more good news for readers. First of all, with Amazon ebooks, you can sample the books for free and check out whether the story grabs you, or whether it’s poorly written. Many times, you can get the whole book for free, or for a very low price. It’s a lot less of a commitment to sample and look for that one shining gem.

And instead of picking up a book in a store and seeing nothing but the blurbs and descriptions the publisher wanted to see, we now have reader reviews! If a book is poorly written, some reviewer is going to tell you so. And if a book can rise to the top of an Amazon list and be self-published, you know that book has something special, probably something new and refreshing, that’s grabbing readers’ attention.

So yes, as both a reader and an author, I’m excited about the new world of publishing.

What do you think? Have you read any self-published books? What have your reading experiences been—good or bad?

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