(Debbi has been one of the bright spots of my indie journey, both for her mystery fiction and her professional comportment. While she's here, I am over at her Midlist Life blog, making wildly speculative predictions about the future of publishing and giving away three digital comics as well as Kindle giveaway entries. If you're on Twitter today, follow the "#pubfuture" meme for even wilder guesses!)
Debbi Mack is the author of Identity Crisis, a hardboiled mystery novel in which Maryland attorney Stephanie Ann "Sam" McRae gets in over her head while investigating murder and identity theft in one of her cases. Five Uneasy Pieces is her first short story collection. It includes her Derringer Award nominated story "The Right to Remain Silent," as well as stories she's had published in two of the Chesapeake Crimes anthologies. The collection also includes an excerpt from Least Wanted, the next Sam McRae mystery.
A "recovering attorney" who practiced law for nine years, Debbi has also worked as a journalist, librarian and freelance writer/researcher. Her Web site is http://www.debbimack.com and she blogs about her adventures in authorship.
Stumbling Into Indie Author Publishing
I'd like to thank Scott for letting me post here today. I've been a big fan of his work since I read THE SKULL RING and DRUMMER BOY. Since Scott's focus is on indie authorship, I thought I'd share my story about how I ended up taking the indie path to publishing.
I'd like to say it was part of a big plan, but it wasn't. It wasn't planned, it wasn't a big political statement and I wasn't thumbing my nose at the traditional publishing world. It just seemed like a sensible thing to do at the time.
I started off about 13 years ago, after finishing my first novel, looking for an agent. The mantra back then was "Don't self-publish! It'll kill your career." So I queried and got rejections, multiple times. I got a few nibbles from agents who wanted to see the manuscript, but ultimately the answer was no.
So, instead of continuing to send that manuscript out, I worked on another story with the same protagonist. This novel was titled IDENTITY CRISIS and I thought it was better than the first one. So I queried agents and got nothing but rejections this time. Not even nibbles.
As I was going through all this, I had the opportunity to submit a short story as a blind submission for the anthology CHESAPEAKE CRIMES. My story was accepted and I was thrilled. My first actual fiction publishing credit. So I managed to stumble into getting my first fiction published by being in the right place at the right time.
Then, I submitted IDENTITY CRISIS to the publisher who issued the anthology. It was accepted and I was even more thrilled. I signed a three-book contract to do a series of Sam McRae novels. The novel was released in June 2005. During the (ever too brief) time it was in print, it got some great online reviews and reader reviews. My joy, however, was short lived as the publisher that released it failed to pay its authors royalties about nine months after the book was released. It was clear that the situation was bad, so I requested my rights back. Thus, my novel went out of print. And the small press soon went out of business.
In any case, since I'd been revising the first novel to make it the next in the series, I finished working on that and began a third Sam McRae novel (called LEAST WANTED). The third novel ended up being better than the first one, too. Hold that thought and I'll get back to it, in a moment.
As I went through the process of querying and sometimes talking to agents, I kept hearing them say, "We're not interested in a dead series. Write a stand alone." They didn't use those words exactly, but that's what I was hearing between the lines. That seemed weird, because I'd always thought that mystery readers liked series books. Well, anyway ... as I was looking for another agent or small publisher (who'd take submissions directly from authors), I went ahead and wrote a stand alone novel. A crime caper.
Meanwhile, the CHESAPEAKE CRIMES anthology (which was published by that same small press that went under -- remember?) was reissued through Lulu.com. I figured why not reissue my own novel through Lulu, since I thought it deserved another chance. So I did. Shortly before I actually published the book in July 2009, I heard about publishing ebooks for Kindle through Joe Konrath's blog. That seemed like a really good idea, given the incredible growth in the ebook market. I'd been keeping track of these things. So, again, I stumbled across the right resource at the right time and knew it was good idea to act based on having the right information.
I figured I'd market and promote my first novel and try to build a readership. Meanwhile, I continued to query agents and small publishers. I had two novels to pitch and I was working on a fifth novel -- an unusual thriller. I figured I'd put Sam McRae stories on the back burner until I found an agent or publisher. I was getting a few more nibbles this time. Agents were asking to see partial or full manuscripts. And I was getting the loveliest rejections. Things like, "You are a really talented writer. Your characters are interesting, the plot is well-paced and well thought out. And you have a really distinctive voice. But ..." No matter how lovely the rejection, there was always a "but" followed by "I'm just not in love with it" or "it's just not quite what I'm looking for" or ... well, fill in the blank.
At some point, it occurred to me that it might take years to find an agent or publisher (assuming I ever did). Marketing and promoting IDENTITY CRISIS would only take me so far. Sure there have been one-hit wonder authors, but I wasn't Harper Lee and my book wasn't TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. It seemed important to keep new work coming out. So, when I could, I worked on short stories. I sort of stumbled into writing those just to keep my name out there. And I managed to get two more of those published through MWA-approved publishers.
However, I still couldn't find an interested buyer for LEAST WANTED or the crime caper. So, I gave it some thought, and when I looked at my ebook sales and considered the possibilities for marketing those and even my print book online, I realized something. I asked myself, "Why am putting so much energy and time into querying agents and publishers who may or may not like my work? Isn't the whole point to appeal to readers? And why can't I do that through grass roots marketing?"
I'd run two businesses already -- a law office and a freelance writing business -- so I knew something about marketing and promotion from that.
Okay, so I wouldn't get big bookstore distribution. I knew traditionally published authors whose books weren't showing up routinely (or at all) at Barnes & Noble or Borders. And as for marketing and promotion, most Big Six authors get very little support from their publishers. I knew this from talking to other authors who'd been completely let down by their publishers. As their sales numbers dwindled, their publishers became even less interested in them.
So, even though I knew it would be difficult, I decided to take the plunge and become an indie author. And I decided to publish LEAST WANTED (the better of my two other Sam McRae stories) as the sequel to IDENTITY CRISIS.
Oh, and since I'd written all those short stories, I recently stumbled into publishing a collection of them as an ebook called FIVE UNEASY PIECES. The collection includes two stories from the CHESAPEAKE CRIMES anthologies and one that was nominated for a Derringer Award this year. Talk about feeling validated! :)
I had absolutely no idea at the time I reissued IDENTITY CRISIS that the ebook version would go on to become the #1 hardboiled mystery on Amazon and sustain that rank for quite a stretch of time. I had no idea that I'd sell more than 8,300 downloads of the book in a year and three months. I had no idea at the time of the possibilities for indie authors. But I do now.
As part of today's guest posting gig, Debbi will be giving away a free autographed copy of IDENTITY CRISIS to a randomly drawn winner who leaves a comment here. The winner will be announced on her blog, My Life on the Mid-List at http://midlistlife.wordpress.com/ this coming Saturday.