Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Debbi Mack-- Stumbling into Indie Publishing

(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.


Alex Ong said...

Wow 8,300 downloads through grass roots marketing!

Breakfast Every Hour

Bibliophile said...

Interesting article, Debbie. I enjoyed reading about your journey towards self-publishing.
With print-on-demand and e-books it has become so easy to self-publish, and as sales have shown, it is no longer death to an author's career to go it alone.

author Christa Polkinhorn said...

I loved your Five Uneasy Pieces! Identity Crisis is on my "to read" list. Congratulations on your success and I'm glad your hard work paid off!

Anonymous said...

@Alex - I know. It's astonishing. I sure didn't expect it. And people still say Twitter's a waste of time. Ha!

@Bibliophile - Thanks! Things have changed dramatically, just in the past year. Self-publishing has even gained more respectability.

@Christa - Thank you! I'm so glad you enjoyed the anthology. Hope you like my novel, too. :)

Karen Cantwell said...

DEBBI said: "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?"

YES!! Exactly, Debbi. I couldn't have said it better myself. That is why I went the Indie route. And your writing is superb, so it is no wonder you've found so many readers! Keep 'em comin'. :-)

Lynda Hilburn said...

Debbi: Thanks for an informative blog post and major congrats for following your intuition. Can't wait to read your books.


Anonymous said...

Congrats on being a successful indie author, what a great story! I've put Indentity Crisis on my Wishlist, it will be in my next pile of orders (I've already purchased my quota for the month).

Thanks to Scott for the blog tour and the introduction to Debbi!


J.T. Cummins said...

If you're here because you are a Scott Nicholson fan (aren't we all?), and you are only now discovering the name "Debbi Mack," do yourself a favor and give her a read. Her books are fun, inventive, and who doesn't like a good mystery well told?

J.T. Cummins
Author of Cobblestones

Anonymous said...

@Karen and J.T. - Thanks so much for your kind words! I'm doing all I can to keep 'em coming. :)

@Lynda and Lorraine - Thank you! And thanks for stopping by and reading my story. I hope you enjoy my books.

Jeffrey Kafer Voice overs said...

Hey Debi,

Any plans to make your books into audiobooks?

Anonymous said...


That's something I keep mulling over and never quite getting around to. One of these days, perhaps ...

Jo said...

Enjoyed the article about your publishing career.
Jo Ann
jajjmj (at) quixnet (dot) net

Anonymous said...

Thanks JoAnn and Candy!

Perhaps one of you will win the signed copy. ;)

Unknown said...

Wow. This was amazing!

Ashley's Bookshelf

bluefrog said...

I have "Five Uneasy Pieces" and I like what I've read so far. (Sometimes I save short stories to read between novels rather than reading them all at once) I love all the new authors I've found since I got my kindle. I'll have to check out some of your other books when I finish my Scott Nicholson binge.


byonge said...

That's quite a story. I urge you to keep writing. Scott's blog tour has really been working to make me aware of more independent authors. I've read "Identity Crisis," which was very entertaining. I'm looking forward to reading your other work.

Brad Yonge

Author Scott Nicholson said...

Hi Brad, glad to help, that's why we're here! Indie Book Blogs is also a great introduction to a bunch of diverse writers.

Blurfrog, didn't know a "Scott Nicholson binge" was phonetically possible!

I am glad some of you are meeting Debbi for the first time and good luck with the giveaway!


Anonymous said...

Wow! This is so awesome. Thanks to everyone who's commented so far. Looking forward to doing the drawing on Saturday at my blog.

Unknown said...

proof that even good writers have a tough time in today's publishing climate. Thanks for persevering.

booklover0226 said...

Hello, Debbi.

Since I've been living under a rock, you are a new author for me. Your works sound great and I look forward in reading them.

Tracey D
booklover0226 at gmail dot com

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Shirley! Publishing is still very much a competitive marketplace. Especially in the mystery and suspense genre.

And, Tracey, don't feel like you've been living under a rock. I'm not exactly James Patterson or Janet Evanovich. :)

Stacy said...

A friend wants to self publish so I am sending her here to read your journey.

Nadine stacypilot at yahoo dot com

Carol M said...

I enjoyed your interview and would love to read Identity Crisis! Thank you for the giveway!
mittens0831 at aol dot com

Anonymous said...

Hi! Me, again. I just wanted to thank everyone for all your comments and good wishes today. To everyone who's read my work and enjoyed it, thanks for letting me know. Nothing makes a writer (at least, this one :)) happier than knowing people like their work.

Self-publishing was probably one of the smartest career moves I've ever made, second only to publishing my work for Kindle. So, I encourage anyone who's willing to put in the time and effort to learn both the writing craft and publishing business to give it a go.

The drawing for my novel will be on Saturday, so this post remains open for any further commenters who'd like to enter their names.

Just saying ... :)

pennyt said...

Very interesting post Debbi - I guess I just hadn't noticed that the world of book publishing has changed so rapidly in the past few years.

pennyt at hotmail dot com

Kippoe said...

Your book sounds great look forward to checking it out

Vicki said...

Hi Debbi,

I bought Identity Crisis a while back. I'm slowly working my way through my TBR pile and hope to get to it soon! :)


jack59 said...

Liked your story Debbi you are an inspiration to all those authors out there who are thinking of giving it up.


Lisa Richards/alterlisa said...

While not a lover of anthologies per say, I do think that short stories are a great way to get a feel of the author's voice. I look forward to checking it out.


alterlisa AT yahoo DOT com

jrlindermuth said...

An inspiring story. Lessons here for all.

Pink Panther said...

I totally agree with you! Some so-called publishers/agents don't even take a look at the gems under their noses! It's such a waste!

You can reach me at luvpinkpanther@gmail.com

EVA SB said...

Yay for indie publishing! That is an impressive number of downloads.


Anonymous said...

As someone who has been considering going down this road for a while, this is really helpful Debbi. I'm really happy for your success - it's certainly deserved and been well-earned.

Bookhound78 said...

Great post, Debbi! I recently bought an e-reader and will check out some of your work.


Brenda Wallace said...

Wow, Debbi. Thank you for sharing your encouraging story. I've received some very lovely rejections, too. And some day, I plan to be a recovering attorney. Just looked at a sample of IDENTITY CRISIS and, man, can you write! Just got this one and will recommend it to my critique partner, too.

CJ said...

Good Work Debbie! I Think that you're seeing the very begining of the demise of 'Big Publishing'. Now authors can get the merits and rewards they deserve instead of relying on the pitance doled out by one of the old publishing houses.Of course, that check up front will be sorely missed, eh?


Anonymous said...

Wow, I continue to be overwhelmed and gladdened by all your comments and support.

And Brenda, do consider going the "recovering attorney" route. I have no regrets about it. ;)

Carol said...

Debbie, I am going to add Identity Crisis to my Amazon wishlist. Enjoyed the blog entry.


Anonymous said...

Awesome, Carol! Thank you and thanks to everyone who's expressed an interest in reading my book.

I'm posting this comment to let you know the winner of the book giveaway has been picked and announced on my blog.

And the winner is ... http://midlistlife.wordpress.com/2010/09/11/and-the-winner-is-3/ :)