In October of last year, I wrote a post titled “Dead In The Water” which gave a brief account of the end of my brief POD self-publishing adventure involving my “cozy” mystery novel, A Deed of Dreadful Note. What it said, in short, was that I was unwilling to do what I finally saw needs to be done in order to give the novel even a chance of commercial success.
In today’s Boston Globe there’s a story about one, Brunonia Barry, an author who took a similar POD self-publishing route for her first mystery novel, The Lace Reader, who was willing to do what needs to be done in order to give her novel a chance of commercial success, and ended up by having her self-published novel sold to a mainstream publisher, William Morrow, in a literary auction which netted Ms. Barry a $2M advance for the novel and for an additional one in future.
And what had to be done by Ms. Barry in order to achieve this admittedly singular result? Here’s a sampling:
Barry and [Gary] Ward [Barry’s husband] were willing to do all [that needed to be done], and spen[t] freely in the process — more than $50,000 before they were finished....
By early last year, they were ready to test the market. The manager of The Spirit of '76 Bookstore in Marblehead put them in touch with store-based book clubs, whose members said they would be willing to test-read the manuscript.
"I would go to the meetings and take notes," Barry said. "I asked them to be brutally honest: 'Where did you stop reading? Did you identify with this character? What did you think of the mother?'" With the feedback, she made some minor changes.
They incorporated their company as Flap Jacket Press and planned to release The Lace Reader last September. They set up a website and hired a copy editor, jacket designer, and book publicist, Kelley & Hall of Marblehead. They attended bookseller conventions, handing out advance copies and buttonholing booksellers. Kelley & Hall sent copies to book bloggers and trade magazines such as Publishers Weekly and promotional announcements to 700 independent bookstores.
Then last summer came two big breaks: First, Kelley & Hall helped lan[d] a deal with a Tennessee distributor, Blu Sky Media Group; second, a rave review appeared in Publishers Weekly. The Lace Reader was hailed as "a captivating debut."
Still, the couple had to close the deal with booksellers. They ordered a first printing of 2,500, then began to visit stores, trying to get them to stock the book. Among the first was Salem's Cornerstone Books.
"Sandy [Ms. Barry’s nickname] dropped her book off," said Beth Simpson, events coordinator of Cornerstone Books in Salem. "I didn't know her. I like to do an author appearance to generate interest; otherwise the book will just sit on the shelf." She arranged to have Barry do a reading, then called Salem and Marblehead newspapers, which ran stories about the reading.
"That generated incredible interest," Simpson said. "We had a handful of people a day coming in, asking if we had the book. At the appearance, we had about 40 people, which was a big crowd for an unknown author. We sold out in a blink — probably 80 to 100 books. We don't sell 80 to 100 books of Stephen King or Dennis Lehane."
Word spread. Several teachers read the book, and both Swampscott and Marblehead high schools added it to the literature curriculum.
That’s what needs to be done, all right, not to mention that the novel itself has to be worth the time, effort, and money involved.
In writing this post I don’t for an instant mean to even imply that had I done the same for my novel that it would have achieved even a small fraction of the success now enjoyed by Ms. Barry’s novel. She’s apparently a genuine writer who wrote a genuine novel, not some dilettante who turned out a tiny-niche-market genre novel on a whim; a genre novel that was more manufactured to formula than written. In writing this post it’s my intention to point out that in today’s world self-publishing need no longer be a mere exercise in vanity as it has been since forever, but is today a commercially viable publishing route for an author to follow in order to get his work out to the public and make money from the enterprise into the bargain. Perhaps not the kind of money made by Ms. Barry — in that respect, her case is quite exceptional — but enough for a genuine writer to make writing and marketing his own work a profitable fulltime occupation.
It’s a brave new publishing world out there.