To the many Indie authors out there struggling to find that right combination of word count, plot, and characters to finally jump onto the bestseller list you so crave, don’t get in such a hurry! We can’t all be immediate success stories. (Though some of us might!)
The road to where I am now has been a bit bumpy but maybe sharing it will inspire some of you to keep plodding along.
Back in 2003, my career in the corporate world was interrupted when my husband took us all to China to live for almost five years. I didn’t mind—I was excited to get off the American fast track for a while and I planned to use that time to fulfill a few goals.
- Learn the language
- Work in an orphanage
- Write a children’s book
What I didn’t plan on was that working with abandoned children would rock my world and shake my soul to the core. My life became wrapped around my obsession of making their little lives a bit better. The children’s story I was writing was put on the backburner and I spent that time journaling about life in the orphanage and the kids who were stealing my heart.
Later, those journal entries were put together in a memoir, titled Silent Tears; A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage.
I self-pubbed it in 2008 and it sold thousands right out of the gate. Amazon approached me and offered a contract, and I became one of their first AmazonEncore authors. The book was re-launched in 2010 and HMH even picked up print rights in 2011. The book hit 50,000 sales this year and still holds a fair ranking with currently 222 (5) Star reviews on Amazon.
In the meantime, we had returned to the states and I was struggling physically and psychologically from all that I had witnessed in China. My health took a bad turn with intense neurological pain, back pain, insomnia, etc.. Even though I didn’t want to, I took a very stressful job as an executive assistant in another Human Resource department and went back to my old life.
With the success of my memoir, I realized how much I loved writing and would like to do it forever. I used my free time to promote the memoir and build my platform by getting very involved in the online community of people interested in China. I also did many speaking events to talk about my work and how to do something different in life.
Despite the continued success of the book, I was still unhappy until I figured out that in order for me to feel at peace with myself, I needed to get back to volunteer work. I joined an organization and returned to advocating for children in any small way I could find, while continuing to fine tune my craft of writing by participating in online writing communities and taking Creative Writing courses.
I also buckled down and wrote a novel titled Chasing China. I submitted it to my agent and she wasn’t thrilled with it, but she sent it on to Amazon. They declined it. I was shattered. But then I pulled up my bootstraps, sent it through an editor (Red Adept) and self-pubbed it myself in November 2011. With a huge boost from using the KDP free days that gave away 30k copies and pushed it up into the rankings, as well as a few well-placed advertisements and a blog tour, that book has sold over 10k copies.
Consecutively with the Chasing China project, I worked with an artist in Budapest and put together my first children’s book. It published a month or so after Chasing China, titled Mei Li and the Wise Laoshi. While it has not been a huge income provider, the story filled a need in me to write something to help children deal with the issues of adoption and bullying. With each book that goes out, (and I’ve given away 25,000 free ones!), it just feels good.
So I was doing okay but I was determined to prove I could write something else. Something better. Something that Amazon Publishing would want! I found myself interested in the travesty of trafficked children as child brides in China, so I wrote A Thread Unbroken. I’d lost confidence in my ability to attract a publisher, so thought it would be another self-pubbed title. I worked with Red Adept again, and let Streetlight Graphics design a beautiful cover. But then I remembered I needed to at least let Amazon take a look. This time I bypassed my agent and sent it directly to my Amazon editor. He immediately offered a contract. It was published last month and is doing fair. (Oh, and they let me keep my SG cover because it was so pretty!)
I also took the time to expand a short story to a novella and published The Bridge. It did very well!
With what I was bringing in monthly in royalties from those five titles as an incentive, I once again left the corporate world to focus full-time on volunteer work and writing. With all the success I’d read about short stories and novellas to fill the gaps for writers, I decided to write another novella. I spent two months just writing 17,000 words and then per my Amazon contract, ran it by my editor so he could say no and allow me to self-pub it. While he was reviewing it, I worked with PhatPuppy Art for a cover and secured a slot with a copyeditor.
I was surprised when my Amazon editor emailed and asked for a phone call. Most of our communication is done online but he wanted to talk. A few days later he told me he thought my novella was great, but there was just one problem; it was too short. I told him my plan was to make a series of novellas just to bring in some additional income. He said if I was interested in the book being picked up by Amazon, he wouldn’t promise anything but he wanted to see it again if I decided to lengthen it. He also gave me some insight into what in the book he’d like to see more of, etc..
Gone was my plan to publish the book as a novella and instead I concentrated on building it into a novel. The editor’s other idea was to add more historical facts, which took a lot of time to research. But over a few more months, I not only lengthened the book to 70k words, I also wrote the second book in the series (90k words) and an outline for book 3. I sent all of it to the editor and waited, holding my breath, for his feedback. I took those few weeks that he was considering it to write a novella, called Train To Nowhere, which I did self-pub.
The rest of the story is the kicker. My editor came back with positive feedback and a few weeks ago I signed a contract for a 3-book deal with Amazon Publishing. The first book in the trilogy will be released mid-2013! Of course you know we can’t give out details but let’s just say that I couldn’t be happier with the terms, making this one of the most amazing Christmas seasons my family has ever had.
The moral of the story is this. Never give up or cut corners. What was going to be a few novellas bringing in a few hundred each month has turned into an Amazon-Published trilogy with the possibility of being my most successful project yet.
So if I could leave you with any advice it would be to SET GOALS! I’ve learned that we aren’t here just to float along and wait for life to happen, we are supposed to go out and Make It Happen!
Good luck to you if you are on the publishing journey and if there are any questions I can answer, I’d be glad to share what I’ve learned. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all!
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