More of a Marathon than a Race

Written by Kay on . Posted in A Bratt's Life

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.

  1. Learn the language
  2. Work in an orphanage
  3. 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.

Sort of.

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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Comments (15)

  • Mary Elliot

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    Congratulations, and what an amazing and inspiring story Kay.

    I’m filled with admiration, not only for your writing success, but for your much needed work with disadvantaged children who can’t speak for themselves.

    Greatest respect to you…

    Mary Elliot

    Reply

  • Jill James

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    Kay, what an inspirational story. Your covers are so lovely. Enjoy every moment of your success!!

    Reply

  • J. A. Huss

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    Kay, your story is so inspirational, not just the publishing part, either. But the China part. I’ve always thought your books were spectacular, and that Silent Tears touched my heart. I wish you all the best success in writing and publishing! Congratulation! :)

    Reply

  • Amber Dane

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    An amazing journey, thanks for sharing your inspirational story with us. Love your covers and I agree,never should we give up. So glad I came across this tonight. Congratulations and much more continued success to you, Kay!

    Reply

  • Joel Arnold

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    Congratulations, and thanks for sharing your inspiring story! Also, much thanks for all the work you do with/for children.

    Reply

  • jnfr

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    Wonderful news, and such wonderful work you continue to do. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Reply

  • Sally Clements

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    That’s a really inspiring story, Kay. Congratulations, and here’s to a fantastic 2013!

    Reply

  • Mike Dennis

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    Great story, Kay. Your devotion to the causes that live in your heart is admirable and I applaud you for it.

    However, I stopped in my tracks when you said that SILENT TEARS was self-pubbed in 2008 and “sold thousands right out of the gate”. No explanation followed as to how you sold these thousands so quickly.

    I have to admit, the rest of your message — “make it happen”, “set goals”, etc — rings fairly hollow and devoid of any meaning after that remarkable start for SILENT TEARS. Surely you know that selling “thousands out of the gate” requires much more than wishful thinking or, as so many authors like to say, “luck”. It requires nothing less than a major boost from Amazon’s internal promotional mechanism. And Amazon doesn’t hand out such promotions like flyers on a street corner. They do it only if there is considerable visibility and activity surrounding the book already, and such activity can only be initiated by the author “out of the gate”, since there is literally no one else to help you at that moment.

    Having said that, I can’t really blame you for not letting on how these books got sold in such a short period of time; I’m not sure I’d want to spill my secrets if it were me. But please don’t present yourself as having run any kind of “marathon”, rather you sprinted to your success quite nicely.

    Reply

  • Kay Bratt

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    Hi Mike!

    Thanks for stopping by. I’d be glad to address your comment. There are no hidden secrets or special formulas, and I do consider my journey a marathon. If you look at how many years between 2008 to now (my first year of real sucess), that’s quite a long time. As for how my book sold thousands right out of the gate, I should’ve addressed that. All you had to do was ask! It’s just such a long story I tried to compact as not to bore anyone. The truth is, I was unwittingly building a platform from the time I sent out my first email in 2003 as an update to what I was doing in China, what I was seeing, and what needs could be met with the children. My emails started being forwarded to many friends, neighbors, then complete strangers! The email updates (ie: Journal Entries) were very eye-opening and many people started followng my journey. When I decided to wrap it all up in one nice,neat book, that was Silent Tears. Many people had already heard about my work, and the buzz started in the adoption community and forums. Those people in the IA community are who I have to thank for the success of that book and the reason it caught Amazon’s attention.

    Therefore, if you think it was a sprint to success, I guess that is in the eye of the beholder. Though that book has sold 50,000 copies, it was years before I could write anything new because of the repercussions of my time in China.

    I’ll be glad to answer any questions you may have! If it’s tips I should be sharing, my favorite continues to be to set goals. Also authors should interact with social networks and blogs. Or at least that worked for me. It’s different for each genre. For example, my readers for the most part don’t fiddle with Twitter, but they are on Facebook.

    I hope I’ve cleared things up for you, Mike, and for anyone with any other questions, please shoot!

    Reply

  • Mike Dennis

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    Kay–Thanks for the quick reply. And thanks for explaining the success of SILENT TEARS. Your network of contacts in the adoption community, built up through your considerable efforts, was obviously the wellspring of your initial sales. However, even though you worked on building this network for a few years, it paid off immediately when you published your book. With all due respect (and I mean ALL due respect), I still consider your “out of the gate” success a sprint since it happened so quickly.

    Yes, several years have elapsed since 2008, but you had big sales right away. No toiling in the vineyards.

    I’ve also left a comment on the Kindle Boards (which was how I came to your website in the first place), in which I state my frustrations a little more starkly. I’ve heard the “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” line more often than I’ve heard “Geico can save you 15% or more on car insurance”, and I guess I just bubbled over after hearing it one time too many.

    No offense aimed at you or your successes. May you have many more.

    Reply

  • jon

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    Hi Kay, I am ecstatic for you.

    How did you get an Amazon editor?

    Can anyone approach them with a book?

    Thanks

    Jon

    Reply

  • Kay Bratt

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    Hi Jon,

    I didn’t go after Amazon, they came after me with their AmazonEncore imprint several years ago. I assume they saw the book had great sales and potential out of the gate, then offered to relaunch it.

    However, you can submit to Amazon imprints! Just go to the specific imprint you are interested in, you should find a submission link with guidelines. Good luck!

    Reply

  • Nicole

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    Kay, I just finished reading your book “Silent Tears” today and found it very heartbreaking, inspirational, and convicting all at once. We are licensed foster parents looking at adopting children with severe medical needs so that’s how I stumbled upon your book.

    A question that I had but did not find an answer to in your book… Did you and your husband ever consider adopting any of the children from the orphanage?

    Thank you for sharing your story. I will recommend your book to others and hope they too find it in their hearts to support these children or others in need of financial support and loving families!

    Blessings!

    Reply

  • Kay Bratt

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    Hi Nicole,

    Thank you for reading Silent Tears. To answer your question, yes, we did consider adoption many times. However, for the first few years I knew that if I adopted, I’d need to be available at home all the time to bond with a new child. I would have to give up my work at the orphanage and I thought that selfish at the time. Later, when I bonded with Xiao Gou, I knew to bring another child home, and not her, would be like a betrayal to her, and as you know, for many years it seems impossible that she’d ever be available for adoption. So I put the thought of adopting out of my mind. Or at least tried to. —when finally Xiao Gou’s status changed, I was living in the states again and struggling with many challenging physical issues as well as family issues. I weighed those facts along with what Xiao Gou’s future needs would be, and I knew the family who had once pushed to adopt her were still her best option. They could provide for her needs much better than I and my husband. So I approached them again and when they found out her status could possibly have changed, they were on board to adopt her again. And the pieces finally came together.

    Reply

  • Kay Bratt » Gorgeous. Outrageous. Sexy. = Not Kay

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    [...] fast and have not yet met all my goals [I've met a few more since this posted, including getting a 3-book publishing deal!] 12. I never went to a high school or college football game and I don’t know why the shoes make [...]

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