So many people today are blogging, tweeting and self-publishing that some don’t know what it’s like to work with a publisher.
I’ve had plenty of my writing rejected, but I’ve also had the good fortune to have two novels and one travel book purchased by major publishers. Purchased is the key word here. It used to work this way: you’d write a book because you had something to say or a story to tell; you would send out letters to literary agents hoping one would represent you to publishers; if you were lucky enough to land an agent, he or she would shop your book to publishers. If you were then lucky enough to receive a contract from a publisher, the agent would receive anywhere from 12% to 20% for his successful efforts on your behalf.
Back in the day, self-publishing was called “vanity publishing,” and not considered a literary credential. After all, you weren’t being paid for your work, you were paying for it to be published by what was basically a print shop.
E-books changed all that. There are now plenty of success stories about books uploaded onto e-format by their writers. They are often sold for as little as $0.99 at first, or even free. Some grow popular by reader acclaim, some are discovered by traditional, “mainstream” publishers, who then offer to publish the book on paper.
My books are a blend of both formats. Some years ago, I found an agent who obtained for me a two-book, hard/soft cover deal from the prestigious publisher Little, Brown. My books were not best-sellers, but I was picked up and translated by publishers in France, Germany, and South America.
After my moment in the sun, the books went out of print and the selling rights reverted to me. Now, I have uploaded them for sale on Kindle. I am not working with an agent (although I have one). I paid a few hundred dollars for scanning and formatting the hard copies of my books for uploading.
It will be interesting to see how this compares to being handled by a traditional publisher. My books sold in hard cover for $19.95 and $21.95. I sell the e-books for $3.99 and 2.99 respectively. Since the first book is Gatsby/Downton-era and the second is Mad Men-era, I don’t worry about them no longer being contemporary. They never were.
The complaint most writers have with publishers is that their books are not marketed properly — that they are largely ignored by the publishers’ sales departments unless the author is already famous. Those displays you see at the front of bookstores or at the check-out counter are generally paid for by the publisher. So best-sellers rarely occur organically. They are created by publishers who invest a lot in large print runs and lots of advertising.
Many writers (and recording artists, for that matter) are deciding to take control of their own sales even when they have publishers dying to offer them contracts. Think about Garth Brooks or Stephen King, both of whom are ground breakers in selling directly to the public (Brooks via Wal-Mart, but still…). Traditional publishers are scared of becoming obsolete, and they should be.
Because I’m old school, I still feel there’s a certain validation and prestige to being paid an advance for my book by a Warner Books or Hachette, but I could very well change my mind as my e-books continue to grow and the 5-star customer reviews accrue.
All this is to let you know that if you have a story to tell, and it’s been rejected by agents or publishers, you might still end up a best-seller by self-publishing.
About the Post Author:
Nicole McGehee was born in South Carolina, but spent most of her adult life in the Washington, DC, area. She began her career in politics as a lobbyist and event planner for several medical non-profits. Later, she worked as a speech writer and legislative aide in the U.S. House of Representatives. From there, she went to work in the West Wing of the White House.
After leaving the White House, Nicole started her own publication on business and trade in Latin America and the Caribbean. She owned the journal for seven years, then sold it shortly after signing a two-book contract with publishers Little, Brown and Company (hard cover) and Warner Books (paperback). Her books have been translated into French, Spanish and German, and were also published in the United Kingdom and Canada. In addition, her travel writing has appeared in the Washington Post, the Denver Post, the Miami Herald, and Honeymoon magazine. Nicole is co-author of The Insiders’ Guide to Washington, DC, 3rd edition.
In 1997, her first husband, Michael, died in a car accident. Devastated, Nicole sold their home in Virginia and moved to ski country in Colorado. Five years later, she met her second husband, David. They continue to live in Colorado.
Nicole has an Associate’s degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and a BA from Georgetown University in Washington, DC.