I self-published before self-publishing was cool.
Just like many wanna-be published writers years ago, I had queried literary agents to represent my memoir and received nothing but rejections. But tenacity is a long-ingrained trait and I was not to be deterred. I self-published my memoir in 2009.
Luckily, because I’d been active in online communities and had somewhat of a reputation in my field, within a few weeks, my memoir titled Silent Tears gained traction in the top 300 of all Amazon e-books. There it garnered the attention of Amazon Publishing and they offered to make me one of their very first published authors.
At first I was skeptical because I was unaware that Amazon had a publishing side. When I educated myself that it was legitimate, I was still unsure if it would benefit me long term. I reached out to a well-known agent for confirmation, then signed with her to negotiate my contract. Through her experiences in the business, I realized that Amazon Publishing was offering a fair royalty split, the perk of a marketing manager, and use of a top notch designer team for packaging. Even back then I also understood that Amazon was a machine that could reach thousands more readers than I ever could hope to on my own.
My memoir, Silent Tears; A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage, was re-launched by AmazonEncore in 2010 and even held spots in the Top 50 of Amazon’s Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store lists in Amazon US and UK. Eventually, the print rights were sub-licensed by Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt and the books have even made it into a few bookstores and hundreds of libraries across the nation and sold well over 60,000 copies.
As I worked hard to keep the buzz going on my book, I received a reality jolt when my local bookstore owner called and asked me to remove the first editions of my book from her store. She’d read about my re-launch by the Big Bad Wolf, a.k.a. Amazon Publishing, and basically said I was sleeping with the enemy.
Moving on, I spent a few years promoting Silent Tears and over time, with the increase of more websites and bloggers drawing attention to my memoir, I noticed my platform getting bigger and my sales increasing substantially. To continue building my readership, I made sure during that time (and still do) to respond to every reader email, letter, statement, or request. I also began speaking at different venues about my experiences in China.
A few years later, I wrote my first fiction book and submitted it to Amazon Publishing. I was excited about launching a novel with them, as they’d begun to really make a name for their publishing arm. They were introducing new imprints at a rapid fire rate, and I was sure with their power, they’d make my book a success. So far, they’d proved to be just what they’d offered—a partnership with me. I was impressed and wanted more. When they declined the novel, I spiraled into an abyss of self-doubt.
But only for a few minutes.
At that time, the self-publishing stigma was starting to fade and a new breed of authors calling themselves Indies were suddenly releasing new material and even work they’d always hoped to see published, but hadn’t been successful with placing. Again, I self-published the book, titled Chasing China.
At that time, Indie publishing was taking off and authors were hitting what they called the Indie Gold Rush. Determined to prove I could write something else Amazon Publishing would want to represent, I penned another book and again submitted it to Amazon. This one, A Thread Unbroken, was a novel woven around the tragedy of child-bride trafficking in China that required months of research. But my self-confidence was restored when my Amazon editor offered me a contract. In 2012, the book launched, and by then I’d already submitted yet another title to Amazon Publishing, this time a novella of shorter length. Because of the length, I thought for sure they’d decline it, and again planned to immediately self-pub upon their rejection.
Instead, my Amazon editor said he loved the novella but wanted me to dig deeper and expand it to novel length. With his words of encouragement, I was more excited than I’d ever been about any project. He gave me ideas on how to take the story from good to great, and I hung up and got to work.
Four months later when I submitted not just one expanded novel for review, but two—with an outline for a third in the series. He took a few weeks to review my proposed series, then came back with the good news that Amazon Publishing would like to offer me a 3-book deal and a very healthy advance for my series titled The Tales of The Scavenger’s Daughters.
Shocked speechless at first, I accepted their deal, then immediately left my corporate position to focus full time on advocating for children and writing.
When I finished the rough drafts of all three novels, I rewarded myself and my husband with a few days of sun on a balmy Mexican beach. There I sat back and realized that for the first time in my life, royalties as well as a boost from my advances had brought me in well over six-figures for the year. I’d been slogging at it for more than half a decade, writing guest posts, articles, sending out review copies, tweeting, Face-booking, speaking events, blogging and basically doing anything and everything to widen my audience, or as they say in the business—build my platform. I was receiving decent royalty checks all along, but I’ll admit, passing those magical digits made me feel like I was on top of the world.
Between drafts of the series, I’ve started work on book four for the series. I also have a rough draft of book one of a new series I’ve kept under wraps. I’ll submit both to Amazon Publishing and if the so-called Big Bad Wolf wants a bite, I’ll gladly don a little red cape and hand them over. After all, Amazon Publishing might be getting a piece of the pie, but there’s plenty left over to satisfy my appetite. In other words, I can’t imagine that I’d have been happier with any other publisher than I’ve been with Amazon Publishing. They’ve done all they’ve promised me as an author and more.
For other struggling authors out there, I would give this piece of advice: Find something you’re passionate about and make that your niche/genre. Be an expert in your subject. Do research, take field trips, and learn all you can about it. They always say write what you know….but I’ll take that a step farther and say write what you love. Communicate in depth with your readers, and if you don’t find success with your first book(s), just keep writing until you get there.
And good luck! Please connect with me on www.kaybratt.com
*For those who have made it this far on my Pro-Amazon rant, I’d like to acknowledge that the first book in The Tales of the Scavenger’s Daughters was released on August 13 and along with my own aggressive launching campaign I had some help from my team at Amazon. Compliments of a snazzy banner on their Kindle book landing page, plus a GoodReads ad and giveaway, some Kindle screen-saver action, and probably multiple email blasts, by the end of day three the book reached a ranking of 55 in all Kindle books and hovered in the Top 100 the entire post-launch week.