Sunday, September 01, 2013

Guest Post by Kay Bratt

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

*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.   


bettye griffin said...

Congratulations and continued success, Kay!

Cathie John said...

Congratulations, Kay, on your wonderful success. I very much understand what it took for you to self publish in the face of all that rejection from the so-called "gate keepers"; and to do so in the years before it was an acceptable alternative to legacy publishing.

My wife Cathie and I authored and self published five crime fiction novels back in 1997 through 2003. Circumstances forced us to stop in late 2003, but we are now ready to relaunch our writing careers, publish our efforts as ebooks, write our crime fiction stories, and re-issue our five novel back list over the next year or so.

There's a sense of justifiable pride in being a part of a group of trailblazers.

John Celestri
(the male half of Cathie John)

Alistair McIntyre said...

Cool story. Glad things are working out well.

Jill James said...

Congratulations and many, many more happy writing times. Your joy in your choices shines in your post.

Michael Peck said...

Congratulations, Kay, and great post. A question for you (and Joe, and anyone else who wants to weigh in), though, and apologies if your post should make it seem obvious: in your experience and in the experience of those you've talked to, are Amazon publishing deals always preferable to self-publishing? Is the trade-off worth it, or is it too early to tell, as a rule?

Thanks for any responses.

Panda Ninja said...

Congrats on your success! Reading your story about publishing really made me realize something about myself. I do not interact enough with other bloggers in order to expand my readership and getting my name/blog out there for others. In order to have a good audience, the blogger must immerse themselves by interacting. On the other hand, I do always reply back to all of my comments, just not so much on other blogs (at least it is rare when I do). Your ending advice is something that I will take to heart!

Thank you for sharing and once again, congrats on your success!

Lee Goldberg said...

Congratulations, Kay. What a great story.

Kay Bratt said...

Thanks, all!

@Michael Peck, I think it is different for every author, whether signing with an imprint is better or worse for your career. With my memoir, I definitely made the right choice. Amazon has done a lot with it. My book, A Thread Unbroken, may have done as well with self-publishing. So far, the new trilogy is kicking butt. I haven't yet figured out why some titles do well and some don't, but that's something I'll study more as I go.

But ultimately, I can say that Amazon Publishing has gotten my name out there and taken me to a level of success that I know I'd have never achieved on my own. So for me, the deal was worth it.

Kay Bratt said...

@Cathie John,

I can sense the excitement as you and your wife are about to embark on this new adventure and I wish you luck. Especially being someone with all your previous experience, I think you will do a fine job in trailblazing!

venkyiyer58 said...

How does Amazon Publishing differ from (a) CreateSpace and (b) traditional publishing?

Kay Bratt said...


Amazon Publishing is being published under one of their imprints, just like a traditional deal. They approach you or your agent, offer a contract with possibly an advance and a marketing plan. They put your book through multiple editors including developmental editing, copyediting, proofreading, then interior designers, and in most cases give it a professional cover. When the book launches, usually a great Amazon marketing program gives it a boost.

The only major difference between Amazon Publishing and what you call traditional is that Amazon at this time has had some issues getting books into bookstores. (one of mine actually has been in bookstores, but that's a long story)However, with the power of Amazon's website, my sales have been great even without all my book being in bookstores. And who knows what can happen in the future?!

CreateSpace is self publishing and is all yours, no help from anyone other than who you outsource to in order to get it ready.

Anonymous said...

I have gotten two wildly different offers from Amazon imprints. The first was several months ago and basically: we take down your book for a year and re-release. Print and ebook rights to AMZ, no special treatment, everything remains the same re: commissions.

Offer 2 came last week and was: book only comes down a week this fall. Is re-released in print and ebook, AMZ leverages it's powerful database to drive sales (including Daily Deal), margins for me down to 35%.

I rejected the first deal, but plan on taking the second one if the specifics work out as planned. I don't even care what the advance may be, but if AMZ will contractually state the marketing tools they plan to use; I'm all in baby.

Offers came on 2 separate books of mine; each had hung around the Overall Top 1000 for several weeks before drawing the attention of two different Amazon editors.

Remember, Amazon knows precisely how much you earn as an indie. Don't be afraid to hold out for a sweeter deal, if you are worth it.

AMZ can push one (theoretical) button and email millions of readers a targeted message such as: 'if you love Stephen King, Author X will be right up your alley'. You can land on the USA Today Bestseller list within a week.

Kay Bratt said...

Actually, Anonymous, you are right and wrong.

Right that strong negotiation skills can net authors different deals. Wrong that you can land on the USA Today list. From what I understand, being exclusive to Amazon knocks you out of the running, for you need to be available on all platforms to qualify for USA or NYT lists.

Michael B. said...

"AMZ can push one (theoretical) button and email millions of readers a targeted message such as: 'if you love Stephen King, Author X will be right up your alley'. You can land on the USA Today Bestseller list within a week."

Ah, if only this were true.

They do have incredible marketing power, but if it were as easy to sell books as just targeting customers with emails, Amazon Publishing would have a lot more best sellers than they have. From what I can tell, they give awards for his sales, and so far only a small handful of authors have crossed over 100,000 sales for a single title. Even our gracious host isn't on that list. I could be wrong, but I haven't seen Joe's name pop up as one of the top selling Thomas & Mercer authors. And if Joe's not on that list, that should tell you that maybe it's not as easy as just pushing a button.

Jeff Ezell said...

Thanks for all the good info, Kay.

Saw Amazon's Deal of the Day featured on Pixel of Ink. Bought it for $1.99. Why? It's "not my kind of book"? Saw it here, saw it there, read your comments here, and saw your website. Think I can learn how to build stronger relationships with my characters by reading this.

A Thread Unbroken by Kay Bratt $1.99

With 4 WIP to publish by YE (and Patty McPhatty starts Joe's 8 Hr Panic again with a blog) When will I read?
Anybody tried audio under the pillow lately?

Jeff Ezell

Anonymous said...

Who said I was only on Amazon? The USA Today Bestseller list requires you have 2 separate sales streams. Amazon and any other is good enough. Barnes/Noble of course, or any participating bookseller chains qualify.

And I have reached the USA Today Top 150 before with 11,000 sales in a 7 day reporting period. It was as easy as pushing a button - that button was my submission to Bookbub and their 600,000 strong mystery subscriber list. 2 other authors I know of, indies, have done the same recently via that 'button'.

You need nowhere near 100,000 sales for a single title to hit #130-150, especially in the summertime. As to Joe's sales, if he had huge sales weeks but was in Select, USA Today won't count it.

Joe Konrath said...

I could be wrong, but I haven't seen Joe's name pop up as one of the top selling Thomas & Mercer authors.

I've had 5 books with Thomas & Mercer, so far none have sold 100k. But two should be getting close.

As for my own self-pubbed titles, I've had one, The List, break 100k sold. My next highest is about 90k, and I have about ten titles that have sold between 30k and 90k.

I never had a legacy-pubbed title sell more than 95k.

Amazon Publishing has catapulted several of my peers to over 100k in sales, but I also know folks who have hit 100k without Amazon.

My self-pubbed sales are over a million. Legacy pubbed, print in all editions plus ebooks, is less than 500k. Amazon Publishing I can't discuss in detail, but I'm not complaining about my overall sales.

Joe Konrath said...

As to Joe's sales, if he had huge sales weeks but was in Select, USA Today won't count it.

I've sold 12k of a self-pubbed title in a week. And yes, it was in Select only.

Kay Bratt said...

@Jeff Ezell,

Thanks so much! The book is currently #6 in the entire Kindle store, thanks to an Amazon Daily Deal day. Yet one more reason to love my publisher.

I appreciate you buying it!

Kay Bratt said...

A huge thank you to Joe for graciously allowing me and others access to his huge following via the guest posts. He make look like a gruff old bear, but me thinks he's actually a teddy bear.

FYI...I followed Joe way back when I first started this publishing venture. He inspired me that I could make a go with it. As he has countless others.

Alan Tucker said...

Adding to the congratulations, Kay! Terrific story and memoirs are tough sells, traditionally. Well done!

I'd also like to refute Joe's assertion that his blog is not a good marketing/sales tool for books. When I did my guest post last month, I put my scifi book up as free for two days, as announced at the end of the post. I did not mention the freebie anywhere else, nor was it picked up by any of the larger sites that I've seen. Yet, it was downloaded nearly 2200 times! Not ENT or BookBub numbers, but impressive nonetheless in my eyes. Thanks again for the opportunity, Joe!

Author said...

Kay, kids need more adults like you in their lives. Thanks for being the person you are. RJ

Kay Bratt said...

Thanks so much, RJ! I don't do huge things any longer but these days I try to continue to do small things that can possibly make a big difference.

Anonymous said...

Yay, Kay.

I just like the way that looks on the page.

Andy Straka said...

Congratulations, Kay. As a father of four children adopted from China, I look forward to reading your books. Looks like you've already written the kind of novels my wife has been urging me to write for years. Note to self: listen more to wife. :)

May you enjoy continued success.

Andy Straka

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Kay Bratt said...

Thanks, @Andy Straka. I looked at your website and not only is the cover for your new book, Dragonflies beautiful, but the book trailer is seriously awesome. Good luck! And you've already been blessed, getting to be the dad to those sweet girls. The rest should be icing on the cake!

Kay Bratt said...

@Alan Tucker,

You are so right, unless you catch a spark, memoirs are a tough sell. Mine gets some great reviews, then others despise it and the message I tried to tell. But I'd do it again if given the chance because the world needs to know.

(and you may be on to something about book sales from being featured here, my book A Thread Unbroken hit #2 in all Kindle titles the day I was featured, but it was also a Kindle Daily Deal...)

Harry K. said...

I just wanted to give a big thanks to Joe Konrath, and now his many guest bloggers for sharing their knowledge and experience. I always learn a lot when I check in here.

BTW Brandon Sanderson just mentioned Joe Konrath in a recent lecture (you can watch them on Youtube) as "someone in the know" when it comes to self publishing.

RS McCoy said...

Thanks for sharing your story Kay! It's great to hear a success story from an established author who's jumped through all the hoops. You provide amazing inspiration for new ebook writers like me!

-RS McCoy

Lisa Grace said...

Great article, Kay. Congratulations! Thanks for sharing your journey (so far) with us.

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