About my Book Publishing Journey
After spending eight and a half years writing and rewriting, I began submitting my novel a year ago April. I received twenty-five agent rejections, of which many were complimentary but didn’t want to do another story about drugs. Just one agent read the manuscript while the others had reviewed the first chapter; plus I had two more rejections from publishing editors–each had read the book. One liked the story but not the writing, and the other liked the writing but not the story. BTW, Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, was rejected by twenty agents; Khaled Hosseini, who wrote The Kite Runner, was rejected by thirty agents; Stephen King was rejected by over forty agents until his wife picked the crumpled first chapter out of the trash, shook off the cigarette ashes and submitted it; and Michael Connolly’s first three books were never published. I’m not in the same category as these esteemed writers; I’m just saying that rejection is not uncommon. Demoralizing, yes.
I spoke with my writing professor and said, “Something’s wrong, and I don’t know what it is.” She suggested a software program that allows you to download your manuscript. The software “reads it”, like a book on tape. I did and was flabbergasted at the number of errors. (I’m a terrible editor because I intuitively correct what’s wrong.) I reviewed the manuscript three more times. Each time I thought: How could I have missed this? I scrutinized sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, action verbs, scene settings, sensory, similes, metaphors, dialogue, point of view, the characters—their opening emotions, scene goals, closing emotions, visceral reactions, their arcs, voice, the story, plot, including conflict and tension, tone, pacing, and anything that is repetitive needed to be removed or changed. If the writer does a good job, this stuff is transparent, and all the reader wants to know is: What happens next?
A friend referred me to a literary agent, Kristin Lindstrom. I called her and shared my disappointment and discouragement. She said, “You’re not alone.” She explained that the book publishing industry took three hits: one in 2007 at the beginning of the Great Recession when people stopped buying books, again in 2008 with another significant decline in sales, and a major blow in 2009 when Apple released the iPad, followed by the Kindle and the Nook. Kristin shared that in 2012 the book publishing editors, that she’d been selling to for two decades, told her not to submit any first time authors unless their novel would be an international blockbuster. On top of that, her current authors, who’d written their second, third or fourth books, were also being rejected. After a year of not being able to sell a manuscript, she stopped being an agent and opened an editing and marketing service business for authors and small businesses. Deciding to self-publish, I needed a final copy edit and hired her.
Are first time authors being published? Yes. Traditional publishing companies look for an author that has a “platform”—i.e., a social media following of a thousand people (could be a blog, Twitter or FB); a specific targeted community; or if the author has ties to the publishing industry, i.e., a journalism background; or if they’re known regular contributors to weekly or monthly publications. I don’t have any of these.
While my book was being edited, I researched self-publishing companies and services. I filled out forms on the Internet and reviewed companies that fellow authors had recommended. I researched Amazon, CreateSpace, Outskirts Press, iUniverse, BookBaby, Darien Press, xLibris, plus a couple others, and got a proposal from Kristin for her services. Then I received a barrage of marketing e-mails and direct mail, phone calls, etc., with each company attempting to sell me on why I should use their organization. One publisher stood out: Page Publishing. Their approach and marketing literature was most impressive as was the array of services they provide. Plus, their business model, which is geared toward the author’s financial success, is a paradigm shift. This approach probably explains why they receive 8,000 submissions per month (Yes, 8,000!). Unlike other pay-to-publish companies, Page only accepts one hundred new titles per month. I told my husband about them and he said, “Why put yourself through this again? Just self-publish.” I continued researching.
A week later I received a phone call from a Page Publishing Literary Development Agent. He explained their process: they have a team of five people who review the manuscripts and three out of the five need to approve the book in order for Page to publish it. The process takes two weeks. Based on all the rejections I’d received, I had little hope of three people approving my novel, so during the interview, I played devil’s advocate. I explained that I’d been rejected (all their authors had been rejected); that my book is commercial suspense and I didn’t see any commercial suspense books on their website (it’s a niche market with a lot of potential); my book is controversial (that’s a good thing); I didn’t have a writing background but had taken a year-long writing class then attended a weekly mentoring group for six years (many successful authors didn’t have writing backgrounds). At the end of our conversation, he encouraged me to submit. I said I’d think about it.
Kristin, the ex-agent copy editor, had thought it would take her a month to edit. Within ten days, she’d completed the project. She said, “You did a good job. The manuscript is clean, smooth, and easy to read. I made very few corrections.” After all the rejections, her feedback was nice to hear.
Thinking that I had nothing to lose, I decided to take a chance and submitted my manuscript to Page Publishing. Within a few days, the literary development agent called. “Congratulations. We want to publish your book.” Really? “We think it will be very successful and we’re very excited.” Huh? They’re excited? “I’m e-mailing the contract. Review it and if you have any questions, call or e-mail me.” Okay. “By the way, I don’t usually have time to read the books, but I really enjoyed yours. You did a great job.” Is this for real?
My husband and I reviewed the contracts and we were impressed with their simplicity and straightforward approach. I’d received several self-publishing contracts, and the one from iUniverse was twenty pages long with tiny print. Page Publishing’s was five pages with big print. I had a few questions, got clarification and signed the contract in early June.
I’ve always believed “Everything happens for a reason.” Now I look back at my anguish over the past year and my experiences make sense. The business model that Page offers is a paradigm shift from the traditional publishing companies as well as other pay-to-publish companies. I own the rights (as opposed to some traditional publishing companies), I can terminate the relationship in two years (if I choose); after the cost of printing many traditional and self-publishing companies only give twenty percent royalties to the author. If there’s an agent then they may receive between ten to twenty percent of the author’s twenty percent. For example, if a book sells for $15, let’s say the cost of printing and distribution is $5, then the author’s royalty would be 20% of ten dollars or two dollars minus the agent’s ten to twenty percent, so the author receives a grand total of $1.60 or $1.80 per book sold. Using Page’s model, after subtracting the cost of printing and distribution, Page takes twenty cents (yes $.20) and I would receive the remainder. (This is hypothetical; I don’t know how my book will be priced, or the cost of printing and distribution.) Also in traditional publishing it takes two years to get the book published; with Page, my book will be available within a year. Page does charge a (minimal) fee, which I’m eligible to earn back. (Again, this is unique.) Page Publishing (located in NYC), owns a radio station and they’ll be interviewing me. (Their audience is 4 million listeners.) They’ll also be creating a short video (like a movie trailer) and post it on YouTube and my website. Can’t wait. I’m very lucky to have found and been accepted by Page.
Having positive industry feedback and encouragement has been surreal. I’ll be thinking about something, and then I’ll remember, “Busted is being published.” Big sigh.
Michele I. Khoury