Sheer Hubris?

Sheer hubris is what it takes to publish without the gatekeepers of the publishing world saying yes, you’re worth reading.

I decided to start this press years after a number of agents told me that my work was quite good, but not something they could market successfully to publishers in a “very tough fiction market.”

Meanwhile, other folks were telling me they stayed up all night reading it.

Since then, I’ve watched some very talented authors get published, only to see their literary careers founder. The big publishers are under enormous pressure to return strong profits to their stockholders. They often feel they can’t afford to wait for new authors to build a readership over time. So most debut novels — especially those that didn’t win huge advances — simply get thrown up at the wall like spaghetti to see if they’ll stick. And many good writers, especially if they are not also great marketers, soon discover that their publisher is no longer interested in them.

I know something about how to market other people’s books. I worked for over 18 years as a project editor, acquisitions editor, marketing manager, and copywriter/creative director at various publishing companies and freelanced at an ad agency. Still, the thought of doing that  for my own books was always kind of horrifying. So rather than persist — the number one requirement for successful traditional publishing — I moved on to other things. (It helps that I enjoy plenty of other things, especially teaching.)

In 2013 I considered hauling out the old rejection binder and trying one more round with agents and publishers, if only to cross it off my list of things to do.

Then I thought: Why?

Technology had made it easy to create your own publishing company. As noted above, I already had a lot of the skills required. It wouldn’t take a huge investment to e-publish. This way, I could afford to find my readers slowly, even if it took years.

And that’s what I’m doing now. This isn’t to say that I disparage traditional publishers or bookstores or any of the complicated, valuable work that they do. As a reader, I’m grateful for authors and booksellers who manage to prosper under the current system. That’s part of the reason I originally steered clear of a paper edition. But some of my readers only wanted to read paper, so I went ahead and did that, too.

200 pix pg13Something new that didn’t work

Borrowing a technique from the world of fanfic, I started out offering a PG-13 edition for readers who would prefer to avoid explicit sex and bad language. I still believe this is a good idea in a perfectly digital world. Unfortunately, it led to trouble with Amazon, which didn’t consider it different enough from the original edition. It also created twice the amount of product management, while producing only 2% of the sales. So I abandoned that idea.

So how’s it going?

TheAwfulMess_3DNot too shabby. Since publication in 2013, there have been over 50,000 free downloads during free days. I have to tally up the copies actually sold (mostly during promotions), but at this point I believe I’ve gotten past 3,000. I invested in a new cover by a real cover designer, which may or may not have helped. As of this update, “The Awful Mess: A Love Story” has over 100 5-star reviews at Amazon (4.3 average), made it into the five semi-finalists for general fiction in Amazon’s 2014 (and last) Breakthrough Novel Award, and was picked up as a highlighted selection in Library Journal’s SELF-e Program. In my second year, I actually turned a small profit on the business. For a first time indie author with no access to traditional bookstore channels, that’s pretty good.

My second novel, “The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire” has not done as well in sales yet, partly because I never offered it free, and partly because it’s a literary coming-of-age story rather than women’s fiction that crosses over into romance. (Critically, it has done fine.) Still, I feel I’m on track to eventually do fairly well with this, either sticking with Sheer Hubris Press or crossing over into traditional publication someday when I’ve built enough of an audience. In the meantime, I get the pleasure of hearing from new readers who are excited about my work. Who can beat that?

No, I haven’t been able to quit my day job yet. But few traditional authors can, either.

 

 

Recent Posts

After an indie start, an author transitions to traditional publishing

Sandra Hutchison interviews Nicole Blades, a Montreal native who moved to New York and found success writing across a variety of media, including a first novel with a small Canadian press, followed by one with traditional publisher Kensington’s Dafina imprint — with a second novel to follow this fall.

Do stay tuned if you’re a writer with a novel in a drawer. You’re likely to find the story of Nicole’s next book especially heartening. (Note: This post contains Amazon Affiliate links — for an explanation of what that means, please see the bottom of the post.)

Author Nicole Blades

Nicole, what inspired THE THUNDER BENEATH US?

About six or seven years ago, I read this magazine story about these three brothers who went duck-hunting as part of their Christmas get-together. But it all turned tragic when the family dog accidentally punched a hole in the lightly frozen lake. While trying to save the dog, all three brothers were sucked down into freezing water. Two of the brothers drowned and one survived.

The story never left me. I kept thinking about the level of guilt, pangs of what-ifs, and probable shame that the one surviving brother faced; and how that psychological torment could inform and influence how he sees himself moving forward. These men were in their 30s at time of the ice accident, but I started wondering how that heaviness of what happened would translate to someone who was just a teenager when their entire world was forever changed.

What’s your number one hope for what your readers will get out of it?

Compassion. I hope readers come away from this story with a fortified sense of compassion for each other. We have no idea what’s happening beneath the surface of someone’s life—no matter flawless or fabulous it may appear to on social media. We all need to feel valued and heard and supported as we make our way through this life. I’ve said this a few times, but it’s still true: The human condition can knock the wind out of you. It’s vital to know and believe that we can make mistakes and get back up, and that we are all worthy of love and acceptance.

I hope readers come away...with a fortified sense of compassion for each other. -- Nicole Blades Click To Tweet

How did you come to publish it?

My debut novel, EARTH’S WATERS, was published back in 2007 by DC Books—a small, indie publisher based in my hometown of Montreal. I dove right back into writing the next thing, another novel. After querying agents with Book No. 2 for a while, there were no bites and it never got picked up, so I did what I do: started working on the next story. That third novel became THE THUNDER BENEATH US.

Now, the second novel—the one I thought I had finished back in 2010—went through many changes and revisions and recasts as well as time on the shelf or in the desk drawer. But I didn’t want to throw in the towel on it because I still liked the story; I still cared about the protagonist and what could happen to her. Since the heart of the story always remained the same, I was able to build a brand new world around it and still stay intrigued with how it could unfold. And—sound the horn!—that Book No. 2 became HAVE YOU MET NORA? and will be published October 31.

All tallied, I have been living with and working on this NORA story for nine years. This writing/publishing world can be a roller-coaster ride, right?

That’s for sure! As a now traditionally-published author, what advice would you have for aspiring authors?

My advice is, first, be wary of advice! Sort of joking there, but the truth is there is no shortage of people popping up to tell you what you should be doing or (worse) what you’re doing wrong.  But as is often the case, you really do need to figure out what makes sense for you and your writing.

That said, I do have three suggestions to offer: First, read. You have to read to be a writer. No way around it. Read different genres and styles and quality of writing, because it’s all going to help your own writing and develop your storytelling. Second, you have to write. It’s a craft and you have to practice it, work at it. It doesn’t come magically to anyone. (No matter what they might want to tell you!) So, commit the time, sit in the seat, and write. Lastly, find your voice and use that. Don’t bother trying to emulate your favorite writer or the latest bestseller. That’s their voice. Use yours to tell the stories you want to read. Focus on one goal: telling a really good story in your voice.

First, read. You have to read to be a writer. -- Nicole Blades Click To Tweet

About Nicole Blades:

A novelist and freelance journalist who has been putting her stories on paper since the third grade, Nicole Blades was born and raised in Montreal, Quebec, by Caribbean parents. She moved to New York City and launched her journalism career working at Essence magazine. She later co-founded the online magazine SheNetworks, and worked as an editor at ESPN and Women’s Health.

Nicole’s articles and essays have appeared in Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, NYTimes.com, WashingtonPost.com, MarieClaire.com, SELF, Health, and BuzzFeed. Her next book, HAVE YOU MET NORA?, will be released November 2017, and her latest novel, THE THUNDER BENEATH US, is available now wherever books and ebooks are sold. You can hear Nicole and her sister Nailah on Hey, Sis!, their new podcast about women finding their focus and place in business, art, culture, and life.

More about THE THUNDER BENEATH US:

Ten years ago, on Christmas Eve, Best and her two older brothers took a shortcut over a frozen lake. When the ice cracked, all three went in. Only Best came out.

People said she was lucky, but that kind of luck is nothing but a burden. Because Best knows what she had to do to survive. And after years of covering up the past, her guilt is detonating through every facet of her seemingly charmed life.

Best is quick-witted and headstrong, but how do you find a way to happiness when you’re sure you haven’t earned it—or embrace a future you feel you don’t deserve? Evocative and emotional, THE THUNDER BENEATH US is a gripping novel about learning to carry loss without breaking, and to heal and forgive—not least of all, ourselves. Buy it on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2p7i4h4

Want to learn more? Nicole’s social media links:

Website: http://nicoleblades.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/nicoleblades

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WriterNicoleBlades/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nicole_blades/

Amazon Affiliate links give Sandra Hutchison a tiny percentage for any purchases made from this site without adding any cost to you. They also help people in other countries like, say, Canada, get the Amazon store that works for them. (Please let Sandra know if you’re not in the US and the link didn’t work for you! This is a bit of an experiment.)

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