Writer Wednesday welcomes Leonard Hilley on Thursday!
(This post was pre-empted by Forbes & Sue Grafton)
Today I’ve got a Writerly guest for you, a regional neighbor from the Ashland, Kentucky area. He wrote to me and has a story to share of how he decided to go indie. I hope you’ll appreciate it!
Before we get to that, let’s deal with some housekeeping:
- Last week’s Author Fight Club bout between Dorothy Parker and Hunter S Thompson was called by Axel Howerton, and his TKO ran unopposed in the category of Awesomeness! Axel, please let me know who you’re choosing to square off for next time, sir!
- 8/14 ended the Young Adult Giveaway Hop, so watch your email inboxes if you requested a copy of Troll Or Derby…especially if your name is Crystal or Megan. I decided to give away a mobi AND an epub, so you two are my winners. I also tweeted to you! Thanks to all who entered. If you missed out and you’re on a budget, watch the ebook retailer of your choice…Troll Or Derby is now marked down to $.99 from $4.99 for just a few days.
But now, without further mucky mucky, here’s Leonard!
Self-publishing has a lot of pros and cons, but being an Indie author isn’t something I am ashamed of. The world of publishing is changing as the digital age continues to shine brighter. Some insist you should seek the traditional route first. I did. Here’s my story:
In June 2001 I sent out twenty-four queries to New York agents to get a representative for my sci-fi thriller, Predators of Darkness. I also sent a query and the first three chapters to Baen Books in New York. Two weeks later, I promptly received twenty-four form rejection letters but nothing from Baen Books. Dejected, I mired into the pool of self-pity and set aside my writing for a while.
On 9/11 I was working out with two friends at the local gym. The desk manager yelled for us and said that one of the twin towers was on fire. As we watched on the television screen, we witnessed the second plane strike. It was a horrifying thing to see on live television. I was numb the entire day.
Near midnight, after I returned home from work, I watched the news and saw all the debris blowing down the streets. I saw the hundreds of people running in fear, shock, and others hugging one another and crying in the aftermath. Piles of papers floated along with all the white dust. After seeing this unnecessary carnage, I really didn’t expect to ever hear anything from Baen Books. I wasn’t certain exactly where their offices were, and my heart broke for all these people.
In September 2002 I received my SASE from Baen Books. It was thin, so I thought, “Great. Another rejection.” To my surprise, when I opened the envelope, they requested to read my entire manuscript. I was ecstatic but also a bit alarmed. I only had half the manuscript completed. I quickly wrote them and let them know I was revising it once more and would send it in a month.
Every evening for that month I worked harder than ever to finish Predators of Darkness. Sure enough, thirty days later, I had completed the manuscript and mailed a physical copy to Baen. And now, the agony of waiting began.
From every article I’ve read about approaching agents and publishers that are reviewing your manuscript, one of the key things NOT to do is constantly call or pester them. That’s unprofessional. So I never did this. They do suggest that it’s okay after a good three-month time period to touch base and follow up on the submission. But I was too afraid of jeopardizing my chances that I continued to wait. No news is good news.
In September 2004 I finally called Baen Books’ office. The receptionist was kind, and he asked when Predators of Darkness was submitted. I told him October 2002, and he asked me to hold for a minute. When he came back to the phone, he told me, “Well, I have some good news. Your book was set aside for a second reader.”
After a book has been read at Baen, if the reader believes the book has merit, he/she sets it aside and recommends a second reader. If the second reader believes it is really good, the book goes to an editor. But, he added, “95% don’t make that cut.” Mine had.
So patiently I waited and kept dreaming about seeing my book published by Baen Books. I love their book covers. They have great authors. Oh, to be in that circle …
In January 2005, my wife and I attended the sci-fi/fantasy convention, Chattacon 30. I was there because I wanted to meet Larry Niven and have him sign a 1966 fanzine that featured one of his short stories. As we were signing in, the lady at the desk mentioned that an editor, Toni Weisskopf, from Baen Books had just checked in moments earlier. I quickly found her and introduced myself. I told her that my manuscript had been set-aside for a second reader. I asked how long did one have to wait to know whether or not an editor would read it. She gave me her email address and asked me to email her my book’s information and she’d let me know its progress. I mentioned what the receptionist had said about 95% not making the cut. She smiled and said, “No. 99% don’t make that cut.”
After I emailed Toni, she asked me to submit my novel on CD-R in an .rtf file. So I mailed these. And even after a couple of emails, I never knew where my novel was or its status. I remained in limbo.
Late January 2006 rolled in. My wife and I were given the shocking news at our workplace that our jobs were being outsourced to Honduras in three months. Also, during this time, I met sci-fi author Mike Resnick through a sale on Ebay, and we began exchanging emails. I asked him a lot of questions about agents and publishers and even flirted with the idea of POD publishing. He was adamantly against going this route and advised that I not do that.
When our job deadline was approaching, the management of Russell Athletic suddenly postponed the date of the company outsourcing and moved it to June. I kept waiting and hoping that Baen would soon let me know something, but no emails were being answered. And then during June I received my hard copy of Predators of Darkness in the mail with a form rejection letter. A form letter? I was confused. I emailed Toni about the rejection but didn’t receive a reply. I called the receptionist, and he told me that it had probably been sent back to me because they had kept it so long (4 years). I told him that they still had the novel on CD-R format, and he said that he would look.
With the threat of our jobs being outsourced, I began considering self-publishing. I researched a lot of different companies and finally decided to go with Outskirts Press. The choice in the beginning seemed a good one but would later turn into a nightmare (another long story in itself).
Meanwhile, Russell Athletic kept stringing along our “final days” until April 2007. One week after our plant closed down, I received my first books from Outskirts Press. They were impressive. One week after I received my novels, I received my CD-Rs from Baen Books. Inside was a note stating that Jim Baen had passed away and these were on his desk. He expressed that he had wanted to read them but they’re in the improper format (Works) and he couldn’t read them on his computer. Could you please resend these in a different format like Word?
I never sent them because even if they accepted the novel for publication, it would be at least another eighteen months before they were printed. I had already invested nearly six years.
But I didn’t blindly decide to self-publish. Several factors played into my reasons for becoming an Indie author.
1. If 99% of Baen’s submissions didn’t make the cut and mine did, my novel must have some merit.
2. If a traditional publisher contracted my book, I would probably be the one that had to make myself known. I would have to do the promotional work. Seldom do large publishers send new authors on book tours.
3. I am the product as well as my novels. I must sell myself to readers.
4. Most of my books are cross-genre, which is harder for traditional publishers to determine where to place them in the bookstore.
Readers, at this point I asked Leonard some follow-up questions:
Why did you not query other agents after that initial 24? Did you ever do another round of researching agents in those 6 years? How about other publishers? How are your sales now?
I’ve queried hundreds of agents. Right before I went to Kindle Direct and Createspace, I sent out about 150 e-queries to agents. I had quite a few that asked for the first few chapters, a couple that requested the full ms, and most that said that since it was cross-genre, they didn’t know quite how to pitch it. However, the biggest reason for passing was our current economy and that publishers were sticking their authors with preexisting audiences. The publishers were not gambling on new authors. Even with e-queries, you still have to play the waiting game. I just received a rejection last week from a query I sent TWO years ago.
I had chosen Baen and waited so long because they are one of the few publishers that don’t insist you have an agent. This is rare with publishers. I have considered some others, but it isn’t worth the hassle. I queried Ace two years ago and never received a response from them.
My sales are enough to pay several bills per month but not yet enough to consider it full-time status pay. But since I am writing two series, my audience is growing. I am seeing a gradual increase in sales each month. I will be starting a YA mystery series later this year, too.
I am currently shopping the script for Predators of Darkness: Aftermath, which basically consists of querying Hollywood agents.
Leonard D. Hilley II is the author of Predators of Darkness: Aftermath, Beyond the Darkness, The Game of Pawns, and Devils’ Den. Death’s Valley out soon. Leonard has also finished his MFA in Creative Writing and will soon offer editing services for Indies.
Predators of Darkness: Aftermath and Devils’ Den are both currently $.99 on Amazon Kindle.