A Midlist Monster who'd trad-pubbed four books and won a prestigious award was sent to The Desert for twenty-odd years. In September 2011, he set out to reinvent himself and break back into print.
A half-dozen starting decisions:
1) Stop running from poor past sales and stand with pride behind the books I wrote as Kelley Wilde.
2) Reintroduce myself under the name Reb MacRath.
3) Rewrite and go to market with a big book about the aftermath to the Great Escape from Alcatraz. This had originally been intended as the second book in a series of thrillers starring Boss MacTavin, a charismatic 'Southern Scot'.
4) Temporarily abandon the novel that I'd planned to publish first: a genesis story of Boss. Too wild, I decided, for the conservative publishing scene.
5) Find a writing partner. I settled on Brad Strickland, who seemed ideal in every way and had a darned good agent. Pooled talents and contacts might well turn the tide.
6) Hit the ground running online, starting with Facebook, this blog, and an experimental website.
Setbacks and heartbreaks:
1) The writing partnership didn't work out. Scheduling conflicts on Brad's part. I lost another month removing all traces of his presence before forging on alone.
2) J. Abrams, I learned, was getting close to premiering his new TV show, Alcatraz. And, though show specifics were sketchy, I felt more pressure by the day to complete and sell the novel by the time the show premiered. I worked like a man possessed.
3) With the help of QueryTracker, I launched a blitz of queries that resulted in the usual high ratio of rejections--but also four requests for 'fulls'. Response times to these readings of the completed manuscript ranged from three to six months. No takers, though all praised the smooth, polished prose.
Two critical turns in my thinking:
1) By March, the Abrams show was already the least of my worries. It bombed. Then again, I'd now approached most of the country's best agents, as well as new and hungry ones. And I'd gotten the same response I'd been getting for two decades. No matter what I did or said, I couldn't get agents to see me as a new writer with sizzle. I'd stay doomed by the smell of old cabage that trails a perennial loser--UNLESS...
2) What if I saw my Desert books not as books I'd failed to sell but as smashing inventory? What if I went through the lot, book by book, whipping each one into line with all I'd learned about my art? And what if there were a way for an ambitious, cash-strapped guy to launch a siege worthy of Caesar: one book every other month till the end of 2013?
A sharp right turn into Indieland:
Now, a writer can hear about ebooks and never think to publish one. After all, the story goes, no book is worthy of the name unless it's pubbed by a reputable house (in whatever state of decline), with a print run large enough to get it on the shelves of bookstores that haven't yet gone belly up. Furthermore, trad reviewers won't look at an ebook to spit on the screen. Ebooks, the story goes, are written by losers who can't rub two stylistic sticks together and make a single spark.
That's a clever and self-serving story from the bowels of the Trad Pub Cabal. And it didn't take me long to learn that the story is wrong on the matters that count. And here were the matters that mattered to me:
1) I could enter this arena, rich in inventory.
2) In time, if I learned the ropes, I could actually call my own shots. Even at the very start, I could determine the order in which I would publish my books: putting SOUTHERN SCOTCH out, as I'd always wanted to do, before the book on Alcatraz.
3) The only limit on my output was the time required to ensure pure quality control.
4) My initial expenses would be limited to professional formatting and assistance with my covers, though in time I'd invest more and more: still bolder and splashier covers, promotion, promotion, promotion.
5) I found more honest camaraderie in months than I did in all those many years of slavery to trad pubbing. The smart, cool indie writer always pay it forward. And for every Indie Slick Willy or hustler, there are a dozen gladiators good to have as friends.
So, am I rich and famous yet?
Noooooooo. And yet on Friday, August 10, my third ebook will go Live on Kindle. And, after that stretch in The Desert, I bless each day that fans the growing inner fire I feel. My last published book's no longer twenty years ago. By the end of this year I'll have published eight books: four with two trad publishers, four as a proud member of the ebook revolution. Though I haven't seen a penny yet, the money will come with one book or the next. From book to book I advance along the learning curve:
1) With the third book, NOBILITY, I've found a style of cover that suits me. And by year's end I plan to re-do the first two.
2) I changed formatters, paying more for superior work.
3) Since April, I've worked to build my base on both Facebook and Twitter. On the latter, I've increased my Followers from zero to nearly 1500 and have bonded with colleagues, both newbies and pros. It looks as if NOBILITY may bring in the first reviews of my work. At the same time, I've championed ebook writers I believe in and am growing more active on Goodreads.
I wouldn't advise anyone to burn the trad pub bridge. Think about my story and put it in the blender when the time comes for you to decide whether you choose to spend years seeking an agent who may take years to sell a book that you spent years in writing--when well less than 5% of all trad-pubbed books turn a profit--or whether you choose to fly indie. Throw this fact into the blender as well: you'll be in a far better position with agents and editors if your sales are setting the indie charts on fire. Right, Amanda Hocking? Meanwhile, act professionally: be civil and respectful to all agents and all editors while you engage in the glorious battle for your independence.