Today, I have a seriously awesome guest post for you. I’m sure you’ve heard all the hullabaloo surrounding Amanda Hocking and how she landed herself a megadeal by first going the route of self-publishing. Well, today, I have another success story in that vein. If you haven’t heard of Mark Jeffrey, consider yourself introduced. The first book in his previously podcasted Max Quick series came out yesterday from HarperCollins and he’s been kind enough to share his journey, which has been unconventional, but also pretty awesome. I hope you guys enjoy!
On May 1, my first YA novel MAX QUICK: THE POCKET AND THE PENDANT arrived in hardcover in bookstores across the globe. And now I’m on top of the world, doing guest blog posts like this one, signing books, doing interviews, etc. I’m living the fairy tale. And if you’re an aspiring author, you’re sitting there going, How in the heck did he do that?
Well. :) Everyone’s story is different. But here’s mine.
First thing you should know is that it took me seven years to go from finished manuscript to hardcover in stores. And that is something I hear quite a bit from authors: that it takes a *long* time to get published, if at all.
Before the seven years, it took me a year and a half to write the book. The writing itself was very subconscious. I didn’t plan it out. It was initially kind of a mess. Nevertheless, I kept chipping away and in the end I had something I felt pretty good about. Now what?
Well, turns out Michael Crichton’s editor was a friend, so I figured I would somehow be able to get the right introductions and get published pretty quickly (Oh, Past Self, how silly you were). Mr. Editor Guy told me that I had to get a Lit Agent first, and that usually took about a year if you were any good. Then, it took the Lit Agent another year at least to get a yes from a publisher. So that’s two years total in the best case scenario(!)
I’m from the Internet world where six months is an eternity. Two years to my ears was like when the sun expands to swallow the earth. So I decided that was unacceptable and started looking for creative alternatives.
As luck would have it, Lulu.com had recently arrived on the scene. Lulu pioneered ‘print on demand’ publishing or POD. Before POD, the only way to publish was to using a printing press. Setting up a printing press is a pain, so when you have it, you want to print a lot of books. Trouble is, if you print too many and they don’t sell, you end up with a warehouse full of books and that costs money to store. If you print too few and it sells like crazy, you miss out on the opportunity to sell more books. So you have to guess just right — which is of course basically impossible. POD solves this problem: you don’t print a book until someone orders one. You never have too few or too many, and you never have to warehouse books. Only downside is the books cost a little more to print, so they’re more expensive.
So I published MAX QUICK: THE POCKET AND THE PENDANT on Lulu in September of 2004.
And nothing happened.
Nobody knew about the book or who I was. I was just another random in a sea of randoms. The book was not going to sell unless I got out there and pushed it myself.
So I tried a lot of things. I bought ads on Google and Amazon. I got it reviewed on Slashdot. I tried book signings. None of it really worked. Then I started going to book conferences. At the end of 2004 I went to the World Fantasy Conference in Phoenix, AZ. It was mostly a bunch of publishers, authors and agents. I figured maybe I’d meet an agent. I did a lot of talking to people, gave away a bunch of copies of the book. I even did a reading that three people attended.
Nobody cared. Galactic yawn.
But then I met a dude sitting at a small card table named Evo Terra. He took a copy of the book and checked it out. (It was he who told me it was ‘magical realism’, not scifi or fantasy. He was right). Evo ran a scifi / fantasy site called The Dragon Page. It was a combination of a blog and something new called a podcast. And he had an idea for something he called ‘podiobooks': podcast audiobooks. He said that if I was willing to podcast my book — as in, record myself reading the entire book aloud and give him the mp3’s — he would promote it on his show.
My initial feelings were a little mixed. It sounded like a LOT of work (I was right about that). And there was zero chance of making money. The podcast was given away for free. And it might damage my chances of getting an agent. “What’s this?” “That’s a podcast audiobook.” “What? You’ve already given the audiobook away for free on the Internet?” “Err. Yeah. Why?” “No publisher is going to touch this now. They want the audiobook rights: you’ve just given them away for free.”
But. Nothing was happening anyway. I had nothing to lose. And after a minute of thinking about this, I realized that my biggest problem was that I was unknown. And Evo had just handed me a microphone to the entire planet; this was marketing that should actually cost *me* money.
So I did it. I recorded the entire book. I edited out all umms and ahhs. I bought music and scored the entire reading with matching mood music. And Evo put the mp3’s up on Podiobooks.com and promoted it, just as he said. Two other gentlemen — Tee Morris and Scott Sigler — were also podcasting their novels. We were the first three people in the world to do this.
And then we got really, really lucky.
Apple decided to build podcasting support directly into iTunes. There were relatively few podcasts at this time, so this meant our podiobooks would be featured prominently in every copy of iTunes on the planet.
I ended up getting 2.5 million downloads. Scott Sigler ended up with a book deal, whereupon he became a New York Times Bestselling Author. Tee Morris just published his first big book with HarperCollins the same week I did.
My success led to Oscar Nominee Abigail Breslin listening to the podiobook version of ‘Pocket’ and mentioning it as one of her favorite books in a nationally syndicated article. I mentioned this article to a friend who happened to know a Lit Agent; with the 2.5 million and Abigail’s endorsement, she decided to read the book. She loved it, offered to represent me. Four months later, I had a hardcover deal with HarperCollins.
A year and a half later (publishing is slooooow. even when you have a deal :) ), it’s today. And the book is in stores around the world. And I couldn’t be more delighted.
So I guess the moral of the story is you need to get lucky. But you have to be out there trying things for the luck to happen. You can’t just sit in your house and hope. I tried a lot of things that didn’t work. Even when I came home from Phoenix I believed the trip had been a bust: I didn’t get an agent, that had been my goal. But it led to the podiobook which led to the agent.
Fortune favors those who try crazy things. You can be succeeding even when you think you’re failing — so keep trying! :)
Oh, and I do hope you’ll check out MAX QUICK: THE POCKET AND THE PENDANT! :) “When time stops all over the world, creating ‘the Pocket’ of time wherein basic physics are strangely altered, only Max Quick and a few other kids seem to unaffected. While the rest of the world remains frozen around them, Max—and Casey, Ian and Sasha—find that it is up to them to discover how this has happened and reverse it. Along the way, they encounter ‘magic’ books, ancient artifacts and other clues to the riddle of stopped time. And Max finds that his own true identity may not be what he once believed. Now he must embrace his past to save the future and prevent the very world from being altered forever…” More info at http://maxquickseries.com