Guest Karen McQuestion on Keeping the Faith

Guest Karen McQuestion on Keeping the Faith

[Karen McQuestion (A Scattered Life, Easily Amused releasing today, and Celia and the Fairies for ages 7 – 11 coming November 2, 2010) believed she was born to write and write she did, novel after novel for almost ten years. The only problem was they weren’t being published. In today’s guest post, the author describes what happened in her literary version of, “If you build it, they will come.”]

Keeping the Faith

I didn’t set out to become a self-publishing guru, but lately I’m finding myself in that role. When I first self-published on Amazon’s Kindle, I had modest expectations. At most, I’d hoped to gain a few readers and make a little money. As it turned out, I got so much more than that. Just over a year later, I’ve sold over 75,000 e-books, signed contracts for five books, and have a film option on one of my novels.

Originally I was a freelance writer with credits that included Newsweek, the Chicago Tribune and the Denver Post. But it was when I started writing novels that I really came into my own. I loved writing fiction and longed to get my work out in the world and into readers’ hands.

I wrote novel after novel for nearly a decade and made every attempt to get them published. Over the years, I had two different agents represent my work. I got complimentary feedback from editors, but neither book sold.
Later I was a semi-finalist in a novel contest, but the book didn’t make it through to the next round. I submitted to publishers on my own, and got encouraging notes, but no offers. It was very disheartening and somewhat embarrassing. When friends and relatives asked how the writing was going, I felt like the biggest loser ever.

It would have been easy to give up, but I didn’t. I knew I was made to do this.

And so it went until I read an article about a writer who uploaded his unpublished novels to be available for sale on Amazon’s Kindle as e-books, and was so successful he went on to sign a contract with Simon & Schuster. I was familiar with the Kindle, but had never seen one. In fact, I’d never seen any e-book device. Prior to reading the article, I hadn’t known writers could self-publish on the Kindle, but now I was intrigued. I learned all I could about uploading and marketing a Kindle book, and decided to go for it.

I uploaded two books at first, but didn’t tell too many people. I figured I could always take the books off Amazon if there weren’t any sales, and no one would be the wiser. But an amazing thing happened shortly after the books became available for sale: someone bought one. And that was just the beginning. The sales rolled in, just a few at first, but more every day.

Within a few weeks, I started getting emails from readers who enjoyed the books and wanted to know if I had any others. Spurred on by these requests and my initial sales, I got out my remaining manuscripts, did some revising and uploaded them one by one. After a few months, readers started recommending my books on the message boards and the word of mouth helped drive sales. The increased sales helped my rankings, which gave my titles added visibility and led to more sales.

Over the course of the first several months, my husband and I found ourselves exchanging the same few words to each other: unbelievable, amazing, unreal. Sometimes it’s still hard for me to believe that people are reading and enjoying my books. I’ve wanted this for so long that it feels too good to be true.

In November 2009, five months after I began this venture, I got an email from Eric Lake, the head of an L.A. production company. The email asked for the contact information of the person handling the movie rights for my novel, A Scattered Life. Apparently no one had told Eric that there was no such person, only me, a woman typing in her basement. I did a search to see if this was a legitimate production company (it was) before responding.

During the next week, Eric and I talked on the phone, and emailed back and forth. Once we agreed on terms, we were able to finalize the deal. He envisions my novel as a full length feature film along the lines of Little Miss Sunshine, a movie I love. So far the project is on track and I hope to eventually see my story on the big screen.

At the beginning of December 2009, I had steady sales and a film option and couldn’t imagine my life getting any better. Then I received an email from Terry Goodman, Senior Content Acquisition Editor for Amazon’s new publishing division, AmazonEncore. The email congratulated me on the film option and mentioned the novel’s positive reviews, but this was my favorite line in the whole email: I would love to speak to you about acquiring the rights for the physical book under the AmazonEncore imprint. At that point, I wasn’t even pursuing traditional publication, so this was an unexpected, wonderful bonus. I was excited about partnering with AmazonEncore, especially after talking to Terry, a smart, funny man, who shared my vision for the novel.

The new version of A Scattered Life has already been released on Kindle and paperback, and is doing extremely well. Four more of my previously self-published books are now also under contract with AmazonEncore, and will be published in the next several months.

I didn’t set out to be a self-publishing guru, but I guess I am one now. I get emails all the time from other writers who’ve heard about my publishing journey. They say that my story is very much like theirs. They know about the rejections, the encouraging letters, and the agent failures. I understand where they’re coming from. They love to write and want to connect with readers. It would be easy for them to give up, but they aren’t going to. They feel like they were made to do this.

I share what I know, then tell them to keep the faith and be open to new things. Opportunities present themselves, sometimes when you least expect it, and often when you’ve almost given up hope.

Note: To celebrate the launch of Easily Amused, Karen is having a four Book Giveaway — today through Saturday. Please visit her Blog to enter.

* * * * *

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Jenny Nelson’s Georgia’s Kitchen in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Canadian amoxil. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, September 22, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

8 thoughts on “Guest Karen McQuestion on Keeping the Faith

  1. Wow, what a story! And I love how genuine you are in your surprise and gratitude. Obviously quite deserving. 🙂

    Out of curiosity, are you now interested in an agent (I have to think they would be interested in you!)? Why or why not?

  2. Hi Kristan!

    As far as agents go, I have been contacted by several, but I didn’t use one for my AmazonEncore contracts. I already had an offer in hand and I wasn’t shy about discussing the terms with them. It’s possible that I may have done better with an agent, but I was happy with what I ended up with, and I now don’t have to give up a percentage of my income

    I do think agents are necessary for selling secondary rights such as movie/television rights, so that’s something I’m currently considering.

  3. I’d love to know how she priced her novels when she first self-published them on amazon for kindle. Did she offer them for free, .99, 1.99? I know there’s a lot of debate about how authors should price their books if they decide to go the same route. Any thoughts?

  4. (I come to you from Anne Bingham’s blog). What a great story! I read so much about people who persevere for so long and never manage to find homes for their work, so this one has absolutely made my day. It took a lot of guts to do what you did, and your faith in yourself obviously paid off. Hooray!

  5. Hi Suzanne,

    To answer your question, the first two books I uploaded to Kindle were $1.49 and $1.79. I soon learned that these were odd amounts and shortly thereafter changed the prices to $1.99, with the exception of my children’s book, CELIA AND THE FAIRIES, which was $0.99. None of them were ever free. When Amazon doubled the royalty rate last June for books priced between $2.99 and $9.99, I upped the price for the four novels (to $2.99). I knew that if the raised prices affected sales I could always lower them again. Luckily for me, the higher price didn’t slow sales in the least.

    Hi Mary! How nice of you to stop in. I loved your “Hooray!” Anne and I go way back and I was tickled that I got a mention on her blog. I’ve found that writers are really generous to other writers.

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