Writer seeks readers: possible LTR
May 13, 2012 4:59 PM   Subscribe

Tell me stories of people finding unusual routes to getting their books to readers. I have written a book and would love to hear about people who found readers through more DIY channels. Not interested so much in how to self-publish, as in hearing stories to help me find the next step for my creation.

I have written a book. I started it 4 years ago and have been steadily writing and reworking since then. A while ago, I wrote a query, researched agents and submitted my work to the publishing world. I made myself submit to at least 100 agents before I quit, and I reached that mark, and then some. There was some interest, at least 3 saw a complete manuscript. No one made an offer. Ok.

So back to writing. I dug deep and got the book to a point where I really felt good about it; I feel wonderful about it, in fact.

My quandary is that I don't know where to go from here. I am not going to submit it to agents--and subsequently publishers--now. Let's assume for the purpose of this question that this is off the table.

If I knew what was next, I wouldn't be asking this question. And if I had any idea of what direction to go, this question wouldn't be so vague. I've followed my heart and visions so far, and they've led me to a awesome book. The problem is, now all I am hearing from them is "get the book to the people."

I am not interested in paying to make copies of the book myself, only to have them sit around the house. I am interested in somehow getting the book in front of the people who are meant to read it.

Do you have have any stories of writers who have found an audience, not necessarily fame and fortune, through unconventional channels? Again, if I knew the exact type of thing I am looking for, I wouldn't be asking!

Thank you so much in advance for any help; this site has always been delightfully helpful!
posted by bobbyno to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You may be interested in the story of how 50 Shades of Grey is every book club's new favorite. The story started as episodic fanfic published on message boards, got itself re-arranged, went the e-book/print-on-demand route, and is now a NYT bestseller.
posted by carsonb at 5:12 PM on May 13, 2012

What's your genre? Is this fiction or non-fiction?
posted by Narrative Priorities at 5:13 PM on May 13, 2012

Maybe not exactly what you're looking for, but Tim Ferriss setup Google Adwords for possible titles of his upcoming book, and went with the most popular - The 4-Hour Work Week. That might not work as well with fiction, but it's unconventional (or was at the time).
posted by backwards guitar at 5:20 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: E. Lynn Harris self-published his first book and sold copies out of the trunk of his car. He went on to be a full-time writer. It created a lot of buzz and was picked up by a big publishing house and became a bestseller. His trunk-books strategy worked in large part because he really knew who his audience would be (black women) and took the book to them (hair salons).

And I didn't know until I looked this up that he died in 2009. Damn.
posted by rtha at 5:22 PM on May 13, 2012

I was going to say the same thing about Matthew Reilly, who writes full-throttle (and brilliantly stupid) action novels. He vanity-published 1000 of his first one and got a few into bookstores, then got discovered.
posted by Etrigan at 5:28 PM on May 13, 2012

J. A. Konrath writes a passionate (if contentious, and sometimes in my opinion miles off-base) blog with a lot of information for people interested in self-publishing.

The forums at AbsoluteWrite.com have subforums devoted to self-publishing and promoting your self-published titles. Lots of good resources there.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:39 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think I would figure out the Amazon kindle publishing thing, put it on sale for $.99, and promote on social media. That's what I'm thinking about doing if I can ever get my novel done.

If you get some traction, THEN publishers may want to talk to you...

I used to think self-publishing was kind of pointless, but I think the traditional publishing world is at such 6s and 7s that it may be the only way literary fiction gets done in a few years.
posted by randomkeystrike at 5:47 PM on May 13, 2012

I don't see you mention making money, sales, or selling the book — just getting it front of the people who should read it.

If all you really want is for people to read your words, then go digital and give it away through as many channels as you can find. Publish it to Apple's iBookstore via Smashwords, submit it to Amazon and B&N yourself… Google too, while you're at it. Whenever given the option, specify that it should be published DRM-free. Your official list price at Amazon and B&N will have to be at least 99, but if you price it free at Apple, eventually Amazon will notice and price-match down to free (you can submit "I found this cheaper elsewhere" emails to them to help them out). I suggest not leaving it free at Apple all the time, because the 99¢ shopper is often a different audience type than the FREE! shopper — get 'em both by tweaking your price once in a while.

Set up an Amazon authorcentral page. If you don't already have a site of your own, create a wordpress.com blog for the book, acquire and assign a meaningful domain to it, and make sure to direct readers there in your book's introduction, author bio, etc.

Are you on Facebook? I hate it, but the world seems to love it, and you probably should be if you're looking to attract the world's attention. Create a Facebook page for the book and provide a sample chapter right there, via one of the myriad apps that lets you stick an iframe of html into a tab. Run highly-targeted Facebook ads for your ideal readership. HIGHLY targeted, with low-ball bids... you don't want to spend a lot on those clicks, but you do want them to visit your book's page.

Submit it and flesh-out its info at Shelfari.com, which feeds into Amazon. Submit it to Goodreads, whose reviews get sucked into search results and other book sites like Kobo.
posted by mumkin at 5:58 PM on May 13, 2012 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks! Keep them coming!

The book is fiction. Might be a "middle grade" book, maybe "young adult". Main character is a 12-year-old boy. Some fantastic elements.
posted by bobbyno at 7:25 PM on May 13, 2012

Middle grade is tough, because (at least right now) it needs to be primarily published in print to really get traction (at least in the US and Canada), because ereaders just haven't caught on broadly enough with that age group.

That said, one way to go might be to offer it as a free ebook for teachers and school librarians, in the hope of building a baseline of orders for a print-on-demand version. That would avoid the upfront costs and inconveniences of making a large offset print run.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:17 PM on May 13, 2012

Best answer: You may be interested in, or informed by, the artist here: http://www.richshapero.com/

His books were handed out for free around the SF Bay Area, a few years ago.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 8:19 PM on May 13, 2012

Best answer: For what it's worth, Crad Kilodney used to stand on the sidewalk of the main street of Toronto selling his self-published books. He stopped when, in 1991 Kilodney was charged with selling commercial goods without a license, making him the only Canadian writer ever charged for selling his own writing. His books have since become a cult collector item, more likely because of the novelty than because of his writing, which is abysmal.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 8:31 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't do what Rich Shapero did. He spent tens of thousands of dollars in order to make tens of thousands of people (and several municipalities) really annoyed with him. Basically, he gave away so many copies of his horrible book, which people understandably threw away in public trash cans because it was just that godawful, that it caused headaches for municipal public works departments.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:36 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you want to get your book into the hands of middle grade readers, your best bet would probably be to get some librarians excited about it first. Are you friendly with the folks at your local library? Have you started building relationships with the women and men in your community who're most invested in getting great books in front of kids?

It would help if you can think of something your book is uniquely able to offer readers -- even better if that quality is rare or very specific. Librarians and teachers are often in the position of trying to match reluctant readers with books that will appeal to them, and if you can successfully present your book as a quality story that offers something that other middle grade books don't have, that could help you get some traction. And if you're a success locally, you can expand from there -- librarians talk to each other, after all.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:53 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Write another book.

Look, I know it's hard. I wrote a total of five manuscripts and queried two before I queried the one that got me an agent and, now, a publishing deal. I'm also in YA (and also write middle grade). In total, I sent out over a hundred query letters on those first two manuscripts. My stats were close to yours--a small handful of full requests on each.

That you got some requests is a good sign. But it's not a good enough sign. In fact, on the book that eventually sold, I had a 90% request rate. I was agented within two weeks, and that was after over a year of sending out queries.

I've looked back at those first books. There were things that were promising about them. However, they neither had sufficient commercial potential nor were polished enough to sell. I could see immediately why they hadn't. They were absolutely necessary. The time spent working on them was in no way wasted time. But I wasn't there yet. And I considered self-publishing them, too. You know, because they weren't terrible. But two years down the line, I'm so fucking relieved I didn't. The standard publishing practice of querying, rejection, trunking, and starting again saved me from embarrassment, if we want to be honest with myself.

You need to take the skills you learned working on this first book, put it on the back burner, and put your heart into a new project. Writing a second book is absolutely the best thing you can do at this point. Even if you end up going the self-publishing route, many of the success stories (Amanda Hocking) got there not by having one successful book, but a large catalog from which to purchase stuff.

And everything people have written about the middle grade market being nigh-on impossible for self-publishing is spot-on. If your goal is to write for twelve year olds (and hooray! mine is, too), then mainstream publishing really is your best bet. The review journals (Kirkus, SLJ) are where librarians and teachers and booksellers discover titles, and that's what leads to sales to this audience. Kids that age don't purchase their own books, and so parents act as gatekeepers in ways they don't for upper YA audiences.

I hope this isn't a bucket of suck. But I really do think the best thing you can do for your writing and career is to dust yourself off and write something new. Also, feel free to send me a MeMail. I'd be happy to look over query letters or talk your ear off. I love chatting with aspiring author mefites.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:27 PM on May 13, 2012 [11 favorites]

Best answer: Alexandra Erin is doing online fiction - writes a lot of ongoing serial fiction, and gets enough donors and merch-buyers to make a living.
posted by brainwane at 10:35 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Write another book" is always the best advice to a writer. Put this one in a drawer.

But you want to find competent and honest readers of the current book, people who know good from suck when they see it and who would be happy to tell you exactly how and where your book sucks. Your intended audience is young adults, so talk to local schools to see whether they have a writing class that would be interested in analyzing and reviewing a local author's work in progress and talking honestly to that author. They are your intended audience. If they don't like it, you know you have work to do. If they like it, you know you're on the right track. Adults don't matter if the book is for kids.

But you'll need a thick skin and you'll need to use strategy to get honest opinions out of polite kids. For instance: "Here is a printout of the first chapter. Here are red pencils. You are my editor. Cross out everything that shouldn't be there. Cross out the bad writing. Cross out the boring writing. Cross out the predictable writing. Leave only the good parts." Then discuss the results in class. Discussing exactly where and why your writing sucks will help them and help you. And, of course, the parts that don't suck could be the parts that are good. Carry the discussion along from there. And maybe go back to the class after a rewrite to see what your gang of editors thinks of your changes.

If that works out for one school, try to arrange the same thing with other schools.
posted by pracowity at 5:35 AM on May 14, 2012

You should talk to MeFi's Own Hugh Howey.
posted by jbickers at 7:57 AM on May 14, 2012

I see you have marked Rich Shapero as a best answer. Please, please, please don't do any of the things he did. He spent tons of money and gained nothing but contempt.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:17 AM on May 14, 2012

Yeah, what Shapero did was spam; what E. Lynn Harris did was targeted marketing. One may get you more publicity in the short term, but if you want something that results in success (your book being carried by stores/schools/libraries, being invited to speak or read in classrooms and conferences, eventually getting published by publishing houses, etc.), knowing your audience and targeting them effectively will take you much farther than spamming.
posted by rtha at 10:24 AM on May 14, 2012

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