Strategic Self-Publishing

10 Jul



Guest blog by Timothy Jay Smith

I became a full-time writer nearly fifteen years ago. It took me a couple of years to complete my first novel. By then, the publishing industry was already in an upheaval over the rapidly mounting threat of e-retailers. Buy-outs and mergers were an effort to build a cost-competitive fortress against them. In other words, the industry was hunkering down and taking no risks.

The former President of the Book of the Month Club ‘discovered’ my novel and passed me along to one of New York’s leading boutique agencies.  My new agent sent out my manuscript on a Thursday afternoon, and the first call she received on Monday morning was a leading publisher saying she loved the book.  “Let’s get together and talk numbers,” she suggested, until three days later, she called back to say that the publishing house had been acquired by an even bigger publisher, and it had fallen off the new publisher’s list.
No other offers came in.

My agent told me not to worry, it was a good book, it would eventually sell. Just keep writing. It wasn’t a good book—not that draft—but I did keep writing.
Fast forward to today, and I have written four novels, five screenplays, and five stage plays. Along the way, I have won a dozen Grand Prizes or First Places in writing competitions, and placed in over 70 more. I never sold a novel, despite having prominent literary agents in both London and New York.
My novels weren’t commercial enough, the publishers said. They were too literary to be a thriller but too thriller-ish to be literary. Bookstores wouldn’t know which shelf to put them on, and customers wouldn’t buy them because their genre wasn’t clear.
I decided to prove them wrong.
I self-published Cooper’s Promise in January 2012 with the clear intention of wanting to get noticed and picked up by a traditional publisher. That meant I had to sell books and get reviews, and getting reviews as a self-published author is extremely tough. That’s understandable. The number of books are overwhelming, and there are few gatekeepers for weaning out the bad from the good.

So I approached the challenge strategically.
I had two novels ready to go, and chose Cooper’s Promise over my actual first novel, Vision of Angels, precisely because it had a gay protagonist. I knew the gay community would ‘forgive me’ for being a self-published author in the sense that it might take a look at my novel—and it did. Using the internet, I reached out to the gay community worldwide, and within weeks I had reviews, book posts, and sales on four continents. Straight press picked me up, too; and Kirkus Reviews, calling Cooper’s Promise “literary dynamite,” selected it as one of the Best Books of 2012.
And I got noticed.

By spring, I had a two-book deal with Owl Canyon Press, a literary publisher out of Boulder, CO. We pulled the self-published edition of Cooper’s Promise from the market, and brought it back out as a new book six months later. A Vision of Angels was released this July.
Self-publishing certainly changed my life as a writer. By spinning good reviews and sales, I worked my way to a place at the table. I did it by targeting an audience—in my case gay, and also human trafficking, which is part of Cooper’s story—but there are a number of large audiences that are well-organized on the internet and thus broadly accessible. Think issues. Think political causes. Think religion. Think sports. Think about anything big, and there’s a big audience for your books—if you spend nonstop hours courting them.

As to that original draft of A Vision of Angels that fell off the publisher’s list, I am sincerely glad that it was dropped. It wasn’t good. It was a sprawling 156,000-word epic filled with all the rambling back story and subplot errors of a first novel. The years in between gave me time to cut it to a fast-paced 82,000-word literary thriller (yes, it is still that). Along the way, it gave me time to learn how to write, or at least get a much better handle on the craft.
So, sometimes rejection is not all that bad. It’s just how you spin it.

BIO: Raised crisscrossing America pulling a small green trailer behind the family car, Timothy Jay Smith  developed a ceaseless wanderlust that has taken him around the world many times. En route, he’s found the characters that people his work.
Polish cops and Greek fishermen, mercenaries and arms dealers, child prostitutes and wannabe terrorists, Indian chiefs and Indian tailors: he hung with them all in an unparalleled international career that saw him smuggle banned plays from behind the Iron Curtain, maneuver through Occupied Territories, represent the U.S. at the highest levels of foreign governments, and stowaway aboard a ‘devil’s barge’ for a three-days crossing from Cape Verde that landed him in an African jail.

Tim brings the same energy to his writing that he brought to his distinguished career, and as a result, he’s won top honors for his screenplays, stage plays and novels in numerous international competitions; among them, contests sponsored by the American Screenwriters Association,StoryPros, WriteMovies, Houston WorldFest, and the Hollywood Screenwriting  Institute. A Vision of Angels won the 2008 Paris Prize for Fiction (now the Paris Literary Prize), and his first stage play, which went on to a successful NYC production, won the prestigious Stanley Drama Award.
A Vision of Angels on Amazon:



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2 responses to “Strategic Self-Publishing

  1. 1writeplace

    July 11, 2013 at 12:10 am

    Here’s a marketing angle to be noted, “Think issues. Think political causes. Think religion. Think sports. Think about anything big, and there’s a big audience for your books—if you spend nonstop hours courting them.”
    The more I learn, the less anxious I am to jump into the publishing river yet…I’m polishing, editing and reading a lot. The market is so filled with low quality self pubbed books, that my driving force is now aimed at quality over speed. This post verified and strengthened that resolve.
    Excellent choice of guest blogger.

  2. Matt Kruze

    July 11, 2013 at 3:16 am

    Inspiring stuff


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