Publishing: A Long and Winding Road

Buddhists like to say that there are many paths to the truth. In getting a novel into the hands of readers, as in achieving a state of enlightenment, the Buddhist aphorism is right. My novel Sister of Mine, forthcoming from Lake Union Publishing on March 22, 2016, has taken a long and indirect path to emerge in the light of the public eye.

I wrote several novels earlier in life, but I put them away when I realized that they were unlikely to be published (if I tell you how long ago this was, you’ll know how old I am. Safe to say, years before self-publishing was easy). I took up novel-writing again about four years ago, and to push myself to finish, I enrolled in a writing class. The man who sat to my right had just self-published his first book. I was fascinated to hear how self-publication had gone for him, and decided that when I finished my novel, I would do the same.

 But fate intervened…The instructor, who had published fiction and non-fiction the old-fashioned way, was taken with my manuscript, and offered to introduce me to New York agent she had worked with. It was too good an opportunity to pass up. The agent fell in love with the book and agreed to represent it.

 Thus began the effort to find the book an editorial home, primarily among the imprints of what is now the Big Five. Editors have reason to be risk-averse these days, and a novel by a first-time writer without a sales record didn’t reassure them. My agent and I racked up two dozen tactful declines, and after two stressful years, we agreed, in the most cordial way, to take the book off the market. I told her that I wanted to try self-publication, and she wished me the best.

 So I returned to what had been Plan A, with excitement and trepidation. I gave myself a crash course in the technicalities of publication and in the tactics of book marketing. I hired a graphic designer for the cover and a book designer for the interior design and production. I put together a website and a Facebook page, began a blog, and contracted with a PR firm.

 My marketing strategy was centered around “the history behind the story”, and I discovered that writing guest posts along those lines for that wonderful supporter of Jewish books and Jewish authors, the Jewish Book Council, gave me the best visibility and the biggest boost for my sales. It was heady to watch the numbers, and great to see the long-lasting effect of exposure in the right place to the right readers.

After the book had been out for a year, I began to worry. I experimented with advertising; tried to garner more editorial reviews; even wrote a second book. Some self-published authors enjoy marketing. I learned that while I’m fairly good at it, it wore me out. The effort needed to keep sales high required a level of energy and vigilance that sapped my ability to write.

By the time Lake Union Publishing contacted me, I knew my own capability as a marketer. I knew how many readers I could reach (not as many as I wanted to). Ongoing marketing had begun to feel like a burden instead of an adventure. I was ready to hand off the effort—in particular, the marketing and sales effort—to a publisher with a team full of energy, focus, and capacity for it.

I don’t know what the future holds. I suspect that I’ll be a hybrid, self-publishing some books and working with a publisher for others. It’s been a long and winding road for my forthcoming book, Sister of Mine. But I wouldn’t have done it any other way.