Two more indie writers just signed with a major pubisher. Mark Edwards and Louise Voss, coauthors of Killing Cupid and Catch Your Death just announced that they signed a six-figure deal with Harper Collins. And the best part about it is – Harper Collins came to them.
Not so long ago, an unpublished writer worked hard to create a manuscript and then lovingly submitted it by mailing it off to the mean streets of New York. I remember that – carefully placing sample chapters and a query letter inside of a self-addressed-stamped envelope, and then placing that into a larger manila envelope and, with shaking hands, writing down the address of a publisher in New York that I had carefully chosen from my latest edition of Writer’s Market. Then making the trip to the post office and handing my “baby” over to the man or woman behind the counter. I always fought the urge to somehow give them notice of the importance of this particular package. For, you see, it held all of my dreams. Fragile writer dreams in a mere manila envelope.
And then, I waited. Usually for at least two months. Watching the clock every morning and listening for the squeak of the mailman’s brakes. Sometimes I was out the door and walking toward the mailbox before he even pulled away. I’d throw him a casual wave. Oh hello Mr. Mailman. Just happened to be walking out my front door as you were driving by. What a coincidence! Might as well stroll out to check the mail. As he pulled away, I would quicken my steps, my heart beating wildly. Every day. Until the day when I opened the box and there it was – that familiar manila envelope with my own address written on it. I always waited until I was back inside the house to open the envelope. Just in case this envelope was “the” envelope. If it was, I didn’t want it to be all ripped up. Going in the house, I carefully sliced the envelope open with a kitchen knife and pulled out my manuscript with the inevitable – a rejection slip. Sometimes they were kind and said wonderful things about my manuscript. More often than not, though, they were form rejections – Dear author/writer/loser. The manuscript/submission/piece of crap that you sent us does not meet our requirements/is not quite right for us/is a waste of postage. Or something to that effect.
Never once did someone write, Dahling! We love this! Enclosed are first class tickets to New York. Come and have lunch with us while we talk about publishing your book. We don’t even need to see the rest of it. We already love it. Kiss. Kiss. Although I did actually work with an agent at one point, and did come close to getting published, it was only close. No cigar. Instead, my manuscript probably went into a “slush pile” where some underpaid publishing assistant was assigned to pour through thousands of other manuscripts, read a short amount, and then stuff a rejection slip into the SASE before mailing it back to thousands of other aspiring writers.
The slush pile still exists. But, surely, it is getting much smaller. And how long will it be before it does not exist at all? I believe the new revolution of ebooks will make the slush pile obsolete. Why would a publisher spend time going through a stack of unsolicited manuscripts in the hopes of finding a gem that might possibly sell, when, instead, they can browse the Kindle bestseller list on Amazon and see what self-published books are currently selling – all ripe for the picking. You can bet that the most savvy agents and publishers are browsing that list every day.
Stories of indie writers who self-published their own books after going the slush pile route and getting rejected are common-place. And what is becoming common-place is publishers courting these same writers they previously rejected. Because now these writers have proven track records, a growing readership, and perhaps even more importantly, the ability to market their own books. Publishing is a business, like any other. It is a huge risk to go with a writer out of that slush pile. Because you simply cannot predict what the reader will buy. So, going with a writer who already has a proven track record is, obviously, very desirable.
Everyone has heard the story of indie writer Amanda Hocking who signed a cool two million dollar deal with Random House. Like many indie writers, Amanda could not get published so she went the indie route. I would love to have been a fly on the wall on the day those same publishers started contacting her. And many other indie writers are having the same experience – getting that email or phone call from a major traditional publisher.
Now the latest of the pack is the writing duo of Mark Edwards and Louise Voss whose two novels, Killing Cupid and Catch Your Death, were just the in the #1 and #2 Kindle bestseller slots on Amazon’s UK site. I have had the pleasure of getting to know Mark over the last few months. I did an interview on his site about my own novel, Life is But a Dream, and we kept in touch afterwards, exchanging emails and joking about how we were obsessed with checking rankings. He emailed me yesterday with the news – He and Louise have signed with Harper Collins. These two indie writers have a four-book deal with a major traditional publisher. He wrote, “It’s incredibly exciting. It’s something I’ve dreamt of for a long long time.” In a second email he wrote, “Next week we are going to meet our new editor which is the kind of thing I used to fantasize about”.
As I read his email tears filled my eyes. Because I knew exactly what he was talking about. Stuffing that envelope. Driving to the post office. Watching for the mail. Opening the envelope with shaking hands. And collecting another rejection from the slush pile. Over and over again. For years.
Six months ago I self-published my first novel. This novel never saw a slush pile. It went straight into print. It has sold thousands of copies. Yep. Thousands. And every one of those sales – every one of those readers – carries a little piece of my heart. Those readers all hold my dream in their hands. I am so grateful for every single sale. But – would I have been as grateful had I not experienced the slush pile, the years of rejection, and the close but no cigar moments? Probably not. In retrospect – that slush pile was a good thing. Those rejections and long trips to the mailbox only fueled my passion and commitment to become a better writer.
Now the indie writer does not need anyone’s permission to publish. Upload your book and it is available in the world’s largest slush pile – Amazon. Instead of a rejection slip, you will either sell books or not. It is up to the reader. Just as it, ultimately, it always has been. The whole process is actually more efficient for everyone – writer, reader, agent, and publisher. Just a new way to navigate in the age-old art of crafting words and sharing stories.
Slush pile. Thank you. You will be missed (but not a lot).
NOTE: Since this was posted, Mark Edwards has written his own post and explains the details behind the deal and why he and Lousie made this decision. Here is a small excerpt: Because this is about wanting something for a long time and finally getting it. It’s about having a dream – the dream of holding a book in your hands with your name on it, with your words inside. A book that might end up in the remainder bins within weeks… or might, who knows, stand the test of time. It might even outlive you. It’s about being able to show something to all the people who believed in you – and yes, those who doubted you – and saying, ‘Look. We did it. We never gave up and we achieved something.’ That, for me, is the most important part of all of this. Finally becoming a published author after so many years of trying. Getting that call to say we had a deal was truly special. Whatever happens now, in this ever-shifting world of books and stories, I will never forget it.
ANOTHER NOTE! Mark Williams wrote an amazing post on this same subject and you must read it. http://markwilliamsinternational.com/2011/07/08/living-the-dream-the-gatekeepers-eat-humble-pie-yet-again/ This is beginning to feel like a huge celebration of writers all across the world. This is not only a great post (but Mark Williams always writes those), the comments are just wonderful! Please join in on the celebration. We all welcome your comments on all of these sites. Happy writing! 🙂
Cheryl Shireman is the bestselling author of several novels, including Broken Resolutions, the Life is But a Dream series, and the Cooper Moon series. She is also the author of ten books for toddlers including the eight Let’s Learn About series focusing on different animals and I Love You When: For Girls and I Love You When: For Boys.
J. Carson Black says
This is incredible news! And nobody deserves it more than Mark and Louise. Not only is KILLING CUPID a stunning debut, but they are such great folks! It was Mark’s idea to start THE SUMMER BOOK CLUB and to reach out to a bunch of “indie authors” to spread that news that there are some really good writers out here in the hinterlands.
Like you, Cheryl, I stuffed the envelopes and waited. Some agents asked to see my books, then, months later, rejected them. I was lucky to get an agent with my first book (call me lucky) but then I waited 3 years after that to sell to a publisher for a pittance. You’d think once you sold a book you’d be “there,” right? But there is no there, there. My last book, THE SHOP, was submitted to over 30 publishers, and all of them turned it down.
But now, knowing a lot of topflight writers on Kindle Boards, I’ve seen a new phenomenon. I call it The Inbox Syndrome. Because you’re right. Editors, agents, publishers and other entities are now coming to us.
And doggone, if that isn’t a GREAT feeling!
J Carson – it is incredible news, isn’t it? From our very first email exchange, Mark has just been wonderful – so kind and supportive. I am so happy for the two of them.
And I bet those same publishers are kicking themselves when they look at your sales. Epublishing really is an revolution. And, honestly, I think it is a win/win for everyone – writers, agents, editors, and publishers. Harper and Collins just signed on a writing team with a proven track record. Publishing is a business, just like any other. Of course publishers are hesitant to take a chance on a new writer. Now, with so many writers going the indie route, they are building their own readership. Which means less of a chance for the publisher. And who benefits the most? The reader. Those THOUSANDS of people who have bought your books and the books of Mark and Louise are the real winners. Just a few years ago, those “books” would be sitting in a desk drawer or on a computer hard drive.
I LOVE being a writer. And I love being part of the writer community – no matter how we are all published.
Thanks so much for your comment! 🙂
mark williams international says
Great post, Cheryl.
The speed at which the legacy guys have moved on this is quite amazing. And all the more satisfying for Louise and Mark because the two books that got them this deal are two books the legacy guys rejected time and time again.
Mark shared his experiences over at MWi back in April, when the idea of even making the top thousand on Amazon, let alone number one, was inconceivable to him. He tells how he was so depressed by the constant rejections that he actually gave up writing for many years.
It’s an emotional post that has all the more poignancy now.
Funny how a book deemed so bad then is suddenly so good now. Did the book somehow magically acquire a good storyline that wasn’t there the first time they looked? Of course not. It was a great story from day one. But the legacy guys didn’t think they could make money on it, so they threw these authors’ dreams in the gutter.
Louise and Mark proved them wrong. And suddenly the legacy guys wanted in.
Louise and Mark, my most sincere congratulations. Over at MWi we’ve been cheering you on for a while now, and it’s wonderful to see how things have developed.
Hopefully you’ll find time to come back over to MWi soon and tell us how it feels to have made history yet again.
It IS amazing – how quickly this came together. Just a few months ago Mark and I were exchanging emails and kidding about how we were watching our rankings. Now, here they are – signed by one of the big boys. I will have to stop by your website and read that post.
I wonder if this is the quickest indie deal ever? Mark and Louise may have, truly, made history. 🙂
Michelle Muto says
Ah! The query-go-round. I remember it well. Don’t miss it at all. I do think that agents and publishers are watching rankings and using them for the new slush pile.
If I was an agent or a publisher, I would certainly be doing just that. Why bother with a slush pile when you can sign writers with a proven track record?
Great for all of us. 🙂
mark williams international says
Re: Kindle as slush pile. We’ve had a similar experience. A very major New York agency approached us out of the blue seeking to represent us after we hit # 2 on Kindle UK. Previously every major agent in the UK had turned us away.
Some interesting discussions followed, but the bottom line is: does a writer really want an agent who only likes their book because it is selling well?
Sure, they are running a business, but an agent-author relationship needs to be built on mutual respect. You want them to fight your corner and promote your book because they think it deserves to succeed. How can you respect a agent who wants to rep’ you but doesn’t actually know what you’ve written?
It looks like agents and publishers are indeed using the ebook charts as the new slush pile. But long term it will backfire.
More and more people will epublish and those that are successful and actually selling will soon do the royalty math and find that, unless it’s a exceptional deal like Louise and Mark’s, the agents and publishers have nothing to offer.
Yes, Mark, I think you are right – the publishers will have to come up with “exceptional” deals. But for writers with proven track records, why not?
Readers – if you haven’t read it yet – read the interview that Mark Edwards did just a short time ago on Mark William’s website. Amazing what a difference just a few months can make! http://markwilliamsinternational.com/2011/07/08/living-the-dream-the-gatekeepers-eat-humble-pie-yet-again/
David Gaughran says
Excellent post Cheryl.
I still remember the first submissions I sent out. This was to UK agents, where everything was done by post, and you had to send the first 3 chapters and a cover letter. The stamped addressed envelopes alone were horrendously expensive. I sent fifteen out. Only around half ever bothered to reply, even though there was an SAE.
Fast forward 18 months, and I had sent out 300 queries, thankfully mostly by email. I had agents who requested fulls that never responded after 9 months (four or five of them), I had agents who said they wanted to represent me then disappear off the face of the earth.
I’ll never do that again, and I won’t miss it one bit.
Yep – send three chapters and a query letter and hope that they ask to see the rest. If they do, then go buy two boxes so you can mail one inside the other (with double postage so it could possibly be returned). And beyond the cost, the TIME that all of this took was just awful. I don’t know about publishers in the UK, but back then publishers said they did not want “simultaneous submissions” so, the writer would mail out one at a time. Then wait months to get a reply. Then mail again. Horribly tiime consuming. So different from now!
And, David – I am so looking forward to your next book – “Let’s Get Digital” – all about this exciting wave of Indie publishing. 🙂
C.J. Archer says
I. Love. This. What fantastic news for Mark and Louise and all indies who dream of being picked up by big publishers, and even for those who don’t but just want some sort of recognition that they write great stuff. I’ve been eyeing off the cover of Killing Cupid for some time and will probably pick it up even though it’s not my favorite genre. I’ve been watching the sales of this book go through the roof, so this news is really no surprise. Kudos to them and to HC for making them an offer they couldn’t refuse.
Yes – that is just it, CJ – this is great news whether you are an indie who dreams of a publishing contract, or if you are an indie who is determined to stay independent. It gives credibility and value to the entire indie movement.
Thanks so much for stopping by!
Prue Batten says
Three years ago, I published my first fantasy novel POD feeling somewhat of a loser at going down that road after the usual submit, return process. I published the sequel a year later. On hearing of my sales, the hits to my blog and website, an agent asked to read both books. After doing so, she said she wanted me to do a re-write (changing the books entirely) and she would attempt to sell me on and why on earth did I go down the independent route anyway, how could I be so ridiculous! I politely said that as my books were already ‘out there’ with a niche following, I would certainly not re-write and was happy to continue as is… thank you very much. On publishing them as e-books this year, a successful mainstream author wished me luck and said ‘it does seem to be a little more acceptable to self-publish these days.’ There was something alternately pleasant and yet uncomfortable about her words.
Yesterday, I received an email from a highly reputable literary consultant saying the following: ‘I’d say you’re one of our most e-savvy authors and I’m always slightly
envious of the ease with which you seem to embrace new technologies, media
and ways of telling stories. ‘ That to me was one of the nicest things that has been said about me and to me for sometime. It has made the efforts to go down the independent road, the struggles, the workload… all worthwhile. And WHAT a turnaround from that other awfully ill-informed and ill-mannered agent.
Exciting and rewarding times.
Thanks so much for stopping by Prue and thank you for this wonderful comment!
Isn’t it funny how the tide is changing. You went from a rejected “loser” to a savvy author – and all with exactly the same material!
Writing dreams have always been susceptible to someone “letting” you get into print. And now the writer need no permission whatsoever. And I am sure that all of your readers are very happy about that change!
Best of luck to you. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. I am sure it will inspire many others. And that is exactly the intent of this website – and of everything I do in writing. I want to live my writing dreams, and I want to encourage other writers to live theirs.
Thank you for being part of that! 🙂
Marilyn Peake says
This is such exciting news! And congratulations on the sales of your self-published book! I’ve been published by indie press, recently self-published three novels and three short stories on Amazon Kindle, and am thrilled to discover blog posts about successful self-published authors springing up all over the Internet in the past few months. It really does seem that self-publishing is the new slush pile. What astounds me, though, is that the legacy publishers seem to be awarding much higher advances to successful self-published authors than to most of their own loyal authors who published with them from the beginning.
At the present time, I have an open invitation to submit all my work to a top Hollywood movie agent who only accepts projects by referral, and I have short stories that are being considered for a joint project between my indie publisher and the Executive Producer for THE LORD OF THE RINGS movies. It’s a wonderful time to be a writer, and publishing through indie press and self-publishing are completely viable options. Huzzah!
Marilyn! You go get ’em girl!
I am not sure why the legacy publishers would be offering the larger advances unless it is because the indies have less reason to go with a publisher. If you are already selling thousands of books on your own, with no marketing department, you are standing on pretty firm ground for negotiations.
Publishers are running a business. I don’t blame them for going after a proven commodity. I would, too, if I was in their shoes.
Frankly – I’m tired of all of the nonsense about the publishers and agents being the “bad” guys. It’s not that black and white. And it’s just not true. Sure – lots of books are selling well that were rejected, but if I am going to a horse race and I am betting on a horse, I am going with the one that has a good track record. Few publishers or agents will be willing to put their time, money, and effort into a longshot. That’s just the way it is. We would all feel the same if it were our business.
The great thing about the ebook revolution it gives the writer a chance to say, “Hey, you were wrong about my book. Look at all of these sales!”
And the writer then has options – stay indie, go with the traditional publishers, or combine both options. Ultimately, I am an optimist – and I think this is good for everyone. It is just a new way of doing business, and we will all adjust.
Thanks so much for stopping by, Marilyn. Please stop back and let us know how things are going. Sounds like you are off to an amazing start.
Wishing you much sucess.
Marilyn Peake says
Thanks, Cheryl. I have to say, though, if I were running a publishing business I wouldn’t run it the way it’s run today. Big publishing houses are owned by much larger corporations making billions of dollars, and the bottom line is their primary motivation. Personally, I would run a publishing house the way they used to be run, with respect for the mid-listers.
J. Carson Black says
Mark, regarding agents coming out of the woodwork, I agree with you. My agent has stood by me through thick and thin. She submitted THE SHOP to over thirty editors over a two-year span—and had been certain the first two or three would have picked it up. It was so frustrating. I hope now she can finally be rewarded for her belief in me and my book, and for all her hard work. I am lucky to have her!