Friday, April 29, 2011

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood...

There was a time when publishing a book pretty much meant one thing for an author: find an agent (optional, but helpful), get a publisher to say “yes” (never easy), and then wait for your “baby” to grace the shelves (usually at least a year in the waiting for this step). For many authors, this is still the preferred road to take, but let’s face it, the times they are a-changin’ (thanks, Bob Dylan). Nowadays, thanks in large part to the convenience and user-friendliness of modern technology, many authors are choosing a different road, “the one less traveled by” (thanks, Robert Frost), and that road is self-publishing.

While there are many authors who have found success via the traditional road, the field of authors who are finding success using the self-publishing road is growing every day (traffic is picking up). With this in mind, I wanted to invite an author who recently made the decision to jump from one road to the other and self-publish. To that end, take it away Anita Laydon Miller. Tell us about your journey on the road “less traveled by.” 

Anita Laydon Miller
Thanks, Michael. First of all, I want everyone to know I respect people who dream of traditional publication. It’s a beautiful dream and I wish everyone the best in making that dream reality. And I do not dislike or mistrust agents, editors or publishers…these people have given me treasures in the form of books I’ve read.

Here’s my story:
You know how sometimes when you view a situation through someone else’s eyes, the situation becomes clear? That’s what happened to me.

A couple years ago, I decided I wanted to be a published author, and so I began researching. I learned I needed to write a great book with a unique premise and likeable characters. Then I needed to find a kick-ass agent who would provide me with suggestions to make the manuscript more marketable. Once the suggestions were incorporated, the kick-ass agent would find a publisher for my book. I’d work for several months with an editor at the publishing house, and about a year after the book was edited, it would appear on the shelves of the major bookstores. Then I’d work my tail off marketing the book, but I probably wouldn’t make much money.

I explained the above to my husband, a pragmatic FedEx pilot (with an honest-to-God degree in rocket science) and he was like, “What? You’ve got be kidding me.” I assured him I must follow the publishing rules, and he shrugged and watched the kids, and I wrote.

Lucky me (and I know that sounds sarcastic, but it’s not), I hooked a great agent…she was professional, savvy and fun. We made some changes on my middle grade mystery and she submitted it to about 15 editors. They all said, “No,” but with some positive feedback like, “I want to read everything else she writes.”

Still, I started getting a little suspicious of the process at this point, because in the comments that accompanied the rejections, the editors were often in complete disagreement with each other. I knew it was a subjective industry, but when one editor says something like, “It’s too scary,” and another editor says, “It’s not scary enough,” it gives a person pause.

My husband was especially thrown off by this, but I assured him that’s the way things are done and that I must move on.

So, not to be dissuaded, I started work (also as part of my MFA requirements) on another book—a middle grade science fiction. When it was time to submit, my agent and I decided to send it to only a few editors. The manuscript got rejected, but with some great comments. One editor (at a big house) even had several other editors look at the book. Ultimately she decided not to send it to committee, because (among a couple other reasons), aliens weren’t selling in house—meaning it was difficult to get an alien book sold within the company.

My husband was like, “What? But kids love aliens.” And I started looking at my husband like maybe he was right.

My agent and I reviewed the manuscript again (we both thought this book was a winner) and she suggested some changes. Now, I’ve been a freelance writer for over a decade, and when the person in charge says to make a change, I make it and I make it fast. But not this time. I totally disagreed with the change. My agent and I discussed it and she said that if I didn’t want to make the change, we could shelve the book and move forward on a YA that I’m writing.

My husband was like, “What? You love that sci fi. There must be another way to get it to kids.” And everything became clear to me, because there was another way: epublishing.

My agent and I had a few polite discussions via telephone and email, and we decided (I like to believe amicably) to part ways. I still think she’s a great agent, incidentally, and highly recommend her to anyone seeking an agent.

11 days later, EARTHLING HERO was for sale. Sales have been steady and the marketing experience has been fun. I feel like I own a small business. And I like it.

Here’s what I think: Every writer should investigate independent epublishing before signing with a literary agency or publisher. Buy an ebook in your genre, so you can get over the notion that indie writers’ books suck. They don’t. Read JA Konrath’s blog and Google “Jane Friedman.” Find out the number of sales of Nooks and Kindles. Then you’ll be in a position to make an informed decision.

Below is information about my inexpensive kids’ ebook, a $.99 middle grade science fiction titled EARTHLING HERO. It’s a great family read-aloud. I’m the book columnist for the COLORADO SPRINGS GAZETTE, and I’m always pleased to find family read-alouds to recommend. I had that in mind when I wrote the book.

Imagine waking one summer night to see someone standing beside your bed. The “someone” is a complete stranger, but looks exactly like you. That’s what happens to eleven-year-old Mikey Murphy. The next few days are filled with adventures—breaking into a high-security military installation, engaging expert assassins in hand-to-hand combat, searching for an evil alien’s hideout in the middle of a national landmark—all with two new alien friends at his side. Can Mikey and his friends survive their adventures and save the world?


  1. Thanks for welcoming me here! I'll be popping in and out of here during the day, so if anyone has a question, ask away.

  2. Now that I've read the book, I'm dying to know what changes were suggested!
    I can testify that Earthling Hero is an exciting scifi adventure! And what a price!
    Congrats to Anita on her e-publishing success.

  3. What a fantastic (and inspiring!) story. I've been singing the tune of "many different paths" for writers for a while (I'm published with a small press), and I have great admiration for those willing to believe in themselves and take the leap! Best of success to you and Earthling Hero!

  4. KELLY: It wouldn't make much sense to explain here, because other visitors might not get it, but I'll send you an email. I think people really have to trust their agents/editors...that's why you decided to work with them in the first place, right? But this issue-combined with how I was already feeling about traditional publishing-pushed me over the edge.

    SUSAN: Thank you for your kind words! And I know you bought a copy of EARTHLING HERO, so thank you for that, too! I can't tell you much my joy for writing (and I don't use the word "joy" lightly) has increased since I went the indie route. It's not for everyone, but it's suiting me nicely.

  5. Anita--I feel like you are a trailblazer--that you and others like you are making the publishing industry change in a wonderful way. I'm not sure I have the guts to go this route, but I love how you came to it. And, while I LOVE the ebook version of EARTHLING HERO, I would also love to hold a copy in my hands. Is there any plan for that on the horizon??

  6. Anita, you're a rockstar, Joel's awesome, and yeah.

    I think this version of your story best explains the catalyst. You should add a version like this your blog/website.

  7. HEATHER: Thank you for buying EARTHLING HERO! It's hard to break away from the way things have been done for decades. I was talking to a bunch of kids yesterday (they're on a library advisory council) and I was explaining how books are traditionally published and they were looking at me like, "That's stupid." Things are changing in publishing and this is how I'm currently dealing with the change.
    I have a magic # in my head...if sales reach that magic #, I'll print some books...I'll keep you posted.

    JONATHON: You have helped me soooo much with this process. Thank you! I will add this version somewhere...great suggestion. Joel is awesome...he's cute, too. :)

  8. Anita, great post, really resonated on so many levels with me. And I love how we writers have options now!

  9. CONDA: Options=good! I have a great deal of respect for the way things have happened in the past, but now that there are options, we owe it to our work to explore those options.

    MICHAEL: Thank you!!!

  10. Thanks for sharing your story, Anita! I like how you've described the process as "running your own business".

  11. MARISSA: It's my pleasure sharing here! The great thing about my "small business" is there's been zero monetary investment. Of course, I've invested hours of my time, but that's been 95% fun. And I'm so excited to epublish another book--I'll have an MG mystery done soon and an EARTHLING HERO sequel done in December.

  12. Glad to see people asking the talented Anita some good questions. Keep swinging and hit some more her way. She's like a gold glove shortstop! Nothing gets past her!

  13. MICHAEL: Thanks for having me here! I'm on my way to an overnight field trip with three classes of fourth graders. I'll pop in here later in the weekend, though, to see if there are any other questions.

    Also, I invite everyone to Kelly's blog and my blog on Monday...we're having a dance-off for charity!

  14. Thanks for sharing your story. Even though I've heard parts of it, it's great to hear more. And I really enjoyed Earthling Hero. It was my first experience downloading a book onto my computer. And it wasn't a bad way to read it. Good luck.

  15. Thanks Anita. I appreciate you sharing what sounds like a well-thought out and informed decision. I'm hearing a lot more about indie publishing these days, but mostly in regards to adult literature. I look forward to hearing more about your experiences with YA epublishing.

  16. I know just what you mean about getting contradicting comments from editors. I got them from agents, too. What it told me is that everything's subjective and the market is fickle.

  17. NATALIE: Thank you so much for buying EARTHLING HERO...please post a review, if you get a chance!

    Downloading ebooks is quite easy, even for people who don't have ereaders. I have a page on my website that shows the best methods.

    MONICA: I think MG is more risky than YA and Adult for indie epublishing, because not as many MG readers have access to ereaders. Buuut that market is growing, and as it does, I want to have as many MG works available for the market as possible. AND my hope is that families read EARTHLING HERO and my other MGs together.

    Plus, as I've said, one does not have to have an ereader to read an ebook.

    LISA: Yes, I think you have to ask yourself who you want your audience to be and stick with that thought. The minute you start writing to please an agent or editor, you may very well be compromising your relationship with your MG readers. Ideally, you write a book that pleases everyone, but your focus should always be on your reader, IMO. That's why I think it's important to spend time with readers of your genre and ASK THEM QUESTIONS. I spent last night with more than 100 MGs and you better believe I was picking their brains about books, and observing their mannerisms and speech.

  18. Great post, Anita. Thanks for sharing your story with us. It's going to be exciting, hearing about your successes with EARTHLING HERO and books to follow. Good luck!

  19. JOHN: Thank you! I can hardly wait until your book is published. I'll be marketing for you for sure (no dancing/singing included).

  20. Anita, it's been inspiring following your journey to self-publication! I'm one of those writers who has been reluctant to dip her toe in the epublishing pool, but hearing your story, and seeing your courage and determination reminds me that sometimes you have to take the bull by the horns and make your dream of publication come true!

    I can't wait to read your next book, and who knows, maybe I'll be joining you on a blog tour of epubbed Seton Hill MFA authors soon. :-)

    Thanks for all the advice!

  21. PRISS: Oh! I like that idea...the Seton Hill epubbed...but I guess we can let the traditionally pubbed in on that, too? :) Thanks for stopping by here...Monica and John were here, too. To anybody else who may be curious, these are people who are in the same MFA program as me at Seton Hill University.

  22. Thanks, Anita! I do hope it sees print -- it's nearly finished -- and I'd appreciate any marketing help and advice you could offer. As to the singing and dancing, let's negotiate. I might be able to ply you with these great shirts I picked up recently. The one I'm wearing now reads "Colorado", actually. What do you say? A shirt like that has to be worth at least a hornpipe and a yodel!

  23. JOHN: Here's the first and most important piece of advice: Write a darn good book.

    And you should be paying me for the honor of wearing a Colorado shirt. No hornpipe. No yodel.


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