Some Times You Kickstart

I’ve written a great deal about traditional publishing in these entries on the writing life. Here’s a topic I haven’t tackled—until today. What happens if you’ve tried the regular publishing channels and haven’t been able to publish something you seriously believe should be in print? You’ve learned your writing craft. You’ve been to a few writer’s conferences and made some relationships with editors so your proposed projects gain serious consideration. You’ve learned how to write a solid book proposal locate an editor who believes in you and your project. I understand the effort and energy that you’ve poured into each of these steps. Also I know firsthand that many people don’t pour the right energy and effort into these steps—so they are constantly rejected with almost no understanding of the reasons. But you’ve done your work and hooked an editor on your concept. It’s gone ahead into the publishing process and various executives have read your material—yet it’s never reached the stage where you get a book contract. Now what?

There are many reasons why books get rejected and not contracted. Some of these reasons are things the author can fix and some of them are completely out of your control. I’m going to detail these reasons this coming week in Philadelphia (yes that was a hint to come to this session). When you reach this point in the process, you can do one of two things. You could decide the market isn’t ready for your concept, stick it into a file drawer and move on to another project. This decision is perfectly OK and something I’ve done with a number of my projects over the years. I’ve certainly marketed the daylights out of some proposals which have never found a publishing home. Agents have championed these projects and in some cases, I’ve completely rewritten these proposals yet they haven’t been printed. I assume it wasn’t the right time for that particular effort and I’ve pressed on to other things which do get published.

Or there is another route to try which is often a much harder route—called self-publishing or you could use Print On Demand or POD. There are many of these places for this effort. It’s almost like rabbits—they seem to be multiplying and I learn about new ones all the time. It’s a harder route on many fronts—including the main one—distribution. How will you get your book out into the marketplace so people can located it and purchase it? Will you be able to market it and build enthusiasm from readers? Will it be a quality effort? Many self-published projects have a bad rap because they don’t go through all of the reviews, edits and checking process in traditional publishing. But you can conquer these hurdles—if you really believe in what you have written. Like a stubborn motorcycle, some times you have to kickstart a particular concept before it catches on in the marketplace.

Would-be writers love these stories that I’m going to point out—but let me say upfront—they are the exception rather than the rule. The majority of self-published books sell few copies. As this website points out, “Getting published was no easier for them than it is for anyone else. But instead of sitting around waiting for the magic to happen, they had enough faith in themselves and in their work to take the self-publishing route. Though big publishing companies coined terms like “vanity press” and tried their best to make it difficult for authors to self publish, these writers did it anyway.” On a couple of pages, this site points out some of these stories:

John Grisham self published A Time to Kill. He sold his first work out of the trunk of his car. [OK, I just found another fact on this one–apparently it was not self-published. Look at this rare interview from Grisham for the straight story.]

H. Jackson Brown self published Life’s Little Instruction Book yet eventually it reached the top of the New York Times Bestseller List where it sold over five million copies.

Richard Evans took six weeks to write the 87-page book, The Christmas Box. After getting it published himself, it did so well he sold out to Simon & Schuster for $4.2 million. In my books, I’ve got one of these self-published books which Richard signed for me before it went to Simon and Schuster.

Each of these authors invested a great deal of energy and effort in their writing then in pushing their book into the marketplace of ideas. Eventually these books caught on and the rest of the story is all that anyone remembers.

6 Responses to “Some Times You Kickstart”

  1. Crystal Says:

    You always manage to do it–find all this information to spark my imagination. I loved the links (especially the Grisham interview) in today’s blog. It is often like taking a university course in writing with each of your posts. How do you find all of these things? However you do it, thank you for keeping us posted.

  2. Terry Whalin Says:


    Thank you for the comment. It’s no secret–I read and I read a lot of different things–online, print magazines, books of all types and newspapers. I’m constantly tracking on many different pieces of information and some times I pull some of those strands together into these posts on the writing life. I’m glad it was helpful.

    The Writing Life

  3. Jerome Says:

    Terry, Grisham’s interview (and you’re right — it is rare) was interesting. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him a couple of times– and lived near his Oxford, MS, home while in law school. He and I both attended Ole Miss law school (a few years apart). He was a guest speaker one day during a class of mine on trademarks and copyrights and recounted the story about how the bootlegged copies of The Firm actually was the event that thrust him into fame. His version of the negotiations over the movie rights was hillarious. Also, a previous agent of mine told me that the actual paper contract Grisham signed with Wynwood sold for something like $100,000 (several owners down the chain of title) although all the publishing rights in the contract had been previously sold off. If true, that is interesting.


  4. Bob Says:

    Another self-publisher was GP Taylor, who sold his motorcycle in order to self publish his novel Shadowmancer, and ended up on the NY Times bestseller list twice (

  5. Margarita Says:

    Terry I just bought your book. “Book Proposals That Sell”
    I bought it because I have a story to share,its about my life. I know what happen just not sure how to put it all in a book.
    Margarita from Chicago

  6. Tristi Pinkston Says:

    Hi Terry —

    A question and a thought.

    The question — what can self-published authors do to gain more respect in the publishing industry? More and more people are going that route, as you indicated, and while their product could be just as good as what traditionally published authors are producing, there seems to be a caste system that dictates how an author should be ranked, and a self-published author gets treated almost as poorly as an author from a vanity press. Surely there’s a way to change the perception.

    The thought — you mention that a self-published book doesn’t go through the editing and double checking process that a book from a standard publisher would. Well, why doesn’t it? There are many freelance editors out there and many proofreaders, professional typesetters and the like who would be more than happy to hire out to help a self-published author get their work ready. Sure, it’s a little more expensive than doing it yourself, but if your sales are higher, it’s worth the investment.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: