In Friday’s Wall Street Journal, Alexander Alter, told the tale of self published author, Ms. Garvis Graves, a 45-year-old mother of two who lives in a suburb of Des Moines, Iowa. She is just one more example of how self publishing is creating opportunities for authors to be discovered. I have copied the text of the article below, but there are some key points we can all learn from her experience.
1. Rejection can be motivation if you believe in your work. Like many authors, traditional publishers said no to her many times, but that did not deter her from getting her book in the market place. She believed in her work.
2. Pricing has to be part of your marketing strategy. She employed a common strategy today with respect to pricing her book. She came out as a very inexpensive e-book even selling for as low as 99 cents, but that helped her develop a following and get word of mouth started.
3. No matter how good the book, we all need a little help. In her case, Amazon featured the book in a promotion and sold it for 99 cents. That was a key to accelerating her sales, but it wasn’t anything she had control over.
Here’s the full text of the article.
After getting 14 form-letter rejections from literary agents, Tracey Garvis Graves figured there wasn’t a market for her
debut novel, a romance about two castaways stranded on a remote tropical island. But she decided to find out for herself.
So last September, Ms. Garvis Graves, a 45-year-old mother of two who lives in a suburb of Des Moines, Iowa, self-published the novel, titled “On the Island,” as an e-book, also making it available for print on demand. She has since sold more than 360,000 copies through Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo and other self-publishing platforms.
Ms. Garvis Graves is the latest self-published author to land a high-profile publishing deal. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers paid six figures for “Life’s a Witch,” a self-published series by Brittany Geragotelis that had millions of readers on the website Wattpad. Young-adult fantasy writer Amanda Hocking, who sold 1.5 million copies of her self-published books, got a multimillion-dollar deal with St. Martin’s Press.
Ms. Garvis Graves says she has always been a fan of island survival tales, including the TV show “Lost” and the movies “The Blue Lagoon” and “Cast Away.” In 2010, she had the idea for a novel about a young tutor and her pupil—a teen boy who missed school while being treated for cancer—who get stranded on an island in the Maldives after surviving a seaplane crash. The characters, Anna and T.J., fall in love as they struggle to survive by fishing and scrounging off the limited supplies that wash up from the crash debris (conveniently, Anna’s suitcase is brought in by the tides, carrying island essentials like hair conditioner and a yellow bikini).
It took Ms. Garvis Graves 18 months to write the novel. She got up at 5 a.m. to write for a couple of hours before heading to her job as a human-resources recruiter at Wells Fargo. She sent queries to literary agents, and gathered a string of rejection letters. “I was heartbroken,” she says. “That’s a pretty strong indicator that the premise isn’t working.”
She didn’t expect to sell many copies when she released it herself last fall, priced at $2.99. She sold 100 copies the first month. Soon it was selling a couple of thousand copies a month. Sales spiked this spring after Amazon included the novel in a promotion and discounted it to 99 cents. In April, the novel sold around 140,000 copies and shot up the New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal e-book best-seller lists.
Publishers in Indonesia and Hungary bought foreign rights before Ms. Garvis Graves even landed a literary agent. She signed with Jane Dystel at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, who has since sold the book in nine more countries. This past May, Temple Hill Productions and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer optioned the movie rights.
Plume bought the book in early June and rushed it into print to capitalize on the online buzz. A print edition was ready 10 days after the deal was signed.