From Self-Published to Contracted Author (In Ten Thousand Easy Steps)

Five years ago, when I attended a Harvard University writers’ workshop for medical doctors, I was one of the few in attendance who actually had an edited, polished, pitch-ready manuscript in hand. But, still, I left that meeting with no agent and no publishing contract. The reason is I didn’t have a media platform.

Right or wrong, after that meeting, I decided to self-publish. I figured it would be easier to build my platform once I had a tangible book in-hand, and the fastest way to turn my manuscript into a tangible book would be via self-publishing. I thought, “I can always sell my book to the publisher later, if it succeeds,” and “How hard could it be to self-publish and succeed?” Little did I know how much work the whole venture would entail.

Over the following year, I hired freelance editors and artists to tweak my book into publishing house quality. I even started my own publishing LLC, so I could print my books via Lightning Source, Inc. and get them into the warehouses of the major distributors like Ingram and Baker&Taylor.

Next, came the marketing. Ugh! Being that I had no contacts in the media, I still don’t understand how I landed those first few radio and TV interviews. Okay…I confess. Maybe it had to do with me calling the stations and saying, “Hello. This is Dr. Rita Hancock. I need to leave a message for [the producer’s name], so please connect me to her voice mail.” It’s not my fault if the receptionist put me through because she thought I was calling to leave pregnancy test results. It’s not like I implied that exactly.

During this platform-building year, I also built my book’s website and online interactive support forum and began sending out monthly newsletters, answering questions on “Ask the Expert” websites, and utilizing pay per click advertising to drive traffic to my website.

Eventually, thanks to the platform-building, I landed both an excellent agent and a contract with a bona fide publisher. However, what came next utterly shocked and disappointed me. I didn’t yet know the adage “The top 20% of the authors get 80% of the marketing dollars.” Being a newbie author, I was left almost completely on my own to market. In a sense, it was “do or die” for my writing career. So, over the subsequent few years, refusing to “die,” I redoubled my efforts and took media training classes, learned how to write press releases, secured book endorsements, cross-promoted with other Christian authors, and built up my presence in social media like Facebook and Twitter.

I hoped that through these continued efforts, I would eventually be in the top 20% on some publisher’s author list—if not on my first book, maybe on my second, and, if not with my first publisher, maybe with a different publisher. And that’s exactly what happened. One day, during a conference call over my second book, I heard the publisher say what sounded like music to my ears. “Dr. Hancock, we’re prepared to put a lot of money and a lot of energy into promoting your next book.” Amazing! All that hard work finally paid off, and it took only ten thousand easy steps to get there.

What steps are you willing to take to promote your book?

8 Replies to “From Self-Published to Contracted Author (In Ten Thousand Easy Steps)”

  1. It’s always encouraging to hear another author’s story of perseverance! And thanks for reminding us about the importance of platform.

    Ten thousand easy steps! Love that! Go Dr. Rita! : )

  2. Thanks Rita. I plan to attend the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference May 20, 2012 – May 24, 2012. You may be sure I will keep my ears and eyes open for messages on building platform.

    Whether traditionally published, self published, or just wanting to spread the word of God, we need the proper platform.

  3. Ugh! Sounds like a painful journey…

    Glad it worked out well for you. Congratulations!

    How in the world did you manage to stay on top of your career as a physician while also building platform and marketing?

    1. Thanks for your comments, everyone! As far as my career goes, I actually have the best, most encouraging patients in the world, not to mention a great staff and a very supportive family. They make it easy!

  4. Sneaky, using the Dr. credential to get through to the producer…but I believe God helps us in mysterious ways, Rita, so… good for you that you used whatever resources you have at hand! Marketing is a tough task that calls for perseverance and creativity.

  5. Haha, I laughed at that comment about using the “doctor” label to get through.

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