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?

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Authorship Is A Lesson In Humility

The pain was almost unbearable as I read my book doctor’s lengthy and critical evaluation of my first manuscript. I felt like my heart was being ripped out of my chest. Without significant additional help, not to mention hundreds of hours of work and a lot of money for surgery, my manuscript wasn’t going to live. It was my first lesson in humility as a would-be author.

Thankfully, my book doctor was funny and tactful as he delivered his prognosis. He told me he could teach me how to resuscitate my baby if I was willing to pay the $80 per hour co-pay.

As if my deficiencies as a writer weren’t a big enough blow to my ego, I was also told I had to wait three months before he could carve out time for my writing lessons. Come on, man! Three months? Really?

The harsh truth was no matter how much authority and respect I garnered in my day job as a physician, in the world of book-writing and publishing, I was a vulnerable, inexperienced nobody. I couldn’t even get a writing coach’s quick attention when I was paying.

Fast forward a year, and thanks to my book doctor’s worth-the-wait teaching, plus my own endurance through repeated rejections and humiliation, I produced a much-improved manuscript and ultimately went on to secure Greg Johnson as my agent and a publishing contract with Zondervan for The Eden Diet.

Woo-hoo! I got an amazing agent and a book contract! I thought that meant, “No more begging for people’s time and attention regarding my book.” Wrong! I hadn’t yet even begun to market. I didn’t know yet how humiliating book signings can be, “Please, Mrs. Bookstore Patron, may I interrupt your shopping agenda and tell you about my book?” Many stopped and listened, politely, but some walked right by, as if they didn’t hear me talking.

Compare that to my life at the office. In my doctor-world, I have actual authority and garner near-immediate respect from people who don’t even know me.

Fast forward again and now I have a contract with Strang/Charisma House for a book that can help even more people. Will I risk rejection again as I hold book signings and market for this second book? Absolutely. I counted the cost, and it’s worth the price. My message can bring countless readers into physical, mental and spiritual wholeness. Isn’t their profound healing worth a little momentary discomfort on my part?

Besides, any tiny shred of humiliation I endure along the way to help other people is infinitesimally small compared to the humiliation my Lord suffered when He was hung on the cross. Actually, now that I think about His humiliation for the greater good, I don’t even have the right to talk about humility.