Authors often grapple with the choice between traditionally publishing and self-publishing their books. We want to provide our readers with insights from experienced authors so it’s easier for them to make this choice. Bestselling hybrid author Claire Cook agreed to share how the shift from traditional to independent publishing has impacted her writing career and reinvigorated her book sales.
I don’t think self-publishing is for every author. But after 14 years with traditional publishers, I feel really good about my own publishing reinvention, and I think much of that has to do with the ways I spend my days now.
1. I spend less time waiting and wondering
I hope this doesn’t sound completely pathetic, but when I was traditionally published, I spent way too much time trying to figure out what was going on in my own career. For instance, I’d finish writing my daily pages on my next book, and I’d email my agent to find out if she’d heard anything from my editor. Would my edits arrive soon? Or I’d email my editor to find out if she’d heard anything from publicity. Had they assigned a publicist to my book? Did they know where they were sending me on book tour? Did they have any major media hits yet?
Then I’d check my email approximately every three seconds for a reply. If I didn’t hear back immediately, I’d obsess about exactly what this might mean. Were they all talking about me? Were big decisions being made at this very moment? Or had they just not read the email yet?
Now that I’m on my own, I simply figure out how to do what needs to be done, and I do it myself. In some ways it’s harder, but emotionally it’s almost always easier.
2. I’m involved with all brainstorming
A lovely editorial assistant who worked on one of my books once said to me, “[Editor] and I had so much fun brainstorming about your novel!” I can still feel how left out that comment made me feel. Oh, how I would have loved to brainstorm with them! Since they wanted me to be a happy camper, I’m sure if I asked to participate, another “brainstorming” session would have been arranged. But before it happened, they would have already put their heads together to decide where to try to nudge me editorially.
Looking back, when I was at each of my traditional publishers, I was always trying to be a part of the team in a way that simply wasn’t possible. As an author, even if you have a great relationship with your publisher, even if you’re the hardest working author they’ve ever come across, you’re not a colleague. This either works for you or it doesn’t. For me, it never really worked, and I spent way too much time banging my head against a brick wall, trying to get in.
Now I’m the center of my own career and any brainstorming that happens involves my brain.
3. My brand can expand
Reinvention is the overarching theme of my novels as well as the story of my life. It’s my passion. Over the years I pitched a nonfiction book about reinvention to my agent several times and to at least two of my editors. My agent told me self-help wasn’t her thing. “But everybody loves your novels,” one of the editors said. “Maybe someday,” the other editor said.
When I went out on my own, I just wrote it. Never Too Late: Your Roadmap to Reinvention (without getting lost along the way) is a little bit self-help and a little bit memoir. It’s filled with strategies for writing and platform building. It reads like a novel, because that’s how I write. In the old days, this might have meant booksellers wouldn’t know where to shelve it. But these days, being hybrid somewhat guarantees shelf space online.
Never Too Late has been a #1 Amazon bestseller in several writing and creativity categories, as well as in Women’s Personal Growth. I’ve picked up lots of new readers, and having a nonfiction book about reinvention has opened up some fabulous new doors for me as a speaker.
4. Everything old is new again
Traditional publishing is all about the front list. You plan for a launch often a year ahead, and you put everything you’ve got behind it. Then you let the book go, even when you just know it has so much more potential, and you move on to the next one.
When I left traditional publishing, I went after the rights to my formerly ignored backlist. I now own 11 of my 14 books, seven backlist books, which I’ve re-released, and four new releases. I’ve turned my most well-known book, Must Love Dogs, into a series (four books and counting), something my readers had been asking me to do for years.
Along the way I’ve discovered that if a reader hasn’t read one of my books yet, I’m new to that reader, which is the best kind of new. With the help of my friends at BookBub, one of these books, Life’s a Beach, recently hit the New York Times bestsellers list, making me a NYT bestselling author for the very first time in my career. It really is never, EVER too late.
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