There is this saying in academic science: “Publish or perish!”
We say this because if you don’t publish your results in peer-reviewed journals, you won’t get the next round of funding, which means you won’t have the money to do the next round of experiments, which means you’re out of a job.
I no longer work at the lab bench as a neuroscientist. I haven’t in ten years now. But this “publish or perish” mantra must’ve gotten under my skin and into my blood. It gave me just the mentality I needed to become a novelist.
Before I self-published my first novel, STILL ALICE, last summer, I tried going the traditional route. I spent a year querying literary agents. But no one wanted my book. I was sitting in a holding pattern with a completed novel and no one reading it, waiting to find out if STILL ALICE was ‘good enough,’ waiting to find out if I was a ‘real writer,’ unable to give myself permission to write the next book. This was not a fun year.
To the last agent that year who said, “No thanks,” I said, “Okay, then. I’ve had enough of this. I’m self-publishing.”
I’m so grateful I had the confidence to ignore his response:
“Don’t self-publish. You’ll kill your writing career before it begins.”
He couldn’t have been more wrong.
Instead of fearfully sticking my novel in a drawer, I moved forward. I self-published STILL ALICE, and the journey that followed and continues has been the ride of my life! I ultimately still wanted that big publishing house book deal, I just wasn’t going to go the traditional route. I was in for almost a year of guerilla marketing, of putting on my armor and battling every day, trying to overcome the stigma of being a self-published author, trying to scale the wall of the publishing house castle.
I listed STILL ALICE on myspace, goodreads, shelfari, and more. I managed my own website and blog. I read David Meerman Scott’s The New Rules of Marketing and PR and John Kremer’s 1001 Ways to Market Your Books. I scheduled at least two book events a month: Readings and signings at local bookstores, coffee shops, Alzheimer’s facilities or conferences, book clubs. And after seven months, after I’d started getting some good feedback and local press, I hired Kelley & Hall Book Publicity to join me in my efforts.
In the three months that I worked with Kelley & Hall, STILL ALICE was featured on television and radio. It was reviewed in newspapers, blogs, and at amazon.com. It was chosen for book clubs, as a staff pick at bookstores, and as a Finalist in General Fiction in the 2008 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. And it won the 2008 Bronte Prize for best love story in North America.
By nine months, things were definitely beginning to vibrate. By ten months, you could hear the BUZZ. Word of mouth and a generous introduction led me to a literary agent who loved my book and within a week of signing our contract, I was inside the castle. STILL ALICE sold at auction to Simon & Schuster for six figures! They’ve sold it to publishing houses in nine other countries with more to follow and plan to release it in the US on January 6, 2009.