Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

First she self-published, then she became a bestseller

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Another common question I get asked by aspiring authors is this: How do you know when to give up on trying to get an agent or publisher to take interest in your manuscript, and instead go the self-publishing route. So today I'm featuring the biggest success story by an author I know personally (since I do not know E.L. James, author of Fifty Shades of Grey), Kate Hilton. Kate originally self-published her first novel when she couldn't find an agent to represent her. Three weeks after she self-published, an agent contacted her. Six days after that, HarperCollins bought her book.

Her story is incredibly inspiring! Here's Part 1 of my Q&A with her.

1. You're the best selling author of The Hole in the Middle, which is now published by HarperCollins. But originally you self-published it. Why did you decide to self-publish?

KH: For the same reason many aspiring writers decide to self-publish: I couldn’t get an agent.

2. When did you self-publish it?

KH: Mother’s Day, 2013.

3. How many agents or publishers did you submit to originally?

KH: I was focused on agents the first time around, and I think I sent the manuscript to 15 in the US, Canada and the UK.

4. How long did it take to decide to self-publish rather than make you stick the manuscript in a drawer/start over with a new book/become depressed?

KH: It took about six months. I felt very discouraged at the response to my initial queries, and I got busy at work and felt that I couldn’t devote any further emotional energy to the process. But then over the Christmas holidays, I had some time on my hands, and I decided to read the manuscript from beginning to end. I was actually surprised to find that I still loved the book, and still believed in it.

5. How did you make the decision to self-publish? What thought process did you go through?

KH: I didn’t want to put myself through the frustration of a second submission process. I didn’t see any reason why I would have more success the second time around. My original query letter was good, I had done my research and targeted agents I felt were a good fit for the book, and the book was as strong as I could make it. I felt that I was at a huge disadvantage in the market, being a completely unknown writer from Canada. There was no reason for anyone to take a risk on me. I thought that if I self-published, I would at least be creating a presence for myself in the publishing landscape, which might help with my next book.

6. What are the aspects of self-publishing you never considered when you started out?

How incredibly time-consuming it would be! Marketing through social media is powerful, but it takes time - lots and lots of time.

7. How many months did it take you to self publish? What was the process like?

KH: The act of self-publishing is instantaneous – it’s the click of a button. But to do it properly requires a foundation that takes weeks or even months to build. I had a four-month plan from January until I launched in May. That gave me time to do my research, connect with prospective reviewers, design a cover, and most importantly, build my brand on social media.

8. What aspect did you enjoy?

KH: I really enjoyed the marketing of the book and connecting directly with readers in a variety of ways. I think Twitter, in particular, is fun. I love it when I manage to say something funny and true in 140 characters.

9. What did you dislike?

KH: I dislike the technical aspects of self-publishing – worrying about why a chapter break isn’t showing up properly, for example, or why an update to the document isn’t loading. I have zero natural technical ability, so I’m easily flummoxed by these kinds of issues.

10. When did you think "Wow, I'm really doing well with my book"?

I cracked the Top 100 on Amazon after about two weeks, and I started to get the sense that the book was taking off. When The Hole in the Middle hit the Top 25, it was a real ‘pinch me’ moment.

11. What happened next?

My now-agent Beverley Slopen got in touch with me three weeks after I self-published. One of her clients, the wonderful Roberta Rich (The Midwife of Venice, The Harem Midwife), had encouraged her to read The Hole in the Middle. We met a week later and signed a contract there and then.

After signing with Beverley, things moved very quickly. I had a book deal with HarperCollins six days later. They bought the book without any changes, but it went through the editorial process before publication.

Chantel's note: Tomorrow I'll post Part 2 of my interview with Kate. See you then!

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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