Wednesday, June 2, 2010

9 WOW Wednesday: Kiera Cass on Self-Publishing before Traditional Publishing

It's WOW Wednesday again, and we are excited to have Kiera Cass guestblogging about her untraditional road to publication. Kiera, in case you didn't catch the results of our Underappreciated YA Novel poll last week, is the author of the #1 Underappreciated YA Novel: The Siren.

Kiera was born and raised in South Carolina, was a nerd in high school, and majored in History at Radford University where she learend to tell stories and fell in love with writing. The Siren, came out in July of 2009, and her newest project, The Selection, is being pitched to editors as we speak. She is represented by the Caren Johnson Literary Agency. You can stalk Kiera on her website or via Twitter.

On Going It Alone

by Kiera Cass

I make New Year's Goals Lists every year. Not resolutions, mind you, but goals. These are quantifiable things like ride an elephant and learn to hula hoop (both of which I've accomplished). And so, because it had crossed my mind a thousand times, in 2008 I put "write a book" on my list. I was sure that would be one of the ones I failed at, like getting knocked up (which I got around to later) or building a cardboard boat. Sometimes the stars just don't align.

Sometimes they do.

One not-so-special day I woke up from a nap with an idea in my head. I promptly wrote down four paragraphs that were the seed of this story, and then went to a friend's birthday party where I did nothing but think about my little story and wish I was at home writing it. We left early.

Days passed... weeks passed... and eventually I had a finished product. I wrote a book! From that moment on I was in love! I spent months going over the text again and again, really learning who my characters were, making the descriptions shine, showing it to trusted friends. I was pleased as punch until I realized that these characters that I loved so much might only live within this tiny circle of people. I wanted to share them, so I decided to try and publish it.

Now, I don't know what I was expecting, but this is what I got: I sent query letters for The Siren to about 70 agents, maybe 10 or so requested more, and in the end no one felt like they could sell it. The market's tough right now, so it was understandable. I wrote to small publishing houses, trying to get in without an agent. No such luck. In the end, I decided to go with an idea I'd been flirting with from the very beginning: self-publishing.

For those unaware, self-publishing is where you pay a fee to have your book printed. I myself have no problem with this, but the bookstores and book buyers of the world typically do. Most assume that because your paid to have your book printed, it must suck. Let me just say that there are a lot of crappy self-published books out there. I shiver when I see the covers alone. But Eragon, The Shack, Still Alice, and the Chicken Soup for the Soul books were all originally self-published and then picked up by larger companies. They don't suck. And, based on all the feedback I got from the agents I submitted to, I didn't think my book was bad either. It just wasn't the right fit. For me, choosing to do it independently was good. Still, I wouldn't recommend it for everyone.

To be clear, I worked my ass off. I got into book fairs, I went to conventions, I made my presence known on the web, I held contests... I did everything I could for my book. And we did okay. For someone who did it alone, I'm proud of my sales and of my awesome fans who support me and share The Siren with their friends. But I always wonder, could I have done better?

I'm no agent. I'm no editor. I'm no publicist. But I had to become all those things for the sake of my characters. I don't know a whole lot of other independent publishers, so I can't compare notes on how I did at those jobs. Even if I could, would I want to?

In the almost-year that The Siren has been out making its rounds, other stories have demanded my attention, and finally one, The Selection, held my heart the most. So the entire process starts again. I knew what to expect this time: dozens of queries, piles of rejections, and more work that I'm not necessarily the best at. This is what I got: I sent out 13 queries, I had 2 agents ask to represent my story, I got the opportunity to choose who I worked with, and now my story is making its rounds with editors in the hopes of being picked up.

Yeah, you might notice some tiny differences there.

What can I say? Sometimes the right story makes it into the right hands at the right time. And this time around it's much more exciting because I get to focus on what my role is: storytelling. I don't regret my decisions with The Siren. I made what felt like the best decision for it at the time, and I love the following that's grown for it. Still, I'm excited to step out again with a new cast of characters that I love, this time with an army of people behind them. Because that's one of the most satisfying parts about writing, isn't it? Sharing it?

The point of all this? I'm not sure. But I know that people who tend to read things like this are writers themselves going through the nerves about writing a good query or trying to make a solid list of agents or dealing with rejection after rejection. I say to you: Hello, friend. You are embarking on something that is very difficult. You will be tested, and there will be days when all the Ben & Jerry's in the world will not be enough to comfort you. But, if you love it, please don't give up. You just never know when or how it will all work out.


  1. What an amazing post! Kiera, I love your passion for your first book. I love that you did whatever it took to get it into the hands of readers because you believed so much in your work. And most of all I love that it didn't "ruin your career" which is what I've been reading online quite a bit. That if you don't go the traditional route right off one's chances may be ruined FOREVER. I wish you every success with your second book and others, and that your first one just keeps on selling!

  2. Thank you, Kiera, for sharing your journey. I, too, have been thinking about self-publishing. I love your passion and dedication. I wish you great success with your new project.

  3. What a wonderful and inspiring post. Being self-published is not on my horizon, but I am happy when writers I know make it work for them.

    Good luck, Kiera, with your lastest projects!

  4. wow what a fascinating story! thanks so much for sharing your journey, kiera. this was very eye-opening.

    best of luck with everything!

    (& a big hug to the lovely M&M ladies!!)

  5. I appreciate your honesty and encouragement. I wonder if you've considered using Amazon Encore as a distributor for Siren. They publish your book electronically, and pending strong reviews & sales, offer to publish/promote it themselves. I'm taking this route shortly myself...just because I want to ride the new tech wave. Thanks for the post ~

  6. Kiera - congratulations!! On both books. And thank you for sharing.

  7. Thanks for your inspiring story. Wow, it sounds like you spent a ton of time on marketing. Hopefully it will help you when your book gets picked up by an editor. Maybe you can do a guest post in the future about the differences in marketing strategy, if any, between being self-published and published traditionally.

  8. Thanks everyone for such kind and receptive comments. Kiera is an amazing writer and person. We were over the moon to have her blog for us today. It was such an insightful post. Thanks again, Kiera!

  9. What a great story! I love hearing about people who've been successful, especially when it doesn't fit the norms. There's more than one path to publication in this industry and I'm glad to hear that self-pubbing worked for Kiera. Congrats on landing a great agent and I hope sales of your new book helps The Siren do better too!


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