Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Behind the Curtain: Going Hybrid

Guest post by Kory M. Shrum


No, not like some vampire-werewolf sexy-time. I’m talking about the moment that an author abandons traditional publishing only to fall into the dark and mysterious arms of self-publishing. Oh, the danger! The intrigue! It’s enough to make a girl’s heart race.

The decision to step away from traditional publishing might seem even more bewildering when you consider the difficult and strenuous task of acquiring an agent in the first place. Why in the world would anyone change gears after investing so much time and energy into one path? Wait, I can explain.

After spending a year trying to get an agent, I finally signed a contract with the ever talented Ginger Clark. She’s amazing. All of her clients love her and then one day I found myself on the phone, listening to her say all of these fantastic words: “I love your book. The world you’ve created is so unique, unlike anything I’ve read before. I think it has wonderful commercial appeal” etc., all ending in “I’d like to offer you representation.”

I was head over heels.

And like most newbie-writers, I expected her to sell the book next week. A month at most. After all, wasn’t Stephanie Meyer dreaming about sparkly boys in the woods one day with a book deal the next?

But that isn’t what happened. One month turned into two, into four, six, then eight and it seemed that while we had mostly nice rejections (usually ending in an offer to see the revision), no one was committing. I even had an editor who waited a year (!) to finally reject the manuscript because she couldn’t decide.

In the meantime I wrote the sequel to Dying for a Living and started a third book called Water & Dark, a YA urban fantasy novel.

Ginger saw each of these books, offering suggestions for revisions before showing them to editors. But it was more of the same—lots of praise, lots of hesitation to reject, but ultimately, no acceptances.

We’d reached an impasse. After all, no one was going to buy the sequel to Dying for a Living when the first remained unpublished. And I’d had no success with Water & Dark either. So here I was with three unsold books and a seriously crushed spirit. (Do you know how hard it is to sustain enthusiasm through three years of rejection? Don’t get me started!)

And here is where I admit a couple of things about myself:

  1. 1)      I am the most impatient person I know
  2. 2)      I have control issues
  3. 3)      You can’t tell me no.


It was primarily these character flaws that led me to consider a hybrid career. After all, the beauty of self-publishing is that you can do it yourself (control issues) and you can do it immediately (impatience). And furthermore, no one can tell me I can’t do it!

Of course I could have handed the manuscript over to a smaller press, etc. But “Go Big or Go Home” is more my style. I figured that if I really wanted it done my way, then I would do it my way. And I’ve been blessed to know enough creative people to help me facilitate this transition without breaking the bank.

Except of course, I had this agent, and I was unsure of how this would affect our relationship. After all, Ginger is lovely and extremely supportive of her writers. When I expressed an interest in self-publishing, no surprise, she was supportive then too.

So we worked out a deal where I can continue to send her new work that she would continue to try and sell. And in the meantime, I will publish everything else independently.

*Birth of Hybrid career*

But why keep her, you ask? If I am doing everything myself?

Apart from the fact that she is awesome and the patron saint of wombats (sorry, you will have to follow her on Twitter to understand this reference), she is also quite business savvy. She has traditional publishing connections that I don’t have. And like any good agent she is part-coach, part-lawyer. She offers wonderful perspectives on the current market (i.e. that it’s not the book’s fault that the book didn’t sell) and she can navigate contracts and legal documents much better than I. It is nice to have a person with a better business/professional perspective of the industry in your corner, who is willing to lace up for you when necessary. After all, my ultimate goal is to have a larger role in traditional publishing, and she will be essential when that time comes. And fortunately, I’ve been lucky enough to land an agent who is willing to support me as I build a hybrid career. I’ve heard not everyone is so lucky.

And there are many who built a self-publishing career first and then the agent sought them out. Thanks to the likes of Hugh Howey, the highly successful author of Wool, all sorts of deals are possible that weren’t before. Selling your paperback book to traditional publishers while keeping the digital rights (and direct line to your wallet) open can happen. (Ella’s mandatory interjection: Literary agents have to reject self-published authors who want to make the move to traditional every day because their books aren’t selling well enough. More on that from the ruthlessly honest Janet Reid.)

So if you know you’re the kind that can’t wait, maybe you don’t have to.

Kory M. Shrum lives in Michigan with her partner and a ferocious guard pug. When she isn’t teaching writing, or writing herself, she can be found promoting her first book, Dying for a Living.


21 comments:

  1. What a brave, honest, and eye-opening post, Kory. I think many readers will relate to the years of rejections. I hope you'll do a follow-up post in the future to let us know how things are going!

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    1. Thank you for your kind words, Miranda. A girl likes to be told she is brave once in a while ;) As to follow ups, I think I have one more post coming on this blog. Otherwise, you'll have to visit me at my site, which is linked on the bio above :)

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  2. Glad you are getting your book out to readers. Tough to think rejections are ongoing sometimes, but reality ... Thank you for sharing your experience.

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    1. Yes, I'm finally finding my readers and it is a wonderful feeling after writing in a vacuum for so long. :) And I'm happy to hear that my experience is of use to you.

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  3. Thanks for sharing your experience. I can totally relate to the urge to control your publishing destiny and to get your works out to readers, the point of writing. I went and got your book and look forward to reading it.

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    1. I might be a *tad* bit of a control freak. ;) But I must say that self-publishing is so much work, it is hard to feel like you aren't getting it done!

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  4. Kory, thanks so much for sharing this experience. I love real stories about this topsy turvy industry.

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    1. Yes, it can be quite disheartening to hear only one kind of publishing story, of the "instant success" variety. It is very discouraging to writers who feel they are "doing it wrong". But I've discovered that there is no wrong way, as long as you are writing! :)

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  5. Thanks for a wonderful and informative post!

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  6. Thank you for your enthusiasm, everyone! I appreciate it in this cold publishing world! ;) I should mention, however, that Ginger is no longer my agent. We parted amicably shortly after I wrote this guest post. So I am sorry for any confusion or misleading information! But everything else is quite true! :)

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  7. Great post Kory and full of hope for unpublished writers who are not only anxious about not having an agent but also about the mixed market environment we have wandered into with our passions for writing.

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    1. Yes, publishing is ever-changing. I am sure it will even out at some point, but for now, we'll just have to strap in for the ride! :)

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  8. Having coined the term hybrid author back in 2011 it's interesting to see how it's taken off. Technically, since you were never traditionally published, you're not a hybrid author, not that it matters. I no longer have any traditional publishing ties other than a few collaborations. The key thing you point out is that traditional publishing is still so slow. Hugh's deal, like Bella's is rare. 95% of my sales are digital and at the much higher royalty rates, I'm fine with that.

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    1. Yes, you are quite right. I fall squarely in the *indie* crowd. And the majority of my sales are digital as well. I'm also quite happy with how it turned out :)

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  9. Best of luck to you! :-) I've been self-publishing for almost four years now, and I love the excitement and how I can control some aspects. I'm not sure I could go the traditional route anymore, even though I tried to go that route before self-publishing. I was offered a publishing contract for my series last fall, but the advance was pathetic, so I stayed indie.

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    1. And you must feel really good that you were in a position to turn down such an offer! :) I think the flexibility that self-publishing offers is hard to match. Would you agree?

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  10. I had an agent at Trident who was fired. Trident then fired me because my ms hadn't sold yet. That book was published by a tiny press and sold around 20,000 copies in two years. When my contract with that press was up, I left and hired the right people to help me self-pub. I thought I wanted to go traditional but I've never been happier self-pubbing. Having control over your product - what the cover looks like, when you can put it out, doing your own promotions - is fabulous. Good luck!

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    1. You've listed all the reasons why I love self-publishing as well. :) And your story is not uncommon! Thank you for sharing it. :)

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