From Self-Published Success to Agented Author

For a new writer, finding an agent sometimes feels like you’ve been sent on a snipe hunt. Other writers insist they are out there, tout the glories of bagging one, and share their wild adventure stories about when they got theirs. But are agents really out there? If so, how do you get one? I searched for an agent in the same way most people do—through trial and error querying. My queries improved over time. My book summaries got better. I learned more about how to get published as I went along. But after two finished books and hundreds of thanks-but-no-thanks letters, I adopted a new philosophy: “If you build it, he will come.” Guest column by Colleen Houck, whose first book, Tiger's Curse, claimed the #1 spot on Kindle's children's bestseller list for seven weeks. The book arrived in print in Jan. 2011.
Author:
Publish date:

For a new writer, finding an agent sometimes feels like you’ve been sent on a snipe hunt. Other writers insist they are out there, tout the glories of bagging one, and share their wild adventure stories about when they got theirs. But are agents really out there? If so, how do you get one? I searched for an agent in the same way most people do—through trial and error querying. My queries improved over time. My book summaries got better. I learned more about how to get published as I went along. But after two finished books and hundreds of thanks-but-no-thanks letters, I adopted a new philosophy: “If you build it, he will come.”

Colleen is excited to give away a free book to one random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US48 to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you've won before. (Update: Katy won.)

Image placeholder title
Image placeholder title

Guest column by Colleen Houck, whose first book,
Tiger's Curse, claimed the #1 spot on Kindle's children's
bestseller list for seven weeks. The book arrived in
print in Jan. 2011. She has worked as a nationally
certified American Sign Language interpreter for
seventeen years and lives in Salem, Oregon, with
her husband and a white stuffed tiger. Find her
on Facebook and Twitter, or see her website.


I RESOLVED TO CREATE SOMETHING SPECIAL

I’d already created what I thought was the foundation for a successful series before I even started writing. I made a list of the most popular books and took a look at what was on my bookshelf. I started figuring out why I bought those books in particular and why I kept some and discarded others. Quickly, I realized that I buy books for one of three reasons—I love the author, a friend has recommended the book, or it’s gotten media attention.

For a new author that’s two strikes. Media attention is hard to come by and for a debut novel there is no prior fan base to take advantage of. I knew that I’d have to write a book so compelling that people would not just like it, but gush about it, tell all their co-workers, and buy extra copies to give out for Christmas. There are really only a few books I am willing to do that for. All of them are fantasy. Almost all of them have been made into movies and almost all of them are sitting on my bookshelf at this moment. Most other books, though I may like them, end up at a used bookstore where I get store credit to buy other books. But these certain books, the ones I love the most, I will read over and over again. They’re unique. Special.

That’s what I needed to write.

THE DECISION TO GO MY OWN WAY

I set about creating a series, since all my favorite books were series books, made it fantasy, and created something that would easily translate to film. I put in everything that I loved about books and movies. When I finished the second book in the series, I sent out queries and crossed my fingers. Nothing happened.

Well, that’s not exactly true. What happened is that I often got my hopes up only to end up disappointed. Determinedly, I started writing book three, feeling very strongly that I had something others would enjoy. My husband and I talked it over and, together, we decided to self-publish. I knew self-publishing was risky, that it would make it easier for agents and editors to dismiss my material, but I wasn’t willing to let my books collect dust.

I published my first two books through Amazon and, about a month before they were ready, the publisher offered a discount on e-book adaptation. I added the Kindle versions to my package, figuring the more lines I cast the better my odds were at catching a fish.

Though creating a media presence as a self-published author is difficult, I did the best I could. As we neared publication, I called several bookstores, planned a book signing, took out an ad in the local newspaper, and placed books in all the local libraries. My brother set up a website so I’d be able to blog and respond to fan mail.

My books went live on Amazon in late September 2009 and my support network of friends and family began sharing them. Because I offered Tiger’s Curse for only ninety-nine cents, it was soon picked up by Kindle bargain hunters and was placed on several lists for good reads-cheap. The second book in the series, Tiger’s Quest, sold well as an e-book too even though it was listed for $6.99. Fans e-mailed me and I wrote back, thanked them for reading, and asked if they would write reviews for me on Goodreads and Amazon. I also suggested that they ask for my books at their favorite bookstore.

THEN SOMETHING AMAZING HAPPENED

In mid-January 2010, I woke up one day to find that I had gone from selling three hundred e-books a month to selling three hundred a day. Costco contacted me about selling my series in some of their stores since fans had filled out numerous request forms. I was contacted by China, Thailand, and Korea to see if the translation rights had been sold. A film producer emailed me. We met for lunch, talked about tigers and movies, and signed an option agreement.

But I still didn’t have an agent.

My world was spinning and I had just decided that I could earn a living doing this all by myself when a literary agent contacted me. His name was Alex and he wondered if I was represented yet. He said he’d found me on Amazon and was impressed with my reviews. Two days later I had representation at one of the top if not the best agency in the country—Trident Media Group. My new agent, Alex Glass, went to work immediately. [Editor's update: Alex Glass formed his own agency, Glass Literary, in 2015.]

Within a few weeks, I had a book deal. The self-published versions of my book were taken offline to prepare for the very aggressive marketing of my new publisher, Sterling, and in less than six months the new version of my debut novel, Tiger’s Curse, was headed to bookstores all over the country.

Colleen is excited to give away a free book to one random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US48 to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you've won before. (Update: Katy won.)

Image placeholder title

Become a Writer's Digest VIP and
get a sub to the magazine, a sub to
WritersMarket.com and much more.
(A $190
value for $50!)

Amir

The “Secret Sauce” Necessary to Succeed at a 30-Day Writing Challenge

In this article, author and writing coach Nina Amir lays out her top tips to master your mindset and complete a 30-day writing challenge.

Kane2

Crashing Into New Worlds: Writing About the Unfamiliar

Award-winning crime author Stephanie Kane explains how she builds characters unlike herself and navigates their worlds to create vivid and realistic stories.

plot_twist_story_prompts_without_a_trace_robert_lee_brewer

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Without a Trace

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character leave without a trace.

WDVintage_10_29

Vintage WD: The Truth about True Crime

In this article from July 2000, true crime novelist and former New York Times correspondent Lisa Beth Pulitzer shares with us some key insights for breaking into the true crime genre.

new_agent_alert_barb_roose_books_such_literary_services_adult_christian_fiction_and_nonfiction

New Agent Alert: Barb Roose of Books & Such Literary Management

New literary agent alerts (with this spotlight featuring Barb Roose of Books & Such Literary Management) are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list.

Grinnell_10:28

Evoking Emotion in Fiction: Seven Pragmatic Ways to Make Readers Give a Damn

Evoking emotion on the page begins with the man or woman at the keyboard. Dustin Grinnell serves up seven straightforward tactics for writing tear-jerking stories that make your readers empathize with your characters.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 546

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a spooky poem.

Richard_Shadowlands

Learn Better World-Building Strategies Through World of Warcraft and the New Shadowlands Expansion

WD editor and fantasy writer Moriah Richard shares five unique ways in which writers can use World of Warcraft to better build their worlds—without playing the game.