Sheer hubris is what it takes to publish without the gatekeepers of the publishing world saying yes, you’re worth reading.
Sandra Hutchison decided to start this press years after a number of agents told her that her work was quite good, but not something they could market successfully to publishers in a “very tough fiction market.”
Meanwhile, other folks were telling her they stayed up all night reading it.
She also watched some very talented author friends get published, only to see their literary careers founder when sales were not considered strong enough.
The big publishers are under enormous pressure to return strong profits to their stockholders. They often feel they can’t afford to wait for new authors to build a readership. Many debut novels — especially those that didn’t win huge advances — simply get thrown out into the market to see what will sell. And many good writers, especially if they are not also great marketers, soon discover that their publisher is no longer interested in them.
Hutchison knew something about how to publish and market books. She had worked for over 18 years as a project editor, acquisitions editor, marketing manager, and copywriter/creative director at various publishing companies and an ad agency. But rather than persist — the number one requirement for successful publishing of any kind — she focused on other things. She did write the next book, but she also taught and raised her son and gardened obsessively.
In 2013, she considered hauling out the old rejection binder and trying one more round with agents and publishers, if only to cross it off her to-do list.
Then she thought: Why?
Technology had made it easy to create her own publishing company. Non-crazy people were writing and selling books on their own. She already had a lot of the skills required. It wouldn’t take a huge investment to e-publish. She could find her readers slowly, even if it took years.
So that’s what she did, though she also respects traditional publishers and bookstores and all the complicated, valuable work that they do. As a reader, she’s grateful for many of the authors and booksellers who manage to prosper under the current system. But she also enjoys reading indie writers, whose books often have a little more individual flair than the stuff that gets past pub meetings.
Borrowing a technique from the world of fanfic, Sandra started out offering a PG-13 edition of her first novel for readers who would prefer to avoid explicit sex and bad language. She still believes this is a good idea in a digital world. Unfortunately, it led to confusion, created twice the amount of product management, and produced only 2% of the sales. So she abandoned that idea.
So how’s it going?
It’s had its ups and downs. The Awful Mess was one of five semi-finalists for the general fiction in Amazon’s 2014 (and last) Breakthrough Novel Award. It enjoyed a stint in Prime Reading and continued to sell well enough five years later that Hutchison was asked to sell the audio rights to Tantor Media. She obliged, so an audiobook of that novel is now available on Audible and elsewhere.
The three novels that followed, also stand-alones, haven’t done as well as the first. There’s more competition and traditional publishers now dominate some areas that indies discovered early (like BookBub and Amazon Advertising). Amazon also blocked the second from being advertised on its platform. But Sandra continues writing and publishing because she enjoys the writing, and she enjoys hearing from readers.
If you want to be a writer, know that it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme. Neither indies nor traditional authors are advised to quit their day jobs until the income is steady and certain (and the taxes are paid). It’s a fickle business.
But as all writers know, it’s lovely to be read. Sandra loves to hear from her readers, either in reviews, or emails, or via Goodreads, or anywhere.