It was Seneca, a first century Roman philosopher, who described luck as being what happens when preparedness meets opportunity. That’s certainly what happened to me when my career as a self-published author led to an eight book publishing deal with Text Publishing.
I had been watching the world of ebook self-publishing for a while before I dove in. Like many people, I still perceived it with some trepidation. People were still using that phrase ‘vanity publishing’, and there were few self-publishing success stories prior to the ebook era, one of the obvious exceptions being Matthew Reilly.
Then I began reading articles about how some self-published authors were doing well for themselves. Actually, some of them were doing very well and so I decided to test the waters.
My successes as a writer had been few. I had published short stories in a variety of small press magazines over the years. In 2001, I won the Katherine Susannah Pritchard Foundation short story competition. I wrote a thriller novel that, after nine rewrites, had turned into an unpublishable mess. I then wrote my first young adult book, a story entitled Rebellion that, although a big improvement on my first book, was still not good enough to publish.
Three years ago, I started work on another young adult novel entitled The Steampunk Detective. I wanted to create a homage to Sherlock Holmes stories and the world of Victorian literature. My Holmes became Ignatius Doyle, an eccentric detective and inventor, his Watson a young orphaned circus boy by the name of Jack Mason. The third member of the team was Scarlet Bell, a feisty suffragette who approaches them with the mystery of her missing father.
I released The Steampunk Detective as my first ebook through Smashwords.com. Within an hour, I had sold a copy. I was on the road to success! Mind you, I wasn’t very far down the road because the book was selling for .99 cents. Still, it was a start. I released the book at Amazon.com through their KDP program and the sales continued.
I followed up with another YA book entitled The Last Days of Earth, an end of the world saga. At the same time, I was interviewing other authors, many of them ebook writers, for my website to discover their keys to the kingdom. Eventually, I compiled these interviews into a free ebook entitled Secrets of Successful Writers.
My next three YA books were about teenage superheroes. They were Diary of a Teenage Superhero, The Doomsday Device and The Battle for Earth. The first book was another .99 cent special, but the latter books were $3.99.
I had now reached the stage where I was selling about 1,000 books a month and was also making some money. Not enough to retire on, but a respectable income. At the same time, I was half-way through a Bachelor of Arts (Creative Writing) degree at RMIT in Melbourne. It was here that I met teacher and author, Toni Jordan.
Toni is the internationally known author of Addition, Fall Girl and other novels. She was kind enough to ask to look at one of my books. Thrilled by it, she showed the novel to one of the editors at Text Publishing. This led to a meeting with Michael Heyward and the Text team.
I had no idea what to expect when I walked into that meeting. What I didn’t expect was an eight book publishing deal. The books to be released were The Steampunk Detective and two sequels, four books in the Teen Superhero series and a standalone novel entitled A Toaster on Mars.
The Steampunk Detective, re-edited and expanded, became The Firebird Mystery. The sequel, The Secret Abyss, is due out in July with the third, The Broken Sun, slated to appear in November.
People often ask me what the secrets are to succeeding as a self-published author. There are several factors and most of them, understandably, focus on the book rather than the author. Ebook prices need to be low to encourage readers to buy. Covers need to be clear and eye-catching. Titles need to be unique. And editing needs to be as good as you can make it.
Unless you’ve written Catcher in the Rye or To Kill a Mockingbird, you won’t survive on writing one book. You’ll build a career by writing several novels. Look at any bestselling author. They bring out at least one book a year.
And finally there’s the issue of discoverability. It’s not easy to be found in this era of information overload. The constant backdrop of internet chatter is deafening. No wonder people are turning off Facebook in droves.
A way through the static is to write within a niche. It has been said that the ‘riches are in the niches’. There’s some truth in this. The niche of vampire novels attracted a lot of writers and some did very well out of it. The vampire niche is now the size of the Grand Canyon so writing a vampire novel with the expectation of attracting a lot of readers is questionable.
So I think Seneca was right. Luck happened to me when preparedness met opportunity. I did work hard and it did pay off. And the same can happen for other writers, but they need to make their own opportunities. None of it comes easy. Being a writer is not a job for the faint-hearted, but has it ever been?
Darrell Pitt is the author of the Jack Mason adventures. His interest in Victorian literature when he read the Sherlock Holmes stories as a child, quickly moving on to H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. This early reading led to a love of comics, science fiction and all things geeky. Married with one daughter, he lives in Melbourne.
Sam van Zweden was Writers Bloc’s Online Editor from 2013 - 2015. A Melbourne-based writer and blogger, her work has appeared in The Big Issue, Voiceworks, Tincture Journal, Page seventeen, and others. She’s passionate about creative nonfiction and cross stitch. She tweets @samvanzweden.