Book Country’s First Signed Author: ‘Never Considered Self-Publishing’

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By Jeremy Greenfield, Editorial Director, Digital Book World, @JDGsaid

In November 2009, a novel was born about a gatekeeper and a penguin.

Two years later, the novel (initially conceived during National Novel Writing Month, a novel-writing fest in which participants are expected to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days) was uploaded to Penguin’s Book Country, an online community for genre-fiction writers to share and workshop their work.

Fast-forward a few weeks: Danielle Poiesz, an editorial coordinator at Book Country emailed Kerry Schafer, 48 and a mental health crisis response professional in Colville, Wash. and the author of said novel, asking her if she would send the complete manuscript to an interested editor at Penguin.

Susan Allison, vice president and editorial director of Berkley Books, a publishing group within Penguin, was that interested editor. Allison wanted to talk, somehow an agent, Deidre Knight, got involved, and a digital-age book deal was born.

The structure of the deal is fairly standard, according to Schafer: Advance, two books, first due out in February 2013. (Schafer would not disclose the size of the advance.)

What’s different about this book deal is how the book was discovered: Book Country. Schafer’s novel, Between, an urban fantasy on the Book Country genre map, was the first to be picked up off the site by Penguin. (When Book Country launched its self-publishing tool in November 2011, some self-published authors criticized Penguin for bating newbie-writers into thinking that by working with Book Country, they might have a chance at getting picked up by the major publisher even if that wasn’t necessarily the case.)

Book Country has about 4,500 active members and nearly 1,000 manuscripts on the site that are being workshopped, according to Book Country community manager Colleen Lindsay.

We sat down with Schafer to discuss her writing life, how she polished her work to the point of purchase and what she plans on doing now that she’s been signed by one of the world’s largest publishers.

Related: Book Country Launches Self-Publishing Tool | Book Country’s Molly Barton on Digital Books

 

Jeremy Greenfield: You’ve been writing for many years, you told me. Since the sixth grade, in fact. You started your first novel at 27 and it took you ten years to write. That’s a far cry from the month it took you to write the first draft of Between. I guess what I’m trying to ask is, how does it feel?

Kerry Schafer: I feel like fairy godmother waved a little magic wand and everything fell together. There was a lot of hard work that went into it beforehand.

 

JG: Is your writing inspired by your work as a mental health crisis response professional?

KS: Definitely. Most of the people I see are considered dangerous to themselves or someone else due to a mental illness. Working with the mentally ill is very fascinating and made me start thinking, what would it be like to look at the world from a different perspective on reality?

Between is about a woman who is a gatekeeper who has to monitor the doorways between the dream-world and the wake-world and gets stuck in the “between” place where those doorways meet and those dreams are real.

This is my second book on book country. The other one is called Dead Before Dying and is in some ways inspired by my work.

 

JG: You were discovered on Book Country. How do you think the site helped you?

KS: With Book Country, it all depends on what you want to get out of it. With Between, I hoped maybe – I didn’t really believe it – but I did hope that maybe it was good enough and somebody might have a look at it and maybe an agent or an editor might have an interest. At the same time, I continued to query it [with agents].

 

JG: So, now that you have a book deal from a big-time publisher, have you quit your job?

KS: No, not yet. Someday, there’s a dream, down the road, I would like to write full-time.

But now I’m a little bit more dedicated making sure I get my daily writing time in. it’s a job now. I have a contract; I have a commitment. My family understands.

My first round of revisions is due by the end of March. The second book rough draft is due the end of December.

The second book, we’re looking at calling it Wake World, will be a continuation of this book. We’re looking at a trilogy, even though there are two contracted books, I’m planning a trilogy.

 

JG: Before this deal came through, did you ever consider self-publishing?

KS: I hadn’t. I know I need a good editor. I like to have a team. I didn’t want to spend all the time that is required for formatting and self-marketing. I like having the professional team that I have now. It’s awesome.

 

JG: Is there any advice you’d like to give to others who might want to follow in your footsteps?

KS: I would say a couple of things. First, the writing is of primary importance. Keep writing. Write lots. Don’t be scared to revise and rework and make sure you have some good critique partners.

And it’s really important to build community. Twitter is awesome for that. Book country is a great place to find critique partners and get excellent feedback and learn from reviewing other people’s books.

Write to Jeremy Greenfield

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3 thoughts on “Book Country’s First Signed Author: ‘Never Considered Self-Publishing’

  1. Congratulations on your success, but I wouldn’t dismiss self publishing so easily. You can buy in editing, cover design & formatting and as for marketing I suggest if you add up the time that Penguin demand of you (TV appearances require travelling & preparation time, as do book tours etc.) you might get a shock. No disrespect to Penguin but if your book is ready now you could be earning from it within a week, whereas you are going to have to wait another year before it goes on sale. And if you don’t sell very well Penguin will drop you like a hot potato yet keep the rights to both your books for however long your contract dictates (often 3 years after date of last printing) so you won’t even be able to self publish your own books. Amazon offer authors 70% of cover price for ebooks; how does that compare to the deal you have from Penguin? (On 10% it would mean you have to sell 7 x as many books to make the same amount of money if the prices are the same). And this all assumes that Penguin as a business survives because most major publishers are struggling at the moment, and bookshops are closing at a rapid rate.
    I would not touch a traditional publisher unless I was offered a very big unreturnable advance (about 5 years income would get me interested); there are many authors that think like me in these rapidly changing times in the publishing world.
    I genuinly wish you every success and I apologise for sounding so negative but I really think that the days of the big traditional publisher and the high street bookshop are numbered.

  2. I couldn’t agree more.

    But first let me congratulate Kerry Schafer on getting a contract she wanted. I respect the amount of work it took to get a book in shape to be picked up.

    However I worry that her message to other pre-published authors is very old school and will keep them from pursuing an otherwise profitable route for their book.

    In reality Kerry Schafer won the Penguin lottery.

    Picking an author from within their program is a business reality. They were getting hammered for charging so much for so little. They had to pick up a title just so they could say… \see… we really do provide a valuable service.\

    And this is not to take anything away from Kerry. She paid to have her title get more exposure under the eyes of a house that could traditionally publisher her.

    But what of the rest of the titles? How many more of those will be picked up?

    To make an educated decision regarding whether or not self-publishing is for you, you need to look at the odds. Sure a few more titles will probably be picked up from the program, but not the thousands that are involved.

    So what if you are one of the authors not picked out as a lottery winners?

    As Christopher stated, each of the areas that Kerry mentioned that are necessary to get a book published, can and SHOULD be sub-contracted out by a self-publisher. If you are self-publishing, you must be ready to actually be a publisher and hire talent to make certain that your book is of publishing quality.

    With that said, it is totally do-able. The ironic thing is that as the traditional model contracts, there are so many NY quality editors, proof readers, cover artists, etc that are doing free-lancing. It is easy to find someone to help build your team.

    And I do worry that Kerry is unaware of exactly how much work Penguin will expect of her once her book is launched. The days of the house taking care of anything but getting the book printed are over. Maybe they will roll out a nice campaign for her since she is the first to come out of their program, however what happens once the bloom is off that rose? What happens after that very narrow six week launch window.

    Christopher is absolutely right. Unless you get a mid-six figure deal (yes, I am talking $500,000 or more) you can probably make more self-publishing than you can traditional.

    Why? Because anything less than that the house is not committed to marketing your book aggressively which usually means having your book go out \spine out,\ meaning it just sits the racks hoping someone goes looking for it.

    By the time Kerry’s book is out in Feb 2013 I will have at least four new books out. Each one making money every single day of the year. Kerry may not have been able to quit her day job, and possibly never replace her day job’s income, however I have.

    I made over $100,000 last year off my books and aim to make $500,000 this year.

    I must say I find it odd that Kerry would not reveal the amount of her advance. If she is stumping for a program and giving it her ringing endorsement, why not say exactly how much she made so that others considering Penguin’s program can make an educated opinion regarding whether the fee is worth the possible pay off?

    I was one of the top ten Kindle Owner’s Lending Library and revealed that I made over $8,000 in the month of December from the program.

    The days of talking a good talk but not walking a good walk are pretty much over.

    I have no idea how much Kerry’s advance was, however I can guess it was somewhere in the $2,500-5,000 per book which is pretty much the norm coming out of NY for a new author.

    So please if you are pre-published author and reading this article for guidance on whether self-publishing is for you, take that fact into consideration.

  3. I have to agree with most of the posted comments. Thanks to changes in the industry that have brought powerful new publishing models to the fore, traditional houses really don’t bring much to the table unless you’re already an A-list author or celeb…and there is a lot of potential downside as described above. A new wave of boutique publishers like our company now offer customized professional services on any author’s project, essentially providing your own dedicated veteran book publishing staff. These will provide market analysis and positioning, manuscript development and editing, design and layout of the cover and interior, and publishing print and ebook copies in a manner that gets product into the marketplace rapidly. The author gets distribution, as well as supportive marketing and publicity, and makes up to 10 times the revenue per book sold while retaining full control of the publishing rights.

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