My name is Sheryl Hoyt, writing as Saralynn Hoyt. I’ve been writing nearly all my life and am recently Indie published. I’m doing this all on my own, hiring help when needed (editor and graphic artists). Why you ask? Well, there is very good reason for it and if you are interested, here is my story.
Once upon a time…(LOL, just kidding, after all I am a writer). Anyway, I got my first big idea about a book I wanted to write in the middle of the night in 1990. I woke up, grabbed my journal and jotted down the story in my head as fast as I could. The next day I pulled out an electric typewriter and spent the next month or so typing up the first hundred pages of my very first novel. I then bought my first computer, (I know a lot of firsts) an old dental office castoff that ran a program called WordStar against a black background and orange typeset. I recopied all 100 pages to a floppy disk, yeah it was actually floppy. And it was on that machine I wrote my that 350 page historical romance novel. In my naivety I printed it out (on a dot matrix printer) and sent it out to a publisher.
“Here you go! Here’s my great book! How much you going to pay me for it?” Or at least that was how I thought it would go. But my fellow writers would soon set me straight. There was still much to do.
Next I bought a laptop, one of the original brick like ones that in 1992 cost more than most 3D TV’s do today. I had a full time job so I wrote my second book while riding the bus back and forth to work. Book number two was even better than the first one. However, this time I knew what I was doing, I had joined Romance Writers of America and had attended many workshops about the craft of writing and heard many published authors speak on how to get your book published. Query letters, synopsis, POV, dialogue, character development, you name it, I’d scoped it out. I even entered some contests to get feedback about my story to make it even better.
New York and the publishing houses were not impressed. Okay, I’ll admit, those first two books were kind of rough. But honestly, not much worse than some of the published books that had driven me to decide to write something better in the first place. So, ever the optimist I set out to try again and I wrote another novel.
This one was different. This was book rocked my world. I knew it was better, I loved these characters. I wrote and rewrote this book until I felt like it just couldn’t be improved upon (maybe half a dozen rewrites). I entered a contest and came in third. Triumph at last, this was a good book. Wrote a great cover letter sent it out with a chapter or two, and—nada nothing. Okay then, book number four needed to be written (cried out to me really), so I wrote it went through the motions again—and—crickets from New York. And this really was my best work yet.
Oh well, onward and upward. New York wants London, fine I’ll give them London. Book number five was born and this one actually came in second place in a contest where I was competing against published authors. And second behind a published author who took first place seemed like a win to me. Really, my finest work yet. But still, New York didn’t want to take a chance on my less than cookie cutter, exactly like all the other books, brand of writing. True, my stories and characters did not resemble anything currently being sold in the bookstores, but isn’t that what the readers want? I thought so and even though I was told to just tweak my books to be more like the others, I decided that I would rather not be published than change my stories. I’ll be honest, I loved (and still love) these stories and these characters.
So that was it. 2007 and I kind of stopped writing. What was the point? I was never going to write a Regency or a Chick Lit. New York would never approve of how I liked to color outside the lines. Might as well concentrate on my career as a manager at an up and coming financial firm. Luckily my critique partner, Deborah Schneider, who had had modest success at traditional publishing wasn’t about to let me give up so easily. She made sure that I kept my craft sharp by including me in some online anthologies that were put together by other traditionally published authors. Apparently they thought my writing was good enough to be a part of their compilations.
Then in 2011 something kind of freaky happened to me. Let’s back track a little. Amazon had put the Kindle out a few years earlier but was having trouble getting the New York publishers to provide enough content to make the e-readers viable alternatives to the reading public. So Amazon began to look for other ways to provide digital books to their customers. KDP was born and just like iTunes did for music, Kindle Direct Publishing was doing for books. Anyone could now share their work with the world. I personally hadn’t considered it because the book people were telling me self-publishing was the kiss of death to a writer. You just couldn’t recover from the shame it would bring. But everything changed for me in 2011. Fade to January 2011…
My published friend and critique partner, Deborah Schneider, aka Sibelle Stone, begged me to go to the RT Booklovers convention next spring with her. I really didn’t want to spend the money on what I considered a failed career path for myself, so I resisted. But she kept pestering me and even told me that she would pay for my hotel. I knew I had enough miles on my credit card to pay for the flight from Seattle to LA, and all that was left to negotiate was the conference fee. I convinced the Romantic Times folks that I could volunteer and help them with events since I wasn’t planning to attend any workshops (remember, I’d been going to them for years and had seen them all dozens of times already). Being the sweet ladies they are, they offered me a discounted rate which sealed the deal and in April 2011 I was on my way to LA.
The Crazy and Fun Journey Begins:
So here I am in LA, kinda bored, looking for something to do. The RT crew got more than a days work out of me, but there were so many volunteers, that the work went quickly. So I had some free time on my hands during the day. I looked over the workshop schedule and something caught my eye. Something new that I hadn’t seen or heard many times before—Self and Indie publishing! Huh, maybe I’d swing by and take a look. I think there four panels total on Indie/Self-Publishing and I went to all of them. One was done by H.P. Mallory, one was Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords.com, one was Colleen Houck, and one was a panel with both HP and Mark and a few other folks. These sessions were–how do I say it nicely–audience lite? There were no more than ten people who showed up for any off these workshops. Remember, this was April 2011 and the Indie world was still in its infancy (about to explode).
So I sat and listened, took notes, asked very few questions as this was all new to me and honestly I didn’t know what to ask. But I took a ton of notes and listened very closely. Well, I was pretty excited about what I had heard and learned. After the previous twenty plus years of trying to get traditionally published, I thought that this seemed like a viable way for me to publish my books and let the readers decide if I was any good instead of waiting for an editor to give me a shot.
But I wasn’t quite ready to take the plunge. It looked like a lot of work (note to self: that first instinct was correct, I’ve never worked so hard in my life) and I was nowhere near a place that I could actually begin to do this, both mentally and financially. There is after all an investment every entrepreneur must make. Instead I decided to see if my critique partner, Deb, would be willing to give this new world a try. We discussed it at length. She’d just bought the rights back from her first book, Beneath A Silver Moon, that had been traditionally published and was about to try to sell it again to a digital publisher. I convinced her she had nothing to lose by trying to do it herself and we went over my notes and did some more research. Also, she was situated well with her current website and social media efforts. Additionally, Deb’s day job allowed her to explore and get some training in a lot of the new trends hitting the web. It wasn’t easy, it took hard work to figure out how to get that book up and generating income, but when it was done, it was like the chains of oppression were lifted. The freedom Deb had to pick her own cover, actually see on a daily basis how many books she was selling, and to know that every penny she spent on promotion was coming back to her and only her in those sales she was watching.
I started to get excited. This could really work. All I had to do was find the capital and the guts to invest in myself and find the right way to publish my books. What I mean by the right way is to not be dumb about it. To know what my limits are and to look for ways to fill those gaps as efficiently, professionally and cost effectively as possible. My search for an editor and a cover artist began.
One of the best things that Deb found while she was starting down this path was a Yahoo! group that catered to Indie Romance Authors. This is where we were able to find other like-minded people who were discovering all sorts of resources available to us in this emerging industry. And actually, this is how I found my editor, Annie Seaton, who lives in Australia. We’ve never met, we’ve never even spoken on the phone as we live in different time zones. Why did I pick this editor? She liked my voice, she loved historical romances, and she was a former high school principal. Plus she was willing to negotiate a win-win deal with me on pricing and prioritize two of my manuscripts so I could get them published before the next RT convention. Same thing with my cover artist, Steena Holmes, who created my beautiful covers.
I also got some validation from my lovely new editor when she commented that I surely must have been traditionally published before and she wished her NY pubbed clients wrote as well as me as it would make her job much easier. Wow, finally someone saw that I could write a book and it didn’t suck.
Those were my two biggest financial investments, but there were some others. I needed to take some social media and website classes. That sort of thing did not come naturally to me and I just kept telling myself I was investing in myself. Deb said that even though when she had been traditionally published and the publisher had paid for editor and cover art and she’d gotten an advance, she’d spent more than that on promotion. And never got another dime! So spending some money to help my writing career was right in line with industry standards. Although, the money I spent was on making my books the way I wanted on them to be, not on selling them for someone else to profit from, and to a limited audience in a limited time period.
So I had these three great books (IMO), and I managed to get two of them published before RT 2012 by staying up late after I got home from work and spending entire weekends doing nothing else. My house got pretty messy during those five or six months. My darling husband learned to vacuum and do the dishes without me even leaving a note for him (he’s a keeper). I was feeling exhilarated as I headed out to Chicago for the Booklover’s convention. Just high on the feeling of finally being published after more than twenty years of trying. I gotta say, that first sale is like flying and the first good review, like winning an Academy award.
So we headed off to Chicago. I paid my full fare this time as well as half the hotel. Deb and I were going embrace the whole Indie/Self-Publishing journey by attending every workshop on the subject that they had. Apparently we were not alone this year. Not like in 2011 when the room of the workshop had 30 or more empty chairs every session. No, in 2012 when nearly everyone there had some sort of e-reading device and 50 Shades of Grey was just starting to get the buzz, those workshops were jam packed—standing room only. There were probably 50 or more people in every session. Go figure, looks like I picked the right path.
The sessions were interesting. For the most part the writers who had embraced the Indie life were mostly like Deb. They had been traditionally published at one time, and maybe even still were, but had found it either difficult to sell again to NY or they simply wanted to write other things and their editors were not willing to publish them all. One of the best sessions was the one were Joe Konrath (JA Konrath) completely dispels most of the myths around self-publishing. But my favorite panel was the one where I got myself noticed by a reporter.
And that my friends is when my talent and my luck met face to face, and boy oh boy was I ready to say yes to whatever happened next. And what happened next was that Time Magazine article about me and my journey (and a lot of other really cool self-publishing people and information).
So, before you write off my success to luck, think about this: I never gave up, I invested in myself, I believed in myself, I worked hard over the years writing and rewriting five full length novels and three novellas. When I needed to, I sacrificed my money, my time, my clean house and anything else that could help me get to where I wanted to be. And when I arrived there, in that room with my two nearly perfect books, with my questions that I wasn’t afraid to ask, and I wasn’t afraid to make a public fool of myself—my luck showed up and I was ready for it and I embraced it even though I did not know what would happen next. And I kept believing and I kept trusting even when it looked like there would not be an article. I never gave up on me and my dreams and I never will. Don’t let anyone steal your dreams.
With Love, Sheryl