Full circle: Kate Hilton self-publishes for success
She would not take no for an answer. After numerous rejection letters from publishers and agents, Kate Hilton licked her wounds and decided that even if they didn't like her book she’d find a home for it anyway. She subsequently went on to self-publish her first book, The Hole in the Middle. Three months and 13,000 downloads later, the industry came knocking.
1. You started to write The Hole in the Middle at age 37. What made you decide to write this book?
You can see 40 pretty clearly from 37, especially if you are a month or so away from 38. And while I’m generally a well-adjusted individual, the prospect of turning 40 gave me cold chills. On reflection, it turned out that I really wanted to write a novel, and I was worried that I’d never do it if I didn’t make a start before my 40th birthday. As realizations go, it was very motivating.
2. You worked in publishing briefly in your 20s. What affect did that introduction have on your desire to be a writer?
It gave me a much deeper understanding of how hard it is to make a living as a writer. I also realized that working with books all day would exhaust my desire to write them, which is why I went to law school instead of staying in publishing. And I got some very good advice from Iris Tupholme, the remarkably talented Executive Publisher and Editor-in-Chief at HarperCollins, where I was a summer intern. When I asked her what advice she would give an aspiring writer, she said, “Don’t give up your day job.” She was so very right about that.
3. After you wrote your book, did you approach publishers and agents? What was that experience like?
I did. I submitted the manuscript to 17 agents in Canada and the U.S. Most never wrote back. A few sent kind rejection letters. Two agents asked for the full manuscript; one ultimately rejected it and the other broke off all communication with me. In truth, the process was totally demoralizing and I thought seriously about giving up on it, since what had started as a midlife empowerment project was becoming the exact opposite.
4. When did you decide that you would self-publish?
I put the book away for a few months and licked my wounds. Then, in January 2013, I took it out again and read it with fresh eyes. I still liked it. I still believed that it could find an audience. But I knew that I would have to commit to self-publishing if I wanted to get it out into the world.
The logistics of self-publishing aren’t that complicated, and there are many online resources to help you through it. The biggest hurdle in the self-publishing process for me was that initial decision to put my work, and myself, on display without the protection of a traditional publisher. All evidence to the contrary, I’m a fairly private person. With self-publishing, you have to force yourself on the reading public and insist that they pay attention to you. You can’t be shy.
5. What actions did you undertake to get your book in the hands of readers?
I have a background in public relations, and I created a social media campaign using a variety of tools. I timed the launch to coincide with Mother’s Day, since the novel is about an overburdened working mom. I have a pretty extensive network, and I asked everyone I knew to help me promote the book via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and an electronic newsletter. The result was that I had 13,000 downloads in the first month.
6. There are many reviews of your book on Amazon and Good Reads. How important were reader reviews for generating buzz?
It’s hard to know for sure. I think book buyers are influenced by multiple touches. Once you drive a prospective buyer to Amazon, it’s incredibly helpful to have strong reviews. But I think the hardest part is persuading the reader to go to Amazon in the first place. Every time a reader sees something about your book, the likelihood that she will make the effort to visit Amazon increases, especially if she’s hearing about it from a source she trusts. This is what makes Facebook and Twitter so powerful and important in the self-publishing process.
7. How did HarperCollins come knocking?
When I told everyone I knew about The Hole in the Middle, one of the people I told was a law school classmate, Martha Hundert. She loved the book, and gave it to her mom, Roberta Rich, the incredibly talented author of The Midwife of Venice and The Harem Midwife. Roberta emailed me and asked if she could give the book to her agent, Beverley Slopen. You can imagine what I said! Everything happened very quickly after that. Beverley read the book over the course of a few days and loved it. She invited me to sign on with her, which I was thrilled to do. Within a week, she had sold it to HarperCollins. Since I started my career at HarperCollins, it feels particularly sweet to be back there as a writer. As a novelist, it’s hard to resist the appeal of a ‘life coming full circle’ ending.
8. You are active on Twitter, Facebook, Good Reads. You blog for Huffington Post and on your own website. How important have these tools been to help build your reader base?
I must believe that they are very important, or I would never spend the time I do on them! Building and maintaining a social media presence is a shocking amount of work. But I think that having a distinct brand as a writer is essential in today’s market. People have so little time, and books compete with so many other forms of entertainment. Social media has created an expectation of immediacy and access on the part of readers. As writers, we need to figure out how to allow readers into our lives in a way that we control and that is comfortable for us. A sense of participation in the writer’s personal journey can generate an incredibly loyal and supportive reader base.
9. What has self-publishing taught you about writing and publishing books?
Getting that first book deal is a lot like winning the lottery, except that you have the power to improve the odds by learning how to promote yourself and your work. Promoting yourself is like walking onstage naked over and over again, which is why writers are some of the gutsiest people out there. And becoming one is the coolest thing that has ever happened to me.