How a Self-Published Book Turned into a Traditionally Published Book
At Next Step Coaching Services, we want to give you as much information as we can to help you with your writing, speaking, and ministry journey. We’ve been talking to authors about their writing journeys to offer you encouragement and practical steps for your own journey.
Today we welcome guest blogger, Marissa Henley, who offers a unique viewpoint, as she first self-published her book, and then it was picked up by a traditional publisher. We know you’ll be encouraged by hearing the unexpected way God worked in her publishing journey.
Marissa, tell us about your book.
The traditionally published title is Loving Your Friend Through Cancer: Moving Beyond “I’m Sorry” to Meaningful Support.
Tell us how your publishing journey began.
I am a cancer survivor, and people frequently ask me for suggestions about supporting a friend with cancer. In 2015, I decided to compile the advice I was giving into a book. When I wrote the manuscript, I had never heard the terms book proposal, platform, or launch team. I hadn’t taken an English class since high school, and I had no idea what I was doing.
I finished a rough draft of the book and sent it to some friends for their feedback. Meanwhile, I did an internet search for “how to get a book published,” and what I read convinced me to start with self-publishing. I wanted to get the information to readers without taking months or years querying agents and publishers and facing rejection. I self-published with Amazon in March 2016.
What did you like and not like about self-publishing?
Self-publishing was quick—five months from the time I finished a first draft to the day the book was available for purchase. I chose to self-publish using CreateSpace on Amazon, offering paperback and Kindle versions of the book.
I enjoyed researching how to choose a title, write a book description, and market the book. However, I ran into challenges when it came to formatting. I hired someone to format the interior of the paperback book, and their work was unacceptable. So I spent hours doing it myself—not easy!
Formatting the Kindle version was also a nightmare. I watched several tutorials, downloaded software, and still couldn’t get it to work correctly. I finally found someone online who finished the Kindle formatting for me.
A friend, Leana Fischer at May We Fly Design, designed a cover I loved! In fact, when the book was traditionally published, the publisher incorporated elements of the self-published cover into the new cover. I’d encourage authors who self-publish to be willing to spend money on a great cover design, because I think it makes a big difference.
Tell us about your traditional publishing journey.
In July 2016, I met with an agent at the She Speaks Conference, where I planned simply to ask her for advice. Instead, she showed strong interest in my book and asked me for a proposal!
A few days later, my sister chatted with a friend at community group about how excited we were about my recent encouraging book possibility. Another friend overheard their conversation—and the eavesdropper is the acquisitions editor for women’s books at P&R Publishing. She sent me an email the next day.
When I opened her email and read her request to chat with me about my book, I almost fell out of my chair. Our conversation led to a book proposal, and the book proposal led to a contract. In fact, the timing of the book contract coincided with the six-year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis and a 40th birthday I didn’t think I’d live to see.
Tell about your experience with an agent.
God used my conversation with an agent to bring about His purposes for my book, even though I never signed with her. Things moved more quickly with P&R, and I decided to move forward and sign the contract without pursuing representation.
Tell us about any ups and downs along the way.
I needed to carve out time to write the proposal—and then write the manuscript—and that was a challenge for me.
Also, putting my book out there for others to judge was unnerving. I tried to constantly remind myself that I am justified by Christ and my identity is secure in what He has done for me. I was letting others decide the value of my book, but they didn’t get to decide my value. They weren’t judging, approving, or rejecting me. It can be tough to differentiate between the two!
Tell our readers anything that surprised or disappointed you about the journey.
I was surprised to find that even after I got a contract, I never felt like a “real writer.” The fear of being an imposter never goes away. There are still others who have written more books or sold more copies. You think of them as the real writers and wonder when everyone will figure out you’re a fake. I love connecting with other writers, but I have to guard against comparison and stay focused on the assignments God has given me.
Give three tips our readers need to know about publishing.
- Be obedient to do the work, even when it pushes you out of your comfort zone.
- Don’t stop learning.
- Trust God with the results.
What do you wish you’d known before the publishing journey?
Publishing involves a lot of vulnerability. I was terrified to send the book proposal and even more terrified to hit “send” on my manuscript. (I had to call my family into my office to cheer for me as I sent the email!) And the day my book released, I felt a bizarre mix of joy, anxiety, gratitude, and insecurity. There were days throughout the process when I was convinced my book was terrible and would never help anyone. But God was faithful to give me His strength in my weakness to push through those tough days.
What do writers need to know about life after publishing?
The work doesn’t end when you hold your book in your hands—it’s just the beginning! Authors are expected to bear most of the responsibility for marketing, along with the support of their publisher. I’ve continued to pitch to podcasts, write guest posts and articles, pursue speaking opportunities, and share content on social media.
One more thought:
My publishing story puts God’s faithfulness and sovereignty on display, because He accomplished what I never could’ve accomplished on my own. I hope it encourages other writers to trust that nothing can stop God’s purposes for us.
Thank you so much, Marissa! I love your story! Marissa welcomes your comments and questions!
Marissa Henley, author of Loving Your Friend through Cancer, is a follower of Christ, wife, mom, and cancer survivor who lives in Northwest Arkansas. As a writer and speaker, she shares her story of God’s faithfulness and seeks to encourage weary women to hope in Christ alone. Her writing has appeared at Proverbs 31 Ministries, The Gospel Coalition, (in)courage, and Risen Motherhood. Most days, you’ll find her drinking a latte while shuttling her three kids around town, wondering if the dog will ever learn to stay, and if she’ll ever love cooking as much as her husband loves eating. She would love to connect with you on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or her website.
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