Catherine Ryan Hyde is famous for writing Pay it Forward, the touching novel about a chain-reaction of kindness that was made into one of the most inspiring (and cry-inspiring) films in recent memory. She is the author of numerous other acclaimed novels, as well as the recent, KWL-published The Long, Steep Path: Everyday Inspiration from the Author of Pay it Forward. She talked to us about the creative and business challenges she’s faced in her career, and about why she decided to try self-publishing.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received as a writer?
Years ago, I was waiting for my first novel, Funerals for Horses, to hopefully be picked up by a publisher. This was in 1996, long before ebooks, and before indie publishing was the viable option it is today. Authors needed publishers back then.
The book had been at Grove Atlantic for over a year. There was one editor there who just loved it, but was having trouble getting enough in-house support. But she kept stringing us along, thinking she could still make something happen.
Then my very small agent found a very small start-up press who wanted to bring it out the following spring. But what if I could still have sold it to the venerable Grove Atlantic?
I called my mentor and asked him what I should do. He said my agent should write to Grove Atlantic and tell them Funerals for Horses was no longer on the market, but that she hoped we could work together in the future on a project they could meet with more enthusiasm. Of course, this was not the advice I expected, or wanted. So I asked why. Well, it was whinier than that. I asked, “Whhhyyyy?”
He said, “Because the way they’re treating you now is the way they’re going to treat you after signing.”
That was the best piece of advice I ever got, and not a bad advertisement for indie publishing.
Do you believe in Writer’s Block?
Yes and no. I think to call it writer’s block gives it far too much power. I think it’s undeniable that the work sometimes stalls. But I have found there’s always a reason why it stalls. I’ve taken a wrong turn, or the work just is not working at some level. When I unlock that mistaken direction, the work moves forward again. So I’ve come to see it as a useful tool that keeps me from going miles in the wrong direction.
In fact, in Anne R Allen’s and my “How to be a Writer in the E-Age…And Keep Your E-Sanity,” (which is available on Kobo) I have a whole chapter entitled, “Is Writer’s Block Trying to Tell You Something?”
What made you decide to self-publish?
I had a string of novels that were being traditionally published in the UK. In fact, one of them, Love in the Present Tense, broke the top ten, spent five weeks on the national bestseller list, was reviewed on a major TV book club, and shortlisted for a Best Read of the Year Award at the British Book Awards. And yet I couldn’t find a new publisher here. Doubleday had dropped me because the book didn’t do as well in the U.S., and didn’t justify the big advances they had paid. The industry was contracting and going through its shake-up. Novel after novel was coming out to good reception in the U.K., yet my US readers couldn’t get them.
My agency offered to help shepherd me through the indie publishing process, and we’ve enjoyed amazing success. So much so that it’s made me wonder why publishers couldn’t sell as many copies of these books as I can on my own.