I Have a Big Anniversary Coming Up.

Headshot-KateBy Kate Hilton

On May 7th, it will be exactly two years since I self-published The Hole in the Middle. I remember it vividly. I was excited and proud and absolutely terrified. Self-publishing took every bit of courage that I had, pushed me far beyond the limits of what was comfortable or familiar, and changed my life. Self-publishing was also the smartest career move I could have made to establish myself as a writer.

Sometime around my 40th birthday, I decided that I wanted to write a novel. I wanted it badly enough to hire a babysitter and write on Sunday afternoons for a three hour block, for three years, until I had a book that was ready for a wider audience. And then I set about submitting it to agents.

For a lot of my life, people (notably my mother, but others as well) have been telling me, mostly without success, to grow a thicker skin. I’m sensitive. I fear rejection and hate criticism. If this sounds familiar, you will understand why I still shudder when I remember the tidal wave of rejection that greeted my first submission, and why I can still hear the voice of the agent who told me: “Some people have difficulty writing in the first person.  Perhaps you are one of those people.”

I almost believed him, but not quite, and it was a turning point for me on the road to self-publication. If you read the Kobo Writing Life blog, you already know that writing is a kind of extreme sport: it is hard, the rewards are largely psychic, and if you are going to cross the finish line, you have to really want it. Rejection gave me a choice: I could believe the many experienced people who were telling me that my book was not publishable, or I could trust my own instinct that it was.

I chose to put my faith in myself, and on Mother’s Day, 2013, I self-published The Hole in the Middle. Within a month of self-publishing, my e-book had been downloaded more than 14,000 times.  It caught the attention of an agent, and within a week of signing with her, I had a book deal with HarperCollins Canada.

HarperCollins released The Hole in the Middle in November 2013. Before I could even catch my breath, the book was in stores, getting great reviews, and becoming a book club favourite. Walmart Canada selected it as its Read of the Month. It spent 11 weeks on the Globe and Mail’s bestseller list. I got invited to speak at festivals. So many people described me as a writer that I began to believe it might be true.

But still, I couldn’t get a book deal in the United States. I started writing my second novel, and working on a non-fiction project with a friend (The Pen Pal Project https://www.facebook.com/ourpenpalproject). I worried about making a living at writing. I planned and abandoned alternative careers. And then, in October 2014, my agent called with wonderful news: we had an American two-book deal with Penguin Random House.

All of this feels vaguely miraculous, except that I lived it and know that a miracle of this kind takes faith, yes, but also a lot of hard work, resilience, determination and risk. And none of it would have happened without that first step into self-publishing.

I consider my self-publishing experience to have been an enormous gift, and one that made me more successful as a traditionally published writer. The skills I learned in self-publishing – brand-building, social media engagement, networking, and marketing – have served me incredibly well in the second phase of my career as a writer.

Kate Hilton Book CoverI’m grateful every day that I took the leap and self-published my first novel. And that’s why I’ll be celebrating my self-publishing anniversary this year. How? By wandering into a few bookstores and admiring the gorgeous new edition of The Hole in the Middle, set for release on May 5th.

 

7 comments

  • Congratulations on your success. Your assertion that writing is an extreme sport conveys most of the message. I would add that it is THE most extreme of all sports because for most writers there is no coach to recognize raw talent and promote it in a way that brings out the best in the athlete. Writers have to be their own coaches. As someone who just self published his first novel (Las Lugosi’s Dracula – little self promo there) I attest to the idea that it is the fear that comes from being ignored as an author with something profoundly amazing to say that keeps me going. That and being humble. Having a huge appetite for success, although necessary in other fields to achieve goals, appears to be a misnomer when it comes to self publishing. Being bat crap crazy is more like the proper definition for what we do. Yet, we do it, because the world cannot survive without our wisdom, much the same way that the world cannot survive without a cell phone. These are my affirmed thoughts on the matter of self publishing. If you don’t like them I have other ones, also.

    • Thanks for your comment, Las. I believe, as much as I believe anything, that writers are essential to the survival of a society worth living in.

      • Thank you for your reply. I’m glad you saw through the sarcasm. Yes, I agree with you 100%, writers are essential to the health of a society. They hold up a mirror to the world and say, “see, THIS is what we are. Strip away the pretense and the prim and underneath all, this is us.” That practice is essential to free thinking. It is also the reason why totalitarian governments always go after the writers first. They pose a threat to their rule. So your success, in my opinion, is a contribution to liberty. When people read it encourages them to think. Thanks again for your reply and wish you a lot of continued success!

        Las Lugosi

  • What a great story! It is very inspiring to hear stories about not giving up after being rejected and eventually finding success. It takes enormous courage and belief in oneself to keep going. Congratulations on this amazing leap! When you first published your eBook, what did you do to get 14,000 downloads? How did you promote it? Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Pingback: Courage, my love | Kate Hilton

  • When I decided to self-publish Waiting on Zapote Street through Amazon, two months ago, and today through Kobo, I had several mountains to climb. I was born in Cuba and came to the United States in 1980, not knowing a word of English. I had been writing stories since I was six years old when my mother attempted against her life, approximately three years after my father immigrated to the United States. He had hoped we would soon follow, but life or destiny had other plans. The government prohibited emigration, and our family remained apart for twelve years. After witnessing my mother’s attempt, writing became my refuge. It gave me wings to fly away from the place that had become my family’s jail. In 1980, during the massive Mariel exodus, I had to climb another mountain. I was fifteen then, and when I went to bed that evening, I was unaware I would never see my childhood friends or the place where I grew up again. The reunion with my father in the United States was at the expense of leaving part of me behind. I never stopped writing, but I had to learn English and time was scarce. I started to write in English as soon as I knew a few words. Writing was like breathing, except it did not pay the bills, and a baby was on the way three years after I arrived to the United States. It took me a few years to finish two masters degrees and achieve a successful career in Accounting. During that time, Dad passed away. We were not together very long. Mom was diagnosed with cancer. “I need you to write our story,” she told me. “People need to know.” I promised I would. I worked many hours during the week managing the finances for a hospital, and she and I met every weekend. I wrote feverishly. She left me journals, letters, notes. It was a fight against time as it was running out. Mom passed away three years ago. I stopped writing. I could not read her journals without falling apart. Finally, as I was a year away from turning fifty, I told myself, “it is time.” I found the strength to read her notes, many times through tears. What I found was invaluable. On February 2015, at last, I fulfilled my mother’s last wish. The novel, based on her life, Waiting on Zapote Street: Love and Loss in Castro’s Cuba, became available at Amazon. I have been self-promoting with no paid advertising, but already, I have received sixteen reviews from customers, all five stars. “Once I started to read, I could not stop,” is the standard comment. The comments, e-mails, and calls continue to come in. I published it in English first, then in Spanish. I learned everything about self-publishing by reading about others’ experiences. My only cost was the editors and exterior design (although I took the picture myself; the cover shows actual stamps from my mother’s letters to my father). Congratulations on your success. Hopefully, one day, my mother’s story will be discovered as well.

  • What a great story. Congrats! : )

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