Failing Forward: The Leap from Indie to the Big Five by Danika Stone

Photo credit: Tom Price Photography on Flickr
If you’re an indie author, you probably didn’t head into self-publishing right away. You started off bright-eyed and optimistic, eager to get a book deal. You made extensive lists of agents and publishers, searched submissions, polished and rewrote. You queried your book brimming with hope and settled in to wait, certain that it was only a matter of time.

The first replies trickled in.

Not the right fit for our agency… not the book we were looking for… Not the right time for this story… No, no, no…

If you were lucky, there was feedback in the replies. Using it, you polished and revised. And – if your journey was anything like mine – you queried again. Another wave of no’s followed. Eventually you realized it was time to head off the beaten track.

If you’ve reached that point, you know the question that goes with this choice: How do I make the leap from indie to traditional? There’s an expectation that one day – however impossible it might feel – you’ll reach the longed-for ranks of traditional publishing that holds the keys to author advances, royalties and the coveted space on chain bookstore shelves. The question is: Does it ever happen?

I’m here to say YES.

This year I signed two book deals: one with Stonehouse, a small, well-respected Canadian press, the other with the massive publishing powerhouse of Macmillan US. In doing this, I reached the “BIG FIVE” and as a one-time indie writer, this makes me a bit of an aberration. Some would call me lucky. Others would say it was a fluke.

I disagree with both.

There’s a very distinct process to making that transition into traditional publishing. Like any major life change, it isn’t easy. But it’s doable! In looking back at the process, these were the key steps:

  1. Let go of your baby. I know you’ve put months and years into loving your indie novel, but now it’s time to let it go. Stop imagining it’s going to be picked up by a major publisher. It’s not. (Unless it’s something massively saleable like Leah Raeder’s Unteachable or E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey, that is.)

    You can’t move forward if you’re tethered to the past. So cut the cord with your indie baby, and move on. Keep your sights on the new.

  2. Write another book. Obvious, yes? But really damned hard when you get down to it. Write. Write everything. Write until you find the voice and story that demands to be told. Then polish that gem of a story until it gleams. If you had a few beta readers before, find ten more. Did two rounds of edits? This time do three.

    Take everything you learned from your first failure and use it to launch you forward. The key is to keep moving.

  3. Make connections. There are endless numbers of online groups just waiting to help you. My personal favorite is #ASMSG: The Author Social Media Support Group which gives indie authors a combined social media reach of over seven million people! And the ASMSG group is only one of thousands.

    Get out. Get known. Help your fellow authors. You never know when they’ll return the favor.

  4. Cast the widest net you can. I know you want that shiny book contract with one of the Big Five, but trust me, there are many ways to achieve it. Enter every contest you find. Don’t be shy. I was a Quarterfinalist in 2013’s Amazon Breakthrough Novel of the Year Award and it was this achievement that led to me signing with Mint Literary. My agent secured me my first book deal with Stonehouse (Yay!), but a few months later, it was the Swoon Reads crowd-sourced YA Romance contest that led to my contract with Macmillan. Not my original plan, but success nonetheless.

    Face it, there are opportunities all over the net. You just have to look for them! It might not be the direct path you expected to take, but you’ll still reach your destination.

  5. Trust yourself. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it feels impossible… but it’s not. Take a look through your local bookstore. Every single writer there went through the same struggle you are experiencing. The difference is, they didn’t give up when they heard ‘no’.

Writing and publishing can be incredibly lonely, and to get through it, you have to be your own biggest supporter. So put those fears aside. Pick up your pen.

It’s time to jump.

Danika Stone is an author, artist, and educator who discovered a passion for writing fiction while in the throes of her Masters thesis. A self-declared bibliophile, Danika now writes novels for both adults (The Intaglio Series, Ctrl Z, and Edge of Wild) and teens (All the Feels). When not writing, Danika can be found hiking in the Rockies, planning grand adventures, and spending far too much time online. She lives with her husband, three sons, and a houseful of imaginary characters in a windy corner of Alberta, Canada.

Ms. Stone is represented by Morty Mint of Mint Literary Agency.

Author Site | Second Author Site | All the Feels | Goodreads | Twitter

Twitter-sized bite:
Is it possible to make the leap from indie to traditionally pub'd author? @Danika_Stone says yes & here's how. (Click to tweet)

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