Becoming a Hybrid Author: A Case Study of Author Robin Mellom

Fellow writer and cyber-friend Robin Mellom just self-published her new book, Perfect Timing. I first heard about Robin through Writer’s Digest when they highlighted her as a debut novelist for her book, Ditched, a YA (young adult) romantic comedy. Although intrigued, I figured I was too old to read YA, but soon the compelling storyline wooed me back. Eventually I bought Ditched and read it; then I read it again; then I looked for more of Robin’s work.

Alas, she had no more YA titles. Though she did have a middle-grade series, Classroom, I said I wouldn’t read them. Junior High wasn’t a good time for me, and I didn’t want to go back. So I waited for her next YA book – and I waited. Finally, desperate for more of her witty humor, I relented and dove into the first three books in her Classroom series. I’m glad I did!

Her next YA book was written, but her publisher wasn’t interested (shortsighted on their part) and her agent couldn’t find anyone else who would bite (a bad move on their part). She considered self-publishing, and I encouraged her to go for it. It must be many other people did, too, because the next thing I knew, she self-published Perfect Timing as a Kindle e-book. I devoured it in two days. In case it’s not clear, I’m a fan of Robin’s and am even on her mailing list.

She also apparently got the rights back for Ditched, because she just self-published an updated version, retitled as Perfect Kiss,  complete with a new cover. I bought and am reading that, too. I’m interested in seeing how it differs from the original version.

However, with these two self-published works, Robin has not made the switch to pure indie author. Instead she is doing what many authors are now doing. She has become a hybrid author, self-publishing some books, while going the traditional publishing route on others. From a traditional publisher, her fourth middle-grade book, The Classroom: When Nature Calls, Hang Up! is due out in June, and I hear a children’s picture book is in the works. So she’s breaking from another long-held publishing tradition, too, proving an author can successfully write for multiple audiences.

As authors in the ever-changing book publishing world, we need to not fixate on one way to publish our work. We must consider all our options and do what makes the most sense for our careers and our audience – just like Robin.

Check out Robin Mellom’s books:

Ditched
The Classroom (The Epic Documentary of a Not-Yet-Epic Kid)
The Classroom: Student Council Smackdown!
The Classroom Trick Out My School!
The Classroom: When Nature Calls, Hang Up!
Perfect Timing (originally known as Busted)
Perfect Kiss (formerly Ditched)

Lessons From a Published Author: It’s Never a Sure Thing

A couple years ago I blogged about a young adult (YA) book that I really, really, really liked – and the author honored me by leaving a comment to my post. Since then we’ve shared a few online interactions, with her offering careful communication and me trying hard not to come across as a creepy fan who is cyber-stalking her.

Ever since reading her first book, I’ve clamored for her next YA one.

Since then she published three junior (mid-grade) titles – all are on my Christmas wish list – and a fourth book in the series has a 2015 release date. She also has a children’s picture book scheduled for publication.

The long awaited YA follow-up is written and waiting.

Despite success with her junior titles, her publisher declined the new book, citing too low of sales on her first YA title. Her agent showed the book to other publishers, but none were willing to move forward with it.

To my dismay, the book I long to read is languishing on her computer hard drive. Understandably discouraged, she is considering self-publishing it as an e-book.

I think her publisher is making a huge mistake. In a few years the fans of her junior series will move on to YA books. Though she currently has one title waiting for them, two (or more) would be better.

Aside from my distress over not being able to read this book, I see two lessons in this.

First, low sales on just one book can hurt our chances of another one being published. That’s a sobering thought. Today’s publishing world is increasingly risk adverse, and it doesn’t take much for them to say “no.”

Second, I think every author should pursue a dual track of traditional publishing and self-publishing, that is, to be a hybrid author. If one option doesn’t work, perhaps the other will. If both options bear fruit, all the better.

I encouraged my writer friend to self-publish her YA book. I hope she does.

[Update: Robin Mellom did indeed self-publish her YA book. It’s called Perfect Timing and is now available,]

Don’t Believe Everything You Hear about Book Publishing

Last week I received a telemarketing call from a well-known self-publishing operation, a division of a well-known traditional publisher. Although unwelcomed, the interruption didn’t surprise me because a few years ago I had contacted them. Their business model intrigued me, but I later dismissed them when I stumbled on a poorly produced book with their imprint inside.

I told the rep I’m pursuing a traditional publishing deal. Not deterred, she keyed in on my excuse, telling me why my strategy was wrong. She spewed forth a well-honed tutorial of why I needed to self-publish my books first. I won’t claim she lied to me, but mixed in with the truth were some half-truths and over-simplifications:

  • It’s harder than ever to land a traditional publishing contract. (True)
  • Traditional publishers won’t even look at your book, but will instead rely on a one-page query. (Over-simplification: If your query grabs their attention, they’ll ask for a proposal, which could lead to them looking at your book. But most likely they’ll only consider your query letter.)
  • Traditional publishers want you to self-publish first. (Half-truth: If your self-pub book is a breakaway hit, then you’re in a great position to sign a book deal. If you have a well-written, carefully edited, and appropriately laid out self-pub book, they’ll have less work to do should they decide to publish it – but they may also wonder if you’ve already made all the sales you’re going to make.)
  • She guaranteed their parent company would look at my book if I self-pub with them. (Over-simplification: What they will likely look at is sales numbers of my book, not the book itself. Once a certain threshold is reached then someone may actually look at my writing, but not until then. Of course, I’m speculating on this, but it’s not practical for them to give every self-pub book full consideration.)

The book publishing industry is rapidly changing. What was true last month may not hold true next month. We must be in a continual learning mode, but as we consider new information, we must exercise discernment, because we can’t believe everything we hear.

What It Takes To Land a Book Deal

You have likely heard stories of publishers turning down books that later went on to become bestsellers. There are also tales of agents who missed seeing a book’s potential, only to be proven wrong when someone else made it a success. These accounts prove that having a book published with a traditional publisher is far from an exact science.

There are four variables to land a book deal. To find a traditional publisher, you need to have the right book, pitched by the right agent, to the right publisher, at the right time. That means you must have a well-written, interesting book, an agent who loves it, a publisher who will get behind it, and for all this to happen at the ideal time.

Furthermore, for any book to achieve success, whether traditionally published or self-published, the right set of circumstances must occur. These include a myriad of things, such as current events, the economy, the mood of buyers, competing titles, the weather, and so forth.

Most of these things are completely outside the control of writers. The one thing we can affect is the content of the book. As a writer, we determine whether a book is merely good or great, boring or interesting, similar to everything else or unique. Our job as writers is simply to produce the best book we possibly can.

That’s what our focus should be; the other things are mostly outside of our control.