Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Winning the Literary Lottery!

In April, 2007, my originally self-published novel, The Richest Season, sold at auction to Hyperion Books in a 2 book hardcover deal.

A writers blog referred to it as “winning the literary lottery.” I had to laugh. Because it implied that getting published was as simple as buying a ticket and waiting for a number to be drawn.

Hah! If only it were that easy. My ordeal in trying to get my novel taken spanned 6 years in total. The Richest Season was shelved in a closet no less than 3 times, as I became frustrated and gave up on the publishing world again and again.

But I kept hearing the same refrain from people who’d read the manuscript in a fat 3 ring binder: Your book is better than anything I’ve read in months. Why isn’t it out there?

That question, which I heard over and over for several years, made me want to scream! Yes, I knew I had a wonderful book! I knew it was well written because I took years to carefully craft it. It began as my Master’s thesis. And NO, I had no blankety blank idea why it wasn’t taken!
But….as a big birthday approached I began to do some soul searching.

I wanted to keep writing. I didn’t want to give up. But what defined success to me as a writer? To be read! And to move people when they read my work. I wanted The Richest Season to be out there in reader land, for people to know about Joanna, Grace and Paul, three characters who I believed deserved to live in reader’s imaginations. I wanted them to fall in love with Pawleys Island, as I had more than 20 years ago.

And so I decided to take one of the biggest gambles in my life: to self-publish The Richest Season. After all, I reasoned, if I could sell houses, which I’d done very successfully for nearly 20 years by then, I could sell this book!!!

I found a small print on demand publisher in California which I’d never heard of, and I was hoping no one else had either. I wanted the book judged on its own merits, not with the stigma I knew it would carry if the truth were known.

The Richest Season debuted in May, 2006. I immediately orchestrated a book launch at a local college. I was now feeling like a bit of a fraud, as it got lots of hype in the local media and most people seemed to have no idea it was self-published. I had no idea how many would show up. I was scared to death. Despite a torrential downpour and with little parking nearby, I managed to fill the parlors. One of the first women who came in, who’d gotten the book from Amazon, the only place it was available then, hugged me and said, “I loved your book. I wanted to live it.” I went on to sell over 100 books that night.

I began pounding the pavement. Getting a bookseller to read a self-published book isn’t easy. The big stores and chains simply won’t. So I focused on the independents. I not only got them to read it, once they did, many asked me to come in for signings. Then it became a staff pick in a handful of stores. In one, The Richest Season went on to become their top selling trade paperback for 2006, outselling The Kite Runner.

The next eight months were exhausting as I continued to market my novel in any way I could, while still working. I racked up 25 signings, some library and senior talks, and met with nearly 40 book clubs in 10 states, many via web cam. Reader feedback was unbelievable. And I sold more then 2,000 books, what some literary books do in a lifetime, I learned.

One night in November, I decided to search for an agent again. I sent out e-mail queries and the very next morning got a call from The Victoria Sanders Agency, asking me for an exclusive. I agreed. Eight weeks later they called, asking me to come in.

Meeting Victoria was almost as good as getting “the call.” After a harrowing trip into New York that included snow, ice and a train shut-down because of a terrorist alert, I was rewarded with a smile and these words from Victoria: “This is a wonderful book!” Validation! Finally! Well, almost.

But she was confident it would sell, and also told me she felt it would sell abroad, as well.

Victoria asked me to add a bit more material, something I’d already been thinking about. She then sent copies of the manuscript to major publishers in New York. Meeting some of them in their offices, hearing their compliments on my writing, character development, etc. well…it was surreal!

Shortly afterward, she decided to hold an auction for the rights to The Richest Season. It was an exciting and nerve racking afternoon, waiting for her call. When it came, I was thrilled to learn that Hyperion Books won, offering me a 2 book hardcover deal. This was it! After years of rejection, I was the real deal!

Within a few weeks, Random House in Germany bought German rights in a 5 way auction, and Mondadori took it in Italy in a preempt.

There are still days I can’t quite believe it’s true. I'm now at work on my third novel, with my second, So Happy Together, debuting on July 7! I am what I had always dreamed of becoming, a real author! And I'd nearly given up.

My advice to aspiring writers with a dream is work hard, persevere, and BELIEVE!

Maryann McFadden lives in NJ, although her heart is in the Lowcountry of SC. She was a freelance writer for ten years, then sold real estate, before returning to writing, her first love. The Richest Season will be released as a trade paperback on June 16. So Happy Together debuts on July 7. You can read more at


Anonymous said...

What a gorgeous cover. I'll look for this one in the stores.

TheWritersPorch said...

The Help by Kathryn Stockett was rejected 45 times. At present it is # 14 on the NY times Bestseller list! You just got to have faith in your writing and it appears you did! Congratulations!

Feeding the Grey Cells said...

Thank you for sharing your publishing journey. Proving the old saying of 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.

I am so glad for you that the blood, sweat and tears finally proved fruitful for was not all for not.

andrea said...

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