peeps: Catherine Ryan Hyde
The author of 23 books, published and forthcoming, Catherine Ryan Hyde is probably best known for her novel, Pay It Forward. Yes, the one that was adapted into a major motion picture.
Chosen by the American Library Association for its list of Best Books for Young Adults, Pay It Forward was translated into 23 languages and distributed in over 30 countries. Pocket Books released the paperback in October 2000, and it became a national bestseller in short order.
With the success of the book and a number of her other titles, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that the publishing industry would be kowtowing to Catherine’s whims and fancies.
Apparently, that wasn’t the case at all.
How Catherine Got Started Self-Publishing
After a number of questionable marketing decisions by her then-publisher, Simon & Schuster, to market her work as Christian/religious fiction (“I am not a Christian,” says Catherine), the sales of her next few titles did not meet expectations. So S&S’s interest in Catherine had just about evaporated.
“That left me in a position to have to completely reinvent my career,” she remembers.
Although she had started doing YA novels for Knopf and managed to restart writing for an adult audience with Doubleday, success was elusive. But not so in the UK, where her Love in the Present Tense started doing very well. So much so that she and her agent “began selling my new adult novels directly to my UK publishers.”
But back in the US, nothing was going on. Then her agency decided to try something new with a few select clients: They wanted to try publishing indie editions of her UK titles, doing all the work for a small percentage of the take. Although she knew that technically she could do the same thing without the agency, Catherine went with it. “I happily chose to just write the books and leave the left-brain work to others. That was a good match for me.”
The team got to work releasing US editions of Catherine’s UK books. In March 2012, they tried promoting When I Found You free for five days through Amazon’s KDP Select: 81,000 copies were given away free and downloaded. But after the promotion, it zoomed to #12 in Amazon’s Kindle Paid category.
Got Amazon’s attention, that did. The company released an AmazonEncore edition of the book, and while they were at it, picked up the US rights to Catherine’s new Walk Me Home.
So that makes about how many books actively out there now, and published by whom? “I still have a book in print with S&S, two with Doubleday, and five with Knopf Books for Young Readers. With the possible exception of Pay It Forward, I think mostly what drives any readers to them at this point is the success of my indie titles.” A definitively hybrid approach to the fast evolving book publishing industry and market. She now has about a dozen indie titles out (hard to tell formally, really, with her hybrid deals). Quite interesting.
Catherine’s experience has brought up some curious questions about the industry. “Just before I began self-publishing, I was really beginning to believe that my books were the problem… Now I wonder why publishers couldn’t sell this stuff for me when selling it directly to readers is not proving to be much of a problem. I can’t help noticing they always say, ‘Your book didn’t sell enough copies.’ They never say, ‘We didn’t sell enough copies of your book.’ It’s really been an eye-opener. Without indie publishing, I might always have believed that the books were somehow at fault.”
Self-Publishing Tips and Observations
- “I’m old enough to remember other things that were bitterly labeled ‘the end of the book as we know it.’ Audio, for example. Yes, seriously. Audio. ‘Books on tape’ were going to kill the book. Funny in retrospect. People still want to read, thank God, and I couldn’t care less how they read, so long as they do.”
- “The physical book will not die, no matter how popular ebooks become. This cry is similar to a bunch of horse breeders crying foul when the car was invented. Yes, cars replaced horses as the common mode of transportation. As they should have. But if you want to ride a horse, or own a horse, they are still available to you.”
- “The cry about the ‘tsunami of crap’ never troubled me. I’d rather see a hundred terrible books self-published than have one really talented author shut out by the old system of doing things. Good books will find their way to the top.”
- “That said, I really, truly wish that all books, self-published or otherwise, were meticulously edited, copyedited, and proofread. That’s one part of the process I don’t believe authors were ever meant to skip.”
- “A collaborator friend and I recently briefly flirted with the idea of traditionally publishing our non-fiction book. An interested agent presented us with a humongous list of things we’d need. Did we have a mailing list in the tens of thousands? Did we plan to hire our own publicist? What kind of tour did we propose? It went on and on. We both looked this over, got severe heartburn. Then I said to her, ‘If we had all this, what the hell would we need a publisher for?’ And we walked away. That’s the bottom line, I think. It’s one thing to give away most of the cover price if publishers are going to get the book discovered. But the more that work gets dumped back onto us, the more we need to reassess.”
- “People who are really readers, especially Kindle readers, have mostly come to my work through one of the newer novels… and are quite surprised to find I also wrote Pay It Forward. So that old title no longer dominates my body of work in terms of recognition.”