From Self-Published to Published: A Highlight Reel

It’s possible I got published because I liked somebody’s hat.

Let me back up a little.

I was 23 when I unexpectedly found myself in Palestine. Two years later, when I returned to the US, I was desperate to write about my experiences. But every time I thought about sitting down to write a book, I felt like I was standing at the base of Mt. Everest staring up into the the vastness. And the task was not to scale the mountain but to eat it.

Two years later I was at an impasse. I had quit a job I hated and failed to get the job I wanted instead. I felt like I had run off a cliff. There was no more road ahead. I had no idea what to do.

A helpful friend asked, “What would you do if you had a billion dollars?”

“That’s easy,” I said. “I’d drop everything and write this book.”

So that was my answer, billion dollars or no (ha).

I was lucky enough to find an agent in my second round of queries in early 2008. She helped me develop the proposal and three chapters, which we sent off to twenty publishers. We had some hopeful nibbles. I even spoke with a Big Six editor who seemed interested. Then the financial crisis hit, and all bets were off. My book was dead in the water.

I moved to New York in 2010 to network, finish the book, and figure out a way to publish it despite the long odds now stacked against it. I spoke with several more agents, but they all bowed out as soon as they learned the book had already been rejected by two dozen publishers.

I was eventually offered a publishing contract by a small publisher, but they said the book didn’t need much editing, they’d have to charge about $20 per paperback, and they had relatively little reach into media or bookstores. It didn’t seem worth it to accept a typically small royalty under those conditions. So, with a heady feeling of both freedom and terror, I took the plunge into self-publishing.

Much like writing the book, there was far more to publishing (and marketing) than I could have imagined. But it was also fascinating, and through the process of publicizing the book, going on a couple of self-funded tours, speaking at conferences, and getting kind notes from appreciative readers, my contacts multiplied at an exponential rate.

The paperback came out just in time for Book Expo America in 2011, which I attended with a tote bag full of POD paperbacks. While standing in line for wine at a Book Bloggers’ reception, I met a lovely author named M. L. Malcolm who was wearing an old-fashioned hat with a wide and dramatic brim. If I remember correctly, it was made of dark blue crushed velvet. I commented on it, and we began chatting about our projects. She said she wouldn’t mind taking a look at my book, and if she liked it she might pass it on to her agent.

A few weeks later her agent offered to represent me. I expected her to back away slowly like the others had done as soon as I told her about the stack of rejections. But she said that was three years ago, the publishing world changes rapidly, editors come and go, tastes change, and I had a full manuscript now, not just three chapters. Plus the finished book had sold a couple thousand copies and racked up some terrific reviews on Amazon. Our chances would be much better this time around.

She was right. Four months later she forwarded me an offer of publication from Seal Press. She expected me to jump for joy, but I felt oddly wary. After four long years, with so many hopes raised and dashed, it didn’t seem real. I expected someone to pull the rug out from under me at any moment. It wasn’t until I signed the contract and dropped it in the mail that I was able to relax and celebrate.

A whirlwind of design and editing followed, and although it was a shock to suddenly be sharing control of the raising of my “baby,” it’s been an overwhelmingly positive experience. The book is being rolled out as we speak, and my book tour will begin next week.

Since I was able to get decent book tour gigs when the book was self-published, I figured it would be that much easier now that I’m published... and I went a little overboard. I’ll be on tour from March 14 until May 16, in twelve states and more than two dozen cities.

And did I mention I’m getting married in June?

And did I mention I’m insane?

Next week I’ll write about how I’m putting the book tour together. Here’s a partial schedule, to give you an idea. If you’re on the west or east coast, or in Colorado or Oklahoma, I’d love to see you along the way!

How about you -- have you ever massively over-extended yourself doing things you love and are excited about? Did it all work out, or was making yourself crazy simply... crazy? How were you able to find a sense of equanimity along the way (if at all)?

GIVEAWAY DETAILS: My publisher will send a free copy of my book Fast Times in Palestine to three commenters chosen at random at the end of this three-part series of posts on March 18. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and questions!

Pamela Olson is the author of Fast Times in Palestine: A Love Affair with a Homeless Homeland, a gripping coming-of-age memoir full of beauty, suspense, cruelty, star-crossed romance, and dark humor that aims to bring the realities in Palestine to mainstream American audiences. It was named one of the top ten travel books of the year by Publishers Weekly.

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Comment by Pamela Olson on March 7, 2013 at 8:39pm

Thanks so much for all the thoughtful comments! I was out most of the day meeting with one of my blurbers (whom I hadn't met before I humbly asked him to blurb me -- and he was so kind to do so and then suggest we meet when his travels brought him to NY!) and trying to shop for book tour clothes, but not succeeding -- is it just me, or do retail clothes these days seem rather flimsy and shapeless for the price? Guess I'll try Goodwill over the weekend? Anyway...

Dawn, that's amazing about your daughter! You must be so proud... and if you're anything like my mom, a bit nervous. Will you be able to visit her? Doing so helped put my mother's mind at east (as you'll find in Chapter 10!)

Summer, so glad to meet you here! It is definitely daunting to write about a place that's so complex and multidimensional when I'm clearly not a native. But so far my Palestinian readers have been very kind. Then again, Palestinians tend to be very kind in general... If I so much as say "thank you" in Arabic, taxi drivers often exclaim, "Ah, you speak Arabic better than me!" I always want to smile and say, "If that were true, you would say it in Arabic, not English!" But that's the kind of hyperbolic kindness one must deal with in Palestine. :) I hope you'll enjoy my stories.

Amyah, I know that feeling! One word at a time... one thought at a time... somehow when you keep chipping away, despite all the obstacles and the doubts -- miracle of miracles -- one day a book appears...

Shirley, wow -- your perseverance puts mine to shame! I hope to see that play some day. Best of luck this summer.

Jill, I had the same reaction when I self-pubbed my book: "You mean I'm not done?!" In fact, I was only a bit more than halfway done. It IS good most people don't fully realize this until it's too late. I don't know how I would have even started otherwise. So, shhh... let's not tell anyone else. :)

Comment by Jagoda Perich-Anderson on March 7, 2013 at 4:30pm

You sound quite the entrepreneur, Pamela. Able to write and successfully promote your work and win the respect of a traditional publisher--awesome. Congratulations. I look forward to reading your book.

Comment by Linda Carmi on March 7, 2013 at 3:51pm

My curiosity is piqued for sure!  Sounds like you have a winner.  I would love to read it!

 

 

Comment by Darlene Foster on March 7, 2013 at 2:42pm

I massively over-extend myself doing things I love and am excited about all the time.  Congratulations on having your book published. You are a great example of persevering and never letting go of your dream.  I would love to win your book!

Comment by Maureen Connolly on March 7, 2013 at 2:18pm

Congratulations!  You've provide hope on my own long writing journey.

Comment by Kathryn Meyer Griffith on March 7, 2013 at 1:50pm

Pamela,

You asked: "Have you ever massively over-extended yourself doing things you love and are excited about?" Sure have. So many times over my forty-one years as a writer that I've long ago lost count. Like three years ago when my new publisher contracted for two of my new novels and then noticed I had thirteen older paperback novels, most out of print, going back to 1984 and wanted to know if I'd like to rewrite and rerelease  ALL OF THEM over a TWO YEAR PERIOD, 2010 to 2012, in paperback again and eBook (for the first time ever). With lovely new covers. Of course I said yes...and the work began. There were times over those two years where I thought I was going to go crazy, but I didn't and got all the books out. I loved rewriting and editing the old ones because I'd grown up so much over the years inbetween and had learned so much.

And now? I'm in the middle of producing through ACX and four great producers/narrators SIX of my books in AUDIO BOOKS for the first time ever. So much fun. So much work! I'm going crazy again...ha, ha. Author Kathryn Meyer Grifffih rdgriff@htc.net

Comment by JILL TEITELMAN on March 7, 2013 at 1:05pm

Thanks for sharing this. i will read your book and look forward to more installments.

Selfpubbed my autobiographical novel SAVING GRACIE about female friendship,single motherhood,

late dating, late marriage, late divorce and mortality. Now in the getting the news out phase.

i'm glad i didn't know this was the hardest part of the Himalayan climb because I would have given up.

JILL TEITELMAN

Comment by Shirley Smith Franklin on March 7, 2013 at 12:35pm

Oh, I know about Mount Everest!  I am thirty-plus years into writing a play that developed from a writing assignment which, when published, bore no resemblance to my efforts.  After nursing the hurt for a few years, I realized that not only was I fond of the story, but it was taking on a life of its own.  Though I am no playwright, it has morphed through a set of scenarios into a full fledged play.  Or rather a fledgling play. A reading by a panel of actors proved it to be promising.  But what next? Too naive to ask for clarification from a theater director who agreed to try it if I'd 'tweak it' a bit, and busy with 'life,' I let it sit some more.  Now, once again, I'm mining years of additional notes, and researching in preparation for a total revision under the tutelage of a playwright at a long workshop this summer. The spunk and perseverance of writers like you inspire me to try again...

Comment by Amyah L on March 7, 2013 at 12:06pm

I am also writing a book that seems to be more the Everest than anything else. It is based on a real story and is talking about an intense event. One day at the time, one paragraph at the time and often, one sentence at the time... the best way to see my "baby" grow thicker by the day.

Thank you for sharing you story

Comment by Summer Suleiman on March 7, 2013 at 12:02pm

I can't wait to read your book! I am Palestinian-American, and I visited the West Bank in 2007. I look forward to reading about your experience there, and I admire your efforts to share Palestine's story through your writing.

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