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Defining Success: How Three Authors Made Their Publishing Dreams Come True

By Paula Margulies ...

Success often means different things to different people, and that is certainly true for most authors. While the majority of authors would probably agree that being able to complete a book is an accomplishment in itself, many define success as more than just the act of writing.

For some, success is achieved through obtaining a contract from a major publishing house. Others want to build their own writing empires by going the self-publishing route. For many authors, success means landing a book deal after being self-published. Others wish to achieve a certain status on the bestseller lists, while others desire to develop a solid core of readers. Some aspire to become established in a particular genre, while others write only for themselves or their family members

There is no right or wrong when it comes to an individual author’s goals. And the definition of success will be different depending on what authors believe is most important to their personal plans for themselves.

The following authors are clients who have been successful in their publishing efforts. They come from different backgrounds and write in different genres. And although their individual goals differ, each of them has managed to achieve the level of success they envisioned. Here’s how they did it:

Corey Lynn Fayman
Author of the San Diego-based Rolly Fingers mystery series, Black Beach Shuffle, Border Field Blues, and the soon-to-be-released Slab City Rockers.

A powerful new voice on the crime-fiction scene (ForeWord Reviews), Corey Lynn Fayman is the creator of Rolly Waters, the San Diego, California-based guitar-playing detective first featured in the San Diego Book Awards nominated mystery Black's Beach Shuffle. Encouraged by this early success, he set about writing a second Rolly Waters Mystery, Border Field Blues, winner of the Genre Award at the 2013 Hollywood Book Festival, and has inked a deal for his third novel with Severn House Publishers. Corey hails from San Diego, where he's worked as a keyboard player for local bands, a sound designer for the world-famous Old Globe Theatre, and an interactive designer for organizations both corporate and sundry. He also teaches at various colleges and universities.

What specific goals do you have for yourself as an author and how have you achieved those goals?

My initial goal was just to find out if I could write a mystery novel, one based on the idea of a guitar-playing detective that had been rolling around in my head for a while. About halfway through the process I realized that one book wouldn’t be enough if I wanted to do justice to the character, as well as find finding my authentic voice as a writer. I committed myself to writing two more books in the series, not matter how long it took, no looking back. The second book, Border Field Blues, took much longer to write, but I learned so much in the process. It taught me how to write, and prepared me for the challenges of completing the third book on a much tighter deadline. My other goal in writing three books was to give the series a chance to be picked up in the marketplace. Getting a contract with a well-known and respected publisher like Severn House gave me a great shot of confidence. People like Rolly Waters. I’m on the right track.

What's the next step for you as an author?

Getting to know the business better, and figuring out how I can become more active in advancing my writing career without becoming an empty shill. There are so many ways to promote your work these days, from traditional book tours to blogs to social media to book trailers. You can’t do them all. You need to settle on the ones that work best for you. I’m partway there, but it’s still something I’m working on, finding my promotional voice, so to speak, now that I’ve developed my writing voice.

What advice do you have for authors who are just starting out?

Learn to read your own work with a jaded and objective eye. Don’t fall in love with the stuff you thought was brilliant and important when you first put it to paper. Let your characters lead. Let them help you discover the story. Your book may not turn out to be what you originally had in mind, but it will end up being a better book. I remember feeling surprised when I had Rolly Waters run from the crime scene in the opening chapter of Black’s Beach Shuffle. I didn’t know why he did it, except that it felt right at the time. It ended up being a great way to introduce a key fault in his character (poor impulse control), as well as setting up later plot points.

On the business side, try everything and find out what works for you. Go to conferences, develop a blog, enter contests, and join writing groups (online and in person). Anything that keeps you moving forward is valuable. Learning what you don’t like to do is valuable too.

Pamela Fagan Hutchins
Nonfiction author of several how-to books, including What Kind of Loser Indie Publishes, and How Can I Be One, Too?, and creator of the romantic mystery series, Saving Grace, Leaving Annalise, and Finding Harmony, and the first spin-off, Going for Kona.

Often compared to Janet Evanovich for fiction or Erma Bombeck for nonfiction, award-winning author Pamela Fagan Hutchins writes romantic mysteries and hilarious nonfiction, and moonlights as a workplace investigator and employment attorney. She is passionate about great writing and smart authorpreneurship, and her books have hit the best-seller lists multiple times.

What specific goals do you have for yourself as an author and how have you achieved those goals?

The most important goals for me are to write and publish the books of my heart as best as I can create them, and to make writing novels my full-time occupation. To write the books of my heart, I had to eschew the traditional publishing path (although I had published one nonfiction book traditionally, before), where each agent wanted me to rewrite my novels differently to appeal potentially to their editor contact. I wasn’t on board for that, not at this time of change and opportunity in the publishing industry. I decided to publish them independently. To make my indie novels the best they could be, I modeled my process after traditional publishing and ensured that my books received multiple levels of topnotch interactive editing attention. It was expensive, but paid for itself immediately. While no author is the best judge of the quality of her own books, I hope that the contest wins, amazing sales, and the thousands of reviews are a positive indicator of the results of this process.

As to the full-time novelist goal, that has become a reality after three short years of publishing, but ten long years of writing. To meet this goal, besides writing books that would appeal to readers, I had to develop my own brand, cover my own expenses, and create my own income stream. I modeled my writing career after successful hybrid authors like J.A. Konrath. Konrath stresses that an indie writer needs to produce quality volume at an attractive price. To this end, I publish one full-length novel every six months. While working on my brand and visibility, I studied the paths of some successful erotica and YA indie novelists and their first-in-series-permafree strategy. While the thought of giving away my best-selling book scared me, I decided to try it, and it worked. I supported it with aggressive, ongoing online advertising, and my writer income became sufficient to give up my day job as an attorney. You can read all the ins and outs of this journey and process in What Kind of Loser Indie Publishes, and How Can I Be One, Too?, an updated version of which will be released in February 2015.

What's the next step for you as an author?

Write, write, write! I have my next seven novels lined up in a row to write, and I’m really looking forward to it. I brainstorm collaboratively with my husband, too, so that’s a lot of fun. After the impact of my 2013 60-cities-in-60-days book tour across 17,000 miles and the 2014 America-the-Beautiful tour over 11,000 miles of North Western states, I’m also hoping to schedule a book tour trip up the west coast of the US and Canada to Alaska one summer soon, and a bicycling-across-America book tour one spring in the not too distant future as well.

What advice do you have for authors who are just starting out?

I coach a lot of published and unpublished writers, on writing, on publishing, and on promotion. By and large, I see them in too much of a hurry to get through the writing part to get to the publishing part only to eschew the promotion part. Put in the work, and the time, up front. It takes hundreds of thousands of words to develop voice, and millions to develop your storytelling ability. I wish I’d seen different for any writer, but I haven’t. This goes double if you’re going to publish independently, without the extensive editorial support of big publishing. Slow down and write a book that won’t net you scathing reviews. The Internet is forever, my friends, and a name once sullied with a reader is hard to overcome. (And even if you write a super book, you are really the only one who can “sell” it, no matter how it’s published, so be prepared to get your hands dirty with promotion.)

C. L. Hoang
Author of the historical Vietnam War novel, Once upon a Mulberry Field

C. L. Hoang was born and raised in South Vietnam and came to the United States in the 1970s. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, and earns his living as an electronic engineer, with eleven patents to his name to date. His debut novel, Once upon a Mulberry Field, a love story set at the height of the Vietnam War, has won multiple awards, including a Gold Medal (Historical Literature Fiction) in the 2014 Global Ebook Awards, a Grand Prize (Fiction) in the 2014 LuckyCinda Book Contest, an Honorable Mention in the Writer's Digest 22nd Annual Self-Published Book Awards (2014), and a nomination as a Finalist (Historical Fiction) in the 2014 National Indie Excellence Book Awards.

What specific goals do you have for yourself as an author and how have you achieved those goals?

My goal in writing Once upon a Mulberry Field was to share different perspectives and stories from various people, both Vietnamese and American, whose lives had been affected by the Vietnam War. Thus, many of those stories may prove of interest to such diverse audiences as American veterans who served in Vietnam during the war, their families and friends, Vietnamese immigrants who arrived in America after the war, as well as the baby boomers who came of age during the tumultuous sixties. The general themes of love, loss, and redemption may appeal to a female audience, and there may also be interest from history buffs or younger folks curious about that chapter in history.

To try and reach all those different audiences, I offered to give a talk about my book at as many venues as I could get access to: book club, library, church group, rotary club, spa resort, writer’s group etc. It was nerve-racking at first since I’m not a born public speaker, but it did get easier with time and practice. The ultimate reward that makes it all worthwhile is the direct, personal connection with my audiences.

Book awards, both regional and national, also serve to validate and highlight the quality of a book, especially when it comes to self-published works. In my case, they helped to open some doors for me that might otherwise have been off limits.

What's the next step for you as an author?

After Once upon a Mulberry Field was published on Valentine’s Day of 2014, the rest of the year was devoted to promoting the book to its intended audiences. That was a full-time effort that left little room for anything else, which made me realize just how much I missed my quiet writing time. So hopefully 2015 will be a year of rejuvenation for me, if you will, as I will try to scale back on my book marketing duties and reserve some time to write again. There are still many stories floating around in my head demanding to be told, and I would love to capture them for a second book that I hope won’t take six years to write!

What advice do you have for authors who are just starting out?

Believe in your story with all your heart, and tell it in the absolute best way you can. Write, edit (with professional help), rewrite—until you start spinning around in circles! Then go out there and promote the daylight out of it, all the while remaining realistic about your marketing goals. Seize on any public speaking opportunity to share your story, no matter how uncomfortable you may feel (for it gets easier with practice). After all, who else can tell it better than you can, right? Enter book contests to get an idea how you stack up against the competition. Besides boosting your confidence, a book award can distinguish your work from the rest of the field and win you some good will—even potential new readers. Some contests also provide helpful commentaries from the judges. But most of all, stop and savor every small accomplishment along the way, and no matter what happens, never lose that sense of fulfillment already achieved just by finishing your book. Happy writing and best wishes with your publishing efforts!
Paula Margulies is a book publicity and promotions expert in San Diego, California. You can reach her at, or visit her at, on Twitter at @PaulaMargulies, or on Facebook at Paula Margulies Communications.


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