Embracing change – Catherine Ryan Hyde
By Catherine Ryan Hyde
Fortunately, I’m not afraid of change. I think that’s an important quality in an author. Especially these days. ♥
I think we all know that publishing underwent a big shakeup a few years back. Oh, who am I kidding? It’s still shaking. But the big quake started several years ago, and I think that’s when people got the most queasy.
I was not in the best position to weather the change – or so I thought at the time – because I didn’t have a US publisher for my adult novels. I had five novels with a good Young Adult publisher, but somehow those books were not connecting to their audience. I was surprisingly popular in the UK due to my novel Love in the Present Tense. It had been chosen by a TV book club that has a similar effect on sales to Oprah’s book club in the US. So we were able to sell my new novels directly to my UK publisher, and they were hitting the national charts over there. But that wasn’t enough to convince a US publisher to take them on. And the shakier things got in traditional publishing – the more the ground shook, the more the publishers contracted in their acquisitions – the harder it was going to be to solve the problem.
It was around this time that my agency and I decided it might be smart to bring out the US editions of these books independently. It turned out to be the best move I ever made.
First I brought out the US editions of the already-published-in-the-UK books. Then I brought out a few that the publishers were done with (like my backlist—older books for which the rights had reverted to me) and a few the publishers had never shown much interest in (like my story collections).
Then came the hard part: getting these new editions discovered.
In March of 2012, we decided to put one of my independent ebooks, When I Found You, on a five-day free promotion to help get it on the map. Five days later over 81,000 copies had been downloaded, and I’d received an email from an editor at Amazon Publishing expressing interest in bringing out an encore edition of When I Found You the following year.
Now I’m with Amazon Publishing for my new novels, but I also have a big handful of traditionally published novels still in print, and another big handful of indies. I guess it’s what the investment guys call diversifying. And in a very wary and rapidly changing industry, it feels great to know not all your income is coming from one source.
It’s the second time in my career that what I initially viewed as rotten luck turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me. Here’s the first: In 1991, I wrote my first novel. But I couldn’t sell it. Then I went on to write a novel a year… and not sell them. In 1997 I sold my novel Funerals for Horses to a very small startup press. In 1998 I sold Pay It Forward to Simon & Schuster, who immediately asked what else I had to show them.
Out of the drawer came Walter’s Purple Heart and Electric God, two of the novels I’d been unable to sell before Pay It Forward raised my profile. So in the years following the success of the Pay It Forward book and movie I was able to travel and speak, to sign books and meet readers, to put my shoulder behind the growing Pay It Forward “movement.” Meanwhile my publisher brought out two books I’d already written— right around the time a lot of debut authors are having breakdowns over the pressure to write a worthy follow-up.
So for those who ask how I’ve managed to maintain the momentum I gained with Pay It Forward, the honest answer is, I haven’t. I haven’t maintained anything in this business. I’ve just worked really hard, with a big dollop of good luck thrown in, to get it back.
My agent laughs about it with me. She says, “You have more lives than a cat.”
But here’s my theory on that. Here’s what I think it really means to have more lives than a cat. It means I wouldn’t give up and go home. Think about it. When is it over? When you say it is. When you stop trying. Until then, the big comeback just hasn’t happened yet. Once you cash in your chips and go home, it never will. So I think I know the secret to having more lives than a cat. It seems to have to do with being pathologically stubborn.
Who knew that was a quality that would pay off?
When I was a teenager, my mother said something that stuck with me. A quote, though neither of us remembered from whom. She told me, “The problem with a fallback position is that you tend to fall back.”
So I honestly believe my secret to success as an author is simply having no Plan B.
It also helps if you’re not afraid of change.
Catherine Ryan Hyde is the American author of novels including The Language of Hoofbeats, Where We Belong, When I Found You and Second Hand Heart. Pay It Forward was adapted into a 2000 movie starring Haley Joel Osment, Helen Hunt and Kevin Spacey. Her new novel, Worthy, is out this month.