From Self-Published to Book Contract

Cheap CabernetCathie Beck shares her success from Self-Published to Book Contract:

Striking a book deal with VOICE Books in November of 2009 and then watching my memoir, “Cheap Cabernet: A Friendship” hit bookstores across the country on July 20, 2010 is a saga that looks a lot like many other book authors’ publishing tales.

I drafted “Cheap Cabernet” in 1999, all 90 pages of it. Those 90 pages gave me something to work with and for the next two years, while still working full time as a freelance writer, adjunct professor and PR hack, I worked the manuscript into something palatable and 250 pages long.

Then I went to New York and, while interviewing agents for a magazine article, I surreptitiously interviewed each of them to potentially agent my book. Many agreed to read it and one agent committed to representing it.

Then the fun began. She took it to all “the houses” and a year and three-dozen rejections later, we decided the book needed a rewrite. So rewrite I did. Two years and a second round of rejections later, I threw the thing on a shelf (even as it won regional writing awards).

By then, it was 2008 or something and I read an article about online book marketing. I’ve been doing public relations for ten years and I like “social media” and so with the manuscript collecting dust on a shelf, I went to the 2009 New Orleans Jazz Fest and mulled over self-publishing and an online book launch.

A week of Aaron Neville and Dr. John later, I came home and thought: What if I hosted a “Cheap Cabernet: A Friendship” online book launch party, with the goal of blowing the top off Amazon.com Best Sellers lists? And what if I looped in some agents and book publishers while the book climbed the best-seller ranks? What if I made a Launch Day of Oct. 6, 2009, a date purposefully chosen because it was a Tuesday (agents and publishers are working) and the publishing industry is active (not out for the holidays or summer vacations)?

I decided to go for it. I built a Web site and media lists and wrote press releases. I edited the book one final time, hired a book jacket designer, got it printed and then built “marketing collateral packages” — little gift boxes with plastic wine glasses printed with “Cheap Cabernet” on the side, plus a press release and an autographed copy of book.

I pretended “Cheap Cabernet: A Friendship” was the most critical piece of break-through literature the world had never heard of.

I got other Web sites to post announcements of “Cheap Cabernet: A Friendship’s” Big Launch, and some donated product as giveaways to book buyers. I put all this action on Facebook and Twitter and shamelessly continued five months of constant, driven, excitement-laden activity. I asked all friends and family to not just buy books, but to sell “Cheap Cabernet” to all their friends.

On October 6, 2009, “Cheap Cabernet: A Memoir” hit No. 12 on Amazon.com’s Memoirs Best Seller List (jockeying all morning long with Madeleine Albright’s memoir, “Pins”). It hit overall books Best-Seller at No. 67 and hit No. 1 on Amazon.com’s “Movers & Shakers” list.

Over 500 carefully selected agents and publishers got emails from me all morning long with “print screen” images of “Cheap Cabernet’s” rising up the Amazon Best Sellers Lists. Many were not happy and demanded I remove them from my mailing list, but never-you-mind. Twenty Two publishers and 16 agents asked me to overnight them the book as a result of all that effort.

On Oct. 26, 2009, Dorian Karchmar, a rock star agent, agreed to represent the book. She held a 3-house auction and on Nov. 6, 2009, we sold “Cheap Cabernet: A Friendship” to Brenda Copeland at Hyperion’s VOICE imprint and accelerated its editing and publishing schedule so that “Cheap Cabernet: A Friendship” hit bookstore and retail shelves across the nation on July 20, 2010.

Some might call it a Cinderella publishing story. It is. Only it took the Princess about 10 years to finally find the shoe that fit.

Take-aways:

Decide what you want. Be specific. (Do you want to sell your book or self-publish for the long haul?)

Take an online book marketing class (I teach one now). Learn what works.

Write a 25-word description of your target market: age, gender, income.

Get in front of every online (and otherwise) audience you know.

Pick a launch date and build a Web site.

Get at least one good review. Use it everywhere.

Have faith and go for it with every ounce of your being.