Self-publishing is upending the book industry. One woman's unlikely road to a hit novel.
By ALEXANDRA ALTER = Wall Street Journal December 9, 2011This summer, Darcie Chan's debut novel became an unexpected hit. It has sold more than 400,000 copies and landed on the best-seller lists alongside brand-name authors like Michael Connelly, James Patterson and Kathryn Stockett.
It's been a success by any measure, save one. Ms. Chan still hasn't found a publisher.
Five years ago, Ms. Chan's novel, "The Mill River Recluse," which tells the story of a wealthy Vermont widow who bestows her fortune on town residents who barely knew her, would have languished in a drawer. A dozen publishers and more than 100 literary agents rejected it.
"Nobody was willing to take a chance," says Ms. Chan, a 37-year-old lawyer who drafts environmental legislation for the U.S. Senate. "It was too much of a publishing risk."
This past May, Ms. Chan decided to digitally publish it herself, hoping to gain a few readers and some feedback. She bought some ads on Web sites targeting e-book readers, paid for a review from Kirkus Reviews, and strategically priced her book at 99 cents to encourage readers to try it. She's now attracting bids from foreign imprints, movie studios and audio-book publishers, without selling a single copy in print.
The story of how Ms. Chan joined the ranks of best sellers is as much a tale of digital marketing savvy and strategic pricing as one of artistic triumph. Her breakout signals a monumental shift in the way books are packaged, priced and sold in the digital era. Just as music executives have been sidestepped by YouTube sensations and indie iTunes hits, book publishers are losing ground to independent authors and watching their powerful status as literary gatekeepers wither.