Breaking down the doors to the publishing industry sometimes means creating your own opportunities.
The publishing industry is not for the faint of heart. It’s a tough business that can be brutally selective, fickle, and prone to trends. For debut authors, “breaking in” via the “traditional” path can seem like an impossible task. But when it came to realizing their publishing dreams, four authors grabbed their literary fates by the horns.
Essence bestselling author C. Kelly Robinson knew in his teens that he had a compelling story to tell. However it wasn’t until his twenties, after seeking a change of pace from the corporate world, that the author decided to shift his writing efforts into high-gear.
Having completed several short stories, Robinson penned his first novel, Not All Dogs (later titled Between Brothers). But getting a foothold for the book through traditional publishing channels—a literary agent and publisher—would not be easy.
“Publishing is a very tough business and, especially to get your foot in the door, you have to have a thick skin and an ability to withstand rejection,” Robinson said.
Literary agents and editors saw Robinson’s obvious talent, but questioned whether his book could find an audience. Confident in his work, the author self-published the novel. “Self-publishing was tough, but I proved I could connect with an audience of real readers.”
Robinson had indeed established a rapport with readers, and over the years his seven books—all traditionally published by major houses including Random House, Penguin NAL, and Grand Central—have landed on Essence bestsellers lists or received critical acclaim. Today, C. Kelly Robinson divides his time between cultivating new writing projects and a professional career in corporate marketing.
With his first novel Six Days In January self-published in 2001, author William Fredrick Cooper was well on his way. After selling more than 15,000 copies of the title, the author had sparked the interest of a traditional publisher. A publisher known by one name—Zane. Her imprint at Simon & Schuster, Strebor Books International, signed Cooper to a publishing contract in 2003 and republished his debut novel the following year with wider distribution.
To date, William Fredrick Cooper is one of the imprint’s longest tenured authors. “I felt blessed,” Cooper said about being signed to the imprint. “Still do. Zane is a great woman of whom I have the honor of calling a friend.”
Cooper followed Six Days In January with the 2007 Essence/Black Expressions bestselling sequel, There’s Always A Reason. In 2011 he released a standalone sports title, One Season In Pinstripes—chronicling the 2009 New York Yankees baseball season from the perspective of a bathroom attendant.
The author’s latest offering, Unbreakable (A Love Ballad), is slated for publication in March 2014. The novel is a follow-up to There’s Always A Reason, and pays tribute to the creative legacy of pop legend Michael Jackson—Cooper’s idol and creative muse.
Bestselling author Earl Sewell created his own writing opportunities after rejections by New York publishers stood in the way of his dream of becoming a published author. Although his road to publication took a detour while he spent nine years working in corporate America, Sewell could no longer ignore his passion for writing and ultimately launched his own publishing company, Katie Books—named in honor of his late mother.
The author released his debut novel in 1999, and by 2001 had established a readership substantial enough to grab the attention of New York publishing houses who wanted to purchase the rights to his work for national and international distribution.
Seventeen novels later, Sewell’s titles have graced numerous bestseller lists and have been featured in major publications including The Washington Post and Publishers Weekly. His latest adult novel, A Social Affair, was co-written with national bestselling author Pat Tucker. Sewell is also the author of several successful teen titles. His most recent, The Keysha Diaries, was released in March 2013.
However, not all writers start out on the self-publishing path. With her traditionally published 2005 debut adult novel, As Real As It Gets, author Monica McKayhan became a popular new voice on the literary scene. McKayhan followed-up her debut success with the 2006 sequel, From Here To Forever.
Seeing the need for novels that spoke to youth of color, the author made her foray into the young adult market with Indigo Summer, a teen series that launched Harlequin’s young adult imprint Kimani TRU in 2007.
“Indigo Summer was created as a result of the lack of books out there for young people who look, talk and behave just like her,” said McKayhan.
The novel quickly caught on with young readers and only months after its release topped bestseller lists including Essence and the Black Issues Book Review (BIBR). It also made the American Library Association’s list of “2008 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers.” The first five books in the Indigo Summer series were optioned for the big screen by Karat Films. The author’s most recent YA novel is a standalone title called Ambitious and takes place at a highly competitive performing arts school. The novel examines what happens when winning eclipses what’s really important in life.
McKayhan’s first romance novel and latest release, Tropical Fantasy, is her fourth adult title. The novel asks the question: Can passion in paradise become a forever love? With a versatile voice that resonates with both young and old, McKayhan is proving to be an author with mass appeal.
Despite the daunting challenges that these once debut authors faced in the ever-changing publishing industry, their talent, resolve and determination have set them on a trajectory to continued success.
Kevin Don Porter is the author of MISSING — a humorous, yet creepy, mystery novel AVAILABLE on Amazon.com, Booksamillion.com, Barnesandnoble.com, Indiebound.org and other fine retailers. He is also a Writer/Contributor for CBSLocal-DC. For updates on his work, friend him on Facebook and Goodreads, follow him on Pinterest, and subscribe to his articles for usedview.com. Visit his website at www.kevindonporter.com.