Why All Authors May Have a "Hybrid" Future: Veteran Children's Author Kristiana Gregory Goes Indie

The self-publishing movement that was sparked by the introduction of the Kindle ereader eight years ago has taken the entire industry on a rollercoaster ride that shows no signs of slowing down. 

The only thing we can count on in today's publishing world is change. Solid advice given yesterday may not work today. Authors need to realize that there is no one "safe" way to publish.

But there are lots of ways that might work for you. We all need to learn to spread a wide net and be open to the changes as they come zooming at us.

The authors who are doing best these days are "hybrid" authors who both self-and traditionally publish and take advantage of both paths.

Agent Laurie McLean of Fuse Literary believes all authors will be soon be hybrid. She thinks it's the job of their agents to help them self-publish as well as place books with big publishers. She wrote a great piece for us on the subject called, "Why You Don't Need an Agent...But You Might Want One." 

In it she says, "I’d like to make the bold prediction that we'll all be Hybrid Authors in 5 years or less as different paths are taken to achieve each publishing goal."

Of course not every hybrid author makes the decision to jump into self-publishing out of optimism and love of innovation. Some get pushed. 

It's a dirty little secret of the publishing industry that many executives in the traditional houses think of authors as an expendable commodity with a short shelf life. An author's expertise at turning out professional work doesn't matter to management if their last book tanked. Even if it tanked because the publisher put a gun on the cover of your heartfelt women's fiction and changed the title from I Will Always Love You to Gunfire from Hell. 

In the publishing business, you're only as valuable as your last book's sales figures. An awful lot of authors are dropped by their publishers after a few years, even if they have steady sales and good representation. 

What digital self-publishing has done for those "midlist authors" (and their readers) is phenomenal. Seasoned professional authors with an established readership have been rescued from the publishing trash heap. They are now thriving and continuing to entertain and educate us, thanks to ebooks and self-publishing. 

No matter how you feel about ebooks, or Amazon, or the digital revolution in general, this is a fantastic thing for authors and their readers. 

Here on this blog, we have hosted many authors who have re-established careers as indiesor supplemented their trad-pub income by self-publishing. 

Our own Ruth Harris is a million-selling New York Times bestseller who took charge of her own career and went indie with the Kindle revolution.

So did Catherine Ryan Hydeemy co-author on How to Be a Writer in the E-Age. Since self-publishing, Catherine has become an Amazon superstar, even more successful now than she was when she sold Pay it Forward to Warner Brothers. (In fact yesterday Catherine's author rank was #11 on all of Amazon, ahead of J.K. Rowling.)

Other well-known authors who who have shared their indie journey with us are Eileen Goudge, Jeff Carlson, Lawrence Block...and now, Kristiana Gregory

Kristiana is the author of over 30 YA and children's books published with Scholastic, Holiday House and Harcourt. She's a SCBWI Golden Kite award winner as well Literary Classics Gold Medal winner. Two of her books have been made into films by HBO, and her historical novels are staples in school libraries all over the country. 

But, like so many authors, she found her books going out of print in spite of her awards and huge fan base. So she decided to go it alone. 

Well, not really alone. Her whole family joined in and became her publishing team. Amazon ran an inspirational piece about her last month in their "Success Stories" series: Veteran Author Can Reach Kids Again.

This was especially exciting for me because Kristiana was the first writer I knew who "made it" as an author. She and I were members of a writers' group in San Luis Obispo in the early 1980sthe first critique group I ever joined. 

That group was the first place I shared my work and owned up to my writing dreams. We lost track of each other for over 30 years and reconnected when I saw one of Kristiana's comments on Kris Rusch's blog. (Kris Rusch is another trad-pubbed author who has embraced self-publishing in a major way. Her blog is a goldmine for self-publishers.) 

Kristiana has written a memoir about her journey which is full of insight valuable to all writers: Longhand: One Writer's Journey. Do check it out in our Book of the Week section below. 

Talking with her has sent me reminiscing about my first aspirations as a writerwhen simply finishing a short story and sending it to a magazine was cause for major celebration. We were all beginners as fiction writers, even though two members of the group were professional journalists. 

What Kristiana reminded me of is that our critique group was supportive and always felt safe. I don't know if I would have had the courage to embark on this 35 year writing journey if my fledgling muse hadn't been nurtured in such a safe nest. 

And just as I finally got the courage to leave the nest and start publishing my stories, Kristiana recently decided to leave what felt like the comfort of traditional publishing and venture out on her own into the wild world of indie publishing. 

Here is the story of how Kristiana and I first met, and how she finally made that step to become a hybrid author...Anne

Stepping Away from the "Security" of Traditional Publishing

by Kristiana Gregory

We called ourselves the Lost Writers of the Purple Prose.

I had just landed my dream job on the Telegram-Tribune, a daily in San Luis Obispo, California. This newsroom in 1980 was a cacophony of typewriters, ringing phones, and the chuggiddy-chug of a teletype machine. My assignment? Obituaries. It might sound macabre for a thirty-year-old, but I loved crafting these short stories, as I called them, and tried to make them interesting. Sometimes I interviewed family members to learn more about their loved ones so each obit could reflect a little warmth.

It was a dream job because at long last, I earned my paycheck as a reporter.

My assignments also included weather and weddings. Soon, though, I felt wiggly. My eyes glazed to describe yet another sun-drenched day or a taffeta veil crowned with daisies. Oh, to jazz things up a bit!

Enter a creative writing group.

I'm not sure how or where we found each other, but our gaggle bonded immediately over a shared passion: writing our own stuff that we hoped to get published. Poems, vignettes, cat episodes, sad tales about lost love, anything to fill a couple pages that we could read aloud as we sloshed wine and stories late into the night. At work I had been intimidated by the managing editor, John Marrs, but when he joined us in a friend's living room, I learned he was like the rest of us:

Writers trying to put words together.

Maybe it was the abundance of wine, but we oozed compliments. No criticism. I recall lots of laughs and flattery amid a haze of smoke from nicotine fiends: yours truly and Anne R. Allen. Yes, that Anne R. Allen who has graciously invited me to today's blog.

She and I last saw each other thirty-three years ago at my wedding in Harmony, California. A framed photo on our wall shows family and friends on a beautiful May afternoon standing under a eucalyptus tree. Anne is there, smiling, in a purple skirt. I think she knew it was one of my favorite colors.

Years passed, paths diverged. Letters and Christmas cards dwindled until even we writers lost contact.

Meanwhile, my path found wings with motherhood. I realized how much I loved kids and since I loved telling stories, writing for them became a new dream.

Fast forward.

I was extremely fortunate that Scholastic, Harcourt, and Holiday House published my children's books. It was a perfect job because I could work from home and enjoy my boys. And hearing from young readers continues to be a highlight. They ask about my dogs and tell me about theirs, and when they confide how a particular story has comforted them I think, "I'm the luckiest author in the world."

But by my 30th book, the letters "OP" began appearing on royalty statements: Out-of-Print. I felt crushed, especially because kids and parents continued to write glowing letters for my mysteries and historical adventures. Copies in stores were hard to find and many on-line vendors inexplicably priced the books way over a teacher's budget, making class sets prohibitive.

So when I learned about Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and CreateSpace, I felt ecstatic. Here was a chance to reach readers once again, and to offer books for a reasonable price. Buoyed by this fresh opportunity, I began asking my publishers to revert the rights.

This took years of being turned down, asking again, waiting, and more waiting. Finally, as soon as a reversion letter would arrive, one by one and sometimes with its e-file, my family and I got to work. We uploaded, scanned or re-typed each book then my artist son, Cody Rutty, created new covers and added dozens of wonderful line drawings.

My family loves this idea of custom designing a book for children, to make it friendly and nice to hold. We hope the illustrations invite reluctant readers to give it a try.

So far we've resurrected sixteen titles, four more are in the works and I've published two new mysteries.

It was a bit of a catch-your-breath moment, stepping away from the security of traditional publishers. I miss my editors, their camaraderie, and their wisdom. The teamwork was so valuable and such fun. I miss spotting my titles in a bookstore, but having creative control is exhilarating. Hoping to make the paperbacks affordable, I price them as low as CreateSpace permits.

My book sales tick upward every week, like a little snowball gathering weight. It's a modest sum, but the real reward has been hearing from readers. The best support has been parents and teachers who have written Amazon reviews and emails, saying how delighted they are to find my books again.

This new freedom also inspired me to write my memoir, Longhand: One Writer's Journey, something I may not have undertaken if my only avenue had been traditional publishing. The submission process alone would have taken months and I wanted to tell my story now.

The most common question readers ask is, "Where do you get your ideas?" so herein lie the answers. I've jotted memories from writing for the Los Angeles Times and Scholastic, the world's largest children's book publisher: the rejections, heartbreaks, joys, and beloved editors. I hope these behind-the-scenes of book writing, which cover the era from traditional publishing to KDP, might inspire writers starting out and those who love the magic of words.

In the final pages of Longhand, I hyperlinked my rescued titles to Amazon, so Kindle readers can click for a "Look Inside."

It feels terrific to have this instant connection to my audience.

Now looking back three decades at the Lost Writers of the Purple Prose, I think, wow, those friendships and ponderings and reading aloud from our scratchings formed an incubator. We felt safe.

Thanks to social media, I'm happy to learn that at least three of us kept writing and did get published. Our passion survived. And Anne and I quit smoking!

As you know, she hosts this blog and has authored many comic novels. John Marrs writes a political column for Port O Call Publishing ("No Apology. No Apostrophe.") in Port Angeles, Washington, and still writes poetry.

"We had some great evenings in that group," he said in a recent email.

Anne said, "We were always supportive of each other. I remember how even John the professional editor would soften his critiques with phrases like 'I've always heard you shouldn't...' or 'I had a professor who said...' I will always be grateful for the encouragement I got from that amazing group of writers."

Member Lucinda Eileen said, "we were full of good humor, and that, as in any relationship, is the glue that holds us together. There was also something about the male/female mix that was unlike any mixed group I have ever been in before or since. Maybe it was respect for each other, with egos not getting in the way of our hearing what the others were saying. So, humor and respect, not to mention loads of talent, kept us going, even beyond the actual life of the group. I am very grateful to have been a part of it and to have reconnected with you."

We had no idea what the future held—who does?but we knew one thing for sure: We liked to put words together.

It was a grand beginning.

Kristiana Gregory has published 30 children's books with Scholastic, Harcourt and Holiday House, and has now ventured into self-publishing with her memoir Longhand: One Writer's Journey. Her award-winning novels include Jenny of the Tetons, which earned the SCBWI Golden Kite Award. Set in 1876, it tells the story of the Shoshone Indian and her fur-trapper husband, Beaver Dick Leigh. Jenny Lake and Leigh Lake in Wyoming are named after this couple. Nugget: The Wildest, Most Heartbreakin'est Mining Town in the West is a mystery set in an Idaho mining camp of 1866. Formerly titled My Darlin' Clementine, it was Idaho's choice for the 2010 National Book Festival in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Library of Congress.

What about you, Scriveners? We'd love for you to share memories of your own first writing group or class. Was it supportive? Did you keep in touch? Do you see hybrid publishing in your future? Do you have any questions for Kristiana about her trad-pub or indie experiences? 


Buy it at Amazon

In this heartwarming memoir, Kristiana expands her story-telling and love of the written word, using excerpts from her prolific letters and journals kept since childhood: "I've jotted a few memories from writing for the Los Angeles Times and also Scholastic, the world's largest children's book publisher: the rejections, heartbreak, joys, and beloved editors. My privileged career has been intertwined with motherhood, the richest adventure of all. The most common question readers ask is, 'Where do you get your ideas?' so herein lie the answers. I hope these behind-the-scenes of book writing might inspire writers starting out and those who love the magic of words."


Golden Quill Awards Writing Contest: Flash, Poetry, and Short fiction categories. Entry fee $20 for stories and poetry, $15 for flash fiction. The theme is TRANSFORMATION. Deadline July 15.

Glamour Magazine Essay contest.  FREE! Theme: "My Real Life Story". Prize is $5,000 and possible publication in Glamour Magazine for personal essays by women, between 2,500-3,500 words. Enter online or by mail. Open to US residents aged 18+.Deadline July 15th

MARK TWAIN HUMOR CONTEST  Entry fees: $12 Young Author or $22 Adult. 7,000 words (or fewer) of any original work of humor writing. Submissions must be in English. Submissions are not required to be in the style of Mark Twain or about Mark Twain. 1st Prize: $1,000 (Adult), $600 (Young Author). Other cash prizes! Deadline July 10, 2015

Saturday Evening Post Great American Fiction Contest. Entry fee $10. Your story should in some way touch upon the publication's mission: Celebrating America — past, present, and future. Think Norman Rockwell. No profanity or graphic sex. Any genre. No previously published stories, but they can have appeared on your blog. Between 1,500 and 5,000 words. Deadline July 1, 2015

Big Beautiful Wellness Creative Writing Contest. NO FEE Poems up to 30 lines Fiction or Nonfic between 1000 and 2000 words. $100 first prize. Theme: Body-positive living. Looking for inspirational, positive stories. Deadline July 1.

Writer's Village International Short Fiction Contest Prizes totalling $3200! And every entrant gets a critique. (which makes this a great deal.) Any genre of fiction up to 3000 words. Entry fee $24. Deadline June 30th.

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