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From Point A to Point B

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Yesterday, I referred to a New York Times article that described Kathleen McGowan’s transformation from self-published author to toast of the big-time corporate publishing world. McGowan racked up credit card debt in order to attend the 2005 BEA on her own dime, but this year, with a seven-figure advance in the bank, she signed autographs for an hour and entertained foreign publishers.

A few loyal readers asked how, exactly, did McGowan make this leap. One reader inquired, “Did she keep on submitting? Did a prominent agent or editor stumble upon her self-published book and fall in love with it? Did McGowan forcefully push the book into the right person’s hands at some convention or something?”

I made some calls this afternoon and I’m hoping to get a more official version of Ms. McGowan’s story. But here’s what I was able to unearth on the Internet. Just as a disclaimer, please keep in mind that this is all Internet research. Although I’m trying to get a comment on this situation from a primary source, for now, this is just what I dug up, so treat it for whatever you think it’s worth.

The Connector Route

According to a website devoted to her work (and what I think was an “official” website before signing with Simon & Schuster), McGowan worked in the journalism and film industries and is also a clinical hypnotherapist. According to that website, The Expected One was scheduled to be released in the spring of 2005. A second website, that is linked to the one mentioned above, provides a very similar biography but also mentions that McGowan and her husband Peter are involved with the Celtic rock band Finn MacCool.

So, The Expected One was released as a self-published book. The original version doesn’t appear on Amazon any longer and there aren’t any copies floating around eBay either. BookSurge proclaims that they released the novel in early 2004.

The always informative Galleycat picks up the trail with a post from early February. The self-published version of McGowan’s book ended up in the hands of film agent Michael Grais. Both of the biographies linked above mention McGowan’s connections to the film industry so that may explain how copies began floating around Hollywood. Grais then showed the novel to literary agent Larry Kirshbaum.

Kirshbaum had left from his postion as CEO and Chairman of the Time-Warner Book Group and launched LJK Literary Management late last year. According to the Galleycat report, Kirshbaum spent “a feverish couple of nights reading the book” and was hooked. Shortly thereafter, he pitched the novel to Touchstone (an imprint of Simon & Schuster) editor-in-chief Trish Todd. “Within 24 hours she [Todd] was calling to say how much she loved it,” Kirshbaum recalled.

On February 10, Publishers Weekly reported that Touchstone paid a seven-figure advance for McGowan’s “Magdalene Line” of books. And there you have it.

The hinge in this case seems to be the film agent Michael Grais. However he managed to discover the novel, he evidently liked it enough to start talking about it. And when you talk to someone who used to be the CEO of a major book conglomeration, well shoot, it’s amazin’ what can happen. I don’t mean that to belittle McGowan’s situation. I heard great things about this book even when it was in its self-published form. I’m just saying that her route from Point A to Point B went through pretty well-connected people. And that’s what we all hope will happen. We hope to do good work, catch the attention of the right people, and proceed from there.

The Submission RouteSo, McGowan got some well-deserved and high-powered help for her self-published book. But not everyone catches the eye of Hollywood agents and publishing moguls. So how can those folks make the jump?

They can continue to submit to large publishing companies and agents. Just like anyone else, they can pitch their books. Although some publishing professionals do have a bias against self-published books, rightly or wrongly, they won’t ignore solid sales numbers.

I don’t want to give too much away just yet because I should be able to post this interview soon. But I’ve spoken with an author who self-published a collection of four or five short stories. He went on to sell more than 3,000 copies of that small short story collection. In today’s market, you can place a piece in The New Yorker and still not sell 3,000 copies of a literary short story collection. So for a self-published author, with no distribution or any real marketing strength behind him, to sell that many books, the mainstream publishing industry took note.

He pitched his project, included his sales figures, and it was ultimately published by Touchstone. I’ll have more of this author’s tips in this interview that should post soon.

So those are at least two ways to get from Point A to Point B in publishing.

I’m running a bit late this morning, so I’ll have more on this later tonight.