I first met Travis Neighbor Ward eight years ago, when I moved back to Atlanta from New York. She was the editor-in-chief of a luxury magazine and I was looking for some extra freelance work. I liked her immediately as a person, and admired her excessively as a writer and editor — she’s just one of those people who has an immense talent for arranging words on a page.
So, I was thrilled when I found out last year she had published a book. I read it, loved it and we reconnected — and now we like to get coffee and talk about our publishing experiences and give each other advice. She’s so in-the-know about writing/publishing in general, and self-publishing in specific (she actually created her own publishing imprint!), that I thought it would be great for the readers of The Debutante Ball to be privy to some of her wisdom. Without further ado, here is my conversation with Travis Ward, author of COME FIND ME and the soon-to-be-released THE UNIFIED THEORY OF LOVE AND EVERYTHING.
I know you were very close to going the traditional publishing route at one point, and then it didn’t work out. Tell us about your journey to self-publishing.
I’m thrilled to publish my second novel this summer, and it’s really how my self-publishing journey began. It’s called THE UNIFIED THEORY OF LOVE AND EVERYTHING, and I’ll be releasing it under my own imprint Northside Books (a division of my company Pearl Multimedia LLC). The novel has had an interesting history. Originally after I wrote it, I got it into the hands of an editor at a major publishing house in New York, through a very kind mutual connection we had. The editor really liked the story and was interested in buying it. She explained that it would have to pass her editorial board first; she also said it would be in my favor to get an agent who could negotiate the process for me. So I did my research and queried a bunch of New York agents that I thought would be a good match for the book, and soon I had signed with one. (Not long after that, I found out I had cancer, so while I was trying to sell my book I was also dealing with it. It was an amazing time.)
Back to the book! My agent gave me editing suggestions, so I worked on the novel some more, then she sent it to a bunch of other editorial houses, hoping to create a bidding war. Soon an editor at another major house in New York said she was interested in buying the novel, too. Long story short, it passed the editorial boards at both houses, but the publishers decided they didn’t want to buy it. It was the worst moment in the recession and it was my first novel, so I guess the odds were against me. It was a serious disappointment. I spent a year working on it more, and we did another small round with no takers. At that point I pulled it out of circulation until I could figure out what I wanted to do next. In all I think about a dozen editors saw it.
There were great things and discouraging things about the entire process. It was useful to have the feedback from the editors who read the manuscript; many of their comments were very thoughtful. Some of them really took the time to let me know what they liked and didn’t like. It was also nice to hear that they thought I’m a great writer. Beyond that, the comments taught me that buying a book is a highly subjective process that has a lot to do with an editor’s personal feelings about the story (i.e., whether it grabs him/her enough to want to work on it), as well as timing. Some of them loved the story, but said they didn’t represent that type of fiction, so they probably shouldn’t have gotten the manuscript to start with.
While I mulled the situation over, I dealt with my medical issues and took care of my family, and worked on other things. Eventually I wrote a love story called COME FIND ME, and gave it to my agent. She thought the manuscript was “flawless,” but it wasn’t the type of story she’s generally interested in. She showed it to a handful of editors and one or two actually considered it; the others weren’t a good fit. Ultimately my agent and I parted ways. I was disappointed by that, too, because I’m a team player and I was hoping we’d be successful together. But, I’d survived cancer and I’d learned a lot of good things along the way, including the fact that sometimes you have to let go of your plans in order to move on to others.
What led me to publish COME FIND ME on my own was a meeting with my book club members. One night I decided to share what I’d been through and they immediately suggested I publish my novels by myself. My first thought was that it sounded a little hokey. I’d been a magazine editor, and then an editor-in-chief, for twenty years at that point. I assumed the quality of self-published books was inferior. The truth is that I hadn’t been paying attention to the indie publishing world because I was so determined to get into a New York house. They gave me the names of some really famous and successful indie authors, like Hugh Howey, and I discovered they were right. I also discovered that these indie authors were having a lot of fun. So I decided to give it a try.
It was a fantastic, empowering experience that I needed to have. I hired an art director in Australia to do the cover; formatted it myself; opened publishing business accounts; and marketed the heck out of it through word of mouth. Thanks to my efforts and the support of friends, family, and generous strangers, COME FIND ME ended up staying on the Top 100 Paid Bestseller list on Amazon.com for seven weeks after it debuted, without me taking out any paid ads. Plus, I discovered that my fears of negative criticism were silly. When you get a bunch of great reviews from people who enjoyed reading your novel, you don’t mind that other people didn’t like it; the reader experience is also subjective. A year later COME FIND ME still has a 4.4-star rating on Amazon!
What was the most challenging aspect of self-publishing? The most rewarding?
The most challenging aspect of self-publishing has been having to accept that many people (e.g., the media, libraries, bookstores) won’t even consider reading it because I published it myself. I’d like to get it into more people’s hands and an article in a commercial publication could help.
The most rewarding aspect of self-publishing has been having complete control over the entire process—and the rewards that go with it. No one paid me an advance, but in the first month I earned enough to pay back my startup expenses and then some. I like choosing when my books will go to print, what the covers will look like, and what royalties I get. I also like knowing that every copy printed is one that people have requested, and that my book will never go out of print. In addition, I’ve really enjoyed the spirit of the indie community, from book bloggers and social media groups, to websites specializing in featuring self-published books. Finally, I love the fact that I can write in different genres and no one can tell me not to. I think it’s good for artists to be free in this way.
What are three pieces of advice that I would offer an author who is considering going the self-publishing route?
First, accept that you aren’t going to get a chunk of money up front. It’s going to take time—maybe a long time—to earn the equivalent of an advance, and you may never earn it (or you may earn a lot more). You have to come up with a definition of success that is your own. Stop trying to think of success in the traditional publishing sense.
Second, do your homework, research the market, make a plan, and think like a businessperson with a brand. No one is going to do the marketing and p.r. work for you (or maybe they will, but you have to pay them). It takes complete commitment from you in order to succeed. If you’re not an entrepreneur at heart, your books may languish among the millions of books on Amazon. If you’re fine with that, power to you. If you’re not, start reading up on how other people have done it. There are tons of generous indie authors with blogs spelling out exactly what you need to do.
Third, relish in the artistic freedom you have! Let yourself write that novel you know a traditional publisher might think is “too quiet” or “too risky.” Don’t allow your desire for fame to stand in the way of your work. Take advantage of the open road ahead of you because you’re alone in the driver’s seat. And take along a bunch of really good friends for the ride. It can be lonely at times, and you need a team of people to cheer you on.
And now for the fun stuff: If you were a drink, which would you be and why?
I’d be a mug of hot chocolate with whipped cream and chocolate shavings on top.
Who is one of your favorite (fictional or non-fictional) characters?
I love Quentin Compson from Faulkner’s novels.
Because you wrote a love story, what’s YOUR favorite love story (in book form)?
That’s a hard one. I think my favorite is probably Twilight.
What’s guaranteed to always make you laugh?
Definitely Saturday Night Live. I love it when people feel comfortable taking the things that most of us consider “normal” and showing us how ridiculous they can be.
What’s next for you?
I just designed and produced my new author website (www.travisnward.com) and I’m re-designing and re-launching my website Patch of Earth (www.patchofearth.com) in a big way. It’s going to become a full lifestyle site aimed at joyful living in the here and now. There are going to be some nonfiction books connected to it, too.
I’m gearing up to publish THE UNIFIED THEORY OF LOVE AND EVERYTHING, and a related novel called LOVE SPACE TIME, this summer. I have another finished novel in that series (The Delphi Series), and I’m debating whether to self-publish it or get a new agent to rep it to a traditional publishing house. I’d like to develop a core team in that world, too. I also have a crime novel that’s in second draft stage and another love story that’s half done. It probably sounds all over the place to other people, but I couldn’t be more satisfied.
GIVEAWAY: Comment on this post by Noon (EST) on Sunday, April 19th to win a signed copy of COME FIND ME! Winner will be announced on Colleen’s blog post Monday April 20th. Follow The Debutante Ball on Facebook and Twitter for extra entries—just mention that you did so in your comments. Good luck!
Travis Neighbor Ward was born and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She graduated with an M.A. and B.A. in English Literature and Creative Writing from The University of Pennsylvania. After graduation she moved to Florence, Italy, for five years and wrote Living, Studying and Working in Italy, which Henry Holt published. Since then she has worked as an award-winning magazine writer and editor-in-chief in New York City and Atlanta, where she lives with her husband and two daughters. Her first novel Come Find Me was published by Northside Books in 2014. In the summer of 2015 she is publishing her novels The Unified Theory of Love and Everything and Love Space Time. In her free time, Travis loves being with her family, friends, and dachshunds; reading all types of fiction and nonfiction; traveling; baking; and gardening. Visit Travis’ author site at www.travisnward.com and sign up to receive her latest news, freebie giveaways, and more! You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, Pinterest and GoodReads.