Tuesday 21 August 2012

Guest Post: Tracey Garvis Graves - From Self-Publication to New York Times Best-Selling Sensation!

Today I have a great guest post from On the Island author Tracey Garvis Graves. Here you can find out all about Tracey's journey from self-published author to New York Times best-selling sensation. Big thanks to Tracey for taking the time to write this post - I really enjoyed reading it!

 On the Island by Tracey Garvis Graves
Publisher: Penguin.
Release date: August 16th 2012.
Ages: Adult.

Anna Emerson is a thirty-year-old English teacher desperately in need of adventure. Worn down by the cold Chicago winters and a relationship that’s going nowhere, she jumps at the chance to spend the summer on a tropical island tutoring sixteen-year-old T.J.

T.J. Callahan has no desire to go anywhere. His cancer is in remission and he wants to get back to his normal life. But his parents are insisting he spend the summer in the Maldives catching up on all the school he missed last year.

Anna and T.J. board a private plane headed to the Callahan’s summer home, and as they fly over the Maldives’ twelve hundred islands, the unthinkable happens. Their plane crashes in shark-infested waters. They make it to shore, but soon discover that they’re stranded on an uninhabited island.

At first, their only thought is survival. But as the days turn to weeks, and then months, the castaways encounter plenty of other obstacles, including violent tropical storms, the many dangers lurking in the sea, and the possibility that T.J.’s cancer could return. As T.J. celebrates yet another birthday on the island, Anna begins to wonder if the biggest challenge of all might be living with a boy who is gradually becoming a man.

Tracey Garvis Graves - From Self-Publication to New York Times Best-Selling Sensation:

Tracey Garvis Graves | Photo Credit: Ryan Towe

A year ago this month, I received the final form rejection for a book I’d written called On the Island. The agent wasn’t interested in seeing any part of the manuscript, and neither were the 13 other agents before him who had also passed on requesting the material. In hindsight, I was probably naïve in thinking that anyone would take a chance on a debut novel that didn’t fit neatly into a single genre and had, quite frankly, a somewhat risky storyline.

My initial goal had just been to write a full-length novel. It was a bucket list item, and there’s no better way to learn how to write a novel than to sit down and write one. During the 18 months it took to write On the Island (in a series of daily 5:00 a.m. writing sessions before I had to go to my day job), I fell in love with the characters and became wholly invested in them (as we writers tend to do). I was so excited about sharing the story with others. 

I researched agents, I stalked their Twitter feeds, and I read their blogs. I drew up a list of agents that represented the genres I thought were the best fit for my book. I agonized over my query letter, workshopping it on a writer’s forum and trading it back and forth with my critique partner until we got it just right. Then I pressed send on the first batch of 5 and held my breath. The rejections started pouring in a few short hours later. I tweaked my query letter and sent 5 more, and still the rejections arrived in my inbox. I was running out of agents. If the first 10 I’d identified as the best match didn’t want me, it didn’t bode well for what the rest of the querying process would be like. I sent the last 4 letters and received the final batch of rejections. I’m not going to lie; it was heartbreaking. But during this time, the people who had actually read the book (I announced on my blog that I would give an advance reader copy to anyone who wanted one) were e-mailing me to tell me how much they loved On the Island. They said they couldn’t put it down. It made them laugh and it made them cry. But I couldn’t get the people who needed to read it – the agents - to agree to do so. Sure, I could have continued querying – some have said I gave up too quickly – but there was a disconnect somewhere and I was pretty sure it wasn’t on my end. 

My husband and my critique partner urged me to consider self-publishing. I didn’t want to. I thought it meant that my book wasn’t good enough. That I’d failed as a writer. People looked down upon self-published authors and were quite vocal about everything they were doing wrong: bad covers, no editing, horrible plots with holes you could drive a truck through. I resisted. Finally, I decided that I had absolutely nothing to lose by self-publishing, and I wholeheartedly disagreed with the mindset that a writer who fails to gain agent representation must shove their novel in a drawer, never letting it see the light of day again.

So I hired an editor. And after that I hired a copyeditor and a digital formatter. I chose my cover art and a friend who is also a graphic designer applied the text. I spent weeks reading everything I could about self-publishing, and how to do it successfully. It took me approximately two months to complete all the necessary steps to prepare the manuscript for self-publishing and then I uploaded to Amazon, Barnes &Noble, and Smashwords

My husband searched for the book on Amazon a few hours later and we cheered when we discovered it had already gone live. Seeing my book available for purchase on various retailers’ sites that weekend was a wonderful feeling. 

Over the next 6 months I promoted On the Island. I released the paperback via CreateSpace a month after releasing the e-book, and I sent copies to bloggers and held a giveaway on Goodreads. I purchased sponsorships on Pixel of Ink and Kindle Nation Daily and each ad paid for itself (and then some). The book steadily sold more than it had the month before. Some amazing bloggers started shouting their love of the book from the rooftops, and I started smiling a lot. Words can’t even express the joy I felt when total strangers reached out to me to tell me how much they enjoyed the book. Amazon selected me for a promotion in March, and the visibility I gained did wonderful things for my sales. 

I received an e-mail from an agent who wanted to discuss representation. I was doing fine on my own, but I had started receiving a lot of interest from foreign publishers and I needed someone to facilitate the sales. I signed on with the agency for subsidiary rights and within a month I had several more foreign sales of On the Island (foreign rights have now been sold in eighteen countries, several of them in a pre-empt). Shortly after that, I had a film option offer from MGM which I gladly accepted. I can’t even tell you how thrilling that was. I also achieved a goal I never thought would be possible: On the Island made it onto the New York Times bestseller list where it would remain for 9 weeks, eventually reaching #5 in the e-book category. As a self-published author, I sold 370,000 copies of the book that no one wanted. 

It was at this time that I started to joke with people that I’d done everything backward. I now had an agent and I’d signed traditional publishing contracts in many different countries. I had several options for the next step in my writing career. Ultimately I received three offers from traditional publishers. I had two choices: I could stay self-published (which had worked out pretty well) or I could sign with a traditional publisher. I used the same method I always use when faced with a big decision: I got out a sheet of paper and made a list of the pros and cons for each option. Self-publishing is wonderful because the decisions are all mine to make and I can release a book on my own timeline. But I can’t put my books on the physical shelf which is something I’d always dreamed of. Traditional publishing can do that, but I wouldn’t be making all the decisions anymore. I also had to think about my next book – what were my goals for my sophomore novel? 

Ultimately, I chose to sign with Penguin in the US and UK and it was a truly a dream come true the day I walked into a bookstore and spotted my lovely cover on the shelf. I’m eternally grateful to my publisher and the readers for making it happen. 


Tracey Garvis Graves: Blog || Twitter || Facebook


  1. Wow! What a great guest post. I will have to check out On The Island...it definitely sounds like something I'd like. I wouldn't mind be stranded on a tropical island right about now. ;)

  2. Hi! I loved On The Island and I am now reading it for the second time!:D I adored Anna and TJ. It was such a beautiful story. I can't wait to read more from you! It was fantastic and inspiring to read your journey!

  3. Wow, what a great look at the indie to NYT bestseller journey! It seems as though a lot of self-pubbed authors are being scooped up these days, and I think it's cool that we're living in the kind of digital age that allows this to happen. Thanks for the awesome interview!

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

  4. Heather@The Flyleaf Review22 August 2012 at 14:59

    I agree with Wendy, it's really an amazing time to be a writer AND a reader. The last four self published books I have read (and On the Island is one of them) have been really incredible reads. Thanks for sharing your story, Tracey:)

  5. Christina you won't be sorry this is one AWESOME book.

  6. I think you'd love this one!!

  7. It was your review of On the Island that brought the book to my attention, so thanks for that, Heather! :)

  8. Wow! What a great guest post. I will have to check out On The Island...it definitely sounds like something I'd like. I wouldn't mind be stranded on a tropical island right about now. ;)

  9. Hi! I loved On The Island and I am now reading it for the second time!:D I adored Anna and TJ. It was such a beautiful story. I can't wait to read more from you! It was fantastic and inspiring to read your journey!


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