While many deride self-publishing as a last resort for authors who lack the talent or savvy to trail the traditional publishing avenue, independent author Darcie Chan’s astounding success—including sales of over 400,000 copies in less than a year—sparks new energy for today’s e-publishing hopefuls.
Her elusive gem, The Mill River Recluse, languished in oblivion for five years while Chan searched for believers. She queried dozens of traditional publishing houses and solicited nearly 100 literary agents to consider taking a chance on her manuscript, but they all rejected the thought. “Nobody was willing to take a chance,” Chan said. “It was too much of a publishing risk.”
In May 2011, Chan, a smart, 37-year-old lawyer who works for the United States Senate, crossed over to digital publishing. She uploaded her manuscript to Amazon Kindle’s self-publishing program and sold a few copies of the book for $2.99. Weeks later, she started selling her e-novel on Barnes & Noble’s Nook and on Smashwords, a self-publishing program that distributes to major e-book retailers including Apple’s iBookstore, Sony and Kobo. In addition. she purchased ad space on a few Web sites that target e-book readers, and paid for a professional review from Kirkus Reviews, a company that describes itself as a “caveat emptor service that offers honest evaluation of books, whether positive, negative or anywhere in between.”
The Mill River Recluse—the story of a disfigured and wealthy Vermont widow who bestows her fortunes on town residents who barely knew her—has become one of 2011’s e-book wonders. Various quotes and notes on Chan’s Facebook fan page, Darcie Chan, Author track her timeline to e-book success:
- June 28:Chan posts the release of her first novel The Mill River Recluse.
- July 4:Chan posts, “The Mill River Recluse is starting to take off!’
- July 20:Chan posts, “The Mill River Recluse has cracked the top 100 in the Kindle Store, and the top 10 on the Amazon.com literary fiction e-book bestseller list.”
- July 23: Chan posts, “#35 overall in the Kindle Store; #4 & #5 on the Amazon literary fiction e-book and book lists,” respectively.
- August 9: Chan proclaims an “early birthday present” by way of a positive book review in the Huffington Post article titled Top 5 Bestselling Indie Books & Why You should Read Them.
- August 17: Chan says, “I am freaking out just a little bit… thanks all who have read and recommended my quiet, old-fashioned little novel,” after hearing the news that her novel made the New York Times e-book fiction bestseller list.
- August 18:Chan asks and answers her own question: “Could it get any better? YES!!! Look at #62!!!!” The Mill River Recluse makes USA Today’s best-selling books list.
- November 23: Her sincere enthusiasm is refreshing as she again thanks her loyal supporters and bids them a “Happy Thanksgiving.”
- December 9: 400,000 e-book sales later and overwhelmed by her well-deserved popularity, Chan’s holiday message honors and thanks her family, friends, and fans, and tells fellow writers to, “Never, never give up.”
Today, Chan is receiving bids from foreign imprints, movie studios, and audio-book publishers and she never sold a single traditionally-printed hard copy.
Bowker, the U.S. ISBN and SAN Agency, says that 133,036 self-published titles were released in 2011, up from 51,237 in 2006. Than figure amounts to an e-book sales spike of over 165% in 2011, according to the Association of American Publishers. Analysts predict that e-book sales will pass $2 billion in 2013.