Darcie Chan’s book “The Mill River Recluse” is #1 on this week’s “List Where Indies Count” for the second week in a row. Even more impressively, it is #8 on The New York Times bestseller list, #18 on USA Today’s list and #5 on Amazon. Quite an achievement for any author, let alone an indie author’s first book.
Amy Edelman: Tell us about yourself? When did you start writing?
Darcie Chan: I have two younger sisters and come from a very close-knit family. I was born in Wisconsin, and I lived there until I was about six. After that, my family moved around quite a bit – we lived in Indiana for a year, then Colorado for five years, and then back to Indiana. In most of these places, I lived in small towns…in fact, the town where I attended middle school – Cheraw, Colorado – is so small that that the kids there attend public school only four days per week. (It’s cheaper for the school district to have a longer school day for four days than it is to operate buses, pay staff, etc. for a five-day week!)
I have been writing for as long as I can remember. My mother is a teacher and my father, now retired, worked in educational administration throughout his career. They taught me to read and write at a very early age. With respect to writing fiction, in either seventh or eighth grade, I entered a one-day writing contest and ended up winning the short story category. I came home and announced that I wanted to be a writer, and I think that was the first time that it really occurred to me that writing was something I wanted to do – if not as a career, then at least through a serious effort during my free time.
I put my writing aspirations on hold for a long time. Through high school, college, and law school, I really didn’t have time for anything but my classes and my part-time jobs. After law school, I began working as an attorney, which is also a position with demanding hours. But, after a few years, I got used to the schedule and started writing late in the evenings as a creative outlet. I decided to attempt a novel-length piece of fiction, which wasn’t as intimidating as it once was. I figured that if I could draft or edit hundreds of pages of legal text within a few weeks, I could certainly complete a novel during my own time, writing at a far more leisurely pace.
AHE: Is “The Mill River Recluse” your first published book?
DC: Yes, “The Mill River Recluse” is the first book I have published and also the first book I have ever written.
AHE: Did you try to get a traditional publisher?
DC: I did try the traditional route with “Recluse”…despite a tremendous effort by my wonderful literary agent, the general consensus from the traditional publishers was that the book was well-written but “old-fashioned,” and too much of a risk given that I am a completely unknown writer.
AHE: At what point did you decide to self-publish?
DC: After “Recluse” had been shopped around, I put the manuscript in a drawer and took a bit of time off from writing fiction. I had several large projects to handle in my job, which happens periodically for certain types of legislation and which requires substantial overtime. My husband and I moved so that he could accept a new position after finishing his medical training…and we had our first child. I still haven’t caught up on sleep from all of that!
During this time, though, it was impossible not to notice the explosion of ebooks. I started seeing articles about writers who had made their work available in ebook form and who sold enough copies to establish an enthusiastic readership…or even catch the attention of a traditional publisher. I had modest hopes in making “Recluse” available as an ebook. I thought that I might get some valuable feedback from readers and gradually, over the course of months or years, get my name “out there” so that I would not be a complete unknown by the time I finished my second novel.
I would be lying if I said I never dreamed about my little, old-fashioned story appearing on various bestseller lists. But as for it actually happening…I am still trying to wrap my mind around that. I have been truly shocked, thrilled, and humbled by, and incredibly grateful for, the extent to which “The Mill River Recluse” has resonated with readers.
AHE: Would you make a deal with a traditional publisher if you were approached?
DC: It has always been a goal of mine to have a book traditionally published, and I would definitely consider an offer to traditionally publish “Recluse”.
AHE: What do you think would be the advantages and disadvantages of being traditionally published?
DC: The information I have read on the rapidly-evolving publishing industry seems to indicate that ebooks are continuing to gain in popularity, but the majority of readers still read traditionally published books. I think one clear advantage of being traditionally published is that an author can reach the greatest number of readers through that route. Also, a publisher can help refine a book through editing and can provide valuable design and marketing assistance…and all of these things help free up time for the writer to write.
On the other hand, staying on the indie path affords an author creative control over every aspect of a book. Indie authors can also make new work available to readers more quickly, and currently, at least with respect to ebooks, they receive a higher royalty rate than a traditionally published author.
AHE: How do you see the new world of indie and ebooks? Are there still brick and mortar bookstores? Are they B&N or indies?
DC: The publishing world is really in flux right now, and it will probably take some time before it settles down. I do think ebooks will continue to gain market share, although physical books aren’t going to disappear anytime soon. In terms of the kinds of books that sell and the stores that sell them – I hope that it will all be dictated by what readers enjoy. I can absolutely imagine a brick and mortar bookstore that sells traditional and indie books in all formats. Maybe you visit the store to buy a physical copy of the latest book from your favorite author, either traditional or indie. Maybe you grab a latte, sit down at a kiosk in that store, preview some trailers for new books, and download one of the books to your e-reader for your commute home. Whatever the format of your purchase, you (hopefully) leave the store happy and looking forward to a new reading adventure. In the end, isn’t that all that matters?
AHE: One more question…do you have any advice re: what you did to make “Mill River Recluse” such a success (PR, marketing, finding an agent, etc.) that you’d care to share with other indie authors?
DC: To be honest, I am still not sure how all this happened! I actually found my agent a long time ago, through the traditional query letter process. She loved the story and wanted to try to place it, even though she thought it would be very difficult to do so.
In terms of PR and marketing, I tried to find ways of getting some information about Recluse in front of eReader users. I wrote to administrators of kindle-related blogs and asked if they might post a short feature about my novel…I arranged for a few inexpensive ads on various eBook-related websites and also purchased a few featured listings on the larger eBook blogs (Kindle Nation, Pixel of Ink, eReaderNewsToday, etc.). I used my own Facebook page and also started an author page on Facebook…and I got a Twitter account and website set up. I think that the features on the larger eBook blogs helped to jump start things and give periodic sales boosts, but as best I can tell, readers seem to be finding Recluse through word-of-mouth recommendations and reader reviews, recommendations from Amazon, and recently, more visibility due to the novel appearing on some bestseller lists.
I guess my advice would be to write the best story you can, and prepare it well in terms of editing and cover art. Do whatever you can to get mentions of your book on websites of interest to eBook readers, and use social media to help spread the word. Finally, be patient and try to enjoy the ride. It is an exciting time to be an eBook or indie author!