Colleen Houck

“I took hold of that scourge -filled ship and crushed it between my limbs, hurtling it into the second sun, the red one that gave me strength. But I was too late." Terraformer

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  • Putting the Horse Before the Cart

    January 19, 2014

    Putting the Horse Before the Cart

    By Colleen Houck


    Anyone who has the determination to write a novel and is dedicated enough to actually accomplish that goal will have a natural desire to move their book into the next step of the writing process—publication.  Of the many roads that lead to Rome why would an author pick the most rugged, undeveloped, pot-hole filled path?  To put it simply, that often scoffed at byway is open to all comers brave enough to test its hazards.

    I’ve always loved books but I never felt the itch to put pen to paper until I struggled with infertility.  I collected and wrote family stories and some children’s books but I didn’t write seriously until after reading the Twilight series.  The epic romance spoke to me in a way no other books had and I asked the question, “Who else will write books like these?”

    I didn’t want to wait year after year for Stephenie Meyer’s next novel and I knew there were many women, like me, who wanted to experience an adventure/romance they weren’t embarrassed to be caught reading.  That day I sat down with a notepad and my tiger series was born.

    Though I wanted to incorporate action, adventure, and a bit of science fiction, I wanted a sweeping romance with a swoon worthy hero to be the heart of my story.  When I sketched out the personality traits of my Indian prince, I looked to a nearby source for ideas—my husband.  I get asked often if my husband is like my hero and my answer is, “Absolutely.  He gives great massages, writes poetry, loves Shakespeare, and inspired the asking-permission-to-kiss scene in Tiger’s Curse.  He’s a terrible gift giver but a girl needs something to work on, doesn’t she?”

    Romance has been important to me since I devoured Aesop’s Fairy Tales as a young girl. I often dreamed of being swept away by a prince charming and what’s better than one prince charming?  Two! So I added another prince—equally swoon worthy but with a different persona.  I chose tigers for the beast part of my Beauty and the Beast theme and the research guided me to India.

    Seven months later, I finished my first book.  I made some meager attempts to query agents and editors after I’d finished Tiger’s Curse, but nothing came of it so I moved on to writing book two, Tiger’s Quest.  This time I did have some agents interested enough in my series to request chapters but as I started writing Tiger’s Voyage, they passed, one by one.

    One night, I sat down with my husband and we talked about what we should do with my books.  Should I query more?  Buy some books on publishing?  Take some workshops?  Enroll in writing courses?  Or should I give up and just enjoy writing as a hobby?  We both felt very strongly that the tiger series was something different, something special, and something marketable.  Together we made the decision to self-publish my material.

    I picked a company called Booksurge which is an Amazon company and because I was publishing both books at the same time, they offered a few cost incentives.  My publishing package included; two rounds of editing, cover design, a one-minute book trailer, press releases, cover copy, and sending my books out for reviews.

    Each round of editing took five weeks and both of the editors who worked with me had many helpful comments.  The cover art the design team created was beautiful.  I would say the best thing about self-publishing is the opportunity to be in complete control of your work.  If you aren’t happy with the design, then you send it back until you are.  I quite enjoyed seeing my entire vision come together.

    About a month before the books were ready, Booksurge offered a special on e-book adaptation so I added the Kindle versions to my package.  As we neared publication, I called several bookstores, planned a book signing, took out an ad in the Salem newspaper, and placed books in all the local libraries.  My brother set up a website so I’d have an online presence, be able to blog, and respond to fan mail.

    My books went live on Amazon in late September 2009 and my support network of friends and family began sharing them. My first book signing was a fabulous party with friends, family, and a few extras who comprised my small but growing fan base.

    Because I offered Tiger’s Curse for only ninety-nine cents, it was soon picked up by Kindle bargain hunters and was placed on several lists for good reads-cheap.  The Tiger’s Quest e-book sold as well even though it was listed for $6.99.  Fans emailed me and I wrote back, thanking them for reading.

    When asked what fans could do to help me, I suggested writing reviews on Goodreads and Amazon and asking bookstores to carry my series.  Between October and December I’d sold a thousand books and then something amazing happened.  In mid-January, I woke up one day to check sales and found my Kindle ranking for Tiger’s Curse was 50,000.

    An hour later it was 25,000 and it continued moving up all day.  Because my entire family was watching the ranking all day, we know that Tiger’s Curse topped out at twenty on the Kindle best-seller list, pulling Tiger’s Quest right along behind it.

    I went from selling three hundred e-books a month to selling three hundred a day.  Costco contacted me about selling my series in some of their stores since fans had filled out numerous request forms.  I was contacted by China, Thailand, and Korea to see if the translation rights had been sold.  A film producer emailed me. We met for lunch, talked about tigers and movies, and signed an option agreement.

    My world was spinning and I had just decided that I could earn a living doing this all by myself when I got a phone call from a literary agent.  His name was Alex and he wondered if I was represented yet.  He said he’d found me on Amazon and was impressed with my reviews.  I was a bit abrupt with him after being rejected so many times by agents, so, I asked, “Have you even read the book yet?”

    In my mind, I was thinking, don’t waste my time and get my hopes up if you haven’t even cracked the cover.  He replied, “I’m about half-way finished.”  Two days later I had representation at one of the top if not the best agency in the country—Trident Media Group.  My new agent, Alex Glass, got to work immediately.

    Meanwhile, Sterling, a company primarily known for producing fabulous children’s books, had a new risk taker at the helm named Marcus, and his team decided that they wanted to begin producing books for young adults.  They hired some new people and searched for something special to kick off their new imprint. 

    Cindy, the editor, was told about my book by a contact at Paramount studios that got it from, Raffi Kryszek, the movie producer I’d signed an option agreement with. She emailed me to see if the series had been sold.  I said it was still available and referred her to my new agent.  He sent her the book which she read literally overnight.  Within a very short time Alex had hammered out a deal and what happened next was an explosion.

    The team at Sterling decided to launch their new imprint not in September of 2011 but almost a year earlier.  A very aggressive plan was created to edit and prepare my books for publication in just a few months.  They held a company-wide contest to come up with their new name and Splinter was chosen.  I went from a self-published author to being the lead out series in a new imprint.  My tigers have been asked to literally carry the weight of the new branch on the Sterling tree.

    Tiger’s Curse will be published January 11, 2011, Tiger’s Quest will have a release date of June 1, 2011, and Tiger’s Voyage will be on the shelves on November 1, 2011.  I was told recently that the first print run for Tiger’s Curse will be 250,000 books.

    Having a print run so large is not only an indication of the publisher’s faith in their product, but shows their commitment to stand behind the author.  It’s such an overwhelming feeling to see my books have that kind of potential.  I imagine it’s like seeing your baby become the President of the United States.

    I’ll be busy next year.  I’ll be heading out on three book tours, I’m launching a new website, and I’m doing interviews and photo shoots.  Instead of handling the day to day minutia of designing and marketing my books, I now handle the business of the world being created around my tigers.

    I think the road to getting published is much like the road to romance.  You never know which corner you turn will lead to your happy ending, so keep your feet moving and keep turning corners.  Even if you don’t find exactly what you were looking for, you can at least look back and know that you had one heck of a journey.

    Though I put the cart before the horse, I learned a lot of important lessons along the way and they are:  Believe in yourself.  Ask for help—from family, friends, and fans.  And, there are no backwards steps.  A talented team of people have helped me get my cart and horse straightened out.  Would you like to come along for the ride?


    This entry was posted in Articles, Bonus Material, Writing Advice.

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    Author Bio
    Colleen Houck

    New York Times Bestselling author Colleen Houck is a lifelong reader whose literary interests include action, adventure, paranormal, science fiction, and romance. When she's not busy writing, she likes to spend time chatting on the phone with one of her six siblings, watching plays, and shopping online. Colleen has lived in Arizona, Idaho, Utah, California, and North Carolina and is now permanently settled in Salem, Oregon with her husband and a huge assortment of plush tigers.