Monday, August 24, 2015

"THREE MAGIC WORDS THAT CHANGED MY LIFE, AND MY CAREER" (OR, WHAT I LEARNED FROM JOE KONRATH) By Kiana Davenport

The focus of the IWSG is support and encouragement. 
To a large extent, this is dependent on the kindness of strangers.  
As writers, we assist one another in this virtual world, and special human connections are forged, which transform the writing experience, sometimes above and beyond our expectations.
This post celebrates the special gift of kindness that writers share.
                     *                    *                    *

Hello everyone.  
First of all, thanks to Michelle Wallace for asking me to write this piece. I believe that every time we write something about ourselves, we also learn something new about ourselves.

Let me identify myself as a writer of fiction, and a  'Hybrid' writer. That is, I started out being published traditionally by New York publishers. Since then I have also been published by Amazon's print house,Thomas & Mercer, and have also digitally self-published one novel and a three-volume collection of short stories on Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing Program. 

Being a hybrid author does not mean I'm brilliant, or incredibly talented. Passion for your subject, perseverance and just plain luck (or timing) has more to do with being published than raw talent. I am half Native Hawaiian, so have written a lot about the Pacific. Publishers have found my books intriguing because not many writers cover the Pacific. So that is an example of LUCK on my part.

I am also PASSIONATE about my subject, and write five-six days a week and I think that 'blind drive' is another reason I was published.  
YOU HAVE TO HAVE THE DRIVE. 
YOU HAVE TO FEEL LIKE YOU WILL DIE if you don't write.. 
If you are just in it for the money, I would suggest changing careers. Most writers are poor, we do it for love. But sometimes beautiful books come out of love, and they become bestsellers. Suddenly you're rich! And that is every writer's dream. To write something you are proud of, and watch it become a success is what I have always told my students, "WRITE WITH PASSION!"  If your writing is lukewarm it means you're not in love with your subject matter. Find another subject.

Now for Joe Konrath, and those three magic words.  You should know that Konrath writes a blog THE NEWBIE'S GUIDE TO PUBLISHING, that has a following of over 10,000 readers. He started out traditionally published, hated the way New York publishers treated him, and learned how to digitally self-publish his own novels. Then he started his blog site to share his knowledge with other writers. You see, from the start he was a generous man.

In 2011, I had a book contract with a New York publisher for my next novel. The advance was so small I wondered how I would survive until the book was sold and published, which in traditional publishing usually takes 18 months! How would I eat? How would I pay rent? I began to feel hopeless, even suicidal. 

Then a friend took me by the hand and said, "You're not going to die. Read Joe Konrath's blog. He is going to save your life." 

Well, I went back and read every blog Joe had ever posted, dating back to five years previous. I then decided to publish a collection of short stories that no publisher in New York had wanted. I followed his step-by-step instructions on how to self-publish a book digitally. With the help of an artist, I learned about designing the cover, how to find a formatter, and how to price accordingly.  

It took a month or two to complete formatting and designing the collection of short stories, HOUSE OF SKIN. The day it was finally published on KDP as an ebook, I saw the beautiful cover for sale on Amazon and screamed. I think I cried all day. I had given birth to my first book. When I was sane, I wrote Joe Konrath a letter of thanks. I told him I had been near suicide with hopelessness, and that he had saved my life. I sent him a link with the cover of HOUSE OF SKIN, and thought I would never hear from him. He's wildly popular and busy (and now a millionaire with the sale of his self-pubbed books.)

Joe not only responded to my letter, he reproduced the letter word for word on his blogsite, uploaded HOUSE OF SKIN with its beautiful cover, and then told his readers my story. THEN Joe told his readers, "let's see if we can help this writer sell her book. Come on guys, pitch in! Remember all the help other people gave you. Now it's time for each of you to pay it forward!" I had never  heard that phrase before, it means to help someone and hopefully they in turn will help the next guy. (A movie was made of this with Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt called PAY IT FORWARD.)

Well, long story short, with Joe's thousands of readers, within a few hours, my book HOUSE OF SKIN had jumped in sales ranking on Amazon from something like 700,000 to number 8. That's right, number 8. Number 1 in sales ranking is the biggest seller in the world at the moment, usually a Stephen King book. Well, that day I broke a record on Amazon, for the fastest rising book in sales ranking for all time. In a few hours the book had multiplied in sales over 4,000 times. Of course within a few days, it slid down again, but I had found an audience! And it stayed under the 100,000 sales rank for over a year. (Today it bounces up and down as all books do.) There are now millions of books on Amazon, so I feel any book under 100,000 in sales rankings is doing fine.

What lingered most with me was Joe's extreme generosity, and his emphasis on those three magic words, which he still uses today.  
PAY IT FORWARD!!!!  
"Help your mates. We're all in this together, let's become an army by joining forces as self-publishers in the digital world." Through Joe's blog site I have met self-pubbing authors who have become dear friends. We help each other with cover designs, with editing, with just lending a sympathetic ear. We barter our work and save money by avoiding big corporate professionals. We are the Pay it Forward Ranks. We're pioneers in this brave new digital world, where rules and algorithms keep changing. It's scary but the one constant is...our FRIENDSHIPS.. 

This whole new coterie of peers has become my universe. It's changed my career, and my way of thinking. I no longer feel alone as I did with traditional New York publishers. And I have become more generous with other writers. Digital self-pubbers are much more generous, much more human because we're all pioneers in this brave new world. And our world is based on those magic words. 
PAY IT FORWARD.  

A postscript to this article. When my NY publisher Penguin, discovered I had self-published on Amazon, they tore up my book contract and fired me. That is how threatened they are by Amazon. 
It made the front page of the New York Times, showing how terrified New York publishers were and still are of Amazon, and how threatened they are by self-published authors who no longer need

"establishment New York publishers."  OK, I lost my prestigious NY publisher, but I gained a whole new world of brave, innovative and caring friends. I have never looked back. And this is the life I wish for you. One filled with passion, hard work, and peers who are struggling alongside you, living the mantra of Paying it Forward.  

God bless you and Happy Writing!  
Kiana

Kiana Davenport is descended from a full-blooded Native Hawaiian mother, and a Caucasian father from Talladega, Alabama. Her father, Braxton Bragg Davenport, was a sailor in the U.S. Navy, stationed at Pearl Harbor, when he fell in love with her mother, Emma Kealoha Awaawa Kanoho Houghtailing. 

On her mother's side, Kiana traces her ancestry back to the first Polynesian settlers to the Hawaiian Islands who arrived almost two thousand years ago from Tahiti and the Tuamotu's. On her father's side, she traces her ancestry to John Davenport, the puritan clergyman who co-founded the American colony of New Haven, Connecticut in 1638. 

Kiana is the author of the internationally best-selling novels, Shark Dialogues, Song Of The Exile, and House Of Many Gods. She is also the author of the collections, House Of Skin Prize-Winning Stories, and Cannibal Nights, Pacific Stories Volume II. Both have been Kindle bestsellers. She has just published her third collection, Opium Dreams, Pacific Stories, Volume III.

A graduate of the University of Hawaii, Kiana has been a Bunting Fellow at Harvard University, a Visiting Writer at Wesleyan University, and a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant. Her short stories have won numerous O. Henry Awards, Pushcart Prizes, and the Best American Short Story Award, 2000. Her novels and short stories have been translated into twenty-one languages. She lives in New York City and Hawaii.

29 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Sounds like you didn't need that New York publisher anyway!
That was generous of Joe to promote your book and story. That is what it takes. My books never would've experienced the success they did without the generosity of other writers.

Christine Rains said...

What a wonderful story! And I couldn't agree more about paying it forward. I'm lucky to know such an amazing community of writers who have supported and encouraged me.

Michelle Wallace said...

Great to have you here, Kiana!
Thank you once again, for the wonderful post.

Linda Kay said...

What a great story and a dream come true! After a few weeks of vacationing and traveling, I am having a little trouble getting back into the groove, so to speak. So this gives me a bit of a shot in the arm to get going again. My little writers' group does a lot of paying forward.

Heather M. Gardner said...

We Pay It Forward as much as possible in our blogging community.

It's how its done.

Heather

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

It's so encouraging to read about these success stories. I hope Penguin is weeping now.

Guilie Castillo said...

This is a brilliant story, one of inspiration and hope to so many writers out there waiting for 'the big break'. Having just published my first book (through an awesome indie press), I can vouch for the generosity of humanity — writers and otherwise. So many people have helped, shared, got their friends and family to spread the word... It's a humbling thing. And yes, indeed, Pay It Forward is a mantra we all need to live by. Great post, Kiana. Thanks for sharing, Michelle!
Guilie @ Quiet Laughter

Rachel Morgan said...

So inspiring!

Rachel Morgan said...

P.S. Joe Konrath's blog was one of the first I began following as I started out this journey, and it gave me so much hope for what I could achieve as a self-published author. I'm sure he has inspired THOUSANDS of writers!

J.L. Campbell said...

Inspiring article, I think most of us can attest to the good things that come out of paying it forward.

Pat Garcia said...

Hi,
It did me so much good to read your article. It put pep in my wings. Thank you so much for sharing and paying it forward.
Shalom,
Patricia

Patricia Lynne said...

I love Joe for the information and encouragement he gives on his blog. He's realistic about it too and doesn't pad his words to give a false sense of "This is so easy, you can do it too."

I think I remember him posting about you too. I didn't know how well it helped you. That's awesome. Congrats on the success.

Robyn Campbell said...

Paying it forward is what it's all about. I don't know where I'd be without it. Loved reading this. Love your name. I agree with you. Without drive, you're sunk before you get started. I like being a hybrid author. I aspire to be that. I know OF Joe. A really great guy from all I've heard. I am glad I read your post. I needed it today. Thanks.

Spacerguy said...

Its all about helping each other out - keeping the gang motivated through thick and thin. We're going to have good and bad but the secret lies in perseverance. Just do it!

Tyrean Martinson said...

Wow! I think that's awesome! Thanks for sharing your story! Paying it forward makes a difference.

Patricia said...

As Guilie said before me, your post gives us writers hope. We don't HAVE to have the backing of a big New York publisher to get our books published. You and Joe and many others are proof of that.
Thank you so much for telling us your story.
Patti

Lexa Cain said...

I have to say I'm flat out shocked JA Konrath got all his followers to buy Kiana's book when he didn't even know her. I've never heard of that happening to anyone else. Penguin's loss is her gain.

Nicola said...

A great post! Thanks for sharing. I like to think I do my part and support other new writers and have read so many of my blogging friends' books. Hopefully someday soon, I will my own words in print.

Murees Dupé said...

This is an amazing post. I definitely believe in Paying It Forward. Wow, now I feel inspired.

cleemckenzie said...

Yep! That's a philosophy that works for me. When I need help, I go to other authors, and I try to always be there if any of them need me. It takes a lot of time and energy, but passion drives me so it's not that hard to Pay It Forward.

Great letter.

T. Drecker said...

What an inspiring post! Paying It Forward is an attitude so many writers I know have. . .a wonderful community.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

For some reason, this made me cry. What an incredible testament to our community. Congratulations, Kiana! Thanks for sharing.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

That was very generous of Joe to promote your book like that. Yes, each of us needs a boost into the limelight. I have 33 books (some print, some ebooks, and some audio books) yet I am the best kept secret on the Net. Sigh.

But anyone can give up. Not everyone can stick it out, right? I am glad Joe was there for you when you needed a friend (both in his past posts and in his help on his blog.)

Pay It Forward is something all of us must remember when we finally manage to crest that hill.

Thanks for the morale boost, Kiana. I needed it. :-)

diedre Knight said...

"Pay it Forward" was an excellent movie, as is your story! Always good to hear such inspiring stories; proving that perseverance (and truly good people)do prevail!

Kiana Davenport said...

Hi Guys. I wanted to thank you all for your comments. I hope my article was helpful to each of you in some way. I always tell my readers that we writers are nothing with THEM. We are vain animals, and need an audience! Also we need to make a living. But when we are in the PROCESS of writing a book, a story, that is when we need friends, soulmates, other writers who can empathize. It is a lonely process, do not try to accomplish it all alone.

The other thing I wanted to mention in my article but ran out of room is something my Hawaiian aunt taught me, and this is a woman who did not read books. When I went out into the world she told me two things. 1) BE KOAKOA! (Daring. Fearless.) 2) IMUA! (Press on, no matter what. Never give up.)

I believe this is a good mantra to live by. We are artists. We must be fearless and take chances. And most of all we must never give up. Koakoa and Imua to each of you. And alohas, Kiana

Kiana Davenport said...

Sorry, correction on fourth sentence. I always tell my readers that we writers are nothing WITHOUT them.
Alohas! Kiana

Jen Chandler said...

Thank you for this marvelous story, Kiana! It definitely "pays" to pay it forward. This was a great reminder.
~Jen

coridyson said...

Inspirational post that I needed to hear today. Thank you for sharing.

Robert Bennett said...

Amazing story. Very inspirational too for some of us writers still trying to get rolling.