Please read chapter 3 first!
January 17, 2004, in the middle of an ice storm in Providence, Rhode Island, I give birth after 36 hours of labor.
A few months later, March 1, 2004, on a chilly, gray afternoon, I give birth, again. This time it’s to my first published novel…after over a decade of labor.
Though I get to hold my human baby immediately when she arrives, it will be another six weeks before my book baby arrives on a warmish April afternoon.
Bleary-eyed from erratic, new-mommy sleep, I throw open the door and there, in a box of ten, on my doorstep, is My Sister’s Wedding, the result of a Bad Romance in high school coupled with an overactive imagination and a love for Judy Blume books.
Riiiippppp. Tear. Pull. And—
Ugh! I peer into the box of books to get a closer look. Yikes! The cover is kind of hideous. It’s this burnt orangey, hand drawn mess that doesn’t resemble any of the popular YA book covers of the time (or any time). Though it fits the three-word description that they asked me to provide to describe what I thought might be a good idea on the cover—bottles of wine, wedding, and sisters—it’s not what I had envisioned.
But I get over it quickly because… IT’S MY FIRST PUBLISHED BOOK!
I take one out of the box, hold it to my heart, and kiss the top of it like it is a human baby. It’s a glorious moment! Now that it is in my hands, I become truly excited for the first book signing planned in the upcoming weeks at Island Books in my hometown.
I send out a ton of press releases via email to local papers and land an interview and photoshoot with The Newport Daily News. A few days before the signing, I find myself on the front page with a full, feature article.
The signing is a huge success—self-published author or not. I sell over 100 books in just two hours, and the bookstore is definitely ordering more. No consignment for them; they are calling the publisher directly!
Yes, it helped that I was not only a local author, but also a teacher in the town. The high school orders a set of 20, and puts it on the recommended summer reading list. A few other schools in the area follow.
Motivated by this unexpected success, I set out to get my books into as many bookstores as possible. So, with Chelsea strapped to my chest and several boxes of books in the trunk of my car, I pedaled books to every bookstore within an hour or two’s range, driving to Massachusetts and Connecticut. Pounding pavement brought consignment opportunities and book signing dates. Soon, I was booked out until January of the next year! I also accessed databases online of town libraries and high schools all over the country. I emailed out press releases and detailed information about the book. Through those channels I was able to get my book in places all across the country.
The signings and increased visibility led to teaching writing and self-publishing courses at adult education centers across the three states and giving talks at everywhere from high schools to libraries to churches. All of this brought opportunities for editing and consulting gigs. I didn’t know it at the time, but these opportunities would eventually grow into what is now my business.
Though I was officially on a year leave from my teaching position, in the back of my mind, I knew as that year came to a close, that I was never, ever going back. Though I had no illusions that I would (or could) live off profits from my book, I also knew that I couldn’t go back to the rigor of being a high school teacher because I had to see this new editing and consulting thing through. Being a mother, a high school teacher, and whatever this thing was, all at the same time, even I knew that would be impossible.
Looking back, the incredible part is that this was a time of pre-social media, so any success I had was all due to word of mouth. The benefit of living in little Rhodey is that word travels very quickly. Getting featured in all the major local papers and even on The Arlene Violet radio show (I fan-girled pretty hard over that one!), wasn’t that difficult because of the not six degrees, but two degrees of separation that exists in the smallest state in the union.
But, all that glitters is not gold. There are some not-so-great moments during this first year. My radio show host friend is trying to grow her show, trading self-published, local authors for more well-known, mainstream ones as guests, and distance grows between us.
However, the self-published authors who I had met through my radio show friend become my tribe. We cheer each other on, exchange marketing ideas, and then do the dumbest thing friends could ever do—go into business together. During one of our regular get-togethers, there is a lot of discussion that we should create a business that will help others successfully self-publish. Pretty quickly, we form an LLC, and it goes horribly wrong before we land our first client. I cut ties with the help of a lawyer and try hard to forget the damn thing ever happened.
Meanwhile, though my memory in terms of timeline is a little foggy, as that is happening, I do remember one particularly snowy day in early 2005. My mother-in-law was with Chelsea at the house, and I was at Starbuck’s working on a project for a client. The snow was coming down hard so I decided to pack up and head back. After cleaning off the car and buckling in for the ride, I decide to call home to let me mother-in-law know I’m on the way. Before I dial, I see a voice mail has been left on my phone, so I listen to it.
As the snow falls all over my car and I question if I should even drive back, the words “you won first place” hit my ears.
Turns out, I won The Writer’s Digest International Self Published Book Awards, first place in the Children’s Book Division (that’s when they used to lump YA with children’s books).
For a minute, I panic that it’s a mistake because I don’t even remember entering such a contest. A number is left on the message and I quickly dial it.
Yep. Hannah R. Goodman you have won first place…a check for $500 and a free copy of The Writer’s Market is on its way if you could verify your home address, please?
First place? To the girl whose only award thus far was in 6th grade for “most improved older hitter” for softball, which I only played for one season. I’m pretty sure my coach made the award up so I wouldn’t feel bad about being the absolute worst player on the team.
I make the quick call to my mother-in-law that I’m on my way…which I really was in more ways than one because within just a few weeks of this win, I am contacted by two literary agents who offer representation.
And this is when the failing forward really begins…