Catherine Ryan Hyde has written 24 novels, most of them published by Big Five houses. One of her works, Pay It Forward (S&S, 1999), was adapted into a (fairly successful) Hollywood film. She’s been invited to the White House to talk about her writing. More recently, she’s dabbled in self-publishing. Her efforts led to a rebound in sales in the U.S., a traditional deal with Amazon Publishing, and places her among the growing ranks of hybrid authors.
Agent Laura Rennert, at Andrea Brown Literary, who represents Hyde, said the idea to self-publish her client came out of both curiosity and necessity. Although Rennert said that “99.9%” of her clients are traditionally published, she and her fellow Andrea Brown agents wanted to know how to self-publish, so they could “optimally help [their] authors... if this was something they wanted.” The trial with Hyde, who Rennert noted is very prolific, was with a book called Second Hand Heart, which is published by Transworld in the U.K. Although it was a test—Rennert approached Hyde with the idea of self-publishing wanting authors with “a sense of adventure, a willingness to experiment, and [who] are active on social media”—it wound up laying the groundwork for a turning point in Hyde’s career.
Second Hand Heart was released through Amazon’s self-publishing platform, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), in June 2011, and laid the groundwork for Hyde to publish a second novel through KDP, When I Found You.
Rennert began shopping When I Found You in 2009, but the reaction was consistent: editors loved the book but found it “too literary” and questioned its ability to find an audience. The real worry, likely, was Hyde’s recent track record. While she’s continued to sell well in the U.K., her performance in the U.S. had been shakier. Rennert felt that, when she went out with When I Found You in 2009, Hyde was probably hurt by the poor sales of her previous YA novel, Chasing Windmills. That book was acquired by Doubleday for a sizeable advance, published in March 2008, and underperformed. Instead of taking When I Found You out to a wider group of editors and seeing the book potentially under-published, Rennert and Hyde decided to self-publish again, and released the book through KDP in December 2011.
While Rennert called Hyde “savvy about social media,” the author does not have a huge base on Twitter, with under 2,000 followers. Nonetheless, Hyde has an established, dedicated readership. Rennert believes the success of the self-published KDP edition of When I Found You—she estimated it sold over 100,000 copies—was the reviews. When I Found You was reviewed on various Web sites and blogs, but Rennert thinks the reviews on Amazon, where the novel has over 3,000 critiques, were particularly important.
The sales of When I Found You, which was priced between $0.99 and $4.99 (and, during certain promotions, was free), did not go unnoticed by Amazon. The title was popular in the Kindle Lending Library and climbed high on Amazon’s Kindle bestseller lists. Because of this, Amazon Publishing editor Terry Goodman approached Rennert about signing Hyde to a new imprint at Amazon called Lake Union, which quietly launched in 2013 and specializes in commercial fiction and nonfiction.
Goodman inked Hyde to a two-book deal for When I Found You (reissued under the Amazon Publishing banner), and a new novel called Walk Me Home, which Lake Union released; both titles were published by Amazon on the same day in April 2013.
Since Amazon Publishing released its edition of When I Found You, Rennert estimated that the title has sold another 200,000 copies. Amazon, Rennert felt, gave the title “very good placement” on its Web site, and kept up with its marketing efforts. “One of the nice things about publishing with Amazon is that the window for marketing is much longer than with a traditional publisher, because these titles are not coming off of shelves,” she said.
Hyde has just signed to do two new books with Goodman: Take Me with You (June 2014) and The Language of Hoofbeats (December 2014). The author’s backlist in the U.S. is now a combination of self-published and traditionally published books (some of the self-published titles were ones that fell out of print and the e-rights reverted to the author). For Rennert, Hyde now represents a truly hybrid author. “The thing I really like,” the agent said, “is that there are choices. You’re not deciding about a whole career, you’re deciding book by book. It really doesn’t have to be either/or.”