Catherine Ryan Hyde on Good Starts, Movie Adaptations, and Ebooks

Catherine Ryan Hyde is a well-traveled novelist and short story writer. Her novel Pay it Forward was adapted into a movie and at least one future film based on another book she penned is in the works. Though Catherine has had both experience and success with traditional publishers, she has also, as of late, begun to experiment with online publishing and has made herself quite accessible to fans and readers through her personal website.

Below, Catherine shares early actions that contributed to her success, tactics and support networks that helped her overcome rejections and challenges as a fledgling author, how she approached a film adaptation of her published work, and how she has transitioned to the world of online publishing.

Did you do anything early in your career as an author that you think has significantly contributed to your long-term success?

Catherine Ryan HydeWell… I got something adapted for film. But I think you’d file that under “Things That Happened To Me,” rather than “Things I Did.” A little bit like being struck by lightning.

But I also wrote short fiction, and marketed it myself to literary and small circulation magazines. I’m not sure it’s accurate to say those early efforts are still helping me to this day, but it definitely helped me interest agents and secure my first book-length publication.

Another thing I’m glad I did early on: I wrote a lot, approximately a book a year, even though I wasn’t able to sell any of them at the time. Later, after the sudden success of Pay It Forward, I was able to pull some of those projects out of the drawer and get them published, which was hugely helpful. That’s the career moment when many authors freeze or crumble under the pressure. Suddenly they have just one year to produce another book, with their heads full of voices arguing about what people liked about their debut, and what readers expect next. Instead I was able to travel and speak for three years, putting my shoulder behind the Pay It Forward Foundation, without the pressure of needing to produce the next book immediately.

What enabled you to endeavor through all your early rejections, and what advice would you give to other freshly-rejected fledgling authors?

In a word, mentorship. I belonged to the Cambria Writers Workshop, a group filled with many professional authors who were much further down the publication path. They said things like, “All writers get rejected.” They told me I was good enough, and it was right around the corner for me. I received 122 short story rejections before receiving three acceptances very close together. I doubt I would have kept going without the mentorship.

This is definitely not meant as an ad, but my friend Anne R. Allen—a well-known publishing industry blogger—and I wrote a book called How to be a Writer in the E-Age, And Keep Your E-Sanity. About five of my chapters are on nothing but that: how to handle rejection and put it in perspective.

Short version: Rejection means nothing. It doesn’t mean the work is bad, it doesn’t mean the work won’t get published. It doesn’t necessarily mean you need to change the work. Writers get rejected, period. So just make up your mind that it will happen to you, and you won’t let it stop you.

Given your experience having Pay it Forward adapted into a movie, what advice would you give to another author who is given the opportunity to have movie adaptation of his or her book made?

I would say, take a deep breath and let go. Their movie will be different from your book. That’s hard. But you know what’s even harder? When Hollywood doesn’t make a movie of your book. So try to resist the temptation to complain, because, let’s face it, this is one of the most high-end problems on the planet.

If your friends ask you how it feels to have them change your book, tell them no one changed your book. Open your book and prove to them that’s it’s unchanged. They’re not changing your book, they’re making their movie. Your book and their movie are two very different entities, in both a business and creative sense.

A quote from my friend Jackie Mitchard, whose Deep End of the Ocean was adapted: “Where I come from you can either take the money or you can moan about the process, but not both.” I suggest the former.

What are the biggest differences between ebook income and published book income?

I think I need to rephrase your question slightly. Because ebooks are published books. Some are self-published, but many are traditionally published by the big New York houses. So I think what you mean to ask is: What is the difference between ebook income and physical (hardcover or paperback) book income?

Ebook percentages are higher. For those authors who bring their ebooks out through traditional publishers, many argue they are not “higher enough.” For the independently published author, they are significantly higher, as high as 70%, whereas paper book royalty rates are more like 6% to 15%.

Also, my indie books pay monthly, whereas my traditionally published books only pay royalties twice a year.

Are there any specific actions or factors that you attribute to your success as an ebook publisher?

I think I was lucky, and came out with my first couple of indie books at just the right time. A few traditionally-published authors were doing the same, but not as many. Most of the free or affordable ebooks were not by well-known authors. It’s just a theory, but when we put my novel When I Found You on a 5-day free promotion in March of 2012, it went straight to number 1 in Kindle Free, and 81,000 copies were downloaded in five days.

I think my “name” as an author, which hadn’t been helping me much with publishers, helped a lot on the Kindle Free charts. After the promotion, it “bounced” to #12 in Kindle Paid, and Amazon Publishing noticed. And that’s when I became an Amazon publishing author, in addition to being a traditionally and independently published author (these days that’s called a hybrid author). There was luck involved, so I can’t tell someone else exactly how to replicate it, but I will say that I was open to a lot of new publishing models while many authors clung to the old ways in fear, and I recommend that flexibility. The publishing world is changing, but change can be good.

Has your activity as a blogger and accessibility online contributed to your success in any concrete ways, or are you just very active and open online because you enjoy interacting with your fans and readers?

I’m sure it helps, but I have no way to quantify how much it helps. It’s not something you can directly track. The key seems to be forming relationships, not using social media as a big free ad. And I’ve made more friends online than I could ever have imagined. And I mean genuine friends, many (most) of whom I’ve never met in person, but who add untold value to my life. So if you proved to me tomorrow that it made no difference at all to my sales, it would change nothing, because the people I relate to online are my friends, and my life wouldn’t be the same without them.

I really can’t imagine what it would be like to be an author who doesn’t interact with her readers. I hope I never find out.