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Publishing world 'hit by a bus'

I only saw the first installment of the new Stephen King miniseries, “Bag of Bones,” so I can’t pass judgment on the whole thing. Let’s just say I thought it was supposed to be really scary, but I began to wonder if the conclusion would involve another giant cave spider.

The truly scary part came during a book signing for the film’s protaganist, Mike Noonan (played by Pierce Brosnan). While he peers at a long line of admirers laden with books, Mike’s wife tells him she’s running out to lunch.

As she made her way across the street, I had a feeling … sure enough, on her way back to the bookstore, she was hit by a bus.

Perhaps coincidentally, a night later, I watched the Nicholas Cage blockbuster, “National Treasure: Book of Secrets,” the sequel to the one about a fabulous colonial treasure.

In the opening scenes of “National Treasure,” sidekick Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) is sitting in a bookstore, eagerly awaiting his book signing. Sadly, because he is not the main character, no one is interested in his book. His car gets towed, and we then see Riley trudging down the sidewalk, a cardboard cutout of himself under his arm, and he’s pulling a cart of unopened book cartoons.

I relate these two stories because they are the perfect imagery for the pitfalls authors face in getting published. Even when you achieve the pinnacle of success, you can get hit by a bus. Or, the alternative: toiling in obscurity and schlepping books down the sidewalk.

Is there another way, though? Darcie Chan is living proof there probably is.

Chan, an attorney whose debut novel is all the rage in e-publishing, is a most extraordinary story. Five years ago, she finished her novel, “The Mill River Recluse,” after laboring for more than two years. Her story then became even more routine.

Submitting it to 100 agents, Chan was chagrined to find most turned her down flat. She did land an agent, finally, however. The novel was then sent to a dozen publishers.

No one wanted it. Chan put the manuscript in a drawer.

This year, while reading about the exploding technology surrounding e-books, Chan made a bold move: she decided to self-publish through Amazon.

You’ve probably guessed by now, if you hadn’t already read the story.

Chan’s labor-of-love has now sold 400,000 copies. All in cyberspace.

She still hasn’t found a publisher! No printed copies!

No doubt, now that her personal story has gone national, Chan will have no trouble landing a mainstream publisher, but frankly, I don’t think any of them deserve it.

Chan has made about $130,000 in royalties. This is before taxes, and is based on her wise decision to sell her book for 99 cents on Amazon. The online goliath pays 30 percent royalties for such a retail price (70 percent for books priced at $2.99 or higher).

Thirty cents isn’t high enough, you say? Probably not, but what the author is getting is access to Amazon’s peerless marketing power.

If Chan could solve the issue of distribution into stores, libraries, etc., she wouldn’t need a mainstream publisher and could print copies herself.

Still, her story is instructive.

According to the Wall St. Journal article about Chan, e-book sales have risen from $287 million in 2009 to $878 million last year. Estimates are that sales will reach $2 billion in two years.

Couple that with the fact that Chan has sold 400,000 books, and you see that she has experienced wild success in terms of numbers. Perhaps it’s because she’s an attorney, but she did several things correctly; she was smart.

Investing a modest amount of money in book reviews and online marketing, she was able to get her novel noticed. Sales built steadily until exploding in August (77,000 copies). One wonders what her ultimate sales numbers will be.

One thing is certain, though. She has hit that sweet spot, somewhere between getting hit by a bus, and having her car towed.

Her success ensures she’ll be anything but a recluse, at least in the literary world.

Discover how real and relevant Bible prophecy is to you with Jim Fletcher’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine): How to stop worrying and learn to love these end times”