Here's a different sort of success story from what we usually see--enjoy!
I don't know if you consider this a success story since I wasn't successful in acquiring an agent through your contests. However, I credit a lot of my success as a self-published author to having been a regular participant in your blog contests for several years, although I was ultimately unsuccessful in snagging an agent.
I first entered a Secret Agent contest in April 2009, and have entered several others, including Baker's Dozen contests and crit rounds over the years. I was successful in getting my entry past the gatekeepers in the 2010 Baker's Dozen contest and got several bids on my entry, but an ultimate pass by the agents who requested it. I am still revising it based on their comments and will consider self-publication one day if no agent is interested.
Undaunted by the lack of an offer of representation through all the contests I entered and won or placed, and bolstered by the great feedback by participants, I kept submitting my novels, hoping for a breakthrough. I did get several requests for fulls and partials over the four years I participated (2009 - 2012) and wonderful critique from everyone, so I credit that with improving my writing and story-telling skills.
I decided on self-publication based on the feedback from agents that my genre was a hard sell (paranormal romance - aka vampires). I took Nathan Bransford's advice to try self-publishing if I thought I had a novel that had an audience but that literary agents weren't quite comfortable trying to sell because of market saturation. When I read a rumor that Sylvia Day had a finished vampire romance novel that her agent didn't want to even try to sell, I figured if she couldn't get her agent interested, who would ever consider a trilogy from an unpublished writer like me?
Hence, in 2012, I embarked on the self-publishing route, thinking I had nothing to lose. If agents really did hate vampires and if the market was saturated, I would have no luck finding an agent or publisher for my books. After reviewing my options, I decided to self-publish through Amazon's Kindle Direct program and published the first three novels in my trilogy, Dominion, Ascension and Retribution in June, July and December 2012. So far, they have been received pretty well by the several thousands of purchasers, and I have some pretty good reviews and fans of the series. Book 4 is scheduled to be published some time in 2013 -- probably December, depending on how the writing goes.
Late last year, I was approached by a publisher to consider my series for their house, but alas, the acquisitions editor left the house and my books remained in Amazon's Kindle Direct program where they are selling at a slow but steady pace, earning me a nice royalty to supplement my income. I haven't become rich off the royalties, but it has been quite nice to receive them and of course, the reader feedback is so rewarding.
So that is the tale of my unwanted vampire romance trilogy! It hasn't cracked the bestseller's list but it has an audience of loyal and loving readers waiting for my next novel, and that makes me very happy.
I also tried my hand at self-publishing a contemporary romance novel, and released The Agreement on March 28, 2013. It has done very well - far better than I ever anticipated -- and was as high as #62 in the Kindle eBook Contemporary Romance bestsellers list a couple of weeks after it was released. I have sold over 7,300 eBooks since then and made more money in a month and a half than I do in almost 6 months of my full-time professional job! This would be a "nice deal" (five figures) if announced through Publisher's Marketplace deals page.
Readers have asked for a sequel so I am busy writing Book 2 in the same world, although both books will be stand-alone. The Agreement is currently ranked #162 -- just above Gabriel's Inferno, Rock Me, and On Dublin Street in Amazon's Kindle Contemporary Romance store, for those of you who read Contemporary Romance. You can imagine how pleased I am!
So while I didn't find an agent through MSFV SA contests or the Baker's Dozen contests, I consider the work I put into entering and polishing my manuscripts to have helped me prepare my novels for eventual self-publishing. I am hoping if my sales hold up, I will be able to "give up my day job" as the saying goes and write full-time this year, which has been a dream of mine all my life.
If I was to find an agent at this point who could represent me and sell my novels to traditional publishing houses, I would be quite pleased as promotion, PR, editing and formatting novels and all the business aspects of self-publishing take a lot of time and I am already strapped for time as a full-time professional, mother and homeowner. However, if I must continue on as a self-published author, I will be pleased.
Ultimately, I owe so much of the success I have achieved because I learned so much about writing from MSFV and extend my sincere thanks to Authoress for hosting this wonderful blog and contests.
S. E. (Elizabeth) Lund