From Rural Montana to New York Times Bestseller
My experience with Eragon was unusual. It took me a year to write the first draft, a year to write the second draft, and a third year to edit the manuscript with my family. We then self-published the book with the company Lightning Source. Self-publishing took a lot of time and effort, as we had to format the book ourselves, do quality checks on each book, and handsell most of the copies, but it gave us control over all aspects of its production and marketing.
Figuring out how to sell the book was a challenge. From my window I saw fields, mountains, and cows; no houses, no people. We had little money and no connection with the world of big publishers. So how could we spread the word about my story?
My family and I created posters and flyers to help spread the word. My first events were at the local high school and library, where I spoke about and sold copies of my book. I discovered that when you do a public event, you can get free media coverage.
Everywhere I went, in addition to doing signings in bookstores, I always scheduled an event at a public library. I then called local newspaper, radio, and TV stations to see if they would like to interview me, which many did. My family and I tried many ways to reach people. And I was persistent in making calls to schedule events and media interviews. Yes, it was scary and uncomfortable, but it worked. Over the period of about a year, I did over 135 presentations in bookstores, schools, and libraries, speaking about my book and inspiring young people to read and create stories of their own.
Slowly, readers became aware of Eragon. And the response was enthusiatic. I found myself signing not only books, but T-shirts, arms, and foreheads. Word reached New York through booksellers and the author Carl Hiaasen, who read my book and told his editor at Random House.
In late 2002, my Dad and I were in Seattle, Washingston, marketing the self-published edition of Eragon. My first event of the trip was the Northwest Bookfest, a convention of booksellers, publishers, authors, librarians, vendors, readers, and fans. I had a small table in the huge unheated warehouse where I stood in my medieval costume, trying to keep my teeth from chattering while pitching the book to potential customers.
That evening we received the first e-mail from my editor-to-be, Michelle Frey, which opened with these lines: “I’m writing regarding your novel, Eragon, which I recently read and enjoyed immensely. The story is gripping, the descriptions beautiful, and the
characters well drawn. . . .” and concluded by saying that Random House/Knopf was interested in publishing the book.
As you can imagine, we were excited by this news. It was perfect timing, because our home had turned into a book warehouse and we could not take sales to the next level without duplicating the process a large publisher uses—the distribution system, the marketing, and promotion. Although we had concerns about losing control over a book that my family and I had labored over for so long, the folks at Random House Children’s Division showed us that they would give the book the attention we hoped for. Fortunately it worked out wonderfully for both of us, and I couldn’t ask for a better home for the Inheritance Cycle.