From Self-Published to Mainstream: An Indie Success Story
How self-published author L. Penelope scored a book deal with St. Martin's Press.Leslye Penelope says she found refuge in writing as a child: “Writing was always my way to make sense of the world. I was an extremely shy child, but I had this creative outlet where I could really run wild.” The Maryland-based author’s earliest influences included the classic work of Frances Hodgson Burnett and Jane Austen. She credits authors such as Octavia Butler, Virginia Hamilton, and Gloria Naylor with teaching her “about magical realism and infusing a sense of magic into a story.”
As Penelope continued to develop as a writer, she also gained professional experience in editing and publishing. In 2010, she cofounded and coedited an independent literary magazine; her close involvement with a quarterly publication provided her with hands-on experience in layout, creating covers, and publishing in print and e-book formats. “When it became clear that I was close to completing my first novel, Song of Blood & Stone, it felt really natural to me to go the indie route,” she says. She also questioned whether a mainstream publisher would take an interest in her work—a doubt that would be assuaged not long after.
Song of Blood & Stone takes place in the war-ravaged world of Elsira, where the orphaned Jasminda is an outcast with a powerful gift. After her home is invaded by soldiers, she falls in love with an injured spy, and the two embark on a mission to end the war and face down a force of primordial evil. Penelope has also written the Eternal Flame series of paranormal romance novels and numerous shorter works, which she also self-published.
After Song of Blood & Stone had been out for a year, Penelope submitted it to BookLife and received a starred review. She also received the 2016 Self-Publishing EBook Award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. These accolades allowed her to grow her fan base and also caught the eye of a mainstream publisher.
“I received an email from an editor at St. Martin’s Press, Monique Patterson,” Penelope says. “She’d found my book online, and the cover and description had intrigued her enough to give it a read.”
Initially, Patterson was interested in Penelope’s future work. “I pitched her another series I had in mind, but she came back and told me that she was really interested in bringing Song of Blood & Stone to a wider audience,” Penelope says. “It was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down, and I’ll be forever grateful to her for seeing something in my work that she thought more people might like.”Song of Blood & Stone was released by St. Martin’s in May. Two sequels, Breath of Dust & Dawn and Whispers of Shadow & Flame, are forthcoming in 2019.
“I fell in love with the sheer scope of the world that Leslye had created, the breadth of her imagination, and the depth of emotion that she brought to every single character,” Patterson says. “Honestly, she was so good that I couldn’t walk away. I knew that she was an author that I had to publish.”
Penelope’s books unfold in different fantasy realms, but the author recognizes a common thread: “I’m really drawn to writing stories about people finding their place in the world. Most of what I write has to do with that sort of search for identity. There’s also a healthy dose of falling in love, because that’s part of what makes stories magical for me as well.”
Since the release of Song of Blood & Stone by St. Martin’s, Penelope has been busy. “Right now, I’m working on several things at once,” she says. “I’m finishing up revisions of Whispers of Shadow & Flame. I’m also working on a new series about a city full of warring shifters along with some short fairy stories.”