The latest self-publishing success to land at a major house is by a first-time Canadian author.
J.L. Witterick’s My Mother’s Secret has sold 15,000 print copies in Canada since being self-published six months ago. The runaway sales – mostly via Amazon and Indigo – caught the attention of Penguin Canada, which re-released the novel earlier this month (it appeared in the U.S. under the Putnam imprint). The book has also sold in Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, and other territories.
Witterick says she was initially unable to stoke publishers’ interest in the novel, which tells the fictionalized story of a real-life mother and daughter who concealed multiple Jewish families in their home during the Holocaust. “I approached some publishers, but not having much luck, I just decided to self-publish it,” she says.
Putnam eventually acquired world rights to the title in a deal arranged without an agent. Penguin Canada editor Adrienne Kerr says she views the book’s previous retail success as an indication of future sales. For her part, Witterick believes partnering with Penguin will give her the best opportunity to reach a global audience.
“I figured that if my objective is to get this story out, which was always the case from the very beginning, Penguin’s going to do a good job of that,” she says. “I did have success, but it was success in my own country. To get global distribution, I just don’t think I could have managed it myself.”
“We first noticed My Mother’s Secret on The Globe and Mail bestseller list,” says Kerr. “Books with proven sales track records are much easier to sell, and there’s less risk for booksellers because they already know that readers want it.”
Kerr adds: “We think that it has potential in the gift market and the religious market, and we’re looking at course adoption, too. The readership for this book is universal.”