Interview with Darcie Chan: NYT and USA Today bestselling indie author


Today is big. Massive. I am not overstating this.

If you’re a writer or reader, in 2011 you heard of Amanda Hocking.

If you hadn’t heard of Darcie Chan by the end of 2011, you’ve certainly heard of her in 2012. She’s the new publishing sensation, rivaling names such as Amanda Hocking and John Locke. Her début novel, The Mill River Recluse, has been a hit on bestseller lists such as the NYT, USA Today, Amazon, iBookstore and more!

Keep in mind that this manuscript was …

rejected by more than 100 literary agents and every queried publisher!

I’m honoured to have Darcie Chan on my blog today. The questions are plentiful and the answers are unmissable.


Your story doesn’t just inspire writers; it shows that dreams can become real with hard work. What are your inspirations for writing and life?

I’ve loved to write ever since I was a little girl, so I would have to say that my parents are my biggest inspiration. They taught me to read and write and, in so doing, instilled in me a love of books. I am also continually inspired by other authors. I’ve found that almost every story by every author is inspiring in some way, and then there are some books that so wonderful that they just stay with me long after I’ve finished reading.

I’m intrigued to hear about your schedule, Darcie. In a few weeks’ time, The Mill River Recluse will have been out for a year. You’ve only just started writing full-time. How were you juggling writing, being the publisher, a mum, a wife and everything else beforehand?

To be honest, I wasn’t sleeping much! Seriously, it was difficult, and I slowly realized that the opportunity that I had been given to write was one that required a full-time effort. It was a tough decision, but I gave up my legal career, at least for now, to focus on writing. I’ve been given an extraordinary opportunity to write fiction, something I’ve dreamed about being able to do my whole life, and I didn’t want to give it less than my all and spend the rest of my life wondering “what if?”

Comparatively, how is your schedule now that you have more time? What does a typical day look like?

I really don’t have much more time than I had before — just fewer things crammed into the time I do have. I get up, make breakfast for my son, and spend some time with him. Then, my childcare provider arrives, and I go to work (with the difference being that I’m now working on writing and promoting The Mill River Recluse and not doing legal drafting). I do have a more flexible schedule now — I’m not electronically leashed to my inbox or subject to clients’ deadlines, and I take breaks during the day to play with my son and do household things that might otherwise have been put off. I usually stop writing around 6:00 and spend the next few hours preparing dinner and spending time with my son and husband. After my son is asleep, I often do a bit more writing, but now, I have the option of enjoying a normal evening — watching TV, reading, working on something else other than writing, etc. And, I am getting used to going to sleep at a reasonable time!

It’s the illusion that “find an agent and the worry of being traditionally published” is over. However, your story is different. You found an agent after countless rejections, but still your manuscript was deemed “not publishable”. What message do you have for writers in your position a year ago?

For a traditional publisher, publishing a book is a risk, particularly if the author is unknown and has no following or platform. It’s also difficult for a literary agent, even an excellent one, to sell a story by such an author or that is not easily classified into a genre. But, I suppose it would be fair to say that I’m an optimistic person. I really believe that a good story, regardless of the author or the author’s platform, or whether it can be neatly categorized, will eventually find readers. So, I guess my message would be to never give up and be willing to try new things, particularly if you believe that people will enjoy the story you’ve written.

Many things astound me about your success. One of them is the editing of your book – you didn’t hire an editor! Unfortunately, self-published authors are criticised for the poor editing in their book above all else. What methods did you use to ensure you could produce top quality in your novel (on a budget)?

It’s true that I didn’t hire an editor. However, I was an English major in college, and I have extensive writing and editing experience. During the 14 years I’ve worked as an attorney, I drafted and edited legislation, which is technically demanding. Of course, it’s not the same thing as editing fiction, but I was very comfortable with editing and revising when I began the process with The Mill River Recluse. Also, I greatly value constructive criticism. During the revision and editing process, I did numerous drafts and sought out honest feedback from several people whose opinions I trust. I did my best to incorporate many of their suggestions into the manuscript, and I think the story overall was greatly improved by my doing so.

How did you feel when you discovered The Mill River Recluse made the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists? How long had your book been published at each respective time?

Ranking for BEST fiction on the NYT!

I learned that my novel would appear on the NYT and USA Today lists on the same day in mid-August 2011, so it had been “out there” for a little over three months. My agent called me with the news, and it was just such an exciting, surreal moment. It took me a few weeks to wrap my mind around it!

What marketing do you see as the successful methods that contributed to the publishing sensation of The Mill River Recluse? Do free sales really work? Is Twitter worth investing time into connecting with potential readers?

I think that the most successful things I did were online features that got my novel on the radar screen of people who read lots of e-books. Namely, I ran banner ads (which I designed myself using images from my cover) on The Frugal eReader and Kindleboards, and I ran a do-it-yourself ad on There is also a forum for Nook users called Nookboards. I meant to inquire about advertising there, but I never had the time. I also ran an ad in the online version of The Rutland Herald, which is the newspaper that serves the area of southern Vermont in which my novel is set. I thought that perhaps a few “locals” who read my book and liked it might make enthusiastic recommendations to friends…and that definitely turned out to be the case.

I also ran paid features on eReader News Today, Kindle Nation, and Pixel of Ink. These are a little more expensive, but since each feature gets your novel in front of tens of thousands of readers, I thought they were well worth it. I also advertised on a site called Bargain eBook Hunter, which has a growing number of followers.

I’m not sure whether “free” sales work — I’m not enrolled in the KDP select program, which gives authors certain days to make their books available for free, and I’ve never offered my novel for less than $0.99. However, I’m hearing from other writers that a “free” promotion does result in a bump up in sales after the promotion is over.

As for Twitter — I consider myself a beginning Twitter user, and I enjoy being able to respond directly to readers. I don’t have that many followers, but I still think Twitter is worth using to be able to connect with readers in such a personal way.

Novel Girl readers and I are excited to hear of your most recent figures. How many books have you sold as of today? What were the sales in the first few months?

During the first month, I sold only about 100 copies. Once my novel was featured on a few big e-book blogs, my sales spiked and continued to climb. I’m not sure how many copies have sold to date — I’m still waiting for some updated sales figures — but at last count, it was well over 600,000 copies sold.

When did you accept a contract with your publisher? For those who have been waiting on bated breath (including me), what’s coming up in writing? Will your next novel be published by your publisher or will you self-publish?

Just before this past Christmas, I received the offer from Ballantine Books (a division of Random House) to publish two new novels set in Mill River. It was another of those incredibly exciting, surreal moments.

I’m currently working on the first of those two novels, which will involve a new story and some new characters, as well as several beloved characters from my first novel. I’m very happy with how the story is progressing!

I do not have a release date set yet, but I’ll post that information, and any other updates, on my website, Facebook author page and Twitter.

I’m also VERY excited to report that The Mill River Recluse will soon be published in the UK/Commonwealth by Sphere, a division of Little, Brown UK.  The e-book version will be released around the end of June, and a print version will be published the first week of December.  Italian, German, and Spanish foreign rights to The Mill River Recluse have been sold as well, but I don’t have release dates for those versions yet.

Thank you, Darcie! I’m humbled to have had you on Novel Girl. Is there anything random or extra you’d like to add to the interview?

Nothing but a heartfelt thank-you for your invitation to appear on your blog!


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18 thoughts on “Interview with Darcie Chan: NYT and USA Today bestselling indie author

  1. Pingback: Self-Publishing: Carnival of the Indies Issue #21 — The Book Designer

  2. Congrats to Darcie for sticking to her guns and creating her own path ; )

    I loved reading this and the thing that cheered me the most on a personal level, was reading that Darcie’s novel doesn’t fit tidily into one category, because neither does Gunshot Glitter – and that was the brick wall I ran into and one of the reasons I’m electing to self-publish rather than mangle my narrative.

    This was a really great interview, Rebecca. I absolutely loved reading it and it also gave me extra ideas for the future, so thank you, Darcie Chan – and good luck when your novel hits Blighty. Seriously well done you xx

  3. Pingback: NYT and USA Today bestselling indie author interview: Tracey Garvis-Graves | Novel Girl

  4. Very excited for her, that’s great to hear! Especially after so many rejections. I know a lot of people get down when they can’t break through to agents, and this is definitely inspirational. Thanks so much!

  5. What a score! Great interview. I will have to read her book! It’s so encouraging, since I finally made the decision to self-publish when I am ready, and I have been wondering about paying an editor. I wasn’t an English major, though, so I might have to hire someone. Who did her cover art, or did she do that herself, too?

  6. Wonderful post. It gives the rest of us indie authors hope that we can get our books out there and into the hands of readers. Thanks Rebecca for this great blog post and thank you Darcie for the advice. I wish you the best with your upcoming books :-)

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