I had a literary agent in the 1990s who submitted my novel Fifth Life of the Catwoman to a dozen major publishing houses and then retired just as a dozen rejection letters came in. After being thus stranded, I read about Jill Paton Walsh’s experience with Knowledge of Angels, a book she and her agent put into print after it was rejected by Walsh’s long-time publisher. Walsh already had more than twenty books to her credit at the time, but in Angels she broke with her earlier style to try a new voice, one that didn’t sit well with her editor. Her self-publishing gamble more than paid off—after its release, Angels was shortlisted for the Booker Prize (now the Man Booker Prize), and her initially reluctant publishing house immediately purchased the book for re-release.
Inspired by Walsh’s success, I put Fifth Life into print myself. Like hers, my book got national recognition (it won the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Award for fiction) and, with help from a new agent, the book was subsequently purchased by a major house (Penguin, which re-released it under the Berkley Signature imprint).
By the time Fifth Life went out of print with Penguin years later and the rights reverted to me, the indie publishing scene was a universe removed from the world I navigated in the 1990s. Print-on-demand and direct online retail sales had become commonplace, which made it very easy for me to re-re-release Fifth Life. The book lives on today, more than two decades after its initial publication.