Regina Sirois married her high school sweetheart, had two daughters, and fills her days with "laundry, bandaids, grocery lists, and emails." She spends her free time satisfying her passion for the written word by penning novels for young adults. Overall, Regina says she leads a pretty simple life. But a decision to independently publish and enter a fiction competition would soon take her on a wild ride.
In June, Regina beat out thousands of authors to win the young adult category of the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) contest, which landed her a book deal with Penguin and a $15,000 advance. On Little Wings, her debut novel, is a coming-of-age story that follows 16-year-old Jennifer on a quest to discover the truth about her mother's past.
"Her journey to discover her mother's story leads her to write a new story that is all her own," she said. "On Little Wings is a departure from the tsunami of paranormal fiction sweeping the young adult literary world and focuses on family with an emphasis on great literary works."
The ABNA win has positioned Regina for even more literary success, but it didn't come easily. She started her publishing journey the way many others do: by querying more agents than she could count, hearing back from almost no one, and weathering a storm of criticism for On Little Wings.
"I was told it was too intelligent, too poetic, too slow, and too human (people really like conflicted monsters right now)," she said. "I believed every criticism. I let it cut my insides into tiny, shredded pieces. I gave up. But one thing gave me hope. I had sent my book to test readers with a pen name and fake title and told them it was written by an 'author friend' of mine so they would feel free to rake it through the coals. But they didn't rake - they raved. Their enthusiasm was palpable and unexpected."
It was the beta readers' positive reviews that led Regina to consider other publishing options. In late 2011, she opted to independently make On Little Wings available to readers by using CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) for print and eBook versions. CreateSpace helped Regina create a professional book she could be proud of.
"My printed books looked amazing," she said. "My husband handled the upload process. Because of CreateSpace's smooth setup and online support, it was a great experience for him."
Regina also used KDP Select to make her book available for free on Amazon.com for five days. In that time period, On Little Wings was downloaded 14,000 times, after which sales took off and she sold thousands of books.
"For a girl who thought only my best friends would care, I was floored by the response," she said. "More than floored. I was shocked. And terrified. I imagined 14,000 people would turn around and tell me that my book was a waste of their time and energy, and I wasn't ready for rejection on that scale. But hundreds came back and asked for more."
When the entry period for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award arrived in early 2012, Regina's husband convinced her to enter. Given her past experience with publishers and agents, she was sure her book didn't stand a chance. Her book progressed through the rounds of judging, but still she refused to get her hopes up. Then, in June 2012, Regina learned she had won.
"It was a dream come true," she said. "I felt like Cinderella. One day my career was wearing my homemade rags, the next it was donning glass slippers. More than anything else, more than the opportunity of traditional publishing, ABNA gave me the gift of confidence. Now when I write, I write just how I feel it, without hesitation or wondering if it is 'too slow' or 'too poetic.' I know that if it sounds just right to me, it will sound just right to someone else, as well."
On Little Wings is being prepared for re-release by Penguin/Viking in summer 2013, and Regina is currently deciding where to place her second novel. In addition to publishing books, she hopes to host workshops to inspire new writers and young adults to express themselves and go after their dreams. It's been a whirlwind year, and Regina finally can be proud of what she has accomplished.
"When people finish reading my books, I want them to feel hope and enthusiasm and a little closer to the part of them that believes," she said. "CreateSpace and Amazon didn't just help me, they enabled me. What was impossible, they made possible."