“Hurry Up and Wait!”

I’ve been a published author for almost thirty years now, and I’m still amazed at how some things have changed dramatically–while other things remain the same.

When I started out, I thought I knew everything. Everything. After all, I’d read every book I could find on “the biz.” I read all of the writers’ magazines. What was there to learn that I didn’t already know? A great deal, as it turned out.

I started writing my first (published) novel, Alexander’s Empire (later retitled Dance of the Gods by my publisher, and now reissued under the original title) in 1981. After working on the manuscript on lunch breaks and after Collin was tucked into bed at night, I queried my agent in May 1984. She responded quickly, asking for a detailed synopsis and sample chapters. In June, I got a response, asking for a phone meeting, during which she instructed me to send the entire manuscript. The next time we talked, in September, she started with, “This manuscript is completely unpublishable.”

“Hold on,” I told her, “while I go slit my wrists.”

She quickly explained that it could be made publishable with some work. She told me that it reminded her a great deal of a novel she’d repped that had been her first New York Times bestseller (she’s since had at least 100 of those, and many more national bestsellers). She believed my novel could also be a bestseller. Okay, I forgot all about that wrist-slitting business. Things were definitely looking up. She was sending me her agency agreement. I couldn’t sign it fast enough.

What followed was months of blood-letting–or that’s how it felt, anyway–as we worked together, restructuring the story, reinventing the characters, editing, revising, polishing, until she was satisfied it was ready for submission. I had gone into this figuring that, as an unknown new writer with no previous publishing background, a $5000 advance was the best I could hope for. Maria told me she was going to ask for much more than that. It took her fifteen minutes to get me to stop laughing (okay, maybe not that long). She explained that she would be sending it out to twelve publishers, all of which she felt would be a good fit for me and my novel. She did it in late March. Of the twelve, eight made offers. She weighed each offer carefully and discussed them with me. On the morning of April 26, 1985, she called to tell me that Berkley was the one she’d chosen. At that time, paperback original was the way to go. Build a career, then go to hardcover. She also felt the acquiring editor was someone I would work well with She was right, as it turned out.

Damaris was so enthusiastic about the book that she would end up offering us a contract for my next two books in December–while we were still working on (more) edits for Alexander’s Empire. By the time it was published in May 1988, Berkley would have a total of five of my books under contract–and at that point, I still didn’t know what number five was going to be!

Times have changed. The process of publishing, not so much. It can be a slooooow process. One of my fellow authors once called it the “hurry up and wait syndrome.” The authors are expected to hurry up and then wait on the publisher…and wait, and wait.

But now, authors have other options. When I was starting out, there were only two: traditional publishing and vanity presses, where the author paid to have a contracted number of copies printed and had to figure out on their own how to sell them. Now, we have traditional publishing, vanity presses, self-publishing, and indie publishing. I’ve done three of the four. I’m still amazed that we can finish a book and have it available for sale within a week. Sure, self-published authors have to to their own marketing and promotion, but so do most traditionally-published authors. For anyone not chosen to be a lead title with all of the advertising, promotional and marketing dollars that goes with that position, it can be frustrating. Self-published authors get as much as 90% of the royalties and have full creative control, which at this point in my career is the most important thing. And self-published books can remain in print forever–traditionally-published books that aren’t bestsellers have a limited shelf-life. If the author wants to make any changes to boost sales after publication, self-publishing makes that possible. Try getting that from a traditional publisher!

Indie publishing gives authors the best parts of self-publishing without the grunt work. My current publisher, Creativia, is making great progress in marketing and promotion. I’m more than happy to take a smaller percentage of the royalties to be free of that. They’ve landed many of their authors on the Amazon bestseller list. And now, even the New York Times recognizes self- and indie published books.

It’s good to have options. There are pros and cons for each (except vanity presses–I can’t think of a single good thing about them). I learned a great deal from having been traditionally-published for my first fourteen books that’s served me well as an indie. There are authors who have successfully gone with both traditional publishing and self-publishing. Whatever works!

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A New Domain, and a Link to an Old One–Merry Christmas!

Some of you are familiar with my longtime blog, The Three Rs: Rants, Raves and (Occasional) Reflections. I also have a new one, an ongoing serial featuring the characters from most of my past novels. Ever read (or write) a book and wonder what happened to the characters in the years that followed “The End?” I did. And I decided to do something about it.  I hope you’ll check out An Army of Angels while I decide what direction–if any–this blog will take. Word Press isn’t as easy to use as it used to be!

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Angels at Midnight Complete

Coming in for a Landing…But Where’s the Rest of the Squadron?

I once told a fellow author I was going to take flying lessons as research for a book (that was never written, as it happens, because my agent didn’t find the idea glamorous enough). The fellow author’s response: “Just when we thought it was safe to go back in the air.”

I should probably point out that this comment was made in the early ’90s, when air travel was still fun.

Anyway, I’m not flying now. Not even as a passenger. By “landing,” I was referring to Creativia’s landing pages for my books. So far, only two are up and running. I’m guessing they’re doing this in alphabetical order, as the first one up was Alexander’s Empire and now we have Angels at Midnight. To check them out, just click on the links. And while you’re at it, check out my author page at their site. (They haven’t yet added my latest release, Ms. Maxwell and Son, to my bibliography.)

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When I decided to reissue my backlist books, I had a choice to make. These books, with the exception of Chasing the Wind and Final Hours, had all been written and published in the late 1980s-early 1990s. That was a time when the most popular fiction was either historical romance (not my cup of tea) or glamorous, suspenseful contemporary romance. Today, the market is decidedly different. On one hand, I really wanted the old books to be available on a permanent basis, even if they didn’t gain many new readers. Om the other, I felt an urge to rewrite all of the old stuff, not just to make it more relevant to today’s readers, but in the case of Alexander’s Empire to satisfy my need to finally publish the story I’d wanted to write from the start.

If I were writing them today? Alexander’s Empire would still involve wealth and power–to a degree. But it would be, at its heart, the story of a man who discovers he’s not who he’s always believed himself to be, that his present life was created out of a tragedy that destroyed several lives. It would focus on his inability to trust, to love, and his search for answers.

As for Angels at Midnight, again, there would be less glamour and more of a modern “MacGuyver meets Robin Hood” story. Ashley might still be a celebrated artist, but Collin wouldn’t be an oilman’s heir. He’d be someone who was one of many cheated by a ruthless employer. He’d be more high tech than he was back in the ’80s. And there would be more fencing. Those were my favorite parts of the original.

That’s what might have been….

What’s in a Name? Sometimes, Everything Depends Upon It!

“Compromise when you can.When you can’t, don’t. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right, even if the whole world is telling you to move, plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye and say ‘No. You move.'”
–from Captain America: Civil War

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In the past few days, a problem arose that I believe has been resolved–but it reminded me of another problem my agent and I faced years ago with one of my former publishers.

Early in my career, I realized the publisher’s marketing chimps were trying to turn me into a Sidney Sheldon clone. I was a big Sheldon fan, so on one level, I was flattered. But as a writer trying to establish my own professional identity, I knew being a clone of anybody was not a good idea. I dug in my heels and resisted. There were a lot of arguments. I objected to the Sheldon knock-off titles: The Other Side of Midnight and Rage of Angels (I got Angels at Midnight)…Windmills of the Gods (they chose Dance of the Gods)…The Sands of Time (A Time for Legends). They decided to re-title SolitairePlayers of the Game (as in Sheldon’s Master of the Game).

I’d had enough. I did a lot of shouting, while Maria went about searching for the means to stop them. She found it in my contracts. Back then, I was quite prolific. As it happened, I had delivered manuscripts months ahead of schedule–and once those manuscripts were accepted, the clock was ticking. They had, according to my contracts, a limited amount of time to publish the books. I was a second position lead title author with the promotional budget that goes with that position, so they would only publish one book a year.

That left the publisher with three options: publish the books within a few months of each other, an expensive option; lose the books and the sizeable advances paid for them, also an expensive option; or give us what we wanted and get an extension to publish. Maria made it clear to them that if they didn’t back down on the title, I wouldn’t sign the extension.

As you can see, the title wasn’t changed.

When I delivered the manuscript for book #5, I gave it a title that sent a clear, if sarcastic message: A Cold Day in Hell. They pointed out that it wouldn’t play well in the Bible Belt, so I submitted the actual title I’d chosen for it: Luck of the Draw.

I sent them a message, and they sent me one–a really crappy cover. Oh, well. At least it didn’t have jewelry on it!

A Sad Remembrance, An Unsettling Memory

Do you remember where you were when news of the planes hitting the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania took over the media? I do. Collin had just left for work that morning–he was still standing at the bus stop when I looked out the window as I was getting ready to go to the library. The Today show was on TV. From the bedroom, I heard Katie Couric saying something about the World Trade Center being hit by a plane. I went back into the living room as the second plane hit the South Tower with the TV cameras already on it, looking at the fire and smoke in the North Tower.

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I went to the library anyway, but took my pocket TV and earphones along so I could follow the news. I called Collin when he got to work. He hadn’t heard yet, but someone at the restaurant put a radio on, I think. By then, a third plane had crashed into the Pentagon. When the fourth plane crashed in Pennsylvania, it was believed that the passengers had overtaken the hijackers and crashed it there to prevent it from reaching its target. That was soon confirmed. It’s still not known whether that target was the White House or the Capitol building, but a group of brave people, knowing they were already doomed, had definitely made the choice to prevent even more deaths.

I was still following the news on the pocket TV in line at the grocery store after I left the library. Everyone was talking about it. People had jumped from the towers to escape the fire. Others were trapped. First responders had entered the towers. Some of them would die there, too. US airspace had been closed, planes grounded. Some flights had been diverted to Canada. We didn’t yet know who had attacked us.

For me, it brought back a memory of the first and only time I’d been in the World Trade Center.

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In the fall of 1985, I was in New York City to meet with my agent, editor, and executives from Berkley Publishing. My first novel, Alexander’s Empire, was under contract and they had big plans for it. I was excited. My agent, her assistant and I were going out for dinner on my first night in New York. I wanted to go to the World Trade Center, since it was one of the more significant settings in the book. We had dinner at Windows on the World at the top of the North Tower. Because I was still doing research, my agent managed to get me a copy of the menu, and I took a couple of matchbooks, even though my characters didn’t smoke.

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Looking forward to the view from the restaurant, I was soon disappointed. There was a heavy fog that night (now I know where the term “pea soup fog” comes from. The windows looked like they were covered in pea soup. I mentioned this to our waiter. “We’ve had a couple of close calls with planes flying into the airports,” he said.

I told Maria and Elizabeth it would make a good plot for a thriller: terrorists crashing planes into the towers.

I still have that menu and the matchbooks. But when I think of that night now, it just feels creepy.

Slow and Steady Might Win the Race….

I don’t know if anyone’s noticed or not, but I’ve been neglecting my blog for the past few months. Most of my time has been going to finishing Sam’s Story: The Life and Times of a Tiny Bird with a Huge Personality. I’ve also been developing a rather unusual promotional campaign for it.

I detest pushy sales tactics, so I’ve never employed them myself. And while the practical part of my brain knows that we indie authors have to sell ourselves, I’m turned off by authors telling everyone how wonderful their books are. (It’s one thing to have others saying all those great things, but if we’re doing it ourselves, it sounds like a big ol’ ego trip.)

So that left me with a question: how do I sell this book without sounding like I’m just full of BS?

What’s worked so far has been what I call the Anti-Marketing method. I get involved. I go to the websites and Facebook pages of TV shows and movies I’ve seen and give my big mouth a free rein. I go to TV news pages and comment on stories that make me want to throttle somebody. Usually, I generate enough attention to make people curious. I don’t often mention that I’m an author. It’s not necessary, and would probably backfire anyway.

But for Sam’s Story, I wanted to do something different. The idea that came to me is one that, to my knowledge, hasn’t been done before…but should work very well for this kind of book. We’ll see. When the first “ads” start to appear here and on Facebook in the next couple of weeks, let me know what you think!

I celebrated an anniversary last weekend, too–On April 26th, 1985, I sold my first novel–Alexander’s Empire, which Berkley later retitled Dance of the Gods (and I retitled Alexander’s Empire for the ebook edition). That was a real high for me–not only did I sell my first novel, every writer’s dream, but it sold for a lot more than I ever expected to get for my first book–and of the twelve publishers my agent sent it to, eight made offers. See why I never forget that anniversary?