“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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Is It Something in the Water?

The Good, The Bad and the Really, Really Ugly….

I’m always amused when, upon hearing I’m an author, a new acquaintance responds with, “I might write a book myself.” As if it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. It’s not. Traditionally published authors have to put up with getting small percentages of royalties (if you even get that far), having to write at night while working at a full-time day job (I didn’t, but I lucked out–I had a really good agent), delivering a manuscript only to be told it will need extensive revisions and/or rewrites and holding your breath while you wait to see how good or bad the reviews and sale turn out to be. Self-published authors deal with a lot of criticism, not being taken seriously most of the time, and trying to write while also marketing their own work. No fun.

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In short, your ego can take a major beatdown, no matter which way you go.

I much prefer the new breed of publisher, like Creativia, my current publisher. I have full control over what I write…though what I’m “writing” for them at the moment is reissues of my backlist books, which means reformatting text lifted from the pages of the published books. I’m too lazy and too slow on the keyboard to retype them, and don’t have backups of the originals that are compatible with current technology. I’ve had mixed feelings about even bothering to republish the old books. They were originally published back in the ’80s and ’90s, and trends were quite different then. The five books originally published by Berkley–Dance of the Gods, Angels at Midnight, A Time for Legends, Solitaire and Luck of the Draw–were written and published at a time when the big, glitzy romance novel was king. Now, that’s not so popular. My nine series romances are a big question mark. Is that genre still selling?

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I don’t expect to have a second run at the bestseller lists with any of them. I’m content to have them reissued and maybe make modest sales while putting my chips, so to speak, on the newer works. Chasing the Wind (2008) and Final Hours (2009) are not exactly new, but definitely more recent. The latter was a gamble; I knew that when I wrote it. A male protagonist who’s an adulterer isn’t a hero by any stretch. Chasing the Wind, however, is the basis for what I hope will be a series. Time will tell. These days, it takes me much longer to write a book than it used to. Sometimes, I think my mind wandered and got lost!

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The worst part, I think, is working on a book for months or years and, nearing completion, discovering you got it all wrong and having to start over. This is what happened with Sam’s Story. It was a difficult book to write, because while Sam has been gone for over five years now, it’s painful for me to even think about him without tearing up. He was with us for almost all of his twenty-one years.

The first draft was too short. The second, I discovered, was too much of a downer. I wanted the story to be fun and uplifting. So a few days ago, I started over. I took a different approach and it seems to be working. The story is coming easily, flowing smoothly. For how long, I wonder?

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Recently, I saw the cover for a foreign edition of Luck of the Draw on the internet. I was pleasantly surprised. I didn’t even know it had any foreign sales! I don’t remember signing a contract for it. I’ll have to check with my agent. I probably signed the contract and just forgot about it. That sort of thing happens more often than I care to admit. It wasn’t exactly my agent’s favorite of my books. If Berkley hadn’t given me a contract for an untitled, unknown fifth novel, I doubt my agent would ever have sent it to them. I’m surprised she sent it out to any foreign publishers. It’s more of an historical suspense novel than a glitzy romance.

I also discovered a review of Dance of the Gods that had been posted a few years ago. When a review starts with “I consider myself a connoiseur of bad romance novels…” you can be sure it’s not good news. But I wish I could find the link again. It was actually pretty funny. Like most established authors, I’ve learned to not take bad reviews personally. Nobody can please everyone all the time, and bad reviews are a fact of the author’s life. You deal with it and move on, if you want a career in this nutty business.

Some of us used to compare bad reviews to see who got the worst. And we cried all the way to the bank, as the saying goes.