“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!

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.

b3c3e-berkeley2bcollage

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?

074db-silhouette2bcolage

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!

CTW 2014

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?

Sams Story

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.

Excerpt: Chasing the Wind

CTW 2014

Phillip Darcy

It was turning out to be one of those days. How had I ended up in Israel?

I looked at my watch as I collected my bags, trying to remember if I had reset it to accommodate the time change when I arrived in Athens from Moscow. At this point, I wasn’t even sure what day it was. Tel Aviv had the tightest security of any airport in the world. Not unwarranted, of course, given its history with terrorism, but it was still a pain, especially when I was in a hurry. Two terminals handled an average of 17,000 passengers daily. Each vehicle that entered the property was routinely searched. Baggage was screened thoroughly. Travelers were profiled in ways that would never be tolerated in the States. If they had been, terrorists would not have been able to take over our planes and kill thousands of our own. We won’t be done in by nuclear weapons—the ACLU will be our downfall.

I spent what seemed like an eternity in Customs, and I still wasn’t sure what, exactly, I was supposed to be doing there. The e-mail from the Boss Lady said only that I should take the first available flight to Tel Aviv and call the office from there. The fact that my editor was e-mailing me was an indicator that she probably wasn’t in a good mood. It meant she’d tried unsuccessfully to phone me. It bugged her that I was so hard to reach sometimes—deliberately so, I might add. Ally liked direct contact.

This had better be good, I thought as I headed off to the Solan communications center to make the call. When I received the message from Alberta Ashland, I was at the airport in Athens, waiting to board a flight back to the States. I hadn’t been home in six weeks and for once was actually looking forward to some down time.

So much for down time, I thought after considering deleting the offensive e-mail and claiming I never received it. Knowing Ally, she’d have my hard drive checked out to make sure.

I purchased a calling card and went to the nearest available phone. As I waited for my call to be put through, I took off my Chicago Cubs baseball cap and ran a hand through my hair. “Come on, pick up,” I muttered. “If I’m here much longer, they’ll charge me rent.”

A female voice answered on the fourth ring. “Viewpoint, good afternoon.”

“What’s good about it?” I grumbled.

“Excuse me?”

“Sorry,” I said. “Put me through to Alberta Ashland.”

“Who’s calling, please?”

“Tell her it’s Darcy. Tell her I don’t have a lot of time,” I snapped.

There was a pause on the other end. “Sorry, Mr. Darcy. I didn’t realize it was you. I’ll put you right through,” she assured me.

“You do that.” My patience was wearing thin.

Moments later, Alberta came on the line. “Darcy,” she greeted me with a cheerfulness that made me want to puke. “I take it you got my e-mail?”

“I got it. What’s this assignment?”

“Charlie Cross is there covering the conflict,” Alberta said. “He needs the best lensman I’ve got—and that’s you.”

“Yeah? When did you take up brown-nosing, Ally?”

“Much as I hate to admit it, you are the best,” she responded begrudgingly.

“I’m officially on vacation, remember?”

“You’ll have to postpone it. War waits for no man.”

“War? Is that what they’re calling it this week?”

There was a warning pause on the other end of the line. “I don’t have time for this today, Darcy,” she said finally.

I scratched my head. “So where is Big Thunder?” I asked.

“Tel Aviv. Leaving for Megiddo in the morning.”

I laughed. “Armageddon Megiddo?” I asked. “End-of-the world Megiddo?”

“The same. There was another suicide bombing there overnight,” she explained. “Six people were killed, including the bomber, seventeen injured.”

“This is not news, Ally. They’ve been at war since Moses came down from the mountain,” I pointed out.

“You’re not funny, Darcy.”

“I’m too tired to be funny. Funny takes effort.” I paused. “I really needed this vacation, Ally.”

“I’m sure. Who is she this time?”

“Who’s who?” I asked.

“The woman. You’re a chronic workaholic. The only time you want time off is when you’ve got some poor, unsuspecting woman caught in the crosshairs,” Alberta laughed. “You’re already paying alimony to two of your three ex-wives, but I hear you’re always on the lookout for number four.”

“You hear wrong,” I said. “I’ve sworn off marriage. If there were a twelve-step program for it, I’d sign up. From here on out, I only live in sin.” Hell, I couldn’t afford to be stuck paying out more alimony.

“If you say so.” Alberta was obviously in no mood to debate with me. “Listen, Charlie’s at the Armon Ha Yarkon. I suggest you catch up with him tonight. He wants to get an early start tomorrow morning.”

I took off my glasses and rubbed the bridge of my nose. “I’m glad it’s not summer. By midday, it’d be hotter than hell.”

Alberta didn’t miss the opportunity when it presented itself. “And I’m sure you have firsthand knowledge of hell.”

“As you said, I’ve been married three times,” I said.

Alberta started to say something else, but was stopped by another incoming call. “Got to run, Darcy,” she told me. “Call Charlie.”

“Yeah.”

I hung up, checking my watch again before leaving the communications center. So much for my vacation….

 

Chasing the Wind, copyright 2008 by Beishir Books. All rights reserved.

The Hit-And-Run Commentary

Sunday, I had a run-in with another author over on Facebook. (It was in the Writers of Mass Distraction Facebook group, but don’t bother looking for it. The thread ceased to exist shortly after the surly fellow departed from the group. I knew he started it to get attention, and I decided he wasn’t going to get any. At least not at WMD. What he does elsewhere is not my concern.)

Road RunnerI confess, I am sometimes a hit-and-run commenter. I’ll scan the posts, making a few casual comments without giving them much thought. This fellow’s post seemed to be designed for one purpose: to get fellow group members to buy his books. That’s fine, but taking pot shots at God to sell books is pretty lame. I gave the post a less thoughtful response than some of my fellow group members did. I thought the guy was a jerk. I still do.

He had a surprisingly extreme response which, to make a long story short, resulted in his departure from the group. Okay, so I edited my comment–according to him, after he responded. I don’t know. Maybe I did. I didn’t notice. I didn’t really care. I’ve posted responses to comments many times, only to find another member’s comment had come in before mine, completely changing the way mine sounded. It happens. I didn’t throw a hissy fit and go on and on about it, the way he did. It’s not a big deal–but obviously, it was to him. Why? Did he pick up on the fact that I wasn’t giving him much thought?

Another group member later told me later that he had been lamenting his lack of success elsewhere on the site. That explained his crankiness, as did an email from still another group member who recalled his bad attitude the day before, noting that he rarely interacted with the group anyway, only posting to push his books. I don’t recall seeing him there. I knew he was a member, but yesterday was the first time we actually crossed paths.

I am not familiar with this author’s work. I’ve never read any of his books, not even samples. I know nothing of his talents. I have, however, read a few five-star reviews of his work on a review blog I used to follow. The reviewer obviously thinks he’s good. His books sound a bit too quirky for my taste, but that’s just me.

There are any number of reasons why an author might not be succeeding, even if they’re talented writers with well-written books to offer. The website Author Media offers some possibilities and potential solutions. My friend and fellow author Mike Saxton points out that a large number of self-published authors make the mistake of marketing their books to other authors rather than to readers.  Everyone has the same objective: to sell books, not to buy them. I’ll buy books from authors who are personal friends, and I’ll buy anything else in genres I enjoy–but be realistic. Nobody buys everyone’s books, nor should it be expected.

I definitely would not buy a book from an author with such a bad attitude.

We all have our ups and downs; we don’t all take our down times out on whoever happens to cross our paths. If we’re to survive in this crazy business, we develop thick hides, we learn to roll with the punches, and we accept the realities of it. Self-publishing is not a career for anyone seeking overnight success. The fact remains that most authors–whether traditionally-published or self-published–have to keep their day jobs. Most don’t earn enough to write full-time. I believe the estimate, when I was starting out, was 10%. And that’s a pretty generous estimate. Furthermore, only a small percentage of those who made a living at it actually became wealthy.

Sometimes, we limit ourselves, our audience by the choices we make. I knew when Collin and I decided to self-publish Chasing the Wind that we were giving up a lot. At a time when most writers couldn’t get one agent, we were fortunate to have multiple agents excited about the book–conditionally. After getting past the “this is a movie, not a book” phase, we found ourselves with another choice to make: possibly removing the spiritual elements of the story to make it more mainstream. Not something I wanted to do. Collin was more receptive at that point. Truth be told, I think he still would be.

One agent, who loved my writing and believed the novel could be a big bestseller, felt it could only work if we took out all the supernatural aspects and made it a sci-fi thriller about genetic engineering. After much debate, we finally decided to self-publish. I would write the book I wanted to write, and accept that it would have a much smaller audience.

No regrets. And no whining.

Check ’em out:

Speak of the Devil

Basking in the Afterglow