Publishing Isn’t For Sissies: Don’t Let Change Kick Your Ass

In today’s volatile publishing market, an author has to listen, make difficult choices quickly, and take risks with conviction–or change will run right over you.  In this series, I’ve talked a little so far about the changes in Dorchester Publishing’s direction and my author’s perspective of what’s happening–while I listened and pep-talked myself into make my own difficult choices. This post is the beginning of sharing the risks I and my agent have taken as a result , and the crazy ride we’re on now, leading to the May digital and trade release of Secret Legacy.


I’ve said enough already about the spammers and naggers and nay-sayers who aren’t personally involved in the crisis Dorchester and its authors have faced since last fall–this paragraph will be may last say. I feel tremendous empathy for all the writers who’ve been caught up in the crush of this change and have been, like me, trying to keep the air supply going to their own Dorchester careers, both past and present, or at least trying to get out of the chaos with something more than a sense of failure.  I have, however, no respect for the industry “experts” and social media taunters who took public potshots at Dorchester’s management for supposedly robbing it’s authors blind and betraying its readers for years. That’s simply not what happened, and anyone who bothered to listen, really listen, could have seen that. Every author involved in Dorchester’s shift from mass market publishing to its direct-to-digital/trade format was entitled to the anger and shock and frustration they felt and expressed in those first few weeks. The rest of the rabble had no business giggling and jeering from the sidelines and passing judgement and stirring up panic that only made the authors’ circumstances more difficult to face. Shame on you. Okay, I’m done.

From now on, for me and everyone who follows Publishing Isn’t for Sissies, this blog space will be about–

  • Listening to what’s happening, what intelligent people are saying about it, and what’s being predicted
  • Making difficult, time-critical choices none of us wants to have to make, but them’s the breaks in the show, and
  • Taking risks with conviction, because what else are you going to do but pack it in and go home?

Let’s start again at the beginning, with the simplest moment of all in this journey. Simple and wicked fast and devastating:

The setup: I’d had a difficult year and faught health issues and their aftermath, along with my editor, to complete my second Dorchester mass market release, revise it, edit, edit and edit it until it was ready for readers and my publisher was excited by the result. The book was chosen for the “Publisher’s Pledge” program to help drive promotion/sales to both booksellers and readers. My writing was coming back to me and changing in exciting ways, my publisher was fully behind me, and my mainstream career was moving forward

The moment: I was teaching writing craft and publishing career tips at a weekend retreat when Dorchester’s news broke–to the media and the Internet first. The letter to authors came as an afterthought. BIG mistake, one of many the at-that-time president of the company would make.

The initial response: I LOVED the book I’d just killed myself to write, and they weren’t doing THIS with the release–scheduled for only a month and a half away. In that moment, I wanted to pull my publising rights, just like everyone else.

Then, I got on the phone with my agent and I listened to everything she’d learned with one ear, while with the other I kept listening to the stream of screaming and ranting rushing to me over the Internet. Next, I contacted Dorchester author friends and listened to them–the writers in the trenches with me. Then I talked with other writer friends I knew I could trust to be level headed and calm in the midst of their frustration and anger on my behalf, and I tried to focus on their pros and cons reasoning.


My decision? Did I ask for my rights back? No, not that I wasn’t thinking about it that day and for many days to come. But on that terrible day, when I couldn’t get my editor on the phone and get Dorchester’s take on what they were doing with my impending release, I had to make a very quick decision–did I panic, throw in the towel, and walk away in a huff? Or did I let the situation ride a bit longer and listen some more and talk with my agent again once I and everyone else had clearer heads? My decision was not to make a decision yet.

Acting on that choice was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my publishing career. Waiting, because the business woman inside me said this was too important a decision to let emotion take control. But it was out of the question–allowing the change in that moment to erase everything I’d worked for two years and two books to build at Dorchester, because I didn’t have the patience and guts to stick this out a little longe until I knew what the hell was going on. I wasn’t going to do that.

The next hardest thing I’ve ever done in my career is to stay off the ranting carnival that social media had become overnight. Why? One, because what goood does venting in public without knowing for sure what your griping about ever do? Two, because these people (my editor and her boss at Dorcheser) had just finished standing behind me through some pretty rocky stuff of my own, and I admired them for that regardless of whatever else was going on. These were good people, and so were my fellow Dorchester authors, and I had no interest in making my own anger and fear personal by ripping into the people involved in the mess with me, just to make myself feel better (okay, maybe I wasn’t done with the people who chose to do that, but I am now ;o).

 That is to say–I acted on my decision to wait and learn more with CONVICTION. I was giving Dorchester a chance to explain. I wanted the hard working people who’d been on my side so far to still be working hard for me, no matter the damage being done around us, and I wanted to give the Dorchester staff a chance to prove to me that they were. I wasn’t about to blow that possiblity out of the water by attacking them (people who’d been put in an impossible situation, many of whom hadn’t seen this coming much sooner than I had). I didn’t make the issue personal. I didn’t need to hurt someone else, to make my pain sting less. Maybe there’s a lesson there.

order out of chaos

In future Publishing Isn’t For Sissies post (I’m thinking of making it a Thursday thing going forward), I’ll talk more about the difficulty of sustaining that conviction as the not-knowing-much stretched into days and then weeks and months. I’ll share how things got worse before they got better–don’t they always. And I’ll outline my slow climb to working with Dorchester again on this book I wanted to see published: not just waiting around for them to make decisions for me, but taking the reins and choosing for myself and pitching my ideas to my business partner so there was a chance of us moving forward together.

Come back and join the conversation I hope evolves in the comments. All I ask is that you keep the comments constructive. This is an honest place. A lot of mistakes have been made. A lot of change has been forced on people. But my point will be, if you listen carefully, that much of this craziness I was trying to survive was a product of the flailing publishing industry and anemic credit market and the rise of digital media as the driving force behind the changes happening within our industry.

What was happening to me was happening not just to other Dorchester authors. What about the successful mid-list author with the decent sales numbers and ongoing series and years of hard, solid work behind her? Why was her book option not being renewed? Why were series romance veterans at Harlequin, who’ve sold hundreds of thousands of books for the company, being sent letters asking them not to submit to their current imprint anymore? Why were new authors, many of them good writers, considering digital publishing as their only viable option because the print houses were running scared and not buying anyone anymore who wasn’t already branded?

And what about those direct-to-digital publishers?What about the authors putting their digital books up on the Internet themselves? What about the rise in eReader sales and ebook trends and the money I’m hearing authors are making hand over fist by digitally re-releasing their backlists themselves?

So many questions. So much listening to do. Come back an listen with me, and let’s talk about the publishing decisions and changes and risks we’ll all have to take and make sooner rather than later.

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7 Responses to “Publishing Isn’t For Sissies: Don’t Let Change Kick Your Ass”

  1. It’s hard to be rational, think clearly and make decisions based on a combination of intellect, information, emotions and outside influences coming at you from various directions. I admire your professionalism, honesty and most of all your integrity.

    We can all talk about what is going on in publishing. We can all make judgments about the situation at Dorchester, authors choosing to self-publish, or any other hot topic in publishing. Every writer has their path. Every writer needs to think and feel their way through their own experience and journey.

    I’ve made some decisions in my career that some might consider a “risk”. I look at them as opportunities. Things have happened in my career to which I had no control over. One door closes, another one opens.

    You are an inspiration.

  2. Thanks so much for being so honest in discussing this. The one thing that seems certain is that there will be more change in the industry. Reacting to that change will sometimes be difficult. I would hope I will do so with as much grace and professionalism as you.

  3. Anna says:

    Julia and Jenni–the only thing to do, in my opinion, is see what’s there honestly and make informed, intelligent decisions. Easy to say. Hard to do. But we’re professionals. This is the job part of what we do–in ADDITION to the writing.

    Yes, we have to react at times. But wouldn’t it be better if we were acting. Deciding. Choosing. Taking risks before they’re thrust upon us. Strinking a course in a new direction, instead of being swept along with the current tide.

    At least that’s my plan. We’ll see how it works out ;o)

  4. Bob Mayer says:

    Every author’s situation is different. So those who judge others without all the information are off-base. Publishing is in turmoil right now and for the immediate future. I think the key is that any decision made, be made with 100% commitment. I see too many authors dipping their toes in the water, hoping to see if it’s right or not. By the time they figure that out, it will be too late.

  5. Mary Preston says:

    WOW!!! As a reader I am not often privy to the goings on in the background. WOW!!!

  6. I love the no-decision-is-a-decision mentality. Gives one time to regroup and really look at the big picture before taking action that could be a much bigger deal to undo. I look forward to more of these posts, Anna. Thank you for taking the time to share this.

    Joanna Aislinn
    Dream. Believe. Strive. Achieve!
    The Wild Rose Press

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