Publishing Isn’t For Sissies: Embracing The Obvious

Want in on a big secret these days that traditional publishers aren’t talking about but everyone knows? Print runs and sell throughs for mid-list authors have dwindled to half, sometimes three-fourths what they were just five years ago. Even three years ago. And the successful mid-list author with formerly solid numbers and loyal fans–they’re contract options are being dropped left and right, because there’s no money in it for the publishers anymore, unless you’re a branded name who can deliver six-figure sales print numbers. And how is that supposed to happen without a five-figure marketing plan, when retail chains are racking fewer and fewer books, a large print run is required to nab shelf space in discount stores, readers have fewer and fewer outlets to buy print books, and tech-savvy readers with fewer dollars to spend on entertainment can find used books and lower-priced eBooks online cheaper as soon as (sometimes before) a print book hits a store?

This was the state of the publishing market while Dorchester was ramping up to promote Secret Legacy last summer. We were positioned to make a play at doing the best we could for a mid-list book in a lagging market. We weren’t going to throw in the towel. It’s an amazing series, vibrant characters, and there was a strong following of fans from Dark Legacy (kind of pissed, some of them, because of the cliff hanger ending ;o) dying to know what happens to my psychotic, psychic twins and (Spoiler Alert for those who haven’t bought their copy of DL yet) the secret child know one knew existed until the final pages… Dorchester believed in me and my books and they weren’t going to quit.

Well, the crashing credit market and flailing publishing industry had other ideas. My small publisher couldn’t ride out the storm like the bigger dogs.  Business as usual wasn’t going to be possible any longer. At the precise moment that my book was going to print. The mass market release of Secret Legacy wasn’t going to happen. We were going back to square one, planning what was best for the book, while my publishing house completely re-invented how they do their business.


If you’ve read my PIFS posts from last August, you know already a lot of the drama of that time that I won’t repeat here. Except that, over all, my impression once the dust settled was that the shocking thing that was happening to me and my fellow Dorchester authors was, quite literally, a sign of the times. If you wanted to see the direction all of publishing was heading toward, all you had to do was look at my small press’ decision to stop paying to print, warehouse, distribute and then strip unsold mass market paperbacks in an antiquated system that everyone in the publishing industry is losing money at.

What was happening to Dorchester and its authors wasn’t a surprise. Whether or not I was happy about the turn my commercial fiction career was taking at the time, it was time to embrace the obvious facts before me as I decided what to do next.

And those facts were:

  • I wouldn’t have achieved the mass market sales we wanted for SL, no matter the promotional push. My latest print run would have simply been too small.
  • The digital publishing race was flying past me, and Dorchester needed to be much better positioned than they were for me to achieve decent eBook sales numbers.
  • I had a publishing partner still excited about the second book in a series I couldn’t take elsewhere, and they still wanted to hit a home run for the book and my career, no matter that their business plan was currenlty shifting like quicksand under my feet.

I could have punted. Asked for the rights back to Secret Legacy. Let myself be terrified by a direct-to-digital and trade paperback release plan, rather than the comfy mass market arena where I’d to this point made all my money. I could have not made the effort it took to think clearly and talk things out with my agent and editor and the other hard working professionals at Dorchester who were trying to make sense out of everything themselves.

I didn’t have to control my emotional (panicked) response and be reasonable for the sake of maintaining a working relationship with everyone until I had the answers I needed to make the best decision for me and my book. But I did.

Here’s why (the short version, more details in the weeks to come):

  • My agent and I came to an exciting realization. While there are many digital publishers out there trying to make a go of it, Dorchester’s an existing presence in New York print publishing. They have proven relationships all over the industry.
  • One of these days a New York publisher is going to make this kind of business model work. They all will eventually, because the old way is dying before our eyes. But someone has to do it first, then the rest will follow. Will that be publisher be Dorchester?
  • If my publisher’s going to take this ride and make a serious go at it, would it be such a bad thing to journey with them? Fight beside them? Partner with them and see how creative and effective we can be, leveraging the new digital part of their business with the trade paperback publishing format they’re moving toward, that will save them enormous money over the expense of a mass market model?
  • Speaking of that trade paperback portion of their plan for me, and how (if you’ve been reading my Psychic Realm blog posts lately, about why my Legacy books have never been romance as much as fantasy, and how Secret Legacy pushed those cross-genre boundaries even harder) my series might not have been best placed in mass market romance from the start… “You know,” my agent and I said to each other, “while romance isn’t a big seller in the trade segment of the market, it’s where a lot of fantasy readers look to buy. What if…”

And it’s the “what ifs” like that, that started to intrigue me more than terrify me. It’s the idea of working on the cutting edge of the changing publishing industry, along side a publisher fighting to take the risks we’re all going to have to take one day, that began to excite me. It was the possibility of change that I began to see, rather than the freak out of failure that initially came as the old way fell away from me.

Did I give up? Or did I embrace the obvious fact that what Dorchester was asking me to do was the wave of my future, only it was crashing over me now instead of at some distant date where I thought I’d maybe be more ready to handle it?

Dorchester was becoming a pioneer in digital publishing, marketing and promotion. They didn’t have a choice. But depsite the drastic changs, they were offering me a new print format that might actually be a better fit for the genre that was becoming my writing home. I could either make the jump with them and fight against the current and create my own new beginning, or I could quit on Secret Legacy all together and move on to another project.

I’ll say it again. Publishing isn’t for sissies.

In the end, it wasn’t a choice for me. What I had to do was obvious. The end result? I’m totally psyched about the opportunities coming my way for the simultaneous May Secret Legacy release in both digital format and trade paperback.

What’s your digital publishing story? What are your fears and concerns? How will you integrate into this growing segment of the market and puzzle out your own future?

Let  us know in the comments, then check back in with Publishing Isn’t for Sissies each Thursday, where I’ll frequently spotlight what Dorchester’s doing, with regard to my release at least, to meet the challenges of our evolving publishing reality.

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16 Responses to “Publishing Isn’t For Sissies: Embracing The Obvious”

  1. R.A. Evans says:

    Authors need to look at these changes times as an opportunity. As a self-published/indie author I have am now fully in charge of my own destiny and enjoying every minute of it.

    • Anna says:

      I totally agree–opportunity is the only way to see the shifting winds around us. There’s no stopping them, and for a while they might muck with things tha we’d rather stay the same. But there’s so much incredible oppourtunity awaiting authors now. So many ways that we can move forward and make choices strategically for our career that just weren’t there before digital and independent upblishing became viable alternatives.

      I’ve had to make many difficult decisions over the last six months. That’s what this thead is about mostly. That and what I’ve learned along the way. PIFS is primarily about ways I and my agent and my publisher have had to get creative, and what the publishing world looks like once the curtain’s pulled back and you see everything the wizard has and hasn’t been doing–and then realize the only one who can get you back home again now is for you to take the wheel.

      I’m glad everyone’s enjoying Publishing Isn’t For Sissies! Please share your experiences, too. This is a community thread, in my opinion. We learn from each other. We share and we grow together, or we work in isolation and wonder why we’re not getting anywhere alone.

  2. Susan Sipal says:

    It is definitely a changing world. I wish you the best of luck. Thank you for sharing your experience!

  3. Jamie D. says:

    Thanks for sharing with us, Anna. I’ll admit that when I first heard of Dorchester’s move, aside from feeling bad for the authors who were expecting a vastly different publishing experience, I was secretly applauding the company itself for having the guts to see big changes ahead, and be proactive about it rather than waiting until it was too late. The fact is, not all authors want to self-pub (which is perfectly fine…smart even), and they’re going to need forward thinking publishers like yours to get their books out. Change is always scary, but it’s nice to see an author stop and think before just blindly jumping ship, so to speak.

    I’ve never been with a trad. publisher, and don’t intend to at this point, but I’m following your story with interest and I look forward to seeing how all this plays out for you and everyone else who decided to ride out the storm. I hope it all goes better than anyone might expect. :-)

    • Anna says:

      Thanks, Jamie. Yes, there were many Dorchester authors caught up in the change who didn’t get a chance to make some of the decisions I did. The swift shift of business focus to digital and trade was a shock for all of us, including most of the Dorchester employees who were being bashed all over the Internet and social media. I feel badly for everyone. It was a very difficult reality to be swept into.

      I was lucky to have the chance to ask for my release to be pulled from the production schedule, giving me time to learn more and talk more with my publishing partners and those already in the digital side of the business. I’m happy to share what I learned as we worked together, and why my agent and I eventually made the decisions we did, and the amazing way Dorchester is coming through for Secret Legacy (the entire Legacy series, actually) in a whole new exciting way. There are a lot of great experts already blogging about digital publishing and the indie market. If I can add a personal voice to that conversation and get other authors talking about the options they’re investigating or taking advantage of, I’m thrilled. That’s a must for all of us, in my opinion.

      Like I’ve said in this and previous Publishing Isn’t for Sissies posts and on my How We Write Wednesday posts with Jenni, writers need to come together and share what they know and strike out into this new beginning supporting one another. We all know what it’s like and we know the insecurity of making decisions in a vacuum. Let’s attack the future as a community, and there will be little we can’t conquer together.

      Yeah, this turned into a motivational speech, sorry. Couldn’t help myself ;o)

      Go team!

  4. Bob Mayer says:

    Publishing is changing fast. Faster than 95% of people realize or want to admit. I am constantly running into resistance and anger from those who want to hold on to the past. To the point where I’ve really decided the hell with it and turn 100% toward the future. The changes cut across all aspects of publishing. One can have opinions, but one can’t deny the facts. Borders. Large Canadian print distributor going under. B&N getting rid of stores where they don’t own the property. The first thing you see going into B&N isn’t bestselling hardcovers at discount, but a Nook Kiosk. Those are realities that just can’t be ignored.

    • Anna says:

      Yes, as I see it, B&N’s Nook and the priority they’re giving selling it online and in the physical stores represents a MAJOR change in their business model. And, IMHO, it must might save their business. Or at least give them a leg up over the competition when the market forces them into their next reincarnation.

  5. I admire your professionalism and your ability to look at the situation from all angles. Many did not. We’ve discussed this and I believe that Dorchester is on the right track. Their decision may have been a shocker, and perhaps many were not ready for it to happen so quickly, but as Bob just pointed out, these changes are realities and we can’t ignore them.

    And, they aren’t necessarily bad. I have spent the last year and a half helping Bob re-release his backlist. Some of his books had not been in ebook format and are now being introduced to a whole new set of readers. Digital books are not a fad and the changes, if we can look at the opportunity they bring us as you have done, we, the authors will be able to reach more of our readers.

    • Anna says:

      As writers work tgether on this and come up with creative, out-of-the box ways to take more control of their careers while still working with the publishing partners they trust to walk with them into this new age, we need to stop ranting so much at change and listen more. We need stop looking for quick and easy solutions and prepare to see hard truths and long road facing us as we change. And worls like “bad” and “wrong” need to stop popping into your vocabulary as soon as something new is suggested. Innovation. Opportunity. Pioneer. These are obviously good words, if all around your industry the chance of doing business the old way is shrinking before your eyes.

  6. Frank Bone says:

    It’s tricky out here in the sticks also – South Africa I mean – We’re not on the same scale or anything, but it seems to be the same over there: the book publishihng industry doesn’t give up its goodies easy. Am I right?

    Well, the obvious solution is, bypass the publishing industry, channel your book through a different industry. Personally, I’d recommend the advertising industry.

    What I did, I wrote my story, and edited and edited and edited; then I paid a second editing party; she did her thing; and then I edited and edited and edited some more; then I paid a typesetter, and he did his thing … eventually … Ja, he was on his own time, that guy. But it worked for me, cos being my own publisher, as it were, I could edit right up to the print run.

    What I got was a well edited story and an ‘okay’ book. I say this cos on this side of the Atlantic the digital POD printers don’t produce litho quality … and the binding is crap. I knew I should have gone for section-bound, but everyone said, nah, go PUR-bound.

    Ag but doesn’t matter. I like built-in redundancy. When my book falls apart you can’t lend it out; you have to buy your own copy.

    The point is, what I produced was an advertisement … geddit? ADVERTISEMENT. I waltzed in to the biggest ad agency in this country, presented my book as proof of my brilliance, and I’m earning top dollar. Okay, so I wrote my book to get out of the ad industry in the first place, but still … I’m FAR better off having written my book. I delivered it to lots od ad agencies … now they ALL want a piece of me.

    There’s lots of ways to make money with your book, that’s all I’m saying.

    I’m always hearing these writings bitching about how tough it is, cos the big nasty distributers take all their money. Shame– Nah, I got no sympathy …

    As a writer, you ARE the creator … so prove it.

    • Anna says:

      Frank, it sounds like a very unique solution for a very unique situation. While the specifics of your experience may not apply outside advertising, your final thought sounds dead on to me–”As a writer, you ARE the creator…so prove it.”

      I’ve said and thought and heard (from mentors) over and over–the only thing we control is the writing. The creating. I can take care of my business (the gist of which is these Publishing Isn’t for Sissies posts), but in the end my product is my creativity and my ability to harness that to write stories readers will by and love. Writers must create and keep creating, in the midst of all this change. Very hard. But it’s our reality.

      Thanks for sharing your story. I’d love to hear from more pioneers like you!

  7. Terry Wright says:

    I too have seen the future of publishing sweep into the digital realm. After being small press published and languishing in an unproductive literary agency for eight years, I got a taste of electronic publishing, and I’ve been feasting on it ever since. I turned my limited paperback printing company into an all-out electronic publishing company. What used to take months (and sometimes years) to release a book, now takes only days. E-publishing has also blown open the market for short stories. Used to be a short story writer would have to get accepted into an anthology where his/her story lay among the pages with competing authors. Now individual short stories can be produced and sold independent of anything or anyone else. I can see why Dorchester made the change in their business strategy, and I applaud them for seeing the water and taking the plunge. Best of luck to you, your fellow authors, and Dorchester.

    • Anna says:

      I hear from more and more authors and groups of authors doinig what you’ve done, Terry. I point folks regularly to Who Dares Wins Pupblishing’s ground breaking work. As I’ve said repeatedly both in this thread and How We Write Wednesdays, I’d rather hear any day from someone actually doing what they’re saying I should do. I’d recommend strongly that newer authors learn the difference between a self-help gurus and those who are sharing what they know because they’re paying their dues actually doing what they’re teaching.

      That’s the key as we move into the challenging, changing publishing future together. Writers banding together with other writers and sharing what works, what doesn’t, what we should all try even though it’s risky, who to follow and who’s merely a salesman rather than a leader.

      Thanks for sharing your exciting personal journey and story, and for the luck for Dorchester and it’s authors.

      • I had a book deal for a memoir that was in the middle of negotiations two summers ago, right before the economy tanked in the US. My editor lost her job and my manuscript was assigned to another editor. Long story short, my deal had to be renegotiated. As a first time author (forget magazines and friends and fabulous bloggie), I’m a nobody. They wanted to give me a small (and by small I miniscule) amount of money for a paperback run of 50,000 and the rest of the money I would have made would have been based off of e-book sales. I was terrified. I knew nothing of e-devices at the time, and so I walked away from the deal.

        Now I have a nook, everyone I know has a Kindle and I understand how people claim to be reading (and enjoying reading) more than ever. So I’ve started querying again, and now it is silent. I have a literary agent out there workin’ it for me, but still, this is nothing like the first time around where my manuscript was snatched up on the first try. Sigh. Parts of me thinks I should just self publish, but the other part of me thinks I should hold out for 99 Rejections (that is what my hanging folder is called) and then go it alone. Either way, I’d really like to see my story on the SPINE of a book on a real shelf while there are still real books out there.

        I am no sissy.

        Come visit me at “Lessons for Teachers and Twits.” I’m the Chief Twit.

        • Anna says:

          You absolutely are no sissie, Renee. You’re right in the thick of what I hear from author friends and peers all over the business. Fiction, non-fiction, commercial and literary. The market is so tight it’s nearly impossible to get your midlist book out there–even if you have a track record. And switching genre’s right now–ouch!

          You made the right choice for you at the time, and you’re working hard to figure out what’s best for you now. THAT’s someone in the trenches and fighting to get her words heard. I still write for print publishers, too. I still want that physical book. And in my honest opinion, I don’t thing printed books will ever go away. In fact, the trade version of my next fantasy has been chosen for the “New In Trade” table at the front of B&Ns, and I’m psyched! But, that said, I want to be on the cutting edge of what’s happening now and what’s going to drive the future of our industry, and there’s no question that digital publishing will have it’s say.

          Hang in there–the economy will turn around. NY publishers will find their way in this new evolution of reader and book buyer expectations. Smaller presses and indie publishing options are getting stronger by the day. It’s an exciting time. You sound as if you have an amazing memoir to sell. Keep putting it out there, and you’ll find the right home!

          Can’t wait to read your blog–it sounds like a blast ;o)

  8. Lyn says:

    This is all exciting. I’m not a writer, but just one of those kids with her nose always in a book.
    Question: Why do the “covers” of the e-books look like books? I understand if the e-book is a clone of a paper book, but when the e-book has no traditional twin, why does the cover still look like a book? Why isn’t it round or paramecium-shaped or shaped like a skull or a flying saucer? My Kindle app has a couple hundred books on it (or wherever they really are) and every book “cover” is exactly the same shape and size. Audio books are different–they look like CD boxes. But why?

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