Publishing Isn’t for Sissies: On the Radar

I’m an author, always writing and pitching my work to publishers and (hopefully) reaching readers with ever-new titles. Now I’m also an acquiring editor, too, officially reading other writer’s submissions, searching for the perfect new story for Entangled Publishing’s soon-to-debut Dead Sexy suspense line. Which for some has become a, “Houston. We have a problem,” moment.


“What are you thinking?” a few have asked. Let me ‘Splain.

For me, I’m seeing more options than problems these days. And where I see and understand options that are in my best interest, I act.

I’ve freelanced edited for fiction writers for years–private work stemming from the countless workshops and weekend retreats I teach about writing craft and the romance publishing industry. Before that I was an professional editor, in my senior tech writing gig. Before that…well, we won’t get into (again) how my IT training and project management experience prepared me for the type of analysis needed to break story down, understand its parts, and help people learn how to knit it all back together in their own unique way.

Because that’s all backstory. And as I tell authors, backstory is only a place to begin. Me being qualified for the gig isn’t really the point–without primo qualifications, the savvy team at Entangled wouldn’t have hired me in the first place. The real issue I had to face as I decided whether or not to take their job offer, was what did it mean, me officially moving over to the business side of this journey, at least as I work to help other authors achieve their publishing dreams.


And that, that being a conduit for another writers’ hard work transforming into a dream-come-true, IS what matters to me and the other editors at Dead Sexy. We’ve, one and all, seen the ins and outs of this business. We see, more clearly perhaps than those who haven’t worked for so long as writers, just how not-for-sissies this publishing journey is. And how even more taxing, complicated, downright befuddling and impossibly challenging the process has become, for those trying to, if you can believe it, make money as they practice their art.

So I’m becoming part of the solution. Not that we at Dead Sexy have all the answers, but we have options to give. Alternatives to share.


  • It’s getting harder for even mid-list, multi-published authors to snag print book contracts. Traditional book publishers are looking for a guaranteed “hit” many of us, even authors like me with close to half a million book sales to my name, can’t ”for sure” be for their ever-dwindling publishing dollars.
  • Traditional contract advances are shrinking for nearly everyone, once you do get a deal. And the digital frontier (the growing part of our business), isn’t yet being turned to the author’s advantage the way it should be, when the electronic rights are negotiated. If we’re not going to make what we should in advance of the print release, we need to be seeing more of the back-end money in the expanding digital royalty income, right? Right???
  • The PR for most releases, beyond what the author can do for “free” online through social media and digital book tours (except for the opportunity cost of the author’s countless hours spent executing digital marketing plans), is non-existent now.Where traditional publishers were once investing money into your PR, as an add-on to the smaller than equitable advances many were agreeing to, that added benefit is no longer. Even with traditional print publishers, authors, the “tallent,” are now expected to do the bulk of the market/PR work,  and to do it with primarily their own time. And unlike with digital-first publishers, authors are expected by their traditional partners to do the work without the expectation of significant royalty pay-out as book sales grow.
  • And, finally, that reserving royalty payments against possible returns of books thing, and also the paying royalties only twice a year (for sales that happened months and months before) thing… Since both print runs and retail outlets are shrinking and digital book sales are rising, this is one of the traditional contract terms that makes the least since these days.

The alternatives for writers, which by the way I’m not the first to point out? 

  • Publishers need to find less-expensive ways to publish the quality romance novels readers crave, without the overhead that’s running them out of their own business model.
  • Authors need to be paid BEFORE anyone else, and everyone else’s income needs to be contingent on how well EACH book sells,not just the blockbusters. That means higher royalties for the author, particularly on digital books (the fastest growing segment of the business, except for the branded names), to compensate for anemic or non-existent advances. And those royalties should be on cover price. NOT net, which can be calculated to be almost nothing, depending on how you work the numbers.
  • Publishers should listen to the authors who know their way around digital promotion, and work that experience to the advantage of all titles, not just the brands they want to spotlight. The better each book does, the better the company’s digital position–again, it’s about priorities, and making the future, and the authors who are getting you there with their own blood, sweat and tears, your focus.
  • Authors should have their money closer to NOW than LATER, the way indie authors do.Not necessarily getting paid every month, the way someone who lists their book directly to Amazon would. But come one. Would it kill you to report actual sales, stop doing ridiculous things like holding digital sales in endless “reserve” because it’s how business has always been done for years, and not paying the people who create your product as soon as the money’s available (say quarterly)?

All of which are benefits of contacting with digital-first publishers–smaller shops than the traditional big dogs, but with more responsive and author-focused business models that aren’t clinging to what’s worked for decades instead of being light on their feet and adaptive and ever-evolving into what will work for decades to come.

the future

Publishing isn’t for sissies. Traditional publishing as we knew it is changing, like crumbling earth beneath our feet. We’re falling into an uncertain future, but there’s a way through this time warp that doesn’t involve putting all your eggs into a single basket and hoping someone else will give us the best they can, instead of the bare minimum they feel they need to to retain your gratitude as an author, while you make next to nothing at your job.

Yes, for those who’re asking, I’m still submitting work to traditional publishing. I’ve been an advocate for all my publishers, as I have been for the individual author, from the very beginning. I’d love to continue reaching readers who’ll buy my books in print and might find me digitally through a larger press’ new online initiatives. That’s an important part of my career.

But this is MY business to manage, not my traditional publisher partners’. I’m convinced (and I’m not the only one) that multiple streams of income are the way through this period of upheaval and change.I’m exercising my more technical skills, “officially” editing now with a digital-first publisher I believe in, one with great distribution, foreign sales, and subsidiary plans and author-focused contract terms. I’m also submitting digital projects that seem to fit that more flexible market better than more traditional avenues (I’m an outside-the-box kinda girl whose creativity frequently doesn’t “fit” an inflexible mold, no matter how hard I might try). While I keep my options open to even more opportunities.

Whatever it takes to write the best books I can, for publishers who respect my work and my time, and reach the readers I hear from daily who want to read more from me, however I can get my novels to them.

My advice, even if it means embracing the fact that “we have a problem,” is for every author to do the same. The only insurmountable problem in your future, is not acting in your best career interest, regardless of what a single publisher says. Face what’s not working for you in all this, see the reality and the options available to you, make your own best choices, and write-on!

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4 Responses to “Publishing Isn’t for Sissies: On the Radar”

  1. “But this is MY business to manage, not my traditional publisher partners’. I’m convinced (and I’m not the only one) that multiple streams of income are the way through this period of upheaval and change.”

    I read this to a writer friend and she is concerned that if she goes with a trad. pub, she will not be able to self-pub any of her other books. Do I understand this quote to mean that writers have the option of doing both? I know there is a right of first refusal in many contracts, but how does that effect what a writer wants to do on their own?

    Also, from the inside of the business, is there still a stigma attached to those who decide to go indie with their first books and then try to get an agent and trad. pub for subsequent books. I am not at the point yet where this will be damaging to my career, but she is at a crucial point and is worried. Thinking for myself in the future and for her right now, can I have your opinion on both of these points. Thanks so much, this post is very educational for the newbie :)

  2. Florence, my agent helps me keep my options clauses limited to the type of work I’m doing for the publisher in question. So while they will have right of first refusal to the next thing I write of whatever type of book I’m writing for them, we make sure they do not have an option on ANYTHING I write next. It’s an important clause to keep in mind as you read/sign publishing contracts. You want to retain control (the option to shop/publish elsewhere) over as much future work as you possibly can.

    Yes, I have the option in all my contracts to not only publish future work with other publishers, but also to publish future work in whatever format I choose–as long as that work isn’t, through my options clause, owed to the current publisher for their review first. Which means, I have to be careful what I sell elsewhere and what if anything I choose to indie publish. But outside the very limited scope of the work I do for my current publisher(s), I’m a free agent.

    That said, not every editor or publisher is as happy or open as others about their authors writing elsewhere. The politics of each publisher and editorial relationship is a living thing a writer needs to navigate carefully.

    And, yes, unfortunately there can still be a stigma attached to authors who indie publish, though I sense this being less of the case by the day. In fact, many successfully traditionally published authors are indie publishing as well now (mostly reverted rights, but more and more new titles, too). We have a right to make money with our writing, our well-crafted, well-edited writing, however is best for our business. And that’s no longer always best achieved through traditional routes.

    As for what the editors and agents want, that is an ever-moving target. All I know for sure is that what everyone wants is the very best book/story/character they can find. They want to publish the next GREAT novel. If yours is that novel, they won’t care where or how you’ve published before, as long as you’ve done it ethically and to the best of your ability.

    That said, once a book is indie published, I’m pretty sure that most publishers and agents won’t be interested in relisting (or representing) it traditionally, if only because you’ve already reached your audience once, which limits what can be done with that same book going forward. However, if a book takes off and does amazingly well indie, there’s no telling what a traditional publisher might choose to do with the novel and author’s future work with the same series/characters/ setting. The rules are tossed aside so quickly these days, under the right circumstances we seem to be making them up as we go along at times.

    Hope that helps. Again, this is all just my perspective/opinion. Keep your ears open and listen to all that you can, and as I said above, always make up your own mind based on what’s best for YOUR business ;o)


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