You have to be willing to take risks in this business of ours. Calculated risks that are nonetheless precarious for the careful thought you put into jumping off whatever cliff of opportunity looms before you. Sometimes a marvelous parachute glide awaits you, easing you into your next step forward. Sometimes there turn out to be holes in your plan and you land in the trees–if you’re lucky. Sometimes you crash and burn completely. My experience with Dorchester Publishing these last few years, like many authors, has been more the latter. But as of last week I can officially say it hasn’t been a crash and burn fiasco, and the trees that were grabbing at my chute are receding farther and farther away each time I look back. Perspective?One might call it that, this ah-ha sensation filling me. Hind sight gives us the illusion of finally seeing things as they were always meant to be. Maybe it’s just dumb luck… You be the judge.
Too often it feels as if I have absolutely NO idea how I got to this moment of deep sighing and appreciation for a journey well traveled and a fight bravely faced and won (Amazon, the publisher who also recently signed a three book deal with me to publish a women’s fiction/contemporary romance series has bought out Dorchester’s list at auction and will not only pay me royalties due from the last three years, but will re-list and potentially buy new titles into my sci-fi/fantasy series).
To be honest, I have some idea. But my mind’s still spinning as I process the twists and turns and decisions and retreats–stopping myself, ultimately, from making several end-game decisions that would have ended this wild ride before I achieved what I’d set out to. What follows is the CliffsNotes version of that adventure, because publishing can be a sucky journey for all of us and I’m happy to share my personal suckage if it might possibly help others finding themselves in their own potentially no-win situations, trying to choose the least objectionable of the unsatisfying options before them.
But first, let’s identify what exactly I wanted to achieve from the start. Because the best business decisions are potentially bad business decisions, regardless of the odds in your favor, if you don’t understand your goal. My best advice to anyone when they ask me my opinion of what they should do about a book, agent, publisher or contract is to figure out what you want and determine the best way to achieve that. Beyond that, I got nothing. Because as you’ll see below, the rules are always changing and what works for me or someone else now may be a no-win choice for you tomorrow. You have to be flexible in this business. You have to dodge and duck and know when to jump or stand still. None of which you can do effectively if you aren’t sure where you’re headed.
My goal with my sci-fi/fantasy series: To establish my mainstream fiction work and to build a series for a broader audience than my contemporary romance roots, into which I could continue to sell future novels. Simple right?
Let’s take a closer look, shall we?
- Round about the fall of 2008: Dorchester offers a 2-book deal for my Legacy Series. Dark Legacy to release nationwide in mass market paperback in the fall of 2009.
- I deliver the book on time, but the advance money isn’t coming from the publisher as quickly as it should. Agent pushes hard behind the scenes, but we don’t pull the book from the schedule. It’s more important to my goal to be established as a mainstream author with bigger stories to sell than my category romance roots, than it is to join in the shrieks of dissatisfaction with the publisher beginning to rumble all over the Internet.
- Fall, 2009: Dark Legacy in stores, positioned well, I’m signing in the B&N flagship store in New York’s Lincoln Center, and we’re off. Sales are good but nothing fabulous. We can do better, publisher says. My series is repositioned away from traditional romance and closer to the sci-fi/thriller market it’s better suited for.
- Secret Legacy due to editor in early 2010 for a rushed summer 2010 release because they want to break it out. They’re behind this very different, edgy thing I’m doing with my mainstream work 110%. They’ve also by now paid me the advance I’m owed to date. Agent and I see this as a good chance to shine within a smaller traditional press, so I keep working.
- Health issues and surgery prevent me from turning the second book in on time. Editor and publisher couldn’t have been more understanding. Deadline for delivering Secret Legacy is pushed to the spring of 2010, with a fall release. It’s the hardest writing period I’ve ever had, and I called my agent to quit more than once, but the book was finished and revised in a gruelingly short amount of time. If nothing else, this experience proved to me that I had to keep writing–if for no other reason than I couldn’t seem to make myself stop.
- Fall 2010: Serious money spent on my part and committed by publisher to promote the book that should break out, even though remaining advance for the second book on the contract hasn’t yet been paid. However, lots of publisher plans–print and digital promotion. Extensive online blog tour being set up. Again, agent and I are staying focused on the publishing possibilities and my investing in my mainstream future, which means I continue to do my job and play nice while she rattles their cages fighting to get me the money owed.
- Two weeks before Secret Legacy’s launch: it’s announced on the Internet (not to individual authors) that overnight Dorchester’s pulling their print publishing arm (meaning all my mass market print books are being yanked, never to be distributed retail) and beginning immediately to shift to a digital first/print on demand business. My break out release: not going to happen. My sizable investment in promoting to mass market retailers and readers: wasted. My remaining faith in publisher: destroyed.