How a mid-list print author learned to love e-self-publishing

PhotobucketPlease welcome historical romance novelist Gretchen Craig to WU today. Gretchen  is the award winning author of Always and Forever and Ever My Love, both set among the Creoles and Cajuns of early Louisiana.  Her new book Crimson Sky takes place in the mesas and canyons of northern New Mexico.  Gretchen took matters into her own hands when her publisher decided to pass on her current novel, and we thought her journey would be of interest to WU readers.  Enjoy!

Would you ever self-publish one of your novels?  Self e-publish?  A year ago I’d have said no.  Didn’t self-publishing imply your manuscript wasn’t good enough for the big leagues?  Hadn’t I picked up a few self-published novels and found them sub-par in terms of craft and depth?

You know what I’m going to say next:  alternative publishing is taking off like rockets.  The stigma is going going and nearly gone. So I’ve just self-published an ebook, Crimson Sky, and I have hopes of reaching every reader of historical novels in the known universe.

How did I, a traditionally-published author, come to this decision? Kensington Zebra published my first two novels (Always and Forever and Ever My Love) with generous print runs which achieved an 80% sell-through in a short time.  Set in Old Louisiana among the Creoles, Cajuns, and their slaves,  the stories are gritty, realistic looks at what being enslaved does to body and mind as well as what being a slave-owner does to the soul. They are historicals with romance elements and both won awards with that designation.  I thought I was on my way.

But no. Kensington rejected my next manuscript because the heroine is in love with her sister’s husband.  “The readers will hate you!” the editor said.  But, but . . . this isn’t a salacious, mean-girl story, I explained.  It’s about people striving for honor and integrity even though their hearts are divided.  And . . . at least the hero and heroine have a happy ending if not everyone else. No is no, just the same.  Okay, I returned to my Louisiana saga and extended the tale of those families into the next generation.  Too long, too complicated, and the Civil War is a “hard sell.”  And that isn’t just from Kensington.  I queried other places, though probably not as many as we’re “supposed to,” and received nice, encouraging rejections.

My husband said I had to learn to write what the publishers wanted, novels like those wonderful romances I enjoy so much.  Yes, I read all kinds of books; however, that doesn’t mean I can write them. We write what our minds and hearts compel us to write. So back to the keyboard.  My next novel, Crimson Sky, is set among the pueblos when the conquistadors march up the Rio Grand Valley.  Culture clash, momentous upheaval, lives changed forever.  Just my thing.  One editor responded that they were finding the most success with novels concerning Western European royalty.  An agent I respect said nice things about my writing but that this particular setting is “not marketable.”  Arghhh.

Don’t we all want to write what is “just our thing”? I’m passionate about the eras I study and the characters I create, even if they are not just what the industry says everyone out there wants to read. I’d love to be clever like Jennifer Crusie or profound like Faulkner – but I’m not.  Even so, my books did reach tens of thousands of readers who went out and bought my second book as well.  So I’m not Jennifer.  But I’m not chopped liver either, and I want to write what I want to write.  Right?

Options:  1. Keep beating my fists against the doors of the big publishers, who are increasingly nervous and unwilling to print anything that isn’t exactly what they think will be big sellers.  2. Change what I write to suit what they’re looking for. Big sigh.  Can’t, don’t want to — whatever, won’t.   Any alternatives?  Yes!

I researched the online publishers and distributors and decided on Kindle and ePub.  No editor, but I don’t need copyediting services, and I have an amazing critique group to help me revise and refine. My pride is pretty much okay in this New World of publishing, and when those huge royalties (70% and 65%) start rolling in, my pride will be very fine indeed.  Will Crimson Sky really be a success without the big house backing? Certainly success will require promotion on my part, and I’m learning to do that.  Blogging, guest blogging, interviews, Facebook, ads, and so on.  I expect a slow start, but I am optimistic that sales will grow and then grow some more, partly on the work’s own merits and partly because stupendous growth in e-sales will raise all boats.  Certainly there will be more sales of Crimson Sky as a self-pubbed ebook than there would have been of Crimson Sky as an unpubbed manuscript.

If you have a brilliant career in print, this route may not be for you. If you have an extensive back list whose rights have reverted to you, or if your novels are just a little left, or right, of what precisely the traditional publishers are looking for, do some research.  (I recommend you read J. A. Konrath’s extensive blogs about e-publishing.) Crimson Sky is now available in Kindle and in ePub (Nook and other e-readers), and if you want to know how it’s doing in six or eight months, you can drop me an email at www.gretchencraig.com , and I’ll tell you.

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Comments

  1. says

    I’m no expert, but for a while now, I’ve thought this is the perfect situation for self-publishing/e-publishing. I admit, I could be missing something, but it seems to me that this allows mid-listers (or even blockbusters) the flexibility to write things that may not be “worth” the investment to publishers, but still make a personal profit since they are leveraging their established names. Meanwhile, publishers can focus on “big” books to dig themselves out financially, and also devote more energy/money to debut authors/books with high “breakout” potential. In my (idealistic) mind, everyone wins. (Although I may not be explaining it super well… I don’t want to go on too long in a comment!)

    Anyhoot, congrats for sticking by your book and taking advantage of new opportunities to get it out there. I think it’s a great idea!

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  2. says

    Holly Lisle recently wrote on this topic, and her message is simple: write what you love. Your readers will find you, in print or on the Internet. If you try to write something you don’t believe, no one will want to read your work.

    Write the truth that’s in your heart, and your stories will find their kindred souls.

    Cheryl

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  3. says

    interesting take on the e-publishing conundrum.
    As an aside, there’s an old book by Gene Stratton-Porter where the MC falls in love with her sister’s husband. And GS-P writes characters about as far from a mean girl as one can get. I think it is Daughter of the Land?
    Sorry for the random comment :0)– the point is: keep writing the stories you feel compelled to write. Period.

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  4. says

    Congrats on your choice! I’m an “alternatively-pubbed” writer and feel that in this day and age, writers need to redefine what writing success means. It can be as simple as giving ourselves permission to share work regardless of what publishers think, and enjoying that experience. Will be blogging about this soon on WU!

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  5. says

    I think that there are many, many authors who are in the same situation. How many ways can an editor say “nicely done but there’s no market for this” and how many times can an author hear it before throwing up her hands? I like Sharon’s idea about redefining success . . .

    So, good for you! I hope this goes well.

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  6. says

    This seems like a plot twist.

    It’s not often you read an e-publish post on this site. Good to see though.

    I uploaded my entire back catalogue to e-book.

    I now have eleven titles available for Kindle with three more coming out within the next six months.

    No publisher, and instant royalties as my books sell everyday.

    So, affirmations abound…

    Thanks for ‘a breath of scented air’ post.

    Daryl

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  7. says

    I like that books don’t have to ‘die’ because they’re out of print. However, don’t expect your career and royalties to skyrocket like Konrath’s. He’s a marketing genius, and it takes a lot of promo time. My remaindered / back list titles are on Kindle and Smashwords, but I’m 1) not a well know, established author despite having 6 books published, and 2) I have a very very short backlist.

    But it’s a great idea, and there’s even a new group called Backlist Ebooks where you can find a bunch of authors’ books.

    Terry
    Terry’s Place
    Romance with a Twist–of Mystery

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  8. says

    I find the editors take on falling in love with the sister’s husband odd. It’s not an unusual or salacious occurrence. I see it more from the emotional components rather than sexual. Sounds like an intriguing story line to me; full of conflict and angst. Readers would hate you? That’s quite a stretch. An unlikely one at that.

    Wishing you the best in your new endeavor!

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  9. says

    I think we’re going to see this more and more. I know one author who’s said that publishers are doing all they can to make themselves irrelevant. I’m not prepared to buy into that idea, but I certainly buy into proactivity! Hope this works out the way you’ve envisioned.

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  10. says

    Thanks for sharing your story. I was surprised and puzzled to learn about that editor’s reaction. Give me some credit, please–I would never hate an author if a book didn’t work for me. For what it’s worth, I’m intrigued about how you would have told that story.

    Many happy sales for Crimson Sky!

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  11. says

    I think we’re going to see this more and more. I know one author who’s said that publishers are doing all they can to make themselves irrelevant. I’m not prepared to buy into that idea, but I certainly buy into proactivity! Hope this works out the way you’ve envisioned.

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  12. says

    I’m no expert, but for a while now, I’ve thought this is the perfect situation for self-publishing/e-publishing. I admit, I could be missing something, but it seems to me that this allows mid-listers (or even blockbusters) the flexibility to write things that may not be “worth” the investment to publishers, but still make a personal profit since they are leveraging their established names. Meanwhile, publishers can focus on “big” books to dig themselves out financially, and also devote more energy/money to debut authors/books with high “breakout” potential. In my (idealistic) mind, everyone wins. (Although I may not be explaining it super well… I don’t want to go on too long in a comment!) Anyhoot, congrats for sticking by your book and taking advantage of new opportunities to get it out there. I think it’s a great idea!

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  1. […] the lingering doubts of being self- or indie-published. As if in answer to my wilting self-esteem, this post went up today on Writer Unboxed: Options:  1. Keep beating my fists against the doors of the big […]

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