Please 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.