Making a Comeback in the Digital Age

Kath here. It’s such a thrill to be able to introduce one of the most courageous writers that I know, and a dear friend, historical romance novelist Elena Greene. Like most professional writers, Elena suffered ups and downs with a bit of sideways thrown in for good measure throughout her decade-long career writing Regency-set romances. Things didn’t look so great when en masse and seemingly overnight romance publishers left the genre of category historical romances behind for good. Elena was one of many orphaned authors struggling to regain a foothold in an industry saturated with historical romance authors.

But as we know, digital publishing was right around the corner, and Elena had the foresight to make astute decisions that put her right back on the bestseller lists, and she did this all while overcoming a personal hardship. It’s the kind of writing success story that I love. I knew you would too, so I asked Elena to guest post with us on how she was able to revive her career by capitalizing on the new digital paradigm, and sell more books than she did when she was traditionally published. Happily for us, she obliged. Enjoy!

In September of 2005, my writing career looked quite promising.  Having sold five traditional Regencies (short romances set in the era of Jane Austen), I was enjoying the debut of my sixth.  Lady Dearing’s Masquerade was a Signet Super Regency, longer and more sensual than the usual traditional Regency, a stepping stone toward my goal of writing longer historical romances. I had a great relationship with my editor and Lady Dearing’s Masquerade was garnering great reviews.

However, the writing was on the wall for the traditional Regency genre. Both the Signet and Zebra lines closed soon after. My editor moved to another publishing house. My agent and I could not see eye to eye on which project I should tackle next. For the next few years I struggled, trying different projects but losing my confidence on the way.  Finally, in 2008, I decided to part ways with my agent. My enthusiasm for writing rebounded and I finally knew which story I had to tell next.

I had about 50,000 words written by January of 2009, when things fell apart again. My husband suffered a sudden and severe stroke, due to a dissection of his left carotid artery, which left him paralyzed on the right side and unable to speak, read or write. For the following two years, I was too busy caring for him and our school age children to do more than miss my writing. Fortunately, he made good progress.  Though still unable to work, he became independent enough that I once again had some time for writing.

As I emerged from my caregiver’s fog, I discovered that digital publishing had taken off. Authors I knew were doing well reissuing their backlist romances on Kindle, Nook and other readers. Encouraged by their success, I decided to reissue Lady Dearing’s Masquerade, since it was my best work to date. I did the formatting myself, since I knew some HTML and wanted to cut costs. Knowing a good cover was important, I commissioned a gorgeous one from Hot Damn Designs. And my strategy paid off when Lady Dearing’s Masquerade hit the Kindle bestseller lists in October.

I have now earned more on Lady Dearing’s Masquerade than I did the first time around.  I expect my other and more recent reissues to do well too. Without this income, I’d be seeking a part-time job at this point.  Instead, I’ve been able to get back to my interrupted work-in-progress and I’m very happy about that!

Another boon of self-publishing my backlist is that I’m rebuilding my fan base. Family responsibilities still don’t allow me time to do a great deal of promotion, but the pace of digital publishing is on my side. Unlike many genre fiction books, e-books have a nice long shelf life. One doesn’t have to do a blast of promotion in attempt to maximize sales that critical first month. One can try things, experiment, tinker. One can change covers, rewrite blurbs, refine tags used for searches. Readers are out there trolling for inexpensive reads in their favorite genres.  With an attractive cover and good, descriptive metadata, books can sell themselves. They also sell each other, through excerpts and embedded bookstore links.

This is not to say I haven’t done any additional promotion. I blog with the Risky Regencies and maintain a modest Facebook page. I’ve done some giveaways, posted on the various relevant message boards, forums and Facebook groups. I’ve done it gradually, trying something new every week or so. I am just now starting to think about trying some paid advertising. Being on a limited budget, I am glad I can reinvest gradually, building on earlier successes.

Judging by my sales reports and the increasing flow of emails and Facebook messages, I’m continuing to reach new readers with each promotional effort. Some of them are asking when my next book will be out.  That’s powerful motivator.

I haven’t yet decided what to do with my work-in-progress once it is finished.  I still see a lot of benefits to traditional publishing. For instance, it is harder to profitably self-publish print books, and many romance readers still prefer that format. That is important to me.

I’m also aware of some of the challenges involved in selling to traditional publishers. Romance editors, quite rightly, seek books that will appeal to a broad segment of readers and these often draw on popular tropes. Recent historical romance trends are for heroes to be dukes and heroines to be sexually experienced (wicked widows, courtesans and the like). My current work in progress features a Waterloo veteran turned balloonist and a village schoolteacher. Will it be a hard sell? I don’t know, but I love these characters. Writing their story is making me very happy and I know there are readers out there who will buy it, whether it is traditionally published or not.

So the digital age has created new options. All of us want to write books that will sell, but we have greater freedom to pursue ideas that may not fit traditional publishing lines. Indie authors can profit from niche readerships. Some prolific authors are successfully mixing traditional and indie publishing. Now more than ever, we can all follow this bit of advice from Jennifer Crusie: “Stop worrying about the industry which you have no control over anyway and go write your good book.” Isn’t that what it’s all about?

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Comments

  1. says

    “So the digital age has created new options.”

    Yep! That whole last paragraph hits the nail on the head. It’s all about options. Not battles, not the death of the industry, not any of that other claptrap. Just OPTIONS. And smart readers and writers, like Elena, are the ones who are going to try these options and see what works for them.

    Congrats on your new digital resurrection! May it bring you much success. :)

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  2. Vaughn Roycroft says

    Thanks for sharing such an inspiring story. You and Kristan put it perfectly. I’m so happy you are able to utilize the opportunities now available to such great effect! Good luck with your ebook and your next project!

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  3. says

    “The only constant in life is change.” It’s disappointing when I find a new author and want to read their backlist, but can’t find them in print. How fantastic there’s now a way for them to share their earlier work. Competition is healthy, encouraging improvements to make a product/service better. Good for you, Elena! I’m so excited your balloonist story will be shared!

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  4. says

    E-books make so much sense. I started with e-books — or, more accurately, e-novellas — and am only lately (and reluctantly) seeking print editions. The speed, efficiency and economics of e-publishing obviates the negative inertia and eliteism of the agent/publisher gate keepers who have become more and more restrictive in what they can afford to consider publishable. You go, girl!

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  5. Ann Reid says

    Wow- what an inspiring story, Elena!

    Glad to hear your husband is doing better and that you are able to get back to writing these days.

    I loved your quote by Jennifer Cruise, “Stop worrying about the industry which you have no control over anyway and go write your good book.” “Here, here!” to such well said, sane advice in these whirlwind times!

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  6. says

    What a wonderful, inspiring story, Elena! Thank you for sharing. By coincidence, my post for tomorrow here on WU is on almost exactly the same topic! Have you looked into CreateSpace for print distribution through Amazon? It is quite easy and quite profitable, as well! Best of luck to you and congratulations on all your success!

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  7. says

    This is a wonderfully inspiring post and one I’ve been waiting to see for a long while! Success in E-publishing seems to be the new way to make it, and I stand convinced that E-publishing will be the future of writing.

    But my question is…how? Did you just post your book onto the marketplace and wait for sales to roll in? You mentioned that you had a good facebook following and a blog, which definitely helps but how much? Is it just proof of the (for lack of a better term) viral nature of an internet based culture?

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  8. says

    Elena, that was such an inspirational post and I wish you all the best things! It seems like we writers usually know the best path and now the advent of the digital age has given us the freedom to follow it.

    Hooray for us and hooray for readers (who I suspect are not nearly as one dimensional as the publishing world often makes them out to be).

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  9. says

    It’s really nice to hear from someone who has gone the traditional route (legacy) and is now into e-books. Your story makes it less scary to dip the toe into the e-realm. Thanks for the cover art link.

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  10. says

    I can’t say anything terribly different from the other commenters, because they are all right on. Your story gives me hope and is a great example of using your resources wisely. Thank you for sharing it!

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  11. says

    Thanks for all the encouraging replies and thanks to Kathleen and Therese for hosting me!

    Anna, I have looked into Createspace. I haven’t gone that route yet because much of my backlist is still available in print through used bookstores. It also appeared to me, after I played with the math, that to price one’s books competitively one would have to have a pretty healthy volume of sales. But I agree, it’s definitely another of those options and one I may explore more in the future.

    David, at the beginning I just posted the book and blogged about it. I think that having a good cover, a good description and having the categories right (and use as many as are valid–for example my books are under “Regency”, “Regency romance” and “historical romance”) and tagwords set up helps, because there were so many sales that came before I did anything else. It may also have helped that my first ebook was a reissue that had already won some awards. However, I think new books can do well too, with the right packaging.

    Very specifically targeted promotion can give sales a boost too. For instance, I’m a member of the Beau Monde, which is Romance Writers of America’s special interest chapter for Regency era romance. We put out a monthly newsletter to readers, librarians and booksellers who are especially interested in this genre. I’ve made sure my reissues are listed there and have seen a bump in sales with each newsletter.

    I see these sorts of promotional efforts as seeds. You reach some readers and hope they will tell their friends. Word of mouth can be very powerful.

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  12. Terrie says

    I was one of those who bought your book this last Fall and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I am actually quite tired of seeing dukes in historical romances. I think a Waterloo hero and a village school teacher sound wonderful — and I know there are readers like me who’ve said they’d like to see more diversity of character type (and rank) in the historical romance genre.

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  13. says

    Great Article! Thanks for posting.

    As writers, it’s definitely important that we embrace all of our options in the publishing industry. Digital publishing is just another opportunity, and should be seen as such. : ) I’m glad you found such success with it.

    Thanks again!
    –Savanna

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  14. says

    <>

    Thanks, Terrie! I have loved some duke stories. Laura Kinsale used the trope beautifully to amp up the conflict in FLOWERS FROM THE STORM, one of my favorite historical romances. But until I can think of a variation that feels fresh (at least to me) I won’t write one myself. I’m glad there are readers out there who want variety in their fantasy men. :)

    Thank you to everyone for your encouraging comments and I wish you all the best.

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  15. says

    From writers we are all becoming business people – learning all sorts of new skills along the way. I love that my books will be able to sit on the electronic shelf indefinitely. it’s quite the accomplishment.

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  16. Bernadette Phipps Lincke says

    What a heartwarming story. It is wonderful that things are going well with both your husband’s health and your career.
    You are proof positive that the new options you speak about in our digital age give writers more and more choices. Thank you!

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  17. says

    Hi Elena, let me express my respect to all your efforts on writing field. Just in case you want to try make a gorgeous cover for your digital Ebook or even course, take a look at this site (it is not an affiliate offer): http://www.myecovermaker.com

    I am sure you and other writer will find it extremely useful.

    Cheers

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  18. says

    Louise, Mostly I’m happy with being more involved in the business aspects of publishing. It’s fun to work directly with a cover artist and make sure the cover properly portrays my characters and setting. But I also often wish I had more time to devote to the writing. This is another reason why traditional publishing may be the better option for some writers.

    Bernadette, I’m glad you enjoyed my story. Wish you all the best!

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  19. says

    After reading your post and all the comments what stands out are the same thoughts over and over: inspiring, motivational, encouraging, uplifting, happy, respect, upbeat, and on. You’ve really hit a nerve here, obviously, and have given us a real-life story of success by using the options out there instead of knocking our heads against the often closed doors of the typical agents and publishers and gatekeepers.
    Thank you.
    Patti

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    • says

      I still think it’s often worthwhile to knock on those doors. But if they don’t open, a manuscript you believe in doesn’t have to relegated to a drawer. :)

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  20. says

    Elena-

    Your story is encouraging in this age when traditional publishers are so risk-adverse. But it’s your comments above that caught my attention. It’s a reminder that going e-pub route involves a lot of extra work that’s similiar to that done by–hate to say it–traditional publishers.

    Thanks for being candid about that.

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  21. says

    How fantastic. You never gave in and that is brilliant. There is so much for us newbies to learn and hearing it from you is such an inspiration.. many thanks.. celi

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  22. says

    Ah, another Crusie-wisdom-spouter. Nice to “meet” you.

    I’m glad to hear your husband is better and so pleased you’re finding your digital experiment rewarding on a financial and creative level. It’s fantastic to have options.

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