Misfit Monday: But I Don’t Feel Published…

Note from Jennette: This post was originally posted on March 22, 2006, before eb00ks were a truly viable means of reaching readers, unless you wrote erotica. So the publishing industry details are majorly outdated now, but the sentiment could still ring true. Oddly enough, I’m now published by a means that back in 2006, would have been considered desperation, or a last resort, and I feel more published now than I did then. Anyway, here goes…

A lot of authors are blogging about their first books this week. The book I’m currently working on is my fourth. The one I’m shopping to agents is my third.

The second will never see the light of day. But the first… I guess it’s time I came out about it. I was an e-book author.

I say “was” because my book went out of contract two years ago and has not been available since. I was published, once. My book sold all of two dozen copies.

A couple months ago, an RWA-chapter sister reminded me that I’m published. My response? “But I don’t feel published.”

Don’t take this the wrong way. E-published is real published, assuming it’s with a royalty-paying, non-subsidy publisher, which mine was. But my book never felt real-published to me. Maybe it was the sales (or lack thereof), I don’t know.

I wrote my first book in 1999. Nothing to Hide is a romantic suspense with a paranormal element (empathic hero). I queried Harlequin – it was targeted to their Intrigue line – in February of 2000. Got a request for the full one week after I sent my query.

Two months later I got a form rejection. (As well I should have.) I was comforted by the fact that I didn’t have to wait a year or more for it, as many writers do. And heck, my only goal when I’d started writing it was simply to see if I could finish something. So I’d gotten much further than I thought.

At the time, I didn’t know of anyone else who took romantic suspense of less than 90,000 words, and my book was only about 75,000. (How hard that is to imagine now! )

I let it sit. Started to work on a couple other things, one of which I never finished, the other of which was the abortive beginning of the ms I’m now shopping to agents.

A year later, I got that first book back out. I thought it was good. I thought it should be published.

So I queried an e-publisher. A royalty-paying, non-subsidy e-publisher who’d been in business since 1996 and is still around now – no small feat in today’s business climate.

Almost right away, they asked to see the whole book.

A month later, they emailed me a contract.

I was thrilled for a short time, but made myself forget about it, and concentrate on my current WIP. After all, they’d told me my book wouldn’t be released until the following April (this was in July of 2001).

Even the book cover is outdated!

I designed the cover myself, hoping to accelerate the release, or at least to ensure the cover art wouldn’t be the cause of a delay.

They liked my cover and used it.

The book still didn’t come out until June of 2002.

Between the time I signed my contract and the book was released, several things happened:

  • The dot-com bubble burst.
  • I got laid off from my job.
  • The promise of the e-market was starting to sour.
  • Distributors who’d carried e-books were no longer doing so.
  • My publisher found Amazon’s business model unprofitable for them, so they stopped selling through Amazon.
  • The e-market was also maturing, and it was becoming apparent what kind of books that market wanted: erotica and erotic romance.

Romances like those readers could find on bookstore shelves didn’t sell well as e-books. In fact, I believe e-books’ time still hasn’t come*, other than for erotica/erotic romance.

My publisher had started to pick up on this last fact too, and between the time I signed my contract and the time my book was released, they’d changed their business focus to reflect this, and the books they promoted the most aggressively were the erotic romances.

My book contained only one love scene, and it was more sensual than erotic. So my book sold all of two dozen copies. After two years, my publisher released me from my contract,** along with several other authors who were no longer submitting new material to them and whose work wasn’t selling.

I was OK with this. I understood the publisher’s reasons for changing their business focus. And by this time, I realized Nothing to Hidewasn’t that good of a book. I mean, it had tea scenes*** for dog’s sake!

OTOH, I still don’t think it was a bad book. It got some very nice reviews. It even finaled in the EPPIEs.

So that’s the story behind how I once was published, now I’m not. I guess the main reason I consider myself as unpublished is because this is not something I can use as a publishing credit when querying agents or editors. If it had decent sales, it would be.

What it comes down to is I lost patience – with learning craft, and in submitting. I wanted an easy way to publication and I got it, for what it was worth.

Which isn’t a whole lot.

If you’re considering e-publishing, don’t let me dissuade you. I’m not dissing the medium. But do research your publishers carefully, and know their markets – as in, their readership.

* I do think it will come, as technology improves and becomes less expensive. But who knows when?

** This is when it’s actually a good thing to have designed my own cover – if I wanted to sell this book myself, the cover is mine. Other authors who were released and wanted to sell their own books had to get new cover designs. I designed a few of them, when I was freelancing between full-time jobs.

*** Scenes where a character is doing nothing but sitting, sipping tea, and thinking. Yawn.

What about you? If you’re an author, have you ever felt like a fraud? And whether or not you’re an author, do you read ebooks? If so, when did ebooks start seeming like “real” books to you?

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

15 Responses to \

  1. I always enjoy reading an authors pub journey! And you made me laugh with the tea scene bit. 🙂
    The last year or so has been the big shift with e books for me. There was a time when I thought–no way. But I also said the same thing about carrying around a cell phone. So funny, right?

  2. Thank you for sharing this with us. I had no idea. When I look back at what I was writing in 2001, I wouldn’t have wanted it out in the world either. (I still love some of the bones of the story I wrote then though, so I dream of one day re-writing it.)

  3. Hey–the thing to remember about people who see forward isn’t always their great successes–it’s looking at all the mis-steps, fumbles, College Tries, ideas that never panned out, risks, attempts, and close-your-eyes-and-jump attempts that preceded (or are often interspersed with) those successes.

    Ebooks might have been a technological dead-end without enough of us taking huge risks by jumping into the untried, untested, unbeaten paths of possibility laid out before us.

    The difference between creative folks and the rest of the world isn’t talent or training or even necessarily luck. It’s that we’re willing to try and fail. It’s not that Edison created the light bulb, it’s that he *failed to* create it a thousand times…and then got back up to try it a thousand and one.

    We don’t know what will work…until it does. But if we’re not even willing to try, then that’s the real shame. Tea-scenes and all, you helped pave the way for ebooks to become viable. Not only that, but you got valuable experience in publishing in a new and uncharted frontier *and* you gave two dozen people something to read. 🙂

  4. Marcy, the rewrite is sooo much better! No tea scenes in there. Hopefully others will think so, too!

    Athena, I hadn’t thought of it that way, but wow, you’re right! And you know how much I appreciate your being one of those two dozen people! 😀

  5. Wow! Thank you for sharing this, Jennette. It puts some things in perspective big time.

    It is amazing how far we have come in less than a decade. I got serious about my writing (again, for the umpteenth time) in 2009. I’d never even heard of e-books but I was ready, I thought, to put on my big-girl pants and start submitting my work to agents and publishers instead of cramming it in a drawer half finished. Then I heard about how easy it was to self-pub e-books (Ha! Not if you do it right!) and how they were gaining in respectability.

    I’m not making big bucks (yet) but I’m doing okay and getting good reviews. Under the old model I’d still be querying my first book instead of launching my fourth!

    I have tremendous admiration for authors like yourself who hung in there in the “traditional publishing” days. Honestly, I couldn’t have handled that much frustration. To get a contract, and then have the dream fall apart again, and yet you kept on writing and shopping manuscripts. I’m so impressed!

  6. Pat, LOL last I heard, no. But thanks!

    Louise, it sure is!

    Kassandra, thanks so much! It was definitely frustrating – I did kind of quit for a while. It’s great that we can now offer books to readers, even if they don’t fit a big publisher’s mold! And no, that book won’t be available again – it had more boring places than that. It’s the one I totally rewrote, soon to be released as Hangar 18: Legacy.

  7. That was an interesting history! Thanks for sharing. I, too, wonder about ebooks. I keep almost buying an ereader, but the thought of not holding an actual book in my hand just makes me sad. And I’m not sure my eyes would like looking at a screen for that long, no matter what people say about the screen lighting. And, what totally put me off was the price. To pay over $100 for a kindle and then pay $9.99 for each book? Id rather pay $15.00 dollars per book and have teh feel and smell of paper in my hands. Maybe Im weird, I don’t know. Here’s to the future of being published in a way that fits with your definition. 🙂

  8. Emma, the cost is one thing that’s kept me from buying an e-reader, too, although I buy mostly indie-published ebooks now, so I do get the savings there. I read books on my phone, and was surprised to find how much I don’t care about how the book feels. And there’s a lot to be said for that instant gratification! But, it definitely wasn’t there ten years ago. Thanks for your input!

  9. Interesting journey and what a good learning experience. Never discredit yourself because you don’t have a book out there. E-pubbing is just as creditable. I call myself multi-published because I have 2 short stories published in 2 different anthologies. Hey, I’m taking whatever I can get.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  10. Wow, what an amzing journey, and yes–you were way ahead of your time! I like Patricia Rickrode’s term “Multi-published” because I think that’s what really savvy writers are doing nowadays. I have a friend who cut a six-figure traditional publishing deal, yet who still intends to self published her manuscripts that didn’t sell. It’s a buffet out there, and we might as well try all the dishes!