I have a story to tell you today, guys, and unlike my novels, this one's true. I’m bringing it up now because: 1) I need to get it off my chest; 2) It concerns you, my readers, and, 3) It’s relevant as we celebrate Independence Day here in the US. So here goes.
Last year, behind the scenes, quietly and without fanfare, I walked away from a six-figure deal at auction to go 100% indie.
I felt like it's time to share with you the basics of what went down.
But first, just to backtrack quickly for a moment, some of you might recall how I had decided to take a hiatus from traditional publishing after I finished my Inferno Club series for Avon/HarperCollins.
I needed a break. I had been on deadline for 16 years straight and wanted to explore some new creative directions just for fun. Plus, the disruption going on in publishing made me leery about accepting a new contract too quickly. My spidey senses were tingling about the state of the industry, not in a good way. Why go down with the ship?
Plus, I had already seen the promise inherent in self-publishing.
As many of you know, I started self-publishing my middle-grade Gryphon Chronicles fantasy series (kind of in the Harry Potter genre), co-writing with my husband, Eric, as E.G. Foley.
We self-published those because I did not want the stress of juggling two sets of publisher deadlines.
So by the time I took my hiatus, Eric and I had pretty much gotten the self-publishing procedures down. Well, after taking some nice creative "refresh" time to explore a couple of side avenues, I eventually started itching to get back to my first love, Regency Historicals.
Since it takes F-O-R-E-V-E-R for new books to be released through the big New York publishers, I didn’t want my readers to have to wait so long for my next book. They'd already waited patiently during my creative experiments with epic fantasy romance and small-town contemporaries.
Realizing I would need a two-pronged approach, I started working up TWO different historical romance projects, both fun. One was Moonlight Square, which I began self-publishing right away.
The other was a secret project that was meant to be put into the slow-moving New York publishing pipeline, to come out…whenever they'd be able to release it.
Well, guys, let me tell you, I tried. For my readers' sakes, I really tried to go back to traditional publishing once I saw the chaos in the industry finally calming down into a "new normal."
I realize that many of my readers find the mass market paperback format familiar and convenient. For that reason, I thought that going back to New York publishing was worth serious consideration.
I won’t deny that having an auction was cool. It was the second one I’ve had in my career, and those are pretty exciting. They're kind of the white elephant that every aspiring author dreams of.
For those who aren’t sure what that term actually means, a literary auction is where the author creates a proposal for a new book or series, and the agent gets a bidding war going among the publishing houses, aimed at landing the author the best possible deal.
Getting ready for the auction, again, took F-O-R-E-V-E-R, but once it started, I was thrilled to learn that three of the Big 5 houses adored the proposal for my next historical romance series so much that they decided to participate.
The fourth house also loved the project, but—in a worrisome sign—the editor told us she wasn't allowed to participate because her house is no longer acquiring ANYTHING for mass-market paperback.
Wow. Let that sink in.
If you're a writer, the reason that’s chilling news is because where one of these big houses goes, the rest usually follow.
Anyway. For me, mass market paperback was the whole point of having the auction, so that house didn’t participate. Still, I was deeply honored that all of these legendary executive editors wanted to work with me.
Once the bidding started, it was time to wait by the phone. I jumped out of my skin every time it rang.
My agent kept calling me with details on the offers. We debated and haggled, and then, within a few days, we had a great offer on the table from an excellent house.
I decided to accept…pending the arrival of the paperwork.
Ah, the devil’s always in the details, my friends. It took four long months for them to send me the contract, and that’s when things got hairy.
Publishing contracts are about 30 pages long, and every line has to be scrutinized so that you don’t inadvertently screw yourself over. Never forget, newbie authors, that long after the happy dance is over, you will have to live with what you sign.
Ultimately, I couldn’t sign the thing. There was some legal language in certain clauses that the media giant was not willing to change, so I walked.
It was super scary, of course. Traumatic. I think even my poor agent was traumatized! And like most battle-hardened NYC agents, she’s usually bomb-proof.
(Freaked out as I was by my own decision, the slow clap that one of my best author friends gave me afterward was pretty hilarious. Kinda made it all worthwhile. I'm told I have huge cajones, lol. Heh, guess I have something in common with my romance heroes, after all.)
Certainly, I don’t blame anyone for it not working out. Not my agent, and certainly not the editor, who’s outstanding at her job and widely respected in the industry. I would’ve loved to work with her, but what can you do.
It’s just business. Sure, we could blame the folks in the legal and contract departments, but they’re just doing their job—like great whites, lol. These are simply the waters they swim in; they eat authors for breakfast, and if you want to be a writer, you have to understand that the system is set up for them, not you.
That’s why you have to protect yourself in every way imaginable in the contract.
There’s no need to get into the nitty-gritty of what caused the kerfuffle, but it had to do with the non-compete clause and some conflicts around that.
So here I am. :) From trad-pub to hybrid to full-on indie author, and I’ve gotta say, I am SO EXCITED about the road ahead.
I can finally let my inner rebel go roaring down the road.
For romance readers who still love the mass market paperback format, I would say that, sadly, I think the time is coming when you’re probably going to have to choose between ebooks and the more expensive trade paperbacks. (Trade paperbacks are what you call the upmarket, larger-sized soft-covers in the $15 range. They’re especially popular in genres like mainstream women’s fiction.)
It seems like the profit margins on the mass-market books are just too small, compared to what stores can make by carrying trade paperbacks and hardcovers instead. Bookstores can eke out a more stable living by selling those more expensive books.
I wish all it weren’t so, and I am happy to admit that things can always change. I guess it’s not out of the realm of reality that mass market could pick up again and start going the other way, but I doubt it. Across entertainment media, that does not appear to be the trend. Streaming is the trend—whether it be movies, TV, music, or now, digital books.
Don't forget what that fourth house told me, after all. No more mass markets. This, from a huge and influential publisher. They're phasing them out.
Heck, even the New York Times stopped issuing weekly bestseller lists for mass market paperbacks back in 2017. Which is really sad for up-and-coming romance authors. Because now they’ll probably never get a shot at becoming New York Times bestselling authors.
So, to wrap this post up, I’m a realist when it comes to business, and I have to deal with the situation on the ground.
On a personal level, I absolutely love the control that self-publishing gives me over the final product, from the stories themselves to the book covers and titles and everything.
True, it’s a lot more work, but it’s definitely empowering. Who doesn’t want to be their own boss if that’s a viable option?
Let freedom ring!
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Duke of Shadows
A heartbroken belle, a missing suitor, and a heroic duke in disguise.