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 So the publishing industry details are majorly outdated now, but the sentiment could still ring true.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.