The story of how I went from the former to the latter – and what I learned on the way.
The majority hope for the former, with indie being treated like a second cousin at best. Certainly that was my take on being published and I remember well when on checking my phone while still half asleep, I found the email telling me that my manuscript had been accepted by a smaller publisher in the states. I was on my feet in seconds doing fist pumps, following by head spins. Then I burst into tears. Tears of relief. Tears of joy. Tears that my work had finally been accepted and given the official tick of approval.
The publisher I’d been picked up by had been recommended to me by a fellow author as being okay, not vanity and knew what they were about when it came to getting books in print. This was good enough for me as I knew getting past the gatekeepers of the big five was nigh on impossible, especially in New Zealand where literary works were, and still are, seen as king. I accept that my books might be a lot of things, but they most definitely are not literary with too many laughs for that category. Serious they are not.
My initial contact with the publishers was brilliant and I can’t speak highly enough of my editor. The publisher got my covers designed by a professional who knew my genre, and the books were beautifully laid out. All good, so far.
I got stuck into the second in the series (of three), finding it a lot easier this time around, due in part to my having gained experience as a writer and in knowing I already had a buyer for the manuscript. The publisher had first right-of-refusal on any novel-length works featuring the same characters, something I’d been thrilled to read in my first contract.
Then the date for my first royalty cheque came, and went. I chased this up and was told, “Oh, I thought we’d updated that in your contact. We only pay every six months now as it was too much hassle paying out every quarter.” Strange, I’d been brought up to believe contracts are binding. Apparently not.
I waited until the date the revised schedule said I should receive my first cheque. And waited. And waited some more. The anticipation was killing me, so you can imagine my chagrin when I got the notification from Pay Pal that I’d received $58 for the first six months of sales. Sure it was American dollars, but I wasn’t living the dream by any means, especially not given the effort I’d put into promoting the single title since it had gone live.
It had to get better with two books, surely? Not a whole lot. Three books. Three books would bring me in a decent chunk of change, wouldn’t they? Still not living the dream. About this time I started to press my publisher into looking at a BookBub promotion as I knew others in my Chick Lit genre had not only made their money back but also gained thousands of dollars in incremental sales. Nope. They weren’t going near that. What about AMS ads? Nope, “we can’t afford that”. The frustration was that I couldn’t promote on Amazon myself as I wasn’t the publisher of the titles, simply the author.
This is when I got a lawyer involved. I was only after the rights to the first in the series back, enabling me to promote it and then the publisher would also benefit from the incremental sales of books two and three. I thought it was a very open-handed offer. Not that I got any response from the publisher, until I chased. And chased. Basically I made my contact at the publisher’s life a living hell with my constant emails, figuring the greater the annoyance factor, the more likely I was to get my way.
Then the publisher did something really odd indeed. They said I could have the eRights to all three books back but that they were holding onto the publishing rights for the paperbacks in order to recover some of the money they’d put into the project. The really odd thing about this is that the royalties generally paid out 95% in favour of eBooks with the paperback sales being negligible on the first in the series and non-existent for books two and three. This isn’t unusual for Chick Lit and Romance. I suspect they thought I was going with another publisher. As if!
Nevertheless, I grabbed the deal with both hands, got my lawyer to check the revised contract (an entertainment lawyer this time around), signed it and within hours my eBooks had been taken down from all platforms. That the paperbacks are still listed as being part of my “Excess Baggage Series”, a title that was never covered in the original contracts, is something I’ve given up asking to be fixed.
That I never received royalties for the last six months my books were with the publisher, I’m also prepared to live with, simply to be shot of them. The hardest thing to deal with was how it affected my writing, with my love of the craft coming close to being killed off.
This whole process has made me very gun-shy when it comes to traditional publishing. In the first month after relaunching my three books, I made more than I had through my traditional publisher in over a year. Not enough to retire to the South of France, but not so little that I feel I’m wasting my time, either. I’ve also been able to experiment with how I promote my books and to get instant feedback as to what is working and what isn’t.
This isn’t to say I’d spurn traditional publishing in the future. However, unless it was one of the big five knocking at my door, I’d be very careful about signing with any publisher. Yes, the publisher I went with was brilliant up front, but hopeless when it came to knowing about tactics like ARC copies, Publishers’ Weekly, Net Galley, street teams, plus a multitude of other marketing streams available to indie authors.
So, be careful what you wish for. If you decide to go with a smaller publishing house, go into any agreement with your eyes wide open. Ask them how they plan on promoting your book after the launch, ask them specifics about their marketing plans. This, as much as a great cover, top notch editing and the story itself, plays a huge part in how well your book will rank and sell.
These days I’m proud to be indie and to be part of the NZ Book Festival. I find it such a buzz to attend on the day and to speak to readers about my books and I always look forward to repeat business. It’s something that happens more often than you’d think.
Andrene is a member of the NZ Book Festival committee and will be exhibiting at the Festival, 17 November 2018 in Auckland