First off, the Daily Deal. I screwed up (as usual) when I said today was going to be a deal for every format. However, it's a great one. For the first time ever ON THIN ICE. http://tinyurl.com/ld2y2k7 is only $.99, for one day only. Remember you can read Kindle books on your computer, iPad, other tablets, and your phone. You may think you don't want to read on your phone but trust me, if you're stuck in an airport it's actually quite easy. It's my only indie-published book, and I love it to pieces!
I've had a relatively pure life for someone who was once a rock and roll nun/hippie child, and kissed only a few frogs before I met my prince. When it comes to publishing I've been a bit of a slut. I've written for Avon, Harlequin, Berkley, Dell, Fawcett, Doubleday, St. Martins, Penguin, Zebra, Pocket Books (twice - 20 years apart), Ballantine, University of Pennsylvania Press, Montlake, and it seems like a thousand others. The only major publishers I've missed are Bantam and Warners/Grand Central.
First off, all these publishers are excellent publishers, who can treat authors beautifully, fulfill their promises, do everything they possibly can for a writer. All of these publishers can be ... er ... not so nice. I'm talking from personal experience, of course, but also from talking to dozens of my friends over the years.
First, there's the flirting. You send in a proposal (or your agent does) and you get a positive response. "Send us more." "Not for us but the writer is promising. We'd like to see something else." "Gothics are dead but if the author would consider writing .... (fill in the blank)." When my mother died a couple of years ago I went through her papers and found a dozen letters from all the major publishers in the late 40's - Scribners, Random House, Little, Brown, etc. She'd had a short story published in Harpers, and they were all soliciting a full-length novel from her. Unfortunately she never did anything with them (mental health issues).
So you flirt and circle each other (and sometimes you do it even when you're seeing/being published by someone else, as long as you're discreet.) But sooner or later it's time for the first date. They make an offer. Often it's like Johnny Depp has appeared and asked if you want to go to France with him, and you collapse on the floor in slobbering gratitude and say yes. If you're older and wiser you make sure he's not asking you to come and be a nanny to his kids, or part of a cleaning staff. You still go (hey, France and Johnny Depp), but you're always hoping you'll be the love of his life.
Problem with publishers is that they have lots of loves of their lives, and they're completely fickle. So let's say you take the offer. You finish the book and they love it, they give you a cover you adore, they take you to dinner at RWA (just you and your editor), you get a decent print run, good reviews, all is lovely. (The entire print run issue is part of the swiftly changing publishing world and not as important when you're not Dan Brown). And this can go on for years, but like every relationship things start to get a little stale. The second book doesn't get quite the push, the editor doesn't return calls as quickly, you end up having lunch with six other authors and your editor at RWA. But you're still married, and one hit away from the adoration that was hinted at.
Ah, but pretty new books come along, and the publisher you thought would love you forever begins to stray, and then come the words - "The books aren't selling - it's you, not me." Ignoring the fact that if you write the book, it's their job to sell it. If the book isn't selling, it's on them, but it's a rare publisher who'll accept the blame.
So you scoop up your dignity and go out into the dating work again. The next one comes up -- he might be Brad Pitt, he might be Bradley Whitford. You may have a group of possibilities, and you have to decide on hotness or stability. You usually make the wrong choice, whichever one it is. But off you go into another relationship, the same dance.
I went through a period of time when I was the Flavor of the Month. I had bidding wars, everyone thought I'd be Miss America or the Queen of Publishing. I've had so many friends who've been in the same situation Some have ended up #1 on the NYT list and others have stopped writing. Some people hit the relationship jackpot. Others just keep kissing frogs.
I have friends who think that traditional publishing is like being in an abusive relationship. No matter how badly they're being treated, the writers hold on because they're afraid they'll never get another offer, the way women stay in bad marriages. I think the comparison is a little facile - you're never in fear of your life or terrified to leave. But you do keep taking abuse, hoping things will change and they'll love you again.
Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don't. I've gotten the brush off so many times I've learned to recognize the levels -- the one with the wire bristles, the one with a brush soft as a feather duster, so you don't even realize you've been dumped.
It sounds wicked, evil, unfair, that the publisher has all the power. Historically that's always been the case, and if you want to be traditionally published it still holds true. I always preferred to have two publishers, one for historicals and one for romantic suspense, so I never had my eggs in one basket. It also made the publishers feel less secure (don't go steady -- play the field).
There's one thing that we writers tend to forget when we get angry with our publishers. They have one goal, and it's not to send joy and great literature out into the world, though they don't mind that side effect. They're a business and they want to make money. The thing we need to remember is the more money they make, the more money we make. And we like money. We like high advances, we like books that sell a million copies, and that's what our publishers are working on. They don't particularly care about the individual -- in fact, a lot of publishers refer to the actual writing as "editorial" or "editorial content" so the actual writer disappears. But all their mean decisions, even their mistakes, are simply that. Mistakes. The more money they make, the more money we make. Period.
I think the danger comes when you add the emotional component, and writers, women writers in particular, tend to be emotional when it comes to their work, their babies. It feels personal when they're rejected or dropped. But it's not.
It's a mistake, of course. They've mishandled or misunderstood your brilliance, but you have to let go of it. And a rotten publisher for you can be a great one for Debbie Macomber. Someone always marries your ex-husband and lives happily ever after.
Indie publishing has changed things in publishing the way reliable birth control (the pill) changed sexual mores in mid-century (plus easy cures for STDs). Suddenly women could make their own choices.
Writers can make their own choices. Publishers don't have to be seen as bullies or enemies. We need to look at them as they look at us: as partners in the business. Not our boss, not the Evil Empire (as I've heard Harlequin referred to). They aren't our husband, our lover, or even our friend. They're a business, and in fact, a tool we can use if we mutually agree on terms.
But we're not abused wives, or victims. We can choose to be the ones who walk away, like Maggie Shayne just did.
It's a brave new world.