Dipping My Toes Into New Waters

2815306040_bb5605976c_z I’ll be blunt here and say that I used to have little faith in self-publishing and small press publishing. There seemed to be so many terribly edited self-pubbed books out there, and I also used to believe that a good writer could find herself a major publisher. I mean, it only made sense. How many bad (really bad) writers have I had the pleasure of reviewing over the years, all of them with larger publishers? Yet recent events have shaken my faith in that fact. Connie Brockway, a favorite among AAR readers, had considered self-publishing before serving as the launch author for Amazon’s Montlake division. It took Diana Miller six years to find a publisher (again Montlake) for her 2006 Golden Heart Award Winning manuscript Dangerous Affairs. I couldn’t help but emphasize the word winner in that sentence. It seemed so ridiculous that a winner for excellence in an unpublished manuscript would then be unable to find said manuscript a publisher.

I wonder, perhaps, if this doesn’t have something to do with the type of books disappearing from the market. Lynn discussed the narrowing historical romance market in her May blog. Numerous posts have been made on the Mystery and Suspense Books Discussion thread on the Let’s Talk Romance Novels forum message board regarding the lack of romantic suspense books. While the market seems flooded with paranormals and small town contemporary series, there seems to be a near drought in other sub-genres of romance.

To me this has resulted in good authors being forced to find new ways to reach readers. It has also resulted in a change in the way I read and purchase. I had always checked publisher when I bought on the internet. Years ago, I had been convinced the surest way of getting a high quality book was with sticking with a publishing house large enough to hire good editors. But with the shakeup in the industry resulting in fewer books I liked being published, my mind opened up. It began, oddly enough, with a sub-genre I typically don’t read- historical romance. Readers were so complimentary of Susanna Fraser’s The Sergeant’s Lady that I couldn’t help but purchase the inexpensive e-book and find out what all the fuss was about. The book was terrific – funny, poignant, heartfelt – it was exactly what I had found lacking in many of my other historical reads from the major print lines. I couldn’t believe that major print publishers hadn’t snapped this manuscript up. It didn’t quite force me to start combing the Amazon site for indie books but it certainly showed me that large publishers by no means have a monopoly on quality romance.

Then Melinda Leigh began to advertise on All About Romance. I was intrigued enough by the advertisement and the review Jane wrote of She Can Tell that I purchased several of her books. Some of them have worked better for me than others but I liked them enough that I began a glom of Montlake authors such as Kendra Elliot, who wrote Hidden and two other novels for her Bone Secrets series and the aforementioned Diana Miller’s Dangerous Affairs. It has also led me to Dangerous Waters by Toni Anderson. The opening pages of this novel, which involved finding a murder victim while on an underwater dive, had me on the edge of my seat. What sets this novel apart even more is that it involves a Canadian Mountie, a pleasant change from the usual FBI and American detectives that we normally encounter in romantic suspense.

While I have loved the luck I have had with Montlake, my biggest lucky surprise came from the self-published novel I read this weekend by author Lisa Clark O’Neill. Forbidden is the second book in her Southern Comfort series but you don’t have to read book one to thoroughly enjoy this novel. I fell instantly in love with the characters and mystery plot of this book. Special Agent Clay Copeland has always been devoted to his job. A psychologist who has put his learning to practical use as a behavioral specialist with the FBI’s Investigative Support Unit, he spends his days helping law enforcement agencies around the country deal with their most challenging cases. Clay isn’t just good at what he does, he loves it. While the details of his business may be dark and rather gruesome – not to add downright disturbing – he has always maintained a cheerful, rather sunny disposition. But when a stint as a hostage negotiator goes dreadfully wrong, Clay finds himself questioning his ability to do his job. Figuring a vacation to somewhere warm and sunny is just what he needs he joins his friend Justin in Isle of Palms, South Carolina. If beautiful beaches and bikini clad babes can’t cure his blues, nothing will.

Tate Hennessey is a hard working single mom hoping to give her son a fun afternoon at the beach. When a hot, built blonde offers to help her with putting sun tan lotion on her bare back she is enchanted with his persistent, funny pursuit. She is also not in a position to be anyone’s vacation fling and firmly sets the flirt back in his place. When the two encounter each other again, sparks fly hot and heavy between them. Should Tate see this second encounter as a second chance? Or should she brush it off as coincidence and proceed with her regularly scheduled life?

I loved nearly everything about this novel. The way the author has her characters think through their possible relationship in the same manner real life adults would be forced to do, the fact that the early chapters focused on the couple and only slowly added the mystery, and most especially the way the HEA didn’t come with ease but involved some sacrifice on both characters’ parts. Why, I couldn’t help wondering as I set my Kindle down, was this author not with a major publisher? In the end, for me as a reader it didn’t make a difference. I still got an excellent read and happily went back to Amazon to purchase the next book in the series. Maybe it will let me down. But at the price Amazon is charging it won’t be near the letdown some major publishers have dealt me in recent years.

It has been a surprise to me how publishing has changed in the last decade. Sometimes I find myself longing for the old days when it was easier to keep up with everything being released. And yet there are many great things about the industry right this minute, including the fact that books bucking the trend are easily obtainable when you use alternate reading methods such as self-published books or smaller, indie presses. How about you – have you found yourself trying smaller publishers and self-published books in recent years? Or are the big publishers still producing all you need?

– Maggie Boyd

19 thoughts on “Dipping My Toes Into New Waters

  1. I’ve been surprised too at the trend of GH finalists being unable to place their manuscripts the last few years. I went the small press route because other avenues were closed to me. Some days it still feels like settling, but I’m happy to hear that perspectives on smaller presses are shifting…

    • I think you will notice an increasing interest in small press in coming years. I just feel that NY Publisher are so into trends right now they are killing their own business. Just my .02 but then again I am the person who refuses to read the 50 Shades knock offs :-) The advantage to small press for me is getting the books I want to read.

  2. I definitely try the smaller publishers when I find inexpensive ebooks that are mentioned on the AAR boards. And I will definitely be checking out the books you mentioned above.

  3. I probably don’t read as many indie publications as you do Maggie, but I have had some good luck with several authors. I enjoyed Catherine Bybee’s books published by Montlake, and Lauren Baratz-Logsted’s Bromantic books.

    I am sure there are others too. I think that e-books have changed the type of books we buy. And it is nice to have more options.

  4. I recently signed with a Big Six (or is it five?) publisher. I am also a past Golden Heart finalist. Perhaps it might be interesting for readers to find out a bit about the publishing industry; here’s what I know. Nobody is selling romantic suspense to New York. Even paranormal and YA sales have slowed. Contemporaries are finally selling, hence my deal. I predict a glut of New Adult books over the next year and a half. The agents seeking submissions on Twitter this morning are looking for them.

    There are still two GH winners in my “class” that haven’t sold. The GH is no longer a predictor of quick sales.

    One of my CP’s went with a small press. We tried to talk her out of it at the time. She’s out-earning both of us.

    • Thanks for the info! I wish NY would keep an open mind and not just chase after the latest trend. A good book sets trends – or so the people who rejected the Harry Potter books have learned :-)

      • Maggie, they don’t want to take chances. They want the slam dunk. This is why they missed the boat on numerous out-of-the-box indie publishing sensations. One of the good things about the current climate is that publishers are scrambling to fulfill demand due to e-publishing and the sheer amount of books romance readers go through in a month. Authors that had spent years querying to find an agent or sign a deal are getting those deals. I’m hoping my GH sisters will take advantage of this.

        The latest trends frustrate us, too, believe it or not. Most authors are also voracious readers.

  5. I’m writing a historical romance right now and plan to self-publish it. Let the readers themselves decide if it’s any good – I’m not going to wait for years to have some agent or publisher take pity on my poor book; life’s too short.

  6. I agree with all the comments above, particularly Rainytown. Thanks for the post Maggie Boyd.
    I have two books. One with an e-publisher, one self-pubbed.
    I gave up trying to find an agent. I don’t know where agents sit in the ‘indie’ book discussion you have here. Sometimes I think agents are even more inclined to conservatism than the publishers. In the end, it was by going to publishers direct with my first manuscript that I had more success.
    There are many indie-pubbed books who invest in professional editors. I think that is and will be the key. Self-pubbed books riddled with errors don’t help anyone.
    That said – at the end of the day – you have to write a good book!

  7. I agree with pretty much everything that both Maggie and Rainytown have said. Though frankly I have to say that the big publishing houses have practically sent me over the edge sometimes with the way they buy books and the way they publish them. It just about killed me when I read comments from some of my favorite romantic suspense authors, who used to be published by big houses, tell me that their editors told them not to even bother submitting their next manuscript because they couldn’t buy it if they wanted to. Publishers act as if “ebooks” are a new trend – well I’m here to say not a new trend – I bought my first kindle over 4 years ago and I was slow to the coming on the technology bandwagon. Before that – I read on my laptop. I believe as technology advances that the “market” must too and traditional publishers have a long way to go in progressive thinking – what worked for them in the past won’t work now and the next thing they need to worry about is pricing themselves out of the market in regards to ebook pricing – I know I’m dropping purchases of some authors who were autobuy for me because the production quality is bad from the traditional publisher and then they have the unmitigated gall to raise the price by changing the author’s books from mass market to hardcover. I’m not naming names but I’ll never buy that author again so in the long run – the publisher ended up hurting not only themselves but the author too

  8. I’ve been reading a lot of indie published ebooks of late. The traditional publishers aren’t meeting my reading needs so I’m buying less from them.
    What really catches my attention about indie or self published ebooks after the plot is the price. If a book is 99cents and over 200 pages I will buy it.

  9. Thank you for the nice words about Montlake! It’s been a dream publisher for me. I was a GH finalist with HIDDEN and it took a year to sell the book. ML has been nothing but supportive with romantic suspense. The editors love the genre and many of my readers can’t get enough romantic suspense.

    • Kendra,

      Really loved your Bone Secrets series! I am looking forward to Alone. Can’t believe it won’t be out till Jan 2014 ;-(

  10. Thank you for highlighting self-published books and ones by Montlake!

    Winning the Golden Heart has never been a predictor of sales, although it definitely gives an author a shot. I won the GH in 2001 with my sweet historical Western, Wild Montana Sky. Everyone told me a sale was just around the corner. I had two agents try to sell it to NY, but it was “sweet” when the market had swung to sexy, and historical, which at the time was starting to tank. Fast forward ten years, and I self-publish the book and the next in the series. A year later, the book became a USA Today Bestselling book. Montlake picked up the “big” books in My Montana Sky Series and I continue to self-publish novellas and short stories in the series. The best of both worlds!

  11. I read science fiction romance almost exclusively from small press/digital-first publishers and indie authors. If I relied on Big Six publishers for this genre I’d be twiddling my thumbs nonstop. I’m thrilled about the shift to digital because SFR has really thrived there. Editing-wise, I’ve been very impressed with the quality.

  12. Maggie, I cannot thank you enough for your kind recommendation of FORBIDDEN. I spent three years attempting to go the traditional publishing route, and despite the best efforts of my agent, we were told again and again that romantic suspense was no longer hot, that readers wanted paranormal and small town contemporaries, and that suspense and humor never ever worked together because readers just wouldn’t “get it.” I tried making some changes to appease the industry gatekeepers, but it just wasn’t me or my voice. because so many of *my* favorite authors successfully combined romance, suspense and humor, I took the only option that was left to me and decided to publish my series myself. It is tremendously gratifying to see my sales continue to rise, and to be vindicated by readers such as yourself, who quite obviously “get” what the traditional publishers failed to see. Thank you.

  13. It seems like we’re stuck with overly strict/hidebound gatekeeping on one end, and none at all on the other. Both situations make it hard to find good books. But there are real gems in small press and indie books, if you learn what to look for.

  14. I’ve been working in the industry for twenty years now, and to catalog the changes would require a bulky tome in itself. We are not living in the golden age of the large mainstream publisher. Read the trades to find out what companies are merging with other companies, what companies have gone under, and what companies just aren’t willing to take a chance on new blood. Hey, I get it–traditional publishing has become an almost prohibitively expensive business. Whatever anyone might think, professional writing is a business first.

    And into this growing void the independent publisher rises…

    In fact, my colleagues and I are launching our own independent press. But as I mentioned before, we have practical experience in publishing–editing, layout, marketing, the whole mess. From this somewhat mechanical point of view, your homespun devoted author who has put his/her heart into a book probably doesn’t have the publishing experience to produce a quality product. There are plenty of opportunists out there willing to lend a hand in this department–I just saw someone offering to “edit” a manuscript with a 10% off new customer offer. For the record, we’re not going to sell our abilities and we’re not going to prey upon writers. But we are witnessing a whole new normal in publishing, and the new normal is going to need new standards.

    Thanks to my trusty Kindle, I’m reading more independently published books than ever. The wonderful thing is that for the most part these are good reads. These are also books that never would have seen the light of day in traditional publishing.

    Don’t get me wrong. There’s still a part of me that misses the old days. That’s the part of me that loves the feel of a good book in my hand, the part that misses physical bookstores (there are none in my area), the part that enjoyed the challenge of the query letter. My whole career began with a finger-powered typewriter, something I never forget.

    To my mind, we need to find a compromise. We can’t completely cast off the traditional in favor of the new. It’s a continuum of the written word and the art of wordsmithing–Gutenberg to Kindle and beyond. It’s exciting, but we can’t forget standards.

    Of course, I reserve the right to be wrong!

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