(You get two Wild West Thursday posts this week, because I’m thinking out loud – or at least, thinking with my fingers on the keyboard. Here we go.)
One of the really nifty things about indie publishing is that we authors can give stories a second chance.
In traditional publishing, the vast majority of books get one kick at the can. A book gets one cover, one publication date, and one edition. It’s assumed that most of the sales for that book will be made in the first 14 days that it’s available. This is what I call the blockbuster model of bookselling. It can work really well for books from very well-established and famous authors, or books that are anxiously awaited by the reading public, because of promotion, popularity, movie tie-ins or whatever. Under this model, the house cultivates pre-orders of the book, so the first day it’s available sees a huge spike in sales. That spike propels the book onto bestseller lists in an ideal world, which do self-perpetuate to a certain extent.
It’s a model that works less well for books with more modest sales projects – that would be the vast majority of books that are published even by traditional publishers. This focus on the “next new thing” is why physical books are stripped and culled from bricks and mortar bookstores after four weeks or even two – room must be made for the new books coming out.
So, if a book has a cover that doesn’t really portray its contents accurately, or if the cover looks too much like another book recently released, or if something happens to distract book buyers from shopping for that book (or any book) in that two week period immediately after the launch (disasters and wars tend to interrupt shopping patterns. Go figure.), the book has had its shot and that’s that. Traditional publishing moves on to the next title.
Authors, as you might imagine, would often like to give their books another shot at finding their audience – particularly if it seems that the book has been shortchanged of its shot at fame. Indie publishing is providing that opportunity to us, both for new books published independently (the cover or copy can be changed out if they aren’t working, for example) and for backlist titles that never really had a chance to shine. In my case, one very sweet surprise has been the success of my republished Coxwell Series.
As much as I love these books, the odds were stacked against them in their initial foray into the marketplace. The market was very tough and had just shrunk by at least 40% overall. Also, they were perceived to be chick-lit but not. The mix of humor and emotion (which I didn’t think was that special, but evidently is) meant that the house didn’t know how to package them. They initially bought the first two books, which had dreamy covers on the mass market editions. Those books “didn’t perform” as the saying goes, and I think it was because the package didn’t send any kind of clear message. They could have been children’s books.
When those two books were repackaged in trade paperback some years later, the house decided that cartoony covers were the best way to portray the humor in the books. This seemed reasonable but these books also have serious tones. Portraying them as outright comedy struck me as misleading the reader. We had many discussions, but there were no other better ideas, so cartoon it was. The artist was a very popular one at the time and the covers were pretty. The house was sufficiently encouraged by the sales for THIRD TIME LUCKY in its new edition that they bought the other two books in the series.
And this is when it got tricky again. I’d initially expected ONE MORE TIME to be a more humorous book than it ultimately was, but it dug deeper and demanded more. I love that book and my editor did, too. The problem was that we talked about the cover and the art was commissioned before I even started to write the book. So, there we were 180 days to the on sale date when she sent me the final cover art. It was a lovely cartoony cover that made this book – of all books! – look like the story inside was a laugh a minute. Uh, no. I expressed concern and my editor agreed with me. Then she said “and chick-lit is totally over, along with the cartoony covers. They’re just not performing at all.” I thought that we’d then talk about a new cover, but she told me the budget was spent and the book would go out with this one. (You can see the original trade paperback cover on the excerpt page for OMT on my site.)
I was shocked. Six months before the book even went on sale, and the house was washing their hands of it. This was one of the very lowest points in my relationships with traditional publishers. It didn’t really surprise anyone that the book “didn’t perform”. The ripple from that condemned ALL OR NOTHING to indifferent publication – there is an old saying that if you aren’t published with enthusiasm, it’s better to not be published at all. I lived the truth of that! In traditional publishing, sales numbers for past titles determine the possibilities for future titles. I had another book in the work at the time, one that I’d been thinking would be my option book, but the house didn’t want to see anything more from me. Claire Cross was done and so was my writing contemporary romances. I could have started over with another author brand, but I was too discouraged, and many editors believed that my mix of humor and emotion just wasn’t commercial.
And yet – and yet! – the republished editions of the Coxwell Series are selling very well. Of them all, ONE MORE TIME is selling the best, which pleases me so much. I love the covers that Kim Killion did for the series, as it seems to me that they communicate the blend and genre well. It’s so exciting to see the good reviews!
This has also encouraged me to dig out the book manuscript that no one would even look at and have a good look at it. It’s a story about two women friends, who seem to be opposites but have a tremendous bond. They drift apart but are drawn together in crisis, probably because they understand each other better than anyone else. There’s an honesty between them that they don’t share with anyone else in their respective lives – yet, they both have secrets from each other. I still really like this story. It still makes me laugh and the ending still makes me cry. Right now, it’s more of a women’s fiction book with romantic elements, but I might switch that up to focus on one protagonist over the other. The working title is THE GINGERBREAD HOUSE and once I get through this winter’s heavy writing schedule, I’m going to dig in and see what I can make of it.
Isn’t it wonderful how indie-pubbing can give writers the opportunity to tell the stories we most want to tell? I’m so excited about this!