What Makes You a “Romance Writer?”

A few weeks ago, RWA (Romance Writers of America) announced that, beginning in 2014, there will no longer be a Rita or Golden Heart category for “Novel with Strong Romantic Elements.” These are books in which there is a romantic arc, but it is not the main focus of the story. Lots of books categorized and sold as women’s fiction tend to fall into this category. Well-known authors who tend to enter in this category include Darynda Jones, Susanna Kearsley, Deanna Raybourn, and, from time to time, Nora Roberts. There was quite a bit of unhappiness about this move among authors who now feel their books, which are certainly romantic and usually have a happy ending, are no longer welcome in the organization.

Then, yesterday, things got even unhappier. RWA issued a clarification to the rules for general membership (i.e., membership with voting rights). To understand the changes, you first have to understand that RWA is unique among writers’ organizations in that it allows authors who are not yet published but who warrant that they actively seeking publication. This means that RWA offers many resources that are exceptionally helpful to authors in the formative stages of their careers, including workshops on craft, the query process, and the entire business of publishing. The result of this is that a fair number of aspiring authors join RWA simply for access to these resources, even though they may not be writing genre romance. Because the writers’ organizations for genres like mystery and science fiction/fantasy don’t allow the unpublished masses to join, RWA has become the de facto option for aspiring authors regardless of genre. There are also a fair number of RWA members who, though they like to write and would not turn down a publishing contract if it fell in their laps, are not really actively seeking a career in publishing. They are hobbyists who joined RWA because it gives them a chance to talk about books with other people who like books and, perhaps to some extent, allows them to rub elbows with big name published authors at conferences or chapter meetings.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with either category of writer wanting to be a member of RWA; RWA, on the other hand, has issued a statement to the effect that these writers, while they are welcome to join as associate members, they should not be permitted to join as general members with voting privileges. To some degree, this seemed merely a clarification of previously established but seldom enforced criteria, since the mission of RWA is to support *romance* writers, not writers of every genre. And perhaps, if this had been the only change to the membership rules, there might have been some grumbling but not a huge uproar.

But in addition to these criteria, RWA added a pretty big whopper. To wit, published authors whose currently published books would not be shelved in romance (i.e., those novels with strong romantic elements that have been excised from the RITAs) are also no longer eligible for RWA general membership. This means many of RWA’s superstar authors (the one who pops easily to mind is Linda Howard, whose books are all shelved in thriller/mystery nowadays, if memory serves) must either rejoin as associate members without voting rights or walk away from the organization altogether. (Or, I suppose there is a third option, which is write and publish something that actually would be shelved in romance, but I don’t know how many would do that just to retain their right to be a voting member of RWA.)


Obviously, I don’t think this is a wise move on RWA’s part. Membership in the organization is already on the decline as people become more and more uncertain of its usefulness. Moreover, as membership has declined, dues have risen, driving even more people out as the recession hit. Why would RWA *choose* to eliminate the members who, arguably, are its most visible spokespeople and ardent supporters? It’s baffling to me, but at the same time, it has made me think a lot about what it means to write “romance.” What qualities define the romance genre and how much does “purity” matter?

I’ve had a lot of conversations over the last few days with folks on Twitter about this. For some, the rules are simple: If a book doesn’t focus on the romantic relationship between its main characters and doesn’t end in a happily ever after (HEA) or happy for now (HFN) for those characters, it’s not a romance. For others, the rules are looser: If the book features a romantic relationship, it’s a romance, no matter how it ends (although most genre romance readers seem to unequivocally hate the UNHAPPY ending to a romance). Still others seems to subscribe to the “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it” rule.

In this era of series like Fifty Shades of Grey (which is classified by some as a romance because the third book ends in an HEA and others as erotica because the first two apparently don’t) and serials like Beth Kery’s Because You’re Mine, it seems it’s becoming harder and harder to draw the line based on the characteristics of any one book. The digital form has made it possible for stories which have an overall arc that’s headed for an HEA/HFN to be chopped up into smaller pieces or, alternatively, packaged as a single, 300,000 word opus. And then there’s the whole question of how much focus must be on the romance to make it a romance.

I don’t have answers. What I have are questions for you. I was planning to use polls for this, but my polling software isn’t cooperating with me, so here are my questions. If you want to answer, I guess you’ll have to do so in the comments. Sorry about that; I know polls are easier.

1. Which of the following meets your definition of a “romance”?

a) The book focuses primarily on a romantic relationship and ends in an HEA/HFN.
b) The book features a romantic relationship (but it is not necessarily the focus of the story) and ends in an HEA/HFN.
c) Each book in a series features a romantic relationship, but only the final book features and HEA/HFN.
d) The book focuses on a romantic relationship and may or may not end in an HEA/HFN.

2. Do authors who write books that fall outside your definition of romance still qualify as “romance writers” to you if their books fall into one or more of the categories listed above?

I’m curious as to what you have to say, so I hope you’ll respond even though I couldn’t make the poll thing work.

The Rise and Fall…and Rise of Erotica

Ever since the meteoric rise of Fifty Shades of Grey began, I’ve been watching the publishing industry’s response with a combination of bemusement and dismay. The dismay comes mostly the form of me shaking my head every time a book is marketed as being “for” readers who loved Fifty (hm, guess it’s not for me, then, huh?) or given a monotone Fifty-lookalike cover. I’m sure, like everything else, both of these unfortunate trends will pass, but in the meantime, I can’t stop myself from heaving a sigh every time it happens. (Yes, I’m sighing a lot these days!)

What bemuses me, however, is the peculiar timing of Fifty‘s rise and the corresponding rush of publishers to embrace “erotica” as the next big thing in fiction. The thing is, we’ve been here before, haven’t we?

Back in the early to mid-2000s, Ellora’s Cave and other epublishers began publishing edgier, sexier books than the big New York publishers were willing to tackle. And those publishing houses became very successful. We could have a lot of discussion about whether erotic romance and erotica took off the way they did because of the discreet digital format, but the bottom line is that the traditional print houses looked at what the small epublishers were doing and decided there must be money in it. A lot of new, erotic imprints were formed, and publishers started snapping up erotic romance manuscripts in droves. Many authors who previously had been rejected by those mainstream publishing houses were picked up and became big name bestsellers–Lora Leigh, Cheyenne McCray, Sarah McCarty, etc.

The growth of erotica in mainstream publishing built to a crescendo that probably crested around the middle of 2008. And then, like most other bubbles, the market burst. Erotic lines were being cut left, right, and center. Aphrodisia (the line that published my novella anthology, Behind the Red Door) cut back from four titles a month to two. Black Lace, a British division of Random House that published erotica for 16 years, closed its doors. Avon eliminated its Red line. And, just a few months before Fifty burst onto the scene, Harlequin shut down its Spice line and rolled the books it had contracted for the line into Mira. In a matter of about a year and half, the traditional print market went from “can’t get enough erotica/erotic romance” to “don’t bother submitting erotica/erotic romance because no one’s buying it.” (Now, of course, that’s an overstatement; New York houses didn’t stop buying erotica/ER altogether, but their appetite for it definitely did wane.)

And then, along came Fifty and suddenly, it seems we’re back where we were in the mid-2000s. Erotic lines are being resurrected (Black Lace is relaunching with reprints of several classic titles, including one by Portia DaCosta). Publishers are actively pushing any book with BDSM elements as Fifty analogues and actively seeking new manuscripts that are “like” it. It’s the gold rush in erotica again, and life is good. Or it will be until the next crash.

And honestly, I think that crash is inevitable. I don’t say that because I’m a pessimist, but because it’s the way of these things. Everyone decides that X kind of book is hot because one exemplar of that genre becomes a huge bestseller. Publishers decide they must acquire mass quantities of X kind of book to meet the obvious demand. Except that demand turns out to be softer than anticipated because, while a lot of people enjoyed that one exemplar of X kind of book, one (or three or five or ten) of X is enough. The market becomes so saturated with X books that none of them has a real chance to gain a foothold. They all begin to look alike and nothing distinguishes one from the other. And then, the publishers cut back their lines and stop acquiring as many X books, and everything goes back to the way it was before.

Bottom line: I don’t think the proportional desire in the book-buying public for any particular genre changes just because one book in that genre breaks out and becomes hugely popular. Yes, I think a small proportion of readers will be “converted” to romance, erotic romance, and/or erotica by Fifty Shades. But in the final analysis, the popularity of Fifty Shades is not a signal that the proportion of readers who will regularly and religiously buy book in any of those genres has changed dramatically. We don’t need more of it to feed the existing appetite. We could, however, do with better.

Agree? Disagree? Discuss!

Major Publishers and the No-Advance Digital Model: Thanks, but No Thanks

It can’t have escaped too many authors’ notice that most of the major publishers are opening digital-first/only romance lines. Harlequin was first out of the gate with Carina Press, but now we have Avon jumping into the game with Avon Impulse and Random House with Loveswept. I’m sure the other major houses can’t be far behind. There’s a lot to be said for the digital first/only publishing model in this age of shrinking shelf space and expanding digital book sales. Why shell out for a print run when orders for print books are declining and you may even take a bath on the book if one of the big boxes (Walmart or Target) decides not to stock it? Better to test the waters in digital first and, if the book does really well, cross the author over into print when you’re more certain of the return on investment. And romance readers have clearly been the early adopters on this front. Digital books and romance readers are a match made in heaven because we like to read a lot of books and we want them yesterday.

But there’s a catch, and it’s a big one, in my opinion. With the exception of Carina, it appears that these new digital lines being created by the major publishers are picking up books and authors for these new lines with no advances and a royalty rate of 25% of net. (The royalty rate sometimes steps up to as much as 50% of net after a certain number of sales, but these sales numbers are usually in the 10,000+ range.)

Now, 25% of net is pretty standard when you sign with a major publishing house, but usually, you’re getting that lower rate in exchange for print exposure AND an advance. The publisher is making a significant upfront investment and taking the lion’s share of the risk in traditional print deals, both because they’re giving the author a guaranteed minimum royalty payment in the form of the advance and investing in the print run and print distribution, not to mention the possibility of returns. From a business perspective, it’s reasonable for an author to take relatively low royalties in exchange for a guarantee that, even if the book tanks, he/she will never receive less in payment than the advance.

When digital publishing first started catching on, one of the things that made the no-advance model work was that, although there was no advance, the royalty rate was much higher. The publisher was taking much less risk by giving no advance, but there was no cost to the author to produce the book and the potential earnings if the book did well were much greater. Even so, back in the day, there was a LOT of skepticism about the no-advance digital model. RWA and many authors looked askance, viewing it as a too-risky proposition because there was absolutely no guarantee that the author would ever earn any money at all. For quite a while, RWA refused to “recognize” digital publishers like Samhain and Ellora’s Cave because there was so much uncertainty associated with earnings.

That uncertainty in digital publishing hasn’t gone away. There’s still no guarantee that a digital book will sell enough copies to earn the author a decent amount of money, even at the higher royalty rates offered by small digital presses. Which is why I’m baffled by the insistence of the major houses on maintaining that 25% of net on royalty rate for these digital-first lines. (Again, I’m not including Carina in this rant, as their rates have always been more on a par with the other digital presses, and from what I understand, they recently raised those rates.)

Let’s see if I have this straight, shall we? You are not going to pay me an advance for my book, so you are not going to guarantee me a minimum payment. In addition, you won’t be investing in a print run or physical distribution for my book, thereby significantly cutting your production costs. But, because you are (Insert Big 6 Publisher Name Here), I should be happy to accept the exact same royalty rate for my books as authors who are getting both of the benefits? Hmmmm, forgive me if I’m not impressed.

And here’s the real kicker–the way I see it, within five years, most romance will be published as digital first. If print is available, it will probably be POD. And this will be true of books put out by the Big 6 publishers. Unless a book is “big enough” to be stocked in Walmart/Target, it’s not going to HAVE a print run. That’s just the reality of what’s happening to the book market. With Borders gone, B&N committed to the Nook+Nookbooks as its primary source of revenue growth, and more and more people getting ereaders/tablets/smart phones, print is fast becoming an inefficient and not even particularly desirable method of delivering book content. If I want a print book now, I have to go to a store and buy it or buy it from an online retailer and have it shipped. If I want a digital book now, I can have it. NOW. (Well, unless it’s only available for pre-order, but details, details.)

So, what I foresee is that publishers will start pushing their current midlist authors into these digital lines in addition to attempting to acquire new authors for these lines. It remains to be seen whether they’ll be successful at keeping authors on, though, if they offer such poor royalty rates and no advance.

All I can say is that, if I were a Big 6 publishing house and I planned to launch a digital line, I’d be thinking about offering either a royalty rate to match the digital small presses or a modest advance. But I wouldn’t count on my big name to convince authors to take it on the chin when they have other options.

Sticking It to the Man

So this is an installment in my ongoing (and sporadic) series on the reasons I’ve chosen to self-publish–and the reasons I haven’t. This one falls into the haven’t category.

So, there’s a certain “I’ll self-publish and show you mean publishers (aka “The Man”) how wrong you are about me/my writing/my book!” mentality out there. I can understand the appeal of it, too. If your book has been rejected over and over again by traditional publishers and you go the self-publishing route and do really well, selling lots of copies and making good money, it’s easy to imagine that the publishers who rejected you are looking at your success and crying bitter tears into their cups. How could they have been so wrong? How could they have missed such an amazing opportunity?

Except, realistically, they’re probably not. In fact, in most cases, they’ve already forgotten about you and your book. I’m not trying to be a buzz-killer here, but honestly, even when editors lose a manuscript they hoped to acquire to another publisher, they don’t spend a whole lot of time bewailing their loss. For every manuscript they buy, there are tens (perhaps hundreds) of others they could have bought instead, and the difference between bought and not often comes down to very small things. If the book a publisher wants to buy is picked up by another house, there are many, many more waiting in the wings, and a lot of them are probably just as good or better than the one they lost. And if yours was one they didn’t even want to buy? Frankly, they’re unlikely to even know you self-published it, let alone spend time watching your Amazon rank go into the stratosphere.

Do some self-published authors do really well and eventually get picked up by New York houses who eventually realize their mistake? Absolutely. But believe me, when they do, it’s because it’s a business decision that makes sense now, not because they regret passing on the author’s books in the past. And if they do regret a past error of judgment, it’s not the main reason they change their minds. Publishers win and lose all the time in this game (hello, publishing houses that passed on Harry Potter and the one that paid $5 million for Audrey Niffenegger’s second book) and compared to those whiffs, missing out on a self-published author who sells a few hundred thousand copies at 99 cents (or even $2.99) apiece is small potatoes.

In short, I don’t view my self-publishing efforts as a way to strike a blow against the oppressors. It’s not Occupy the Big 6. It’s just me doing what I enjoy (writing books) and getting them to readers in the way that makes the most sense to me at this point in time.

Is You Is or Is You Ain’t a Publisher

Before I launch into today’s post, a few quick words. I have been on vacation for almost two weeks. Although I got back early Monday, I’ve been playing catch-up in all aspects of my life (family, household, day job) and thus haven’t had much time for the writerly side. So, hi, here I am, and I’m glad to be back.

Among the things that apparently erupted while I was gone was a brouhaha over whether or not The Knight Agency is establishing a digital publishing arm. (See here for what I think is a comprehensive run-down of the story, albeit from the perspective a one author.) Courtney Milan also posted her thoughts on the question of agents becoming publishers and the potential ethical issues that raises.

I bring these things up not because I’m going to launch into a rant on the reasons I think agents shouldn’t become publishers (I’ve already been there and done that), but because I think it’s important that we define what a publisher actually is. Only when we determine what makes an entity a “publisher” can we decide whether or not any particular agent/agency has actually become one.

Now, maybe you are going to want to argue with my definition, and that’s fine, because I think there are a lot of disagreements over what a publisher is or isn’t (e.g., are “vanity” publishing companies like AuthorHouse “publishers”?), but the bottom line for me when it comes to deciding who “publishes” a book is simple–it’s whoever the retailer/distributor pays first when a copy of the book is sold.

In the case of traditional print publishing, the publishing house is first in line. It then distributes the author’s percentage either to the author (if unagented) or to the agent, who takes his/her 15% off the top and passes the remainder on to the author. The same holds true of digital small presses–they get paid first when copies of the book are sold, then pass the author’s percentage on either through the agent or directly. And when you are self-published, YOU get the money from the retailer/distributor; that’s what makes YOU the publisher.

So, when it comes to whether agents/agencies are publishers or not, the question is–are they first in line? If they are uploading the book to the distributors themselves and in charge of managing the account, and they are the ones who get paid when the distributor cuts the checks/EFT entries each month, then as far as I’m concerned, they are the publisher. It doesn’t matter whether they’re taking a smaller cut of the proceeds than other publishers would. It doesn’t matter that they would have been “before the author” in line if the book had been sold by another publisher. The bottom line is that they have control of the account with and are first in line for payment from the distributor, and that makes them the publisher. But if the author is first in line and pays the agent a cut for services rendered, then the author is the publisher.

I have no idea what The Knight Agency means by “assisted self-publishing.” But if they are not going to be in charge of the accounts and will be paid their cut by the publisher (in this case, also the author), then I have no problems whatsoever with their claims that they aren’t opening a digital publishing arm. Whether or not the services they are offering are worth 15% is entirely up to the authors they contract with to decide.

But if what an agency does when it “assists” an author to self-publish is to open an account with Amazon and the like and upload the books (with full control of pricing, cover art, book formatting, etc.) and then receive payment from Amazon, passing on the author’s percentage after taking its cut, then I say the agency is a publisher and is, in fact, not assisting the author to “self-publish” because in no way, shape, or form does this arrangement resemble the author acting as his or her own publisher.

Agree? Disagree? Tell me about it! (Said in my worst Brooklyn accent.)

Print Runs and Order to Net: A Primer

During a discussion I had on Twitter yesterday regarding the recent uptick in authors being asked by their NY publishers to take a new pen name, often with the intention of masking the author’s previous identity from booksellers, I realized that a lot of people probably don’t understand how print runs are set for books. I know I didn’t really understand the internal workings of this mysterious part of publishing until well after I was published in print myself.

So, here, in broad outlines, is how it works:

When a print publisher offers a contract to an author, they typically want the author to provide a certain number of manuscripts under the same contract. So, for example, an author might be offered a contract for anywhere from 1 to X books (I think 7 is the most I’ve seen announced under a single contract), with the advance for all those manuscripts set under the terms of that contract. In romance, the typical contract seems to be for 2 or 3 books.

When the publisher makes the offer and sets the advance, it does so by ESTIMATING the appeal of these books to booksellers, but it actually has no concrete idea of how many copies of the 1st book will actually be ordered. A publisher NEVER promises in a contract that X number of copies of each book will be printed, and the reason publishers don’t make such promises is that print runs are set based on orders from booksellers. The more the publisher has paid in advance for the book, the more its sales staff will probably do to market the book to booksellers in the hope of increasing the initial number of orders, and certainly the publisher has a target number in mind. Notwithstanding, there’s really no way to know what the print run for an author’s first book will be until the orders are in, which happens about 2 months before publication.

All right, so let’s suppose an author’s first book in a three-book contract has an initial print run of 50,000 books in mass market paperback. That’s a pretty decent print run, so the publisher is probably reasonably happy, provided they didn’t pay six figures per book in the contract.

Let’s suppose a “standard” publication schedule, so the next book in the “series” comes out six months later. When the booksellers go to order the second book, they are no longer looking only at the sales and marketing materials when setting their order numbers. They’re also looking at how many copies of the FIRST book were actually sold. So, if collectively the booksellers only sold 25,000 of the 50,000 copies they ordered of book number 1, the number of orders for book 2 is likely to be…you guessed it, 25,000. This is a practice referred to as “order to net” and you can see how it affects both authors and publishers from this example. If the second book in the series only has a print run of 25,000, it will likely be on fewer shelves and thus have less opportunity to attract readers. In all likelihood, when the third book in the series comes out in another six months, the orders will be even fewer unless the second book literally sells through its entire print run.

Now the publisher is not happy. Especially in mass market paperback, there is a law of diminishing returns, and once the print run drops below 25,000-30,000 copies, it’s tough for the publisher to make back their investment on the book, even if the entire print run sells through.

And this is why, if the publisher likes the author’s books and thinks there’s still a chance for them to sell well, they often ask the author to take a new pen name. Because if the print runs have spiraled downward like this (and they don’t always–some books sell through their entire print runs and even go back to second, third, and even fourth printings, so it’s not a foregone conclusion that order to net will hurt you), the orders for the first book in the next contract will be based on the author’s previous sales. Booksellers run under the assumption that their consumers have “voted” on their willingness to buy a particular author’s books by what they have bought before. By giving the author a different name (and trying to hide the fact that it’s the same author from the bookseller), the publisher hopes to get orders for the first book under the new contract back up to what they were for the first book in the first contract. This, in turn, hopefully gives the author a better chance to succeed the second time around.

Now, there are other ways that publishers try to avoid the problem of “order to net” tanking a new author that they hope will break out big. One is to release the books so close together that booksellers really can’t base orders for the second or third book on the sales of the previous one(s) because the previous ones haven’t been out long enough to establish sufficient data trends. I’m seeing this a lot more lately, and up to a point, it can really help an author to succeed. It can also have its pitfalls, though–if the books fail to take off as the publisher and booksellers expect, there can be a much higher percentage of returns, especially of the later books in the series, which in the end may put the author right back in the position of one who has been tanked by “order to net.”

But if you’ve ever wondered why on earth publishers would want an author to rebrand under a new name, even at the risk of her former fans not finding her books, this is why.

Making Nice in Book Reviews

Once again, the “you shouldn’t say mean things about a book/character in a book because you might hurt the author’s feelings” crowd has come out in full force, this time in response to a Dear Author review of Susan Grant’s latest release, Sureblood. In this particular review, the reviewer said that the heroine “made her want to puke” and was roundly chastised by some commenters for being cruel and unprofessional. (To be fair, she also got a lot of support.)

I don’t think it’s any secret that I’ve always been on the side of reviewers sharing their honest, gut-reaction opinions about the books they read. As a reader, I want to know how a reviewer really felt about the book because it helps me decide whether or not I might like it (and in some cases, if a particular reviewer hates a book, it means I’ll probably love it because our tastes differ that much.) And as an author, I don’t want reviewers to be afraid of giving an honest review for fear of hurting my feelings. I’m a grown-up, I put my work out there for criticism by getting it published, and my craft isn’t going to wither on the vine because one reviewer (or even half a dozen) says my work sucks.

(As an aside, I’d rather have dozens of negative reviews of my book available on the Internet than only a handful of very positive ones. Reviews, whether good or bad, equal exposure, and the more exposure a book gets, the more likely it is that readers will know it exists. Few reviews, even if they are all slavishly adoring, don’t do much to help a book get “traction.” The negative reviews might not make me feel as good as the positive ones, but they’re likely to do a lot more for my book’s visibility.)

But all of that said, what I find most fascinating about this debate is that there does seem to be a core thread of belief out there about not going “too hard” on books in reviews that doesn’t seem to exist anywhere else in the entertainment world. I’ve never seen a movie/television reviewer taken to task for writing a searingly negative review. And believe me, I’ve read/heard plenty of really painfully negative reviews of films and TV shows, either on the grounds of the writing or the acting or both. So why isn’t anyone worried about the egos of the poor scriptwriter(s), actors, directors, producers, camerapeople, etc.?

I suppose there may be some fans of actors who DO defend their idols with great vigor, but as far as I know, screenwriters NEVER get the kind of “defense by the minions” that authors of books seem to, and in large part, it’s the SAME job. Yes, a screenwriter’s vision goes through many more people to finally reach its audience than a novelist’s does, but by and large, it’s still about writing, about plotting, about characterization. And as for the directors, producers, and so on…NO ONE seems to worry a bit that their feelings might be hurt by a bad review.

This baffles me. I get that, when approaching a novel, it’s easy to feel a very personal connection to the author who wrote it, and that this doesn’t necessarily translate to other entertainment media (TV, movies, plays, music). But by the same token, I can’t understand how anyone believes that screenwriters, directors, actors, musicians, etc. are any less emotionally invested in their work and therefore any less subject to “ego-crushing” than authors.

I’m interested in any thoughts you have on this. Am I wrong? ARE there people out there jumping to the defense of their favorite screenwriters/directors/musicians? Or is this really something that’s pretty much unique to books, particularly fiction?

Told You So: Why Digital Royalty Rates Matter More Than Ever

A little over a year ago, I wrote a post on Digital Rights for the New Millenium, in which I urged authors (especially the bestselling ones with clout) to push their New York publishers for a bigger cut of digital royalties. I said it was important to establish a higher threshhold on these royalty rates or we’d all live to regret it.

I hate to say I told you so*, but with today’s announcement that Dorchester Publishing is converting to an ebook first followed by trade POD structure beginning in next month, I have to say I think I’m looking kind of prescient. How many authors out there have contracts with Dorchester specifying very low digital royalty rates (<25%)? I'm betting a TON. Whether they are authors who have only backlists with Dorchester or new books coming out with them, these folks are in a lot of trouble financially unless they can get Dorchester to renegotiate their royalty rates. The Dorchester situation should be a wake-up call to authors. We've known for a while that Dorchester was having financial problems--they sold a lot of their backlist authors to HarperCollins and were recently banned from holding editor appointments or a publisher spotlight at the RWA National Conference due to non-payment/late payment of royalties. But I don't think it's remotely safe to assume that Dorchester will be the last of the "traditional publishers" to go this route. In fact, I'd lay odds that other publishers will follow suit and that, within the next ten years (if not sooner), the vast majority of publishers will be using this model for all but their bestselling authors/books. So, I'll say it again. Digital royalty rates matter. A lot. Even if the majority of your sales TODAY are in print, the same may not be the case tomorrow. And your publisher might, at the drop of a hat, decide to go the way of Dorchester and begin releasing your books in digital only followed by a POD months later. Do you really want to be in the position of taking 15% or 20% of net in this situation? I sure as heck don't.

*Okay, actually, that’s a lie. I LOVE to say I told you so.

The 7 Stages of Grief as Applied to Rejection

In honor of all authors who’ve recently experienced a series of rejections, whether from agents or editors, I offer the following somewhat tongue-in-cheek (and somewhat NOT) overview of the process of moving on.

The Seven Stages of Grief


    You read the rejection letter for the third time. Then a fourth. And it really IS a rejection, not an offer disguised as one. You double-check the envelope. Maybe it was meant for Mrs. Hinklemeyer, who lives next door. Granted, it’s unlikely she also wrote a romance novel titled LOVE IN THE TIME OF DYSENTERY, but then, they do say there’s no such thing as an original idea. But no, the envelope is definitely addressed to you. But still, there must be some mistake. This just can’t be right.


    After the shock wears off, you feel like crap. Plus, you get five paper cuts from reading and rereading that damn rejection letter. You start to second guess yourself. Maybe you shouldn’t have killed your hero off on page 5 of the manuscript (but hey, you did resurrect him on page 15!). Maybe you shouldn’t have used the word “turgid” quite so many times. And trying to write a historical paranormal comedic thriller horror mystery romance might not have been the best idea, but damn it, it seemed like the right thing to do at the time!


    What do these publishing professionals know anyway? They wouldn’t know a good book if someone hit them upside the head with it. They’re all a bunch of risk-averse weenies who wouldn’t buy the Bible if God submitted it for publication. But hey, what if you sent chocolates with your submission? Or maybe if you promise you’ll give up chocolate…


    Aw hell, they’re right. Your book sucks used tea bags. You’re a complete loser who couldn’t even write the phone book. You lose all hope and motivation. Writing is a waste of time, effort, and emotion. You feel like a whiny crybaby and refuse to log into any of the social networking sites or your email for fear someone will ask you how you are. Or worse, announce they’ve just sold in a ten-book deal for seven figures.


    Just when you think you’ll never write again, you get a glimmer of an idea. Something so good, you can’t NOT write it.


    You slowly put the pieces back together. You start writing because you have to. With some help from your friends and critique partners, you realize that there are a lot of reasons your previous manuscript was rejected, and none of them are that it was actually bad. Plus, the only way to be sure you’ll never sell a book is to quit. And that’s just not an option.


    You put your much-rejected manuscript in the Magical Mulch Pile* under the bed. The publishing world just isn’t ready for it yet. But wait until they get a load of your new project, a historical paranormal comedic thriller horror mystery young adult romance. Working title: LOVE IN THE TIME OF ACNE. Yeah, this time, you’ve got it nailed!

*Magical Mulch Pile is an UNregistered trademark of Erica Ridley, my friend and author extraordinaire of Too Wicked to Kiss.

Announcing…(wait for it)…a Sale!

You know the old saying: “Good things come to those who wait.” I think a writer must have dreamed that one up, because it often seems to me no one waits more than writers. Every writer I know is in a perpetual state of waiting, whether it’s waiting for an agent to make an offer of representation, waiting for editors to make offers for publications, waiting for the book to come out, waiting for the sales numbers to come in, and then doing all of it (hopefully less the agent step) all over again. Who knew waiting could be so exhausting?

It’s mildly ironic then that, after what felt like eons of waiting, my latest sale call came a mere ten days after submission. When I picked up the phone and my lovely agent, Kevan Lyon, announced herself, the last thing I was expecting to hear was that the short story we’d submitted to Harlequin Spice Briefs less than two weeks before had received an offer for publication. (Oddly, it also didn’t occur to me that she was calling to tell me we’d had an offer on a proposal we’ve had out for much longer from one of the two houses we hadn’t yet heard from.)

And so, I’m thrilled to announce that Grace Under Fire, will be released in April 2011. Another story, Taking Liberties. will follow.

Here’s the blurb for Grace Under Fire followed by a brief excerpt from the opening pages.

Lady Grace Hannington is the most inaptly named debutante in all of London. Cursed with two left feet, hands that are nothing but thumbs, and a stutter, she’s certain to spend the next five years on the wall and the rest of her life on the shelf. Or so she believes, until her clumsiness pitches her literally into the arms of Lord Colin Fitzgerald and his best friend, Atticus Stilwell.

Colin and Atticus have been inseparable since a shared boyhood tragedy brought them together more than twenty years ago. Though it raises eyebrows, they share everything…including women. This particular quirk has made it all but impossible for Colin, whose title and lands will revert to the crown if he doesn’t have a legitimate heir, to find a respectable lady who’s willing to be his wife.

When a stroke of good fortune—and little intervention from a well-placed foot—gives the two men a golden opportunity to show the lovely and lonely Lady Grace she’s not quite so gauche as she believes, they play it (and her) for all they’re worth. But once she’s discovered her true talents lie not on the dance floor but in the bedroom, Grace must decide whether a scandalous marriage that’s sure to ruin her reputation is what she really wants.


It was a truth universally acknowledged that Lady Grace Hannington was the most inaptly named young lady in all of England, if not all Christendom. Within two months of her debut, she had ruined at least a dozen gowns—none her own—and half as many cravats by spilling tea, wine, or some sort of sauce upon them, trod heavily upon many a gentleman’s slippered toe, and broken the nose of one unfortunate chap with a misplaced elbow during a reel. That list of missteps did not encompass the full measure of the lady’s sheer gracelessness, however, for she was forever nursing some sort of self-inflicted injury, ranging from a sprained wrist and a stubbed toe to this evening’s glorious and ill-concealed black eye.

Atticus Stilwell wondered from his vantage on the opposite side of the crowded ballroom how she had come by that shiner. Not that it mattered. With or without the swollen, bluish-purple tinge beneath her eye, she was by far the loveliest woman in the room. Oh, perhaps not in the classic sense of a delicate English rose, but then, she stood a head taller than any other lady in the room—and fully half the men—and her hair was an entirely too flamboyant shade of red for traditional beauty.

In fact, everything about her was lush and flamboyant, from the blazing color of her unruly curls to the ripe red of her too-wide lips to the plump mounds of her generous tits. Though he could only guess at what lay beneath the loose folds of her high-waisted gown, he imagined a slender waist curving into broad but perfectly proportioned hips and from there into shapely legs that would go on forever. Though she was consigned by her ungainliness on the dance floor—and nearly everywhere else—to the role of a perpetual wallflower at Society events, Atticus saw the woman she could blossom into if only she were freed from the expectations of fashion and propriety.

A woman who was more than enough for not one man, but two.