Friday, February 25, 2022

You're not going to screw yourself...

Note: This post was originally written in 2017.

A couple months ago, my mom bumped into a family friend she hadn't seen in a while. The friend asked, "What's Giselle up to these days?"

My mom proudly replied, "Giselle is a self-published author!"

When she told my sister and I this story, we burst out laughing.

My mom said, "What? Self-published--isn't that the good one?"

Classic Mom. My work has been published by imprints of Simon and Schuster, HarperCollins and even Oxford University Press, yet my mother goes around gleefully telling the world I'm a self-published author. "Isn't that the good one?"

Self-publishing has generally been more lucrative for me than placing my work with small presses. That's what my mom had latched onto, in conversation. My sister and I tried to explain the snobbery that still exists in the worlds of reading, writing, and publishing. If you go around saying you're a self-published author, most people hear "I suck and nobody's willing to publish my work."

I won't speculate as to whether I suck (my opinion of my writing varies with mood), but over the past 10 years my work has appeared in well over 100 print anthologies. That's in addition to ebooks placed at far too many small presses. I don't say any of this to brag, only to convey that I know for sure there are people out there who are willing to publish my work.

Or, there used to be.

So much has changed since I first started writing. Just today, I got word another anthology my short fiction was accepted for has been scrapped by the published. That's FIVE cancelled contracts this year.

As I've probably mentioned, I never set out to be a writer. I started writing on a dare. I'd just been laid off from my job in the big bad business world and was having a bit of a quarter-life crisis. I felt like I needed to pick a career and stick with it.

Ten years ago, I couldn't see this far into the future. I'd never have imagined I would self-publish my work. The erotica world seemed dominated by websites, magazines, smallish presses and largish presses. I wrote short stories to answer calls for submission. I'd never read an ebook, but I started writing them for small publishers. I'm not saying everything I wrote just magically got published. Trust me--I saw my share of rejection letters. My book Ondine was probably rejected by 6 different publishers. But it needed to be. I got great advice from some very caring editors and improved the book incrementally.

I'd only been writing a few years when author acquaintances started opening their own publishing houses catering to niche markets. I liked the idea of getting in on the ground floor (worked well for me with eXcessica), and I also wanted to support fellow authors who were beginning their own ventures. So I submitted a few works here, a few works there.

Pretty soon, I had ebooks (short stories/novels/novellas) placed with... oh, easily 20 different publishers.

That wasn't my first mistake, but it was probably my biggest.

I've never been an all-your-eggs-in-one-basket type, but Marge Simpson's got a good point when she says, "What would you have me do? One basket for each egg?"

There comes a point where the baskets themselves become too much to carry. In writing terms, how do you keep sending new work to 20 different publishers? If you slack, you're not going to satisfy fans at that publishing house. Putting out new stuff gets eyes on your backlist. Without those eyes, sales stagnate.

There was a point where I had a bunch of royalty cheques coming in for less than $10 each. And then less than $2 each. If I'd consolidated all those efforts with one publisher I really trusted, I think I'd have fared much better.

The trouble is, with the exception of a small handful of publishers, I wasn't working with people I had a lot of faith in. That's dangerous. Some publishers seemed to take their jobs less seriously than I took mine. That's extremely dangerous. That's when you get into publishers who don't bother to send you royalty reports. Or payments. Because they just don't feel like it or whatever.

One thing I've learned over the years is that you don't need to be good at business to run a business. Just because you've decided to become a publisher doesn't mean you're going to behave professionally. I've witnessed more than one publisher treat authors like shit behind the scenes. I had a reader email me one time to say they were having trouble downloading a book and when they wrote to the publisher, the response was basically, "Are you some kind of idiot? You're too stupid to figure out how to download a book?"

You think I'm exaggerating. I wish!

The real kicker was that this particular reader was also a well-respected book reviewer. Save me, Jebus.

When I first started out, I found publishers on the Erotica Readers and Writers Association website and then looked them up on Piers Anthony's site to find out all the dirt. Of course, I couldn't research the startups I hooked up with. They were too new. No data available.

I strongly encourage authors to do their research. Find out who you're getting into bed with. If you trust no one, get into bed with alone. Like Alison Tyler says: "You're not going to screw yourself." (that's not an exact quote, btw)

Wow, I sound really down on publishers. I'm not. I've found great success and incredible support with some. But not all. Most of the publishers I've worked with haven't been jerks. They've done their best, just like I've done mine, but the money wasn't there. Sales were crappy, so we parted ways. That's business.

I'm not sure what the takeaway is, here. Do your homework? Don't get into bed with acquaintances? Don't spread yourself too thin? I don't know. I still make too many mistakes to be giving anyone advice.

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