Friday, February 24, 2012

Misadventures in Book Publishing, Part 2

by Laurel Corona

The only way I manage not to bungle my life is to do as much as I can in advance, so I was already well into my blog post for this week before reading Caitlin Rother’s entry about the dismal experience she is having with Dorchester and the rerelease of her novel NAKED ADDICTION. It would be nice to have something sunny and upbeat to contrast with that, but that’s not what I was writing. Rather than force my thoughts to go somewhere else, I decided to call this “Misadventures in Book Publishing, Part 2.”

Back in the days when i was writing my first novel, I knew it would take a huge amount of luck to find an agent interested in representing me, and that s/he would have an uphill battle finding someone willing to put money behind an unknown like me. But, I reasoned, if I could survive all that, I would be in great shape. I’d be a known quantity, and one contract would follow another as long as my work remained good.

How utterly naive I was! The only thing that worked out according to my mental model was the good fortune I had in landing an agent. The first one I queried about THE FOUR SEASONS took me on as a client, and got an offer beyond my expectations quickly thereafter. Then she asked a question I have learned is common: “So, do you have anything else on the shelf?”

“Well,” I told her, “I have this nonfiction work, UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH, which has made the rounds just about everywhere with no luck.” “Send it along,” she said. Amazingly, within a few months she had sold that as well.

Wow! I was on the way to fame and glory, and was already assessing my wardrobe’s readiness for life on the road as a touring author.

Shall I say that what followed was a tad less than anticipated? THE FOUR SEASONS and UNTIL OUR LAST BREATH were critical successes and won several significant awards, but most of my “tour” was to local book clubs and workshops at writing conferences, interspersed with larger events such as speeches at fundraisers. I’m not complaining though. The more local events I did, the more realistic I got about how difficult and exhausting it would be to add travel to the load. Would I do it if I had a best seller? Sure? Am I glad I am not in a hotel room right now waiting for yet another crowd of strange faces? Decidedly yes.

I am very comfortable now with where my writing has taken me. It has introduced me to people and causes I would never have been involved with; has been the source of almost all my new, dear friendships; and has stroked my ego in some very pleasant ways. So don’t take what follows as moaning and groaning--I have been extraordinarily lucky (and grateful) to be the author of four published books--but simply as statements of fact about a few of the expectations that didn’t bear out. I offer these to those who are now hoping for publication, not to be discouraging but as advice to keep expectations in line with a very difficult reality.

  1. I would develop a strong working relationship with my agent and stick with her throughout my career.

2. I would have an easy time selling subsequent books

3. I would have a single editor who was guiding my career

4. I would get a larger advance with each subsequent book

5. I would develop a sizable and steady income stream from royalties

Since this is a blog post, I’m running out of space to tell you the rest. “Leave ‘em hanging” is the advice many authors get about the pace and structure of their books, and it will have to apply here as well. I will tell you now that none of those things have happened. The story of each I will leave for another day.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Misadventures in Book Publishing

By Caitlin Rother

Naked Addiction began as what we call in fiction-writing workshops “a germ.” It became one of a series of diary entries of my murder victim, which grew into a short story, which grew into a novel. At the time, I was working as a news reporter, writing as many as four stories a day. I needed a creative outlet, and I found it in fiction.

It took me 17 years of writing, rewriting, trying to find an agent, and then a publisher, to get this baby published. And although I could spend this entire blog telling you about those 17 years, I'm not going to do that. I'm only going to focus on the last five years, which will bring home my point: the keys to becoming a published author – and staying a published author – are persistence, determination, and the ability to rebound from rejection.

Fiction has always been my passion and it has helped me bring my narrative nonfiction thrillers alive. That’s good, because that’s what pays my bills. I can't tell you how excited I was when Naked Addiction first got accepted by Dorchester Publishing. I'd hoped to get a bigger publisher that would release my book as a hardcover, but after so many years of rejection, this was a victory and it felt good to proudly display this blurb from best-selling novelist Michael Connelly on the cover: “With a journalist's eye for telling the details of life, Caitlin Rother is a keen architect of the most important part of storytelling: character. The people in her prose grip you tightly with their truth.”

Well, the book didn’t sell all that well, because no one promoted it. Not the publisher and not me, because I didn't know any better at the time, and I was also working on back-to-back true crime books, on deadline, without a day in between to spare. My first book, Poisoned Love, had sold so well that Barnes & Noble ordered 10 copies of the new novel for every store, and when they didn't sell after only two or three months on the shelf – yes, this is typical for a paperback, thus the term “shelf life” – many of those books were returned. For those of you, when a book is “stripped,” the cover is ripped off and sent back to the publisher; the book goes into the trash. My royalty statement literally broke my heart.

Over the next couple of years Borders and Barnes & Noble stopped carrying it, and customers couldn’t order it from either chain. The frustrating thing was that the book was still in print, but no one could buy it unless they knew to get it off the publisher's website. Or, sadly, on Amazon for 99 cents, and later, only one cent. (I later learned that was still selling it closer to the cover price, but not till much later.)

Still, I could not let go, not after all these years and all that work. A million calls and e-mails later to distributors, Barnes & Noble, my agent and publisher, I urged my agent to try to get my rights back or ask Dorchester to re-release the book now that I was doing so well with all my non-fiction books. (Including this one, I would have six books out in 18 months.)

After lobbying for about a year, we finally persuaded Dorchester – which had been going through serious financial woes, continuing to sell books for which they no longer owned the rights, and generally angering so many authors that they launched a boycott – to do a re-release.

With a new editor and management team in place, my agent and I were promised that this was a new Dorchester, and they wanted to do right by my book. Naked Addiction would be part of their new trade paperback line and it would also come out as an e-book, with a higher and more acceptable royalty percentage.

I was thrilled. We set the release date of January 3, 2012, a month after the re-release of Poisoned Love, an updated edition with 20 new pages. This was a carefully choreographed move so the books would complement each other, and so I could promote them simultaneously.

I spent more money than I could afford on a combined web and radio tour and a revamp of my website. Along the way, I was thrilled that one of my books landed on the New York Times bestseller list, a first for me. And after having persuaded Dorchester to design a new cover for Naked Addiction, I was excited that they were able to redo it once again to include the bestseller mention. Things were looking bright. My radio tour went great, and my Web tour went off without a hitch.

The first sign that something was wrong came in December 2011. The bookstores where I had arranged signings couldn’t get advanced copies as Dorchester had promised, and even if they could the books were non-returnable, which meant that the bookstores wouldn’t carry them anyway.

Next, the VP of sales left the company, and without my knowledge, so did the president. I managed to guilt Dorchester into sending me a box of advanced copies without charging me for shipping (I still had to purchase the books), so the bookstores had something to sell, with the promise that the stores would replace my personal stock once the book came out – all so that readers could give the books as Christmas gifts.

Then, I got an e-mail from a friend saying that his pre-ordered copy from Amazon

wasn't going to be delivered in till March. March? How could that be? No one at the publisher would answer my e-mails except one very sweet woman in sales, who was doing everything she could to help me, but even she couldn't tell me what was going on – only that the January 3 release date might not happen.

January 3 came and went, the book was not released, and I still couldn't get anyone to respond to my e-mails, including the editor, who had seemed genuinely sincere in his previous efforts to do right by my book. The release date on Amazon now said March 1. It was perplexing and frustrating, and my promotions plan was losing traction by the minute. I put the pre-paid web tour on hold until we could get a new, firm release date.

Dorchester’s publicist said the editor was trying to deal with this and would get back to me – I had heard that this had something to do with ongoing negotiations with the distributor about the “no-return” policy – but she had also stopped reassuring me that the book would come out as planned.

Then the release date on the Dorchester website changed to a retroactive December 15, 2011, and the trade version of the book disappeared altogether. This was bad. I was watching my book release dissipate like tiny tufts of clouds in a strong wind. And there was nothing I could do about it.

I was right back where I was, only worse, because I had lost the benefit of the thousands of dollars I’d spent on publicity, plus an entire year’s worth of potential royalties, because I could have published the book myself as an e-book last year.

Then the sweet lady in sales was let go. The editor left a few weeks later, followed by the publicist. “They're moving offices,” I was told by someone who had been laid off, which apparently was code for “we’re going out of business and shutting our doors,” because my agent hasn't been able to get anyone on the phone since.

A few days ago, I found a blog saying that Dorchester had been acting as if it were in bankruptcy for the past year, trying to squeeze out every last cent by selling off assets (they apparently still owe hundreds of thousands of dollars to authors and booksellers), and that the goal was to liquidate everything, including book rights, before really filing for bankruptcy.

I fired off an e-mail to my agent, strongly suggesting that we immediately ask for my rights back, and enclosed the address for the registered agent for the corporation, given that the corporate headquarters had terminated its entire staff and was likely closed, before my book was "liquidated."

After much anguish, I've finally decided to go ahead with the prepaid Web tour because I do still have a couple boxes of books in my closet that I can sell myself. The e-book is still available on Amazon and B&, and while I'll probably never see the royalties, maybe this will help draw some new readers to my other books. Only now I can't get the Web tour publicist to respond to my e-mails either.

But I'll keep trying. After all, the book was written for people to read. Getting paid for it would be nice, but at this point, I’m already gearing up for book #8 to come out in July (Lost Girls), and trying to focus on the accomplishment that the updated version of Poisoned Love went to another printing within a week of its release. I've finished a spin-off to Naked Addiction, which is in my agent's hands now, and I'm already working on my next narrative nonfiction thriller, and another book or two after that.

These days, my mantra is this: I'm a storyteller, I love what I do – sometimes more than other times – and no one can take that away from me.


Oh, and let me know if you’d like to buy a signed copy. (

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Losing Focus

This week I've been having a hard time focusing, and I can't figure out why. My brain's felt foggy. It takes me until lunchtime to get going. All my little tricks haven't worked so well. Getting more sleep, exercising, being outside; nothing's been successful.

A couple of weeks ago, I had way too much stuff to do. My agent asked for some edits on my new work, suddenly I had interviews, a bunch of kid activities, lunch dates, blog posts, doctor appointments, insurance snafus, (and probably more I've forgotten), but somehow having a lot of stuff to do made me work harder and smarter. Laser-focus! I even made bread and cookies. I read a ton of books. It seems like the less I have to do, the lazier I get.

Because I haven't exactly worked, I did lots of important Internet-related activities, like listen to countless covers of Joy Division's LOVE WILL TEAR US APART (seriously, there are some great ones). I also retook the Meyer-Briggs personality test. I'm still an INTJ (Introverted Intuitive Thinking Judging), which a lot of writers are. No surprise. But then I took an ARE YOU A TYPE A OR TYPE B PERSONALITY? test and, much to my surprise, I'm a type A! Now, I thought I was too quiet (introvert, you know) to be a Type A, but when I thought about it, I realized I'm not internally quiet. Internally I'm extremely loud. If you were inside my brain with me, you'd be covering your ears and staring in wonder at the psychedelia erupting all around you. (Except for days like today, when it's slightly cloudy psychedelia).

And I hate being late and I hate it when people make mistakes and I really really hate it when I make a mistake. All Type A traits. But because I don't exactly go around yelling at everyone and being all Alpha about my Type A-ness, I never thought I was.

So perhaps, due to my newly discovered Type A personality, I just need to be slightly overburdened to feel at my best. I like a little bit of stress and juggling. I actually like human interaction, frankly, and when I have nothing scheduled (and somehow all my social and work stuff seems to happen at exactly the same time instead of being spread out), a piece of me fritzes out.

I wonder, dear readers, what you do when you find yourself in a dull lull. Do you give yourself a break? Beat yourself up? Introduce a new stressor into your life on purpose? Lie around and eat brownies while watching Judge Judy? Not that I've ever done that.

I guess I'll keep on fighting through, and hope this too shall pass.

-- Margaret Dilloway

Friday, February 3, 2012

Life Stories
by Susan McBeth

Life stories – they are all around us. We read them in New York Times bestselling biographies like Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra, Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, and Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts. We relish the memoirs that reveal an intimate peek into lives of high-profile people like Tina Fey in Bossypants, or LIFE by Keith Richards, and even into the lives of not-so-high-profile people like Theresa Weir in The Orchard or Amy Finley’s How to Eat a Small Country.

We tell our own stories by writing memoirs and keeping journals and researching family genealogy. We keep scrapbooks and photo albums and Pinterest boards. WeTweet and post Facebook messages and send text messages that share a little piece of our story, minute-by-minute as it is occurring. We telephone and meet with our friends and family and colleagues to share an exciting or devastating or interesting event that happens in our life story.

We are even fascinated by the lives of people who we’ve never heard of before their stories were portrayed on television reality shows. Millions tune in every week to follow the life stories of the Kardashians, the Real Housewives, the Bachelors and Bachelorettes, and the Biggest Losers. While many may express disdain over the value of these shows, what the ratings show is that there clearly is fascination with these life stories.

I am a firm believer that every one of the approximately seven billion people on this planet has a life story to tell. Some are tragic, some remarkable, some sensationalized. Some stories are short, some long, some simple, some complex. While we will never know all these stories, that certainly does not diminish their worth. And what I do know is that with every life story I discover, I discern something of value and relevance to my own life. So if that is the case, then why wouldn’t I want to learn as many life stories as I can, in my continuing efforts to become a better person?

That is exactly why I decided to take on the “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” challenge. It’s not an official challenge, but one I am undertaking after being inspired by the film that gets
my Oscar vote for the best film of 2012. Young Oskar is convinced that his father, who was killed in one of the Twin Towers during 9/11, left him a secret final message, so the boy sets off on a mission throughout New York City to unearth this connect to his father. While he never finds any message from his father, what he does garner through his visits with dozens of complete
strangers is a bigger understanding of the world that allows him to put his own loss in perspective.

So how will I undertake my challenge? Quite honestly, I don’t have a game plan, but I know that if I keep myself open to opportunities, they will present themselves. Take Edna, a woman I met earlier this week while a friend and I were having dinner in a local restaurant. Edna was dining alone and I found myself wondering if she was lonely and would be grateful for an offer of friendship, or if she was reveling in sought-out solitude and would resent our intrusion. My friend and I discussed our options, and I was so proud of my shy friend for stepping outside her comfort zone and accepting the challenge.

Edna declined our offer but stopped by our table to thank us as she left, and we spent a few minutes chatting. And while we never learned Edna’s life story, I would bet that my friend and I will now be part of her life story, as she tells her friends about two strangers who invited her to dinner. While it was really my friend who stood up to the challenge, I felt as if I, too, had reaped the benefits of our offer. Whose life story will I learn next? I don’t have a clue, and that’s the exciting part!