Happy New Year! We’re kicking off 2016 with post by multi-published author Sharon Maass, about her publishing journey. Publishing nowadays looks different to everyone. It’s different for everyone. Even authors on the same path encounter different rough patches, different times of great ease (wait, I’m not sure those exist).
Today, Sharon will share with us her own story. And hip-hip-hooray — it has a happy ending for Sharon that culminates with the release of her latest novel, THE SECRET LIFE OF WINNIE COX. (Here’s another secret: it’s $2.99 for Kindle and Kobo, and $3.99 for Nook!)
Please share your own journey, or any questions, in the comments.
How I Navigated The Pathways Of Publishing
by Sharon Maas
A new year, and new resolutions for those who make them. For many of us in the writing community, those who have perhaps fallen short of their goals, it might be a time of reconsidering their publishing options. Never have their been so many options… and never have the publishing pathways been so confusing. The digital age has opened doors previously closed, and I’m one of those who walked through. Now, more than a decade since I first started writing seriously, I’ve finally found my way.. Perhaps my story, a long process of trial and error, can help others to find their own way through the labyrinth.
A bit about my background: I started my writing career as a journalist, way back in the late 60s. But I’ve always been a storyteller, writing adventure stories a la Enid Blyton when I was a child. The idea of writing a full length adult novel seemed far beyond my capacities, but one day I summoned the courage to try, and to my astonishment, it worked. I’ve written several novels now, but also full length works of non-fiction and memoirs. the latter are all unpublished as yet, so I will confine this account to adult novels. For the sake of brevity I’m assuming that you reading this already know the nuts and bolts of the pathways, so that I don’t need to go into detail describing either them or the history of publishing.
Trade, or Commercial Publishing, also known as Traditional Publishing:
When I finished my first novel in the late 90s, this was the only serious option open to most writers. I knew nothing about the publishing trade, and so I was delighted when a major UK agent took me on, and even more delighted when she made a deal for me with a major publisher: HarperCollins, London. That’s a long story I told recently on the Novelicious blog. It really was the writer’s dream come true, and I’ll never forget the elation I felt when I first walked through the HarperCollins gate at Fulham Palace Road, London. Then: Lunch with my agent and editor. Being told again and again from professionals in the industry: I loved your book! The launch party – that is, lunch with key people from the publisher and three major UK novelists who had blurbed my book. I’ll never forget publishing day, walking into Waterstones at the Hammersmith Underground station, seeing my book – Trade Paperback – face out on the shelf, watching to see if it would fly off the shelf, as some had predicted! ,( it didn’t).
There’s no doubt about it- being published by a Big Six ( now Big Five) publisher lends you a bit of je ne sais quoi. You feel in the thick of things, a part of an select club, and indeed you are: you have been selected, there’s a whole team of publishing professionals behind you rooting for your book, promoting it, talking about it. Your book is on Amazon and in the bookshops. You get TV and radio and newspaper interviews and reviews. Most of all, the advances! Though mine were decidedly not In the stratospheres, to me it was a small fortune, life changing, more than I had ever had in my account in my life. I felt rich, successful, on top of the world. I was that amazing thing: a Published Author! how could it not be an exciting time?
HarperCollins was great; I had the best editor in the world, and I wouldn’t change my time with them for anything. However. With my fourth novel I sailed into rough waters. Sales weren’t as good as we had all hoped, and I disagreed as to the way forward. I disregarded the advice my editor had given me– which was to keep on writing as I had started—and went off on a tangent.
Publishing success had gone to my head: I thought it was easy. It wasn’t. I wrote book after book of what I wanted, and faced rejection after rejection. After a decade of this I realised: my editor had been right. And now I was paying the price.
Ten years passed. Digital publishing entered the scene. The Kindle made its spectacular entry, and shook up the industry no end. If previously self- publishing had been almost synonymous with vanity publishing, and looked down upon, certain authors were making a killing doing just that. “Going Indie” was suddenly perfectly respectable, it’s authors full of glee: an author no longer had to be selected by an elite of gatekeepers! Digital was the dawn of a new era.
I was skeptical from the start. I just didn’t like the idea. I liked being taken care of by a publisher. The idea of full control– which seemed to be the biggest pro of self-publishing — didn’t appeal to me at all. I wasn’t a publisher, I was an storyteller – I wanted to write and nothing more. I wasn’t interested in the business end of things; I wanted to leave that to the publishing experts. Most of all, the prospect of promotion terrified me. I can think of no worse fate than going out into social media screaming Buy My Book! Yes, there are subtle ways of doing just that, but none of it appealed to me. I am an introverted soul and I don’t really like interacting with strangers. I would never make a good saleswoman. In
particular, not for a product I had made myself, something as personal as a novel. Initially I rejected the idea. But then I thought, I should at least make the already published novels, all three out of print by now, available in digital format. Just put them out there, I thought, and leave them to themselves. You can do it.
And so I began my research into self-publishing. It still wasn’t inviting, but by this time I had landed myself an agent for a non-fiction work; he was with a major US agency which had just opened a self-publishing department for those of their authors who wanted to go that route. This entailed help and support and advice along the way, in return for 15% of the profit. I would keep all the rights. I enquired and yes, they would take my first published novel Of Marriageable Age into the programme.
But: just as I was about to conclude negotiations with this agency, HarperCollins approached me with an offer to digitally publish all three of my out-of-print novels.
I was bowled over with excitement. I was being invited back into the big Six fold! How wonderful! Yet in the end I chose a third option.
Digital-first or Small Publisher:
Just as I was about to sign with HarperCollins for the digital rights to my first novel, a small, upstart publisher came into sight. This was Bookouture, a digital-first publisher barely a year old. I loved one of their books and so I approached the founder, Oliver Rhodes. He read the book and very soon I had an offer I couldn’t refuse: publication in just a few months, royalties more than double those offered by HarperCollins, and hands-on promotion. There would be a Print on Demand option alongside the digital edition. It was a risk: the publisher was new and had as yet no track record. But I liked what I saw and took the plunge.
Now, three of my books have been published by Bookouture—books I wrote during those ten years in the desert of rejection. All are selling satisfactorily. I’m just finishing the first draft of the next book, and more are to come. I’ve found the right path for me.
Sharon Maas was born in Georgetown, Guyana in 1951, and spent many childhood hours either curled up behind a novel or writing her own adventure stories. Sometimes she had adventures of her own, and found fifteen minutes of Guyanese fame for salvaging an old horse-drawn coach from a funeral parlor, fixing it up, painting it bright blue, and tearing around Georgetown with all her teenage friends. The coach ended up in a ditch, but thankfully neither teens nor horse were injured.
Boarding school in England tamed her somewhat; but after a few years as a reporter with the Guyana Graphic in Georgetown she plunged off to discover South America by the seat of her pants. She ended up in a Colombian jail, but that’s a story for another day. After travelling overland to India to live in an ashram. she returned to Europe, got married, and finally settled down. Today she lives and works in Germany.