Lately I've been hearing about far too many seasoned writers who have been dropped by their publishers. Best-selling series, 25 books with the same house, beloved by tens of thousands of fans: none of it counts in the age of computer modeling and the almighty bottom line. It is a lot like a loyal and productive worker being laid off one year shy of the gold watch and the pension. But it occurs to me that it's also a lot like a late-life divorce. You've been doing your job, doing it well, and all of a sudden, not only is it over, but you're dating again. In the writer's case, the "dates" are agents and editors rather than divorced and widowed singles. It must be weird in very much the same way. "How do I do this? I haven't had to market myself for 20 years. The rules have changed. I feel like a teenager, and it sucks."

As a newbie just past the long haul to a contract, I hate to hear these stories. They tell me I'll never be safe. Will my first mystery sell well enough in hardcover to go to paperback? Will my publisher want the next in the series? Will the people who bought the first one fork out for a second hardcover? Will my number of readers grow? I'm planning to give it my best shot. And if it doesn't work--at one book, at three, anywhere down the line--I hope I'll have the grace to say, as more than one writer friend currently in limbo has, "I had a good run."

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This is where digital self-publishing comes in handy. An established writer with a loyal fan base can continue his or her series in cyberspace, and make a ton more money doing it. Say their hardcovers sell for $24.95 and they get a 10 percent royalty or $2.49 for every book that's sold. After their publisher drops their series, (take care to make sure you own your characters) they can sell the next book in the series online on ebay or their own website for ten or twelve dollars or more and keep most of the sales price. The key to this being a money maker is to have a proven reputation in the print world.

I truly believe this will be the next big trend in publishing, Elizabeth. I've just heard too many horror stories from frustrated mid-list writers who've been dropped by their publishers. Readers still want them, but if publishers don't think they can make enough money on them, out they go.

That's why I've spent the last several months learning all about digital publishing, from the most arcane technical info to Internet marketing tips. Smart authors will jump on this bandwagon in a big way because it gives them a viable path to pursue even if they've been dumped by their publishers and/or agents.

And we all need to get over this, "Self-published authors are no good," thing. That may have been mostly true in the past, but as more and more established authors adopt digital publishing as a way to extend or even save their careers, it will no longer be true.
John, I agree with you. In fact, I don't think ebooks will ever entirely replace printed books. But as new devices continue to emerge, and people learn they can download their current read onto their cell phones or Palm pilots, there will be more and more demand for titles published electronically. I think print on demand is a great thing, but youngsters particularly are not as attached to words printed on paper as we older folks are. If we hope to entice and hold them as readers, we must make our work available in a way that is attractive to them.
John, I'm probably feeling all giddy about this because I just entered the e-publishing field. Maybe a year from now when I've sold all of a dozen copies reality will sink in. But for now I'm having fun, plus a possible non-fiction print deal just dropped down out of the sky from the publisher that did my last two books. So I'm happy for the moment. Adding to my bliss is the fact that my Murder After Midnight short story e-anthology comes out in a couple of weeks and I'm pretty excited to see how readers respond to that.
I don't think self-publishing is a satisfactory solution. I think, based on personal expereince as one of the dropped "successful" series authors, what one must do is just ignore the horror stories including my own. Publishing today is what it is. It's in some kind of transition. I think editors and agents and publishers are all in some state of (denied) existential terror because they don't know what will become of the printed word. We are all just feeling our way here.

For people who are older, like me, and who have had a taste of success, it is not easy to be among the dropped. But it happens and you go on, or you choose to do something else. I've compromised -- I was retirement age and so I retired. Sort of. I still write a bit and read a lot and in general I'm having a good time, and enjoyed every minute of when my books were being out there.
Hey, Dianne. I agree that publishing is in transition, so to survive, we all have to find whatever compromises and solutions work best for us. Sounds like you have reached a good place with your situation. In my case, I am a successful non-fiction author who wanted to also write fiction, but couldn't get any encouragement from my agent or my publisher. So I entered the brave new world of digital publishing with a cozy mystery and a short story anthology. We'll see how it goes, but so far, I am excited and happy about how great the books look and how well the people who have bought them have responded.

That said, I would of course still love to have a print deal for my fiction.
Good for you! I also went the "indie" route with my first mystery. But as you probably know, marketing fiction is a whole lot different than marketing non-fiction!

bobbi c.
http://www.bobbichukran.com
Hi Elizabeth,

ACK. My most unfavorite topic. As an author who had lots of success in non-fiction publishing, then finally published my mystery novel through my small press because I just got fed up with the ten years of backstabbing, etc. I went through trying to get it placed with a "traditional" publisher, I sometimes wonder if I want to continue writing fiction. All these stories of "divorce, publishing style" scare the bejeebers out of me. I don't think any of us will ever be safe as authors anymore.

Wow,what a cheery thought, huh?

bobbi c.
http://www.bobbichukran.com
This has been suggested earlier, but let's look at it again. Think of how many complaints we used to hear about family members being glued to their computers. I personally don't hear them anymore. It is taken for granted that a computer is a natural and highly interesting part of one's day. Think how kids take to computers -- we've heard the jokes about if you can't fix your computer ask a 10 year old.

So yes, ebooks are a coming part of the future. It won't take a whole generation to get there: look at yourself and how much more time you spend on the computer than you used to.

No one is asking us to give up the delicious feel of a book in our hands. But there are technical advantages. Your books don't go out of print. They appear on your screen in a couple of minutes, without a tiring shopping trip. Speed readers can delight in the expandable font size and the relative ease of hitting "page down". You don't have to let go of your best electronic friend to pick up a book. There's a place for both.

What's my point? More publishers. A more flexible industry, because e-publishing doesn't cost much to start up, and the books it presents are as good as the discernment of the acquisitions editor. Whether you are looking to get into "dating" for the first time or after a 20-year "marriage," there are a lot of new publishers who want your good material to help prove their reputations. This is a time of transition, with a lot of opportunity -- not to get rich, yet, but for your writing career to become part of the foundation of a new, more responsive publishing industry.

And for your books to get read. There is life after divorce.
Yes, it's very difficult these days. It's the way the business is. I think it's best not to
rely on one publisher or agent, but to keep the way open for dealing with others
too, or indeed self-publishing. I've used all the way to market that there are now!
I've self-published, helped form my own company to publish our books and
been published by a small publisher. At the same time, some of my work goes
via my agent and some doesn't.

These days, we have to be all-rounders for sure!

A
xxx
Anne, your agent has no problem with having only some of your work come his way? I'm not sure mine would feel that way and have been concerned about it. Part of the problem for those of us who did "make it" but were dropped when the business changed so much after the big publishers merged in the 90s, is that we are kind of locked in with the older system. I mentioned in my earlier post that I "read a lot." Actually in with my pleasure reading I've been doing some reviews, some for pay and some online for free, and the purpose of the reviewing is both to help authors to get word about their work out there, and to help me understand more about the larger scene for publishing today. I'm enjoying it, but I'm far from having a good picture yet.
-- Dianne
We're in a business that's fluid. Change happens all the time--good and bad. To stay alive, stay sane, we need to embrace that. As artists, don't we need fresh challenges? I've been writing and publishing books for 27 (ye gods!) years, and I've come to recognize that the only way to continue getting a paycheck is to watch trends and try to reflect what's new in popular culture in the content my books. Yes, it can be difficult, but it's also one of the most exciting and challening parts of what I do. It's a way of preventing myself from becoming a total hermit. I need to interact with the world! Great topic, Elizabeth.
Well, my goodness! Life doesn't end with a divorce. I look at it these initial contractsa and books as my "starter" marriage. I'm still hoping to find true love along the way. Either way, it's not like it was time wasted.

One book at a time, Elizabeth!

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