Over the past several months, I’ve been called brave by some and stupid by others when they discover that I did the “unthinkable” and turned down the promise of a “good deal” for print from NY in favor of self-publishing my debut novel AT ANY PRICE. Aside from giving some vague particulars, I haven’t said much. But now that the novel is out in the world, I feel the need to share its story. Because there is a story behind this story.
Before I continue, I’d like to put it out there that I don’t think there is any one correct path to publication. I want to be clear that I respect the institution of traditional New York publishing—that same institution which has brought me hundreds of books that I have enjoyed throughout my lifetime.
That being said, recently I turned my back on one of the biggest author dreams (or at least one of mine, anyway) and chose to pursue something I had no idea I even knew I wanted at the beginning of this year.
Last year I signed with an agent to sell my historical romance novel and while it went on submission, I resolved to put myself hard to work on a new novel—in an entirely new genre. The idea had been nibbling at my brain for months and months and I had to let the story out, finally. And what better time to keep myself occupied than while I was on submission? So I cracked open a new Word document and 12 days later, I had the fast draft of a new book. Yes you read that right. I wrote the first draft in twelve days. It took another month and a half to get it in better condition by the third draft and ready to take out on the town.
It all happened amazingly fast and the more I wrote, the more I was on fire to write. I discovered these compelling new characters–Mia, Adam and their friends and family–and they sucked me into their world. I couldn’t stop thinking about them. When I wasn’t writing about them, I was thinking about the next time I could write about them. It was probably one of the most intense writing experiences I’ve ever had in the many years that I’ve been writing stories.
After crafting the story and finding that my historical romance novel had come to a dead end with New York editors, I went on submission with AT ANY PRICE (titled “Love At Any Price,” at that time), a New Adult contemporary romance. Within a month, it went to auction with New York publishers. Four houses wanted it and the bidding reached six figures for a three-book print deal. However, like Mia, the heroine of my book, I learned that auctioning yourself to the highest bidder isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
I had discussed the issues I had at length with my agent before we decided to let her shop it to New York. In the mean time, after returning from RWA National conference in Atlanta and feeling empowered and keen on the idea of self-publishing, I made a back-up plan. I reserved a talented cover artist and a copy editor and started doing my homework.
I was up front with my agent when I handed over my manuscript: I wanted a one-book deal only, I would not sign a non-compete of any kind. I would not sign an option clause. And lastly and most importantly, I wouldn’t accept just any offer. I wanted to be clear on these things ahead of time. Some might say that for a debut author, I was asking for a lot. I know I was. But as with any type of negotiation, you are usually most successful when you ask for more than what you really want and “settle” on your own terms.
So we went on submission, prepared for the long wait and, for a few weeks, heard nothing.
Then week four hit, and my life was suddenly swept up in a whirlwind. Once things started to happen, they happened very fast. First emails came in: second reads, then an offer, then another offer. Several Big 5 editors wanted the book and decided to fight over it.
Oh, the irony—an auction on a book about an auction. Very meta.
The ending bids by the two remaining contenders were very tempting. I agonized over the decision. But this wasn’t just about me. There was so much to consider: my family, my career, my goals. I spoke with experienced friends who were both traditionally and independently published authors. Hugely successful authors who had hit the big lists with their books. They were open, objective and, above all, supportive.
I took the offers I was given from the auction and weighed the worth of my rights with the net-present value (if you haven’t seen this blog post by the positively brilliant Courtney Milan, then you should read it).
And I also weighed all the wonderful pluses that came with being traditionally published by a Big 5 house—including having a “team” behind me every step of the way, having the “clout” and prestige of having finally “made it,” being able to reach a wider audience through print distribution. And also, of not disappointing others that were closely connected to my career.
I pondered. I discussed. I even cried. What a thing to cry about, right? The indecision was killing me. But in the end, it boiled down to three very important things. (There were other factors but these are the big three):
1) The Non Compete Clause. For those not up on the lingo of publishing. A non-complete clause prevents an author from publishing with another house or even self-publishing while under contract with the house in question in the same genre or under the same name. Some authors have more restrictive clauses than others. And some authors are forced to take on a pen name in order to get around an NC clause.
My goal has been to become a hybrid author because I can write faster than what any house would contract from me. This deal would have been a very good step in that direction. I could publish this trilogy, as I’d planned it (and yes, I’d compromised early on my stricture that it would be a one-book only deal), and then put things out on my own as well.
However, how could I be a hybrid author if an NC prevented my putting out any books independently in the meantime?
The houses that bid for me have required aggressive NCs from their authors. As there was going to be a delay in getting the books out (see #2 reason below), this would have effectively prevented me from putting out any New Adult contemporary romances as an indy author in the foreseeable future. The idea of being handcuffed creatively really bothered me. I was told that an NC wouldn’t be a big deal even though I knew authors from the houses in question (we authors talk!) who were being told they could not publish any tie-ins, even short works, with anyone other than their house. It was implied to me, also, that anything within my “brand” (i.e. tying in geek culture with New Adult romance) would be considered a clash of the NC clause.
2. Release schedule. Of course, this is the nature of the beast when you go with NY. As with most corporations, the wheels turn slowly and it is to be expected. Too few people are responsible for putting out a lot of books. I get it. But the schedules were such that AT ANY PRICE would have been released in October of 2014 with the two follow-up books being released in the spring of 2015. All three books follow the same couple (though the only cliffhanger is in Book 2) and this delay was not acceptable to me. I will be independently releasing those books in the spring of 2014 instead.
3. E-book pricing. One house was absolutely inflexible on this and very old school with their marketing. The other was a bit more flexible and has done quite well with the NAs they have acquired, though most authors were successful indies at the time they were acquired. Those authors came with their audience, though in signing with their traditional house, they gained many more readers. My main concern as a debut author was…who would buy my book at $8.99 when they’d never heard of me before? In this market, at that price, most readers will not take a chance on an unknown. To say nothing of the multitude of independent authors I would be up against, who could afford to offer their books at a more competitive price. I liked the idea of being able to control my pricing, set my own limits.
Ultimately it came down to the appeal of having control. Many of my traditionally published author friends do not have that luxury. As and indy author, I have control over my covers, pricing, promotion, marketing, placement. The list goes on.
And I wanted that control. AT ANY PRICE is a special book, in my humble opinion, and it deserves the best I can give it.
So in the end, I swallowed that cold ball of fear in the back of my throat and walked away. There were no middle fingers involved (as much as that badass image of me appeals on some level).
My path is not your path or any other author’s path. I’m sure I’ll make some stupid decisions along the way. But they are mine to make and I won’t have to live with anyone else’s stupid decisions. Just my own.
I can live with that.
So now, AT ANY PRICE releases into the world, officially, today though not all retail outlets are available yet. Some readers will fall in love. Some won’t. I hope the readers who love Adam and Mia as much as I do will stick with them until the end. Just like with the publishing journey of this book, their story will be a heck of a ride.