With a Little Help From My Friends
Having launched the new me—the self-publishing blog-writing new me—I have to take a moment to acknowledge those who have helped me along the way. Most good things are a result of a creative collaboration between compatible, supportive people, and publishing, even self-publishing, is no exception.
I’ve had experience now with both types of publishing. In 1992, after 18 years of frustratingly writing 8 hours a day with nothing to show for it, I decided to go back to a book I’d written poorly, but still loved. So I rewrote THE LAST HIGHWAYMAN, utilizing the things I’d learned about writing during my long struggle. Once it was finished, I asked my husband Bill’s agent (Russ Galen) for advice and he told me, “For romance, you don’t really need an agent initially. Send it to Barbara Alpert, a terrific editor at Bantam. If she likes it, then use the strength of that deal to get an agent.”
I followed his advice, sent it cold to Barbara, and waited for four months. As I hadn’t heard from her, I called her office and her assistant told me it was on her list of manuscripts to read and she’d try to get to it soon. Four more months passed. Then one day, when I’d all but given up on it, I came home and checked my answering machine. And there, to my astonishment, was a message from Barbara saying she loved the book and wanted to buy it. I just sat there, stunned. After all those years of plugging away, I was finally going to be a published author!
Barbara turned out to be the editor of every writer’s dreams. While she insisted that I change the unhappy ending in which my hero had died, that was really the only change she made. She supported me wholeheartedly, promoted the book tirelessly, and became a friend in the process. I couldn’t believe my luck. I’d found my Maxwell Perkins. Barbara alone made my years of struggle worth it. I’ll always be grateful to her for making my dream come true.
Then a funny thing happened. Months later, when my husband was going through some old papers, he found a rejection letter from Avon for my first awful attempt at THE LAST HIGHWAYMAN. It was signed by Barbara Alpert! I thought it was hilarious, a great Cosmic joke. Barbara was less amused. But it proved to me that rejection is only feedback telling you that you have to work harder, and make it better. Rejection is never the final word.
Having sold two books to Bantam through Barbara, I decided to ask her about agents. She told me if she were going to write anything, she would want Meg Ruley of the Jane Rotrosen Agency to represent her. So I wrote to Meg telling her I’d sold two books to Barbara and asking if she was interested. She was. She loved THE LAST HIGHWAYMAN, and just like that I had a wonderful New York agent whom Russ Galen respected tremendously.
Meg turned out to be my second gift, a friendly, funny, dedicated agent who also became a friend and champion. She fought my battles for me and negotiated a new 3-book contract for me that was beyond my wildest dreams. And when Barbara left publishing after my second book, breaking my heart and leaving me devastated, it was Meg who helped me pick up the pieces and go on. No one could have asked for a kinder or more helpful agent. Russ had told me, “Editors come and go, but your agent is the one you can always count on,” and Meg proved that to be true. Although I was never her highest grossing author, she has always been there for me, a dear friend and advocate in times of need.
After Barbara left, things were more difficult. I had a succession of editors, and learned from them, but no one was the friend Barbara had been. Until Kate Duffy of Kensington Publishing came into my life. I’ve written a bit about how it happened on the TAKEN BY SURPRISE page. Kate was a delightful woman who loved everything I did and only changed two things in the five books I wrote for her. She was a joy to work with, had a great passion for romance, and knew more about the business than anyone. Like Barbara, she never tried to change an author, but strove to bring out the best in each. She was so generous and amusing, and had such a joie de vivre about her. It was such fun talking with her.
But, when I turned in my last book for her, JUST FOR HER, things seemed to change. I didn’t hear from her for months. I was tearing my hair out, certain she’d hated the book. Finally she called. To my surprise, she told me how much she loved the book. I couldn’t figure out why it had taken her so long to get back to me, when she’d always called me within days of reading a manuscript before. When I asked her about it, she was vague.
I didn’t hear from her as much during the publication process. I assumed she was busy. Then one day Meg called and told me the sad news. Kate had died of cancer. Once again, I was devastated. And I realized why I hadn’t heard from Kate for so long. She’d been undergoing treatment, and hadn’t said a word. I felt awful. I wished I’d known so I could have offered comfort and support.
It was only after her death that I found out what an influential editor Kate had been. The New York Times ran a half-page obituary for her, something unheard of for romance editors. She was a legend in the publishing business. But to me, she was just the lively, kind woman who had sought me out and shown me such support when I’d really needed it.
So I was blessed to be book-ended by two great editors and buoyed by a fabulous agent.
Fast-forward to the day when my husband told me, “Ebooks are the wave of the future and we have to ride this wave.” To be honest, I felt completely overwhelmed. The more research we did, the more impossible the process seemed. I didn’t know how to do any of it.
I contacted Meg to talk about getting back the rights to my first seven Bantam books. To my relief, she had already put in the request. But it still took nine months. Bantam wanted to put them out as ebooks themselves, so Meg had to fight to get the rights back.
Then there was the daunting task of turning them into ebooks. They had to be scanned and re-read and corrected because the scans were atrocious. I researched people who could turn the scans into ebooks, but no one was really exciting me. It was all so impersonal, and the finished products seemed so ordinary. I felt more alone than I ever had.
Until one fateful day when I was looking on Amazon to see how other writers’ ebooks were formatted, and I ran across Julia Barrett’s books. They had stunning graphics as chapter headings. And suddenly I saw that ebooks don’t have to be plain, uncreative things. They can be as beautiful as print books. When I saw that Julia had linked to the woman who had formatted her books, I was bubbling with excitement. I contacted JW Manus, who agreed to do my books as well.
Little did I know that day that I’d found my guardian angel. Jaye, who is an accomplished author herself, knows everything there is to know about ebooks. She patiently and articulately walked me through all the steps I needed to take, explaining everything so I actually understood it. We had a blast finding graphics for my books. We started out simply with the first three books, but as we began to realize how well we work together, we grew bolder, adding color graphics and more complex designs. Jaye almost made me weep with relief when she offered to upload the books for me. Then, when it was time to create this website, she did it for me!
I can truthfully say, if it hadn’t been for the unwavering determination of my husband, who never lost sight of this new vision, and the skill, helpfulness, and creative genius of Jaye Manus, I probably would have given up on this process long ago. Jaye has, in a sense, performed the functions of a publisher, and has become a friend as well. For which I’m eternally grateful.
So I’ve found that, even in self-publishing, it really does take a village. It’s so important to have good advice, to have someone with whom to soundboard ideas, and someone who knows more than you do about the process. I’m only beginning this new adventure. But as with all the other steps of my career, the first lesson I’ve learned is that you get by with a little help from your friends.