23 December 2007

Writing for Multiple Publishers

Writing for Multiple Publishers

by Deborah Macgillivray

Double your pleasure, double your fun...

Writing for more than one publisher? Sheer lunacy or nirvana?

Whatever was I thinking when I forged ahead in following my dream to write Medieval Scottish Historicals and Paranormal Contemporary Romances concurrently? I suppose, had I truly glimpsed the madness that a published author faces nearly every day, I might’ve reconsidered my choices and opted for a less hectic entry into publishing. But then, considering I don’t think I’d be content writing only one genre, perhaps not. Fools rush in―as my grandfather would chide me!

In 2005, I set out to sell two series to two different publishers. I didn’t want to wait on the vagaries of slotting or be forced to write just one category of romance. Branding is a hot topic this year, but I’d soon burn out if limited to only one genre. Switching from one type to another, keeps me fresh. When I finish a Medieval saga I feel drained, as if I cannot face penning another. I move to a Contemporary romance, and suddenly, the magic is back. Once I finish the book with a modern setting, I’m eager to jump into another Historical. The changes see it all new again for me, brings back the creative fire, the passion.

That was the first consideration driving me to prod my then agent to sign me with mutliple publishers. She was negotiating with Dorchester Publishing to sell them a series of Paranormal Contemporary novels. As we waited to go to contract, I pushed her to market my Medieval Scottish Romance, A Restless Knight, as well. I sold the Historicals to Kensington on August 31, 2005 and three weeks later the Contemporary Romances went to Chris Keeslar at Dorchester for their LoveSpell line.

I was a happy camper? You bet.

Then the realities set in. I was no longer writing for just myself, for the sheer pleasure of the prose, no longer able to wait until the muse moved me. I would have deadlines, next would come edits and finally galleys from both publishers. We had left behind the love of writing and moved into commercial writing. I am a rapid writer, so I smugly thought I could handle this. A piece of cake. My friend, Lynsay Sands, turns in at least four books and a couple novellas each year. Surely, if I just applied myself, I could maintain pace. To reach her level of production I would only have to write five pages a day. Here’s the reality part―365 days a year! Still, when you take a deep breath it doesn’t seem like too much, just a few hours each day.

However, you must consider family, acts of nature, the other time-gobbling parts of being an author and the biggie―your health. Your health will be one of the obstacles. A reader has no concept of the stress an author is under constantly. Everyone things you sell your book that you have it made. That is the starting point, where all the work really begins. You have interviews, marketing concerns, book signings, authors’ loops, blogs, plogs, and MySpace; these are just a few of the hours you forget to factor into ‘yeah I can do it’.

During my first year of my publishing career it seemed as if everything came at me all at once. We lived through a tornado, flooding, a part of a tree broke off and embedded itself in our attic, and we took a direct lightning strike. The last destroyed two computers and two external hard drives, along with backup copies of my work. The worst thing that can happen to a writer is to lose it all and have to start over. My agent was hit by hurricane Rita. Contracts were lost. I used up five laptop keyboards; the fan on one computer went out twice. Well, I could go on with problems upon problems, but you get the idea. All these matters were stressful enough, but add in I still had to keep writing and producing novels, the stress level just went up tenfold.

It’s too easy to push on and not take care of yourself. Then your health begins to go down like dominos, and suddenly, all those balls you are juggling in the air crash to the floor.

So why set yourself up for this?

I saw a quote the other day about why a person is a writer. The reply said it was in their head and had to come out. It struck me how true that was. In its simplest term, that line summed up my feelings. All this stories, characters and faraway places are in my head and they have to come out. That was the creative side.

The commercial side of being an author brings in other considerations, reasons why you will see out this hectic path. This business is so risky, the competition fierce. I didn’t want to face that two-book contract, wondering the whole time if the publisher would keep me or let me go at the end of it? To me, security meant having options. Some much of this business is subjective―from the readers right up to the editors. I, and a lot of a newer authors, are taking our careers by the horns, so to speak, and writing for a second, and even a third publisher that can afford us various advantages.

So what are the advantages?

In no particular order for me: the freedom to write for more than one genre; the quicker recognition of your name; the establishing a strong backlist to help build sells for future titles; increased money; and the sense of more control over your career. Any or all of these factors can drive an author to embark on this juggling act. The freedom―in my case the necessity―to write a variety of stories I touched on before, so I will move on to the other pluses.

Quicker recognition of your name. When people read a book by a new author and love it, one of the first thing many do now that we have the Internet is to Google or visit Amazon.com to see what other titles a writer has available. Being a voracious reader, I have done this myself. As a former bookseller, I saw this happen constantly.

Roarke’s Prisoner by Angela Knight (Red Sage Publishing’s Secrets) simply blew me away, so I went in search of her backlist. Much to my disbelief, there was little else by her. It didn’t take long for this very talented author to have the market full of her novels.

However, I have seen writers with a first book out and there is nothing there for a year or two. That’s a long time between books. Lost momentum for the author. With close to two hundred romance books coming out each month, it’s easy for the reader to forget you.

I deemed it advantageous to release several books out there in my first year, with more on the horizon. This tells the reader you’re here to stay and affords them the chance to keep seeking out your works. There is nothing more empty looking than going to Amazon.com and putting in an author’s name―fully intending to buy all their titles―only to find the author has one book there and nothing else.

Many publishers have a long list of authors. Some publishers are putting out only a couple romances a month, some a dozen or more. It’s a game of musical chairs for an author to get their books slotted. If the writer stays with only one house, you are at the whims of the publisher having a slot for you. This can result in that year or two lag between first and second books. No matter how well you are selling, how your editor loves your work, you have to fit into the overall scheme with all their other writers.

Generally, most publishers will only take one or two books a year from an author. If a writer has so many ideas in their head ‘waiting to get out’, and the publisher cannot accommodate them in their schedules, then the writer will start looking for that second, and even third contract. With more books seeing release per year, a writer can quickly establish a name and start working on that backlist, steps to building a strong, successful career.

Money is another consideration. The fact is only fifteen percent of all romance writers make enough money to live upon. For an author to succeed, they will have to advertise. When a writer is new, a big part of this marketing will likely come from the author’s pocket. Advances for new, unproven writers are just not that big, as a rule. If you’re hoping to live on your writing career, then second publishers giving you more advances, and later royalties, helps the new author get on their feet. Also, with proven sales on the books, you can, again, quickly establish your career, thus giving you bigger advances in a shorter space of time.

All these issues work to give the author control. You have paced yourself to get the most effective entrance into this highly competitive field.

So what are the disadvantages?

Time is the biggest obstacle facing someone wanting to write for multiple publishers. From my personal experience, I assume writing for more than one publisher likely can only be done by someone writing full-time. I am aware of several authors choosing this path and making it work. All write full-time.

Best-selling author Lynsay Sands has been, until recently, with Dorchester Publishing (Historical Romances―Love is Blind; The Brat) and Kensington Books (Vampire novellas―My Immortal Highlander; Eternal Thirst) and for Avon Books (Vampire Romances―Bite Me If You Can; A Bite To Remember).

Award-winner author Dawn Thompson spent a year writing for Dorchester only (The Ravencliff Bride; The Waterlord; The Falcon’s Bride; Blood Moon; The Brotherhood; The Ravening). In 2006, she moved to carry two contracts with Dorchester―Paranormal Historical Romances under her own name, and Regency Historical Romances under the penname of Dawn MacTavish (The Marsh Hawk; The Privateer). In August 2007, she saw the first release from her second publisher, Kensington Aphrodisia (Lord of the Deep; Lord of the Dark), Historical Erotic Fantasy, bringing it to a total of seven titles for her in 2007.

Nationally Bestselling author Jennifer Ashley might possibly be the queen of juggling multiple contracts. During 2006 and 2007, she has written Historical and Paranormal Romances for Dorchester (both their Leisure and LoveSpell lines―Mad Bad Duke; The Immortals: The Calling), Paranormal Romance for Berkley Sensation, writing as Allyson James (Dragon Heat), History Fiction under her own name for Berkley Trade (The Queen’s Handmaiden, RITA finalist) and Historical Mysteries as Ashley Gardner for Berkley Prime Crime (A Covent Garden Mystery series ). I get tired just reading the list of her titles! Oh, but she is not done! She also writes Erotica for Ellora’s Cave under the Allyson James penname (Double Trouble; Tales of the Shareem: Aiden & Ky). I don’t know how she does it!

The time required to produce a book, edit it and get it into a finished galley, and do this for more than one publisher, can be maddening. Think of the poor mother who has twins―twice the diapers, feeding and expenses―you get the idea of the challenges an author faces when they embark on going to contract with more than one publisher. Dual deadline, dual edits and dual galleys, all combine to take a lot of your time…your life! Add in double expenses―bookmarks, postcards, ads, it can be overwhelming even under the best of conditions.

Other considerations

It’s not for the fainthearted. All the problems that come with being an author are magnified. Scheduling can be one. Some publishers will want to space your books out, fearing they might compete. Kensington slotted my first historical for July 2006. Dorchester then slotted The Invasion of Falgannon Isle for December of the same year, giving me six months between books. After it happened, I think it was seen that if Falgannon had been out sooner, it would have benefited from the high sales from A Restless Knight.

When Kensington slotted the second historical for August 2007, Dorchester picked the release date of October 2007. Nice slotting, because the second book for each publisher will be pushing sales for each other. Happy camper time again. Except….except with this pacing you really have a juggling act of finishing two books, then edits, and the galleys. Like a house of cards, pull out one card the house tumbles down, the same thing can happen to a writer if they are not careful.

Also, your agent or you with have to do more managing with some of the terms of your contracts. You will need it amended so you are able to write for more than one publisher. This is done by limiting the publisher to what you have to offer them first before you can shop it elsewhere. Another way it to take one book contracts, leaving you free to move your books where you wish, finding the best offer.

Sometimes, a publisher won’t go along with this. I am aware of a new trend that an author has to turn in all the books on a contract before they can consider writing for another publisher. As one best-selling author told me, “they just closed the barn door on me.” Meaning she has to do three books before she can write for another house. At the end of that contract, there is another contract, with the same three-book clause. In this instance, they will keep her tied up to where she cannot write for another publisher.

This generally happens when an author has made it big, when a publisher is putting out mega dollars in advertising and career building. They have to protect their investment. Superstar names have written for more than one publisher for as long as there have been Romances. Anne Stuart has written for Harlequin/Mira and Avon; Nora Roberta for Silhouette and Jove; and Jayne Anne Krentz for Putnam and Harlequin/Silhouette. So it remains to be seen if writing for multiple publishers is a growing trend or something more suitable for newer writers still making a name.

Tips to survive the folly

Learn to say no. Once you are published, everyone wants something from you. Interviews, guest blogging, book signings, writers wanting you to mentor them, others wanting to be critique partners and fan mail. It’s imperative you develop the ability to politely draw the lines and set boundaries. Dawn Thompson is very adamant on this―"Your writing has to come first. You have to be willing to make sacrifices for your craft, to court your muse, and to persevere no matter what it takes, with a cheerful, determined heart that never gives up on your dream. She won’t mentor anyone, though she often teaches online classes, nor will she become a critique partner, simply because both take too much time away from her writing. She is one of the most focused writers I know. The fact she has four books out already, and eight books and two novellas due in the next year is a testament she speaks from applying this rule. She demonstrates the discipline of saying no and focusing on your writing daily.

Learn to say no to your family and friends. Set down rules. This is no longer a hobby, so do not allow people to treat you as if it is. Friends and family should respect your working schedule. Simply because you are working from home, doesn’t mean you are at the beck and call for friends who want to natter on the phone for an hour or great aunt Suzie can drops in for tea unannounced or uninvited. Same with other time-consuming devices. Instant messenger―block only the vital people so you are not disturbed. Better yet, turn it off completely. Distractions eat up time. The clock is ticking. Deadlines are getting closer.

Most importantly―take care of yourself. Eat well, take your vitamins and set up an exercise time. This is coming from do as I say, not as I did. I made the dreadful mistake of not sleeping well, skipping meals and forgetting my vitamins as I finished the first two books. A simple sinus infection became a “for the want of a nail...”, and I ended with my immune system crashing. That in turn, left me open to various flu bugs and nearly every germ that rolled down the pike. You just cannot afford to get down with illness.

You have to keep writing.

Writing for more than one publisher has the rewards that can help build a career quickly. Remember though, it comes with a high cost. Before you jump into waters over your head, I would caution you to speak to fellow authors who have gone through this demanding and rough career choice, really weigh the options before you take on the heavy burden of double or triple deadlines.

But if it’s in your head and has to come out, and you are willing to make the adjustments and sacrifices, writing for more than one publisher might be the career option for you.
Currently, I have a second contract with Kensington Books (One Snowy Knight, October 2008; Yield to the Knight 2009), a second contract with Dorchester Publishing (A Wolf in Wolf's Clothing, June 2009; To Bell the Vampire, TBA), and Highland Press for novellas in (Love on on a Harley, 2008; Dance en L'air, 2008; Castle of Dreams, 2008 and Once Upon a Knight 2008). My historicals has been purchases for Droemer Knaur in Germany and Random House Kodansha Ltd. in Japan.

© June 2007 Deborah Macgillivray

All Writers Reserved;
Originally Published in Romance Writers of America Magazine June 2007
May not be reproduced without written permission

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