Elizabeth Main is a writer who loves the Northwest and sets her novels in Oregon where she lives. A former English teacher, she now spends her time writing and trying to keep up with this rapidly changing world of publishing.
Welcome, Elizabeth. It’s a pleasure having you here today.
Catching the Clues by Elizabeth C. Main, Guest Blogger
You’d think a mystery writer would be adept at spotting clues, but I hopped aboard the writing merry-go-round twenty-odd years ago blissfully ignorant of the changes about to sweep the publishing industry. As Gothic heroines used to say, “Had I but known . . . .”
My first clue that times were changing came in 1993 from the comments of the experienced agent who apologized for not being able to sell my first book, a juvenile/young adult adventure novel which she thought had great potential. Puzzled that her efforts hadn’t yielded results, she sensed that publishers were becoming ultra-conservative in their acquisitions because of the new consolidation of publishing houses. We parted company amicably and A Star for Courage went into the drawer.
In 2000 I heard of this new-fangled thing called an ebook. With nothing to lose, I pulled A Star for Courage out of the drawer and submitted it. Hard Shell Word Factory published it as both an ebook and a paperback. It won an EPPIE as the best YA novel first published as an ebook in 2001. I did little promotion because, after all, an ebook had only limited appeal, right?
My second and third novels, a romance (Richer by Far, Avalon, 1998) and a mystery (Murder of the Month, Five Star, 2005) sailed through the publication process. I collected my advances, did a few bookstore events, a little radio and TV promotion, and felt great satisfaction in knowing that my books resided in libraries across the country. Then I sat back and collected royalties. No sweat.
Following the publication of Murder of the Month in 2005, I decided to stick with the mystery genre, my favorite. I then entered an extended period of writing the sequel, No Rest for the Wicked. I went to conferences and heard tales of huge changes in publishing–platforms and blogs and websites–but I was fascinated with writing, not marketing. Having already published three books, I naively assumed that I could navigate the system.
Big mistake. Five Star accepted No Rest for the Wicked, but, oh, how things had changed between 2005 and 2011. Did I have a website? A blog? Uh, no. Bookstore contacts? Many bookstores had gone out of business since 2005, including the indie at which I had worked. Did I Tweet? Had I networked with fellow authors? Not really.
While I had been hunched over my computer, dreaming up fictional clues for my characters, I had missed the neon signs pointing to the revolution in the literary world. I should have been honing Internet-based promotional skills for the previous six years, not merely for the six months prior to the release of my fourth book. Fortunately, writers are a generous group. The Five Star Author Group, Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, and multiple writing blogs all provided ample assistance as I played catch-up.
I used this help immediately. For example, after Murder of the Month went out of print, all rights reverted to me. This spring, I gave the book new life. Using CreateSpace for the trade paperback, and Kindle and Nook for the ebooks, within a month I put Murder of the Month back in circulation. What a perfect lead-in to the August publication of No Rest for the Wicked.
CreateSpace deserves special mention. While it’s not a slam dunk to figure out the formatting, it’s within the reach of any computer-based writer. I followed their directions and formatted the work in Word 2007 before saving it as a pdf file. Whenever I became confused, I called Customer Service and received a return call within minutes from their superb team. Choices about font size, pricing, purchase of ISBN, and distribution channels were clearly explained, with many options available to me. Preparation of the trade paperback version took about 10 hours, including the composition of a new cover.
Best of all, I receive royalties from the sales each month. The new publishing world is fast-paced, more like a tilt-a-whirl than a merry-go-round. Speaking as someone who ignored for years every clue pointing to the need for change, I maintain that if I can leap aboard this exciting ride, anyone can.
Thanks so much for sharing your story with us, Elizabeth. I love the fact that the writing community is so open and willing to help others with blog posts like this.