I’m a firm believer in writing what you love, not what you think will sell. For example, I write in two genres that have fallen out of favor with the big New York publishing houses…paranormal romance (PNR) and urban fantasy (UF). And not just any urban fantasy. Mine has the dreaded V-word…vampires.
But did I let this stop me? Heck to the no! (Heck was not first word choice, but I am trying to keep this post rated PG so WITS might invite me back some day.)
I queried and queried with both of my manuscripts and received the same rejection over and over.
“I love your writing, the story, the characters, your voice, but unfortunately with the current market I am unable to sell that genre to the editors.”
Discouraging? Yes. End of my career? No.
And if you are getting the same response to the novel you poured your soul into, it doesn’t have to be that way for you, either.
Your readers are still out there. People who love vampire books want their fang fix. Contemporary romance readers want their big city romances. Regency romance readers are always searching for the next Mr. Darcy.
Just because the Big 5 don’t want you, it doesn’t mean you have to give up writing in the genre you love. You have other options and other ways to find YOUR readers.
Option 1 – The Small Press
This was my first toe-dip into the publishing world. While NY may see your genre as dead on arrival, there are many small presses and independent publishers that are still willing to take a chance on you. I entered a contest called Authorpalooza, put my queries out there, and received four contract offers for my PNR. After doing a lot of homework, I went with the offer that seemed the best for me at the time.
What I got: a book cover that I loved; three rounds of edits (developmental, line, and copy); the opportunity to have someone else hold my newbie hand through the publishing process without having to fumble my way through on my own; and the support of an editor who not only loved my book, but believed in me as an author.
I published four books with them and was happy until I decided I wanted to move on to option two.
Option Two - Self-Publishing or Indie Publishing
While the world of the small press was a great place to start, I was still sharing my royalties and doing a fair amount of work when it came to marketing my books. I had done some research, and it turns out there are genres that excel in the self-publishing world.
According to Amazon these are the top categories that sell well in the indie world.
Both of my genres happen to fall nicely on that list.
So instead of a toe dip, I dove head-first into the sea of self-publishing and have been swimming in the deep waters ever since.
Is there more work? Oh my lord, yes. Do I still have a ton to learn? So much my brain hurts. Is it worth it in the end? Totally.
And even though I was told vampires were out and no one wants to read them anymore, my vampire novels are my biggest sellers. I have gained rabid fans from that series who have then moved on to read my romances. When I sell and sign at book festivals, I barely spit the V-word out before they grab a copy and march to the cash register.
But let’s not just look at me, let’s look at some of the top selling indie published authors and see how well they are doing. You might even recognize a few on the list.
Just to name a few.
But, You Ask, Do You Sell Books?
Yes. Yes! And an even louder YES!
The readers are out there. They still read what they love. They want new material. New characters to fall in love with. New heroes to root for. New journeys to travel.
I guess what I am trying to say is that even if you get a rejection letter telling you no one reads [insert your genre here], it’s not true. It just means that the Big 5 aren’t looking to buy or invest into those genres anymore.
But readers? The ones who really matter? They definitely are.
So let’s discuss…
About Jenn Windrow
Jenn Windrowis the award-winning author of the Alexis Black Novelsand the Redeeming Cupid series. Her books include vampires, Greek gods, and a bit of freak show fun for everyone. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days as a stay-at-home parent/chauffer/referee to two teenage girls, binge watching Netflix and reading with her cat in her lap.
You can find her at:
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I was with digital presses before Amazon showed up, with a library-focused press, but as I was orphaned and regained rights, I tried the indie route. I got in when it was only Amazon and Smashwords, and expanded as other channels expanded to allow direct indie publishing. I'm not looking at traditional. But to be fair, at my age, the glacial pace of traditional publishing wouldn't work for me. And, honestly, if a traditional publisher has two equally marketable books, one written by someone under 40 and one written by someone over 70, which do you think they're more likely to invest their marketing dollars in.
I'm not too sure you are right Terry - I am closer to 80 than 70 and I have sold 5 books to First Escape when it was a branch of Harlequin and now Haper-Collins as well as Indie published. A good book is a good book and the age of th author doesn't count as much as the writing,
I don’t think writers age would factor into a readers want to read a book, but yes, if you want to publish at a faster pace, indie is really the best place to be.
This post hit home for me. I had this happen recently. I’m mostly traditionally published. It’s just where I want to be. But none of the bigger publishers wanted my book/series. I got a lot of terrific compliments, but kept hearing that line, “but unfortunately, this genre isn’t selling well for us right now.” Your example was one I heard from just about every one. So I decided to take the plunge and self-publish it. Time will tell if it’s worth it. Honestly, if I can’t recoup what I spent for covers and editing, I doubt I’ll do it again. I can’t afford to. lol
To answer your questions, though…
#1: I honestly wouldn’t. I can’t. I’ve been writing long enough to know my style and my process well, and I can’t successfully write something my heart isn’t in.
#2: Yes and no. I don’t care how it’s been published…but it has to be well edited and well written.
#3: The first self-published author that comes to mind is Millie Taiden. She writes paranormal/shifter romances. I don’t write or read them, but I admire the heck of her.
Thanks for this post. As I begin the self-publishing process, my anxiety is rising and your post reminded me that maybe this is right for me right now. 🙂
Good luck on your journey. I have a good friend who is only trad published, one of the success stories with her debut novel, she just started putting a few things out indie with a pen name and she’s loving it.
Make sure you work with ads to boost you sales of your book and make sure it is visible to readers.
I know what you mean. I think I could have sold my debut YA novel if it had been shopped five years earlier, but by the time it went out, it wasn't what editors were looking for. Yet every single time I have a conversation with teens and tell them the setup, they ask where they can get my book. So I'm self-pubbing it this year.
I'd still like to go traditional with some projects and self-pubbed with others. As long as I've known of this possibility, I've wanted to do hybrid. But I think you're 100% right that readers are still reading books that the Big 5 are passing on. And we writers should still tell those stories and make them available to readers!
Exactly Julie! Some people get lucky and hit a trend when it’s hot, others don’t. But that doesn’t mean that readers stop reading that trend.
Good luck with self publishing, you know you can always ask me anything if you need help!
Interesting and encouraging, though “FIFTY SHADES” having been self-published is a popular myth. E. L. James did briefly post an early version free on a website but that's certainly not self-publishing as we usually understand it. The first real publication of “FIFTY SHADES” was by a small Australian publisher.
How a writer describes their work can help too. Most novels probably fit one or more categories, and one does hope that publishing professionals can see beyond the author's categorization and consider the story. Certainly, no story category ever seems to go out fashion on TV and in movies.
Some publishing professionals seem to chase trends almost fanatically, and advise authors to do likewise. But others not so much, and an agent interviewed by Publisher's Weekly recently advised authors to ignore trends, or start new trends. And a trend may be over by the time even a fast writer has completing a novel written for that trend.
Actually Fifty Shades was self published as an ebook and POd book in 2011. The publishing rights were bought by a publisher in 2012. It also started out as fan fiction and was featured on many fan fiction sites before she set it up for self publishing. But EL James did work in the industry before it was picked up, so it might have been easier for her.
Yeah for that agent for telling people to write what they love, that’s very rare in the publishing world.
Wikipedia is wrong, and not for the first time. E.L. James took your Option 1 rather than Option 2. The Writers Coffee Shop was not owned by James and clearly obtained publishing rights from her, as the ensuing court case revealed:-
“The Writer’s Coffee Shop became an Australian-based independent publisher in October 2010. The next year, it published Fifty Shades of Grey as an e-book and print-on-demand book. It went on to sell 250,000 copies, a huge number for an e-book. In 2012, Random House made a deal with the company to publish the books.”
It looks like you’re right on this one. As I was researching
more, most sites still call it self
Published, I’m curious if that because it was briefly up on the fan fic sites first before it was pulled?
I don’t delv into fan fix, that’s a world I don’t want to learn about, but several authors have found their way into the big 5 by writing it.
At this point in my life I'm writing for the love of characters, my fantasy world, and to free the stories in my mind. If I could make enough to keep me comfortable I'd call that a win. I'll not write for money alone. That's writing someone else's story so I'll let "someone else" write them. Life is too short to not produce honest art.
I currently have over half of an OtherWorld fantasy pentalogy written (plus a few novels related to it). It's somewhat unique in that it contains healthy doses of romance and suspense. Too, it's rich in tackling societal issues and placing a lot of emphasis on the healthy growth of the MC. In that way, it's a close cousin to women's fiction. Much of the focus in Bk2, for instance, is female friendship.
One challenge is to get better at describing it. Anyone who's read any of it is both surprised and excited. My goal, as it stands now, is to at least have all five books drafted and then fund it so I can self-publish. My focus to this point, though, has been to have the drafting done.
That’s a great goal to have. Rapid release for series is a fantastic way to make money in self publishing. So if, all the books are ready you could release one a month and really increase your revenue. Good luck to you!!
I was lucky enough to get picked up in what I love to write, because, though I know authors who do, I couldn't write in a genre I wasn't passionate about. Hey, I'm old - I'm only writing what matters to me!
And I'm SO glad you went this way, Jenn - we put too much stake in what 'New York says'. I love horror (yeah, weird, I know). What NY thinks has ZERO influence on me as a reader. Maybe back when there was no indie publishing, and I couldn't find new Horror, but that's not the problem any more. You found your readers - good on you!
You were one fo the lucky ones Laura! I spent my time under a small press, and honestly, I am much happier doing my own thing. It might be the control freak in me. But I agree, there are so many good books out there that are indie published, and I have been lucky to be able to read them, even if NY didn't think they were the next big thing!
Laura, have you read Catie Rhodes Peri Jean Mace series? I think you'd really like it. She straddles the line between horror and paranormal. And her horror short stories scare the bejeezus out of me.
Interesting questions for me, a self-published mainstream novelist, to ponder.
1. Would you be willing to write in a genre you weren’t passionate about just to be picked up by a Big 5?
Nope. I have read so much about traditional contracts (and royalties) that I'm not likely to be able to sign one, so that's not even necessary. Besides, I'm extremely slow, and the genre would have moved on.
2. Are you a reader who loves a certain genre and will read any book in said genre, no matter how it is published?
As a reader I have always been an omnivore, but I have my standards, and a lot of work falls below those, and I'm not able to read what keeps yanking me out of the story and into the spelling/punctuation/formatting.
3. Are there any self-published authors you know of that have a huge following and fantastic platform?
Many of those (like Andy Weir or Hugh Howie) have gone over to the dark side - and taken their first readers with them. Then they make a lot of money, and disappear into a different lifestyle. It's interesting to watch.
Kris Rusch would be my best choice of an author who knows exactly what she's doing, writes quickly, and manages it from the indie side.
I, myself, want to be discovered and loved because of the (few) books I write.
My main argument for self-publishing is control: the SPA falls or rises by her own hand (mostly falls), but it is hard to conceive of abandoning absolute control - if someone reads the first (published) book in my mainstream trilogy, he or she can be absolutely sure the same quality will be present in the other two books. And any other I write.
You can't demand that from a publisher.
Fantastic points! Yes, as an indie, you have that control. If you find and error, you can go in and correct in ASAP and upload a new file. It's all under your control, and the product is 100% yours to be proud of. WHen I was with my press, it was so hard to get anyone to make the changes I wanted or felt needed. If I ran a promotion, no one would ever tell me my numbers, so I had no clue if the promotion was worth running again.
Funny thing, I added a graphic/chapter heading to my vampire books just this weekend, and I had a reader contract me last night to tell me she LOVED the graphic, it just made her happy to look at it. I wouldn't have had that option if I had stayed with my publisher, and if I had wanted it, it would have taken months to get he change.
Now, I have all that information available immediately to me, and I love it!
I had extremely few typos in my original publication of the ebook and print version of Pride's Children, but I can continue to remove any I find - without introducing new ones. That means a perfected product is possible. It is such a gift.
Marketing is the big problem now - with so many authors publishing, and many indies not polishing their prose and text, we now have to fight the perception of lower quality. But people are complaining about the big publishers cutting costs by not editing, either, and not marketing - as well as lowering advances, in some cases eliminating them, and having dismal royalties and grabbing all rights.
Unfortunately, the readers for my kind of novels are still locked into the trad pub system for their recommendations, and it's hardest to get them to try reading mainstream novels from indies.
You make some good points about not allowing the Big Five and their agents to limit us from writing from our passions. I wonder, ten years from now, what will that traditional model of publishing look like? My guess is: much different than now. Thank you!
I think that model is already starting to change. The more people who go the self publishing route, the more that NY has too scramble to keep up. And you're welcome!
Such an important reminder to not give up hope--there is a way.
Nope. Don’t ever give up!!
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