Wednesday Writers: Jane Routley

We often ask ourselves, “Why do bad things happen to nice people?”, and if anyone deserves the nice person tag it is Jane. Ever since I’ve met her she has continually shown herself to be wonderfully supportive of other writers, and extremely welcoming to newcomers like myself. So, it was pretty disappointing to hear of the bad experiences she’d had with publishing, and delightful to hear the news that she had the opportunity to re release her books and give them the second chance they deserved. To me, this is where the new world of publishing shines, and I thought it would be great to get Jane to tell her story because I am sure it will be of great interest to other writers. Plus, it’s worth celebrating!

How I scared off the “You’re Crap Writer” fairy and learned to write again, or Re-taking Control of your career through the joy of ebook publishing.

Back in 2008 my publisher finally announced (after 18 months) that they were going to pass on The Melded Child, sequel to The Three Sisters.

When a publisher decides to “pass” on your book, it’s hard not to blame yourself. The “you’re a crap writer” fairy takes up residence on your shoulder and starts whispering in your ear every time you approach the keyboard. Only large amounts of chocolate/ alcohol/ drug of choice/ can shut it up.

So I followed the rejection with an undignified time moping, wailing, and threatening to give up writing, which was mostly borne by my unfortunate loved ones (Thank you for your support and patience, Terry Cooper). But the fact is writing is my real drug of choice. I work part-time in a low paying non-career job so that I can write, I mentor people because I love writing, and when I can, I go to writers’ workshops because I enjoy reading other peoples work and seeing how they make writing work for them and how they can make it work better. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 5. If I gave up writing and fell in a heap, what the hell else was I going to do?

Time to re-assess and see what I could do to recover.

I can pin-point a number of things I did wrong in dealing with my large American Publisher, the major one being that I had expected them to be enthusiastic about my books and to be interested in helping me make them better. Aside from the person who bought the first one, and who left the company six months later, I worked with a series of beginning editors, most of whom were seriously luke warm about what I produced. So much so that I was really startled when the publisher asked me for more. I may have been being oversensitive here. I get the impression that big American publishers handle their beginning writers in such a way as to prevent them from achieving an unmanageable sense of entitlement. Since achieving even a manageable sense of entitlement is pretty hard for an Australian/ Australian woman, this experience had a fairly corrosive effect on my self-confidence.

To have an editor at the publishing house who likes your writing does more than keeping the “You’re a crap writer” fairy at bay. They’ll encourage the marketing people to do some marketing, a rare commodity in a publishing house where most of the marketing dollar is spent on the already successful writer.

Like all first time writers, I thought the publishers would handle all the marketing, send me on a publicity tour and treat my work as if it was a precious jewel. This was how all the writers memoirs I’d ever read put it. I can only suggest that these memoirs are from another age (or they are wearing rose coloured glasses/ are lying hounds). Publishers nowadays want to be able to do as little work as possible on a manuscript, they usually type set it from a file you send, and editors are more about marketing than editing. They send out a few copies for reviewing to the usual suspects who have big piles of other review books on their desk and put you in catalogues and sometimes in ads with the rest of their crop of writers for the month. I suspect they don’t really know what works anymore than you do. Lack of satisfactory marketing seems to be the chief complaint all writers have of their publishers.

There was no writer’s tour, no book launch and as for the precious jewel stuff, a hollow laugh sums up my experiences here. The first time I paid for myself to go an American SF convention, I discovered only after I arrived that it was up to me to organise any appearances or readings (by then of course it was too late.)

Most of all, I felt that I had no control. I had no say over the not very good covers, I had no way of finding out if they were entering me in competitions, sometimes they didn’t even seem to send out review copies and they almost never said they liked the work. Actually they rarely even replied. They changed my name even though I’d won prizes for the previous books under my own name (Apparently its easier to sell a first time author to bookshops than a fourth time author). Worst of all they let the first book of my trilogy go out of print years before the others (????). Clearly they just weren’t paying attention.

I was a very small fish in a very big pond. After 14 odd years of being/ feeling like a small fish and feeling helpless, I started to man up (that’s not an accidental verb by the way). I was expecting to be looked after like a fairytale princess. Time to start making things happen for myself, like the big strong feminist I was supposed to be.

The fact is you can’t blame yourself for all your success/or failure in publishing. Only a few writers capture the zeitgeist and become million sellers and even publishers can’t pick out who they will be. We all know that good writing seems to have little to do with that success (Who hasn’t read a really badly written best seller.). And on top of that there are all kinds of different readers out there. Not everyone regards the same book as good.

So away with you “You’re a crap writer” fairy.” Who died and made you the boss of me?
I’d already started to deal with the editing/self confidence thing by workshopping my work and I started looking for ways to increase my internet presence and do my own marketing well before the final rejection. I’d always thought internet was a dangerous time sink, but now I started to look at how Amazon and social networking and blogging worked. It doesn’t hurt to find out. I made my own very simple website.

Once the worse happened and I got over it, (see earlier reference to chocolate abuse and moping) I decided to have a try at this earth thing called ebook publishing. I had one unpublished book which was a sequel and so unmarketable anywhere else. I just wanted readers. The first thing I did was pay someone trustworthy for a manuscript assessment. I’d never been told why it was rejected and I didn’t want to publish something crap. Working with the assessor was vital in helping me get my confidence back.

The second thing I did was to apply for get the rights of all my other books back. To be honest I was pissed off with my big American publisher and wanted to take my toys and go home. Gallingly this was the time they were most helpful. They even rang me!!!

Finally I went looking for an ebook publisher – someone who knew how to package a book with covers etc. and more importantly how to make kindle friendly downloadable files. Doing it alone is a lot of work and needs a steep learning curve. The lovely Lindy Cameron, powerhouse and publisher of Clandestine Press was more than willing to include my books on her list. My first three books came out as The Dion Chronicles in 2010 with a set of wonderful covers that I helped choose (and Lindy sometimes mentions that she likes the books. Pure gold I tell you.) They are selling o.k. Lindy isn’t worried about warehouse space and she doesn’t need me to sell 10,000 of thousands of books the way the big American Publishers do. I talk to her on the phone and do marketing appearances with her.

In 2011 Russell B. Farr from Ticonderoga Publications offered to bring The Dion Chronicles out in print and they came out later with really stunning covers which I had some say in. I did a book launch and some publicity. I felt in control and it felt good.

This year I hope to publish my other books The Three Sisters in ebook and also the long rejected sequel, The Melded Child with Clandestine Press. People still email and ask me where it is. I love the internet even if it is a time sink.

This is strange time to be publishing. The conventional market is in a messy transitional state where advances are dropping and midlist authors are being ditched all over the place. The print media seems to be dominated on all sides by the lowest common denominator. People out there who want to read niche or thoughtfully written books/articles are almost being forced to resort to ebooks.

The ebook market gives you so much more control over your product and it’s a big global market. You don’t have to be a bestseller to be read. You can have readers all over the world and get feed back from them. And my ebook publisher pays me a much larger percentage on my books so I’ve seen more royalties than I’ve ever seen in my life (Which wouldn’t be hard. Up until now it was all lump sum advances).

The only real problem is marketing. So many voices in a room shouting at each other, and no one really listening. How to do enough while leaving yourself enough time to do the actual writing? How to do it successfully? How to increase your readership? When I’ve cracked that problem I’ll let you know.

Jane Routley has published four books and a number of short stories. Two of The Dion Chronicles won Aurealis awards for the Year’s Best Fantasy Novel.

When not writing and guzzling chocolate, she works for the railways gathering up lost souls and collecting station stories.

You can find out more by visiting http://janeroutley.com/

Cairns 2012 173

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