Friday, February 01, 2008

Woes of Publishing! by Sandra Worth

"Persistence finally paid off!" That's what everyone who knows me tells me now that I've been picked up in a two-book deal with Penguin. There was a time when I doubted it would ever happen. I entered contests and won awards judged by illustrious writers like Ray Bradbury, New York agents and editors, film makers and Hollywood producers. Though they selected me as their winner and sometimes I walked away with the grand prize of a thousand dollars or more, they passed on picking up my novel for publication. I couldn't understand why and I didn't believe them when they said, "Historicals don't sell." I knew they would, if they just published them! So I worked on my manuscript, revising and revising; hoping and hoping. But the change of heart never came. More rejections streamed in. My agent finally gave up on me. "There's no more I can do for you," she said, handing back my manuscript. I promptly looked up the names and addresses of small publishers and sent out a flurry of query letters.

One day a small POD publisher called with an acceptance. I was overjoyed. But I had to wait eighteen months for the release of my book, and by that time, the publisher was out of business. I got my rights back, and another small publisher offered to pick up the book, the first in a trilogy. I was ecstatic--that is, until I read their contract. By signing, I would give up every possible right to my book. It was as if my "baby" would be taken up for adoption by this stranger, and I wouldn't even have visitation rights. I'd never, ever see her again! She would keep my name but be out of my hands forever. If I changed the beneficiary of my will, I'd have to obtain the publisher's permission first. Much as I wanted to be published, I knew I couldn't accept these terms. The publisher said, "Take it or leave it." So I left it.

That's when I got a break. Another small publisher came along who was willing to talk terms, and willing to do a traditional run. I saw their product, and it was beautiful! Lovely cover, good paper, beautifully presented. They even had a well known distributor. The editor was gifted; the art director amazingly talented. I couldn't believe my luck! Working with them was a dream. They published the first book in my trilogy, and it was perfect. I worked non-stop on its promotion. I joined Toastmasters and learned public speaking. I never turned down a book talk, appearance, or an interview. I was completely stressed out but I kept promoting fiendishly. If I didn't, who would ever know my book was born? To my delight, my efforts paid off and it kept going into printing after printing. After all, didn't I know in my gut that historicals would sell, if given a chance?

I thought I was home free, but no, not quite yet. This wonderful publisher took on a marketing partner, and the new partner was one of those believers in a tough contract. She made me an offer for all my rights -- movie rights, serial rights, subsidiary right -- in the high two digits.

Yes, that's what I said. Ten dollars, actually. So I looked for another publisher. After I found one (let's call her "Angel") who was willing to publish the two sequels, my first publisher called to tell me his new partner was no longer with him. Aware that a trilogy does better when it's not split up between publishers, I offered to write "Angel" a new stand-alone book. She accepted, and the three books, The Rose of York trilogy, came to be published by End Table Books as a set.

I wrote furiously on my new novel for Angel. She even gave me an advance! I was euphoric. I pushed everything aside for nine months and kept writing. Then, just before I finished the book, I heard from Angel that she had lost her distributor, and was wondering how I felt about selling the book through personal appearances. I groaned with fatigue! At this point, I knew I would rather not have the book published than to try to market it this way.

Finally, I decided my writing days were over; it was all just too much trouble. I talked to Angel. She was every inch a kind and heavenly person, one of those special people we are privileged to meet in our lifetimes. She understood. She returned my rights, and I returned her advance. I contacted my former agent and told her what had transpired. She told me to send her a PDF of Lady of the Roses. I did. "I'm going to submit to New York," she informed me. Good luck, I thought.

Three weeks later, she called. "Are you sitting down?" she asked. "Penguin has made an offer for Lady of the Roses and they want two books. How fast can you write the second?"

"But historicals don't sell," I replied.

"Historicals are hot," she said.

Since then the first book in the trilogy, The Rose of York: Love & War is going into a second edition. We've sold the Spanish rights for the first and second books in the trilogy, Love & War and Crown of Destiny, and the Russian rights to Lady of the Roses: A Novel of the Wars of the Roses, which came out January 2 in the U.S. Meanwhile, today, January 8, Lady was released by Penguin Canada. I went to Amazon to buy a copy to send to a friend in Toronto and there was a notice posted: "Temporarily sold out." They will notify me when they have more books.

Didn't I always know historicals would sell if they were only published?

Tell Sandra your feelings about love and destiny by writing her at or enter via her website at, and win one of five signed copies of LADY OF THE ROSES and a beautiful cloisonné bookmark.


Deb said...

Good for you and applause for your persistence. I affirm to you, if we authors gave up every time we heard, ".... doesn't sell", we'd never write anything. All it takes is for a publisher to take a chance (and they really don't risk much, when it comes right down to it--we're the ones who do 99% of the work). Then readers who have been moaning about the lack of their favorite types of books are in ecstasies again. Historicals DO sell and have never really stopped. It's about time the larger publishers started listening to the about what they want to buy.

My take, anyway. Congratulations on the marvelous news!

Jean said...

Hey deb...

Sandra wanted me to say thanks for your comment.

I thank you too.

Anonymous said...

Deb, I finally managed to get in here myself to thank you. (I was being rejected -- sound like a familiar??) Also, my thanks to Jean for posting the article. It's my hope that my experience will ourage other writers who are encountering the same difficulties not to give up.

By the way, it's the Penguin Group, not Portway that published Lady of the Roses.