The publishing business is all about changes. Those that are thrust upon us—lines folding, editor turnover, publishing houses tightening their belts—and those vagaries of the industry like sell throughs, lack of house promotion, and poor distribution. Then there are others we seek out, like switching sub-genres, re-inventing ourselves, or changing houses.
I’m embarking on a change in the coming months that’s both exhilarating and terrifying. After writing twenty-five category romances for Silhouette Romantic Suspense, my first three dark romantic thrillers will be released back to back this fall from Berkley Sensation. The process has been exciting, and the deadlines grueling. But as the release dates near, my excitement is edged by trepidation.
I was never one of those writers who believed there is something inherently superior about writing single titles versus category. It seems to me that building a solid reputation and consistently delivering great books is something to be admired, regardless of the publishing format. My eagerness to try bigger books was motivated by a desire to expand my storylines. To write darker, more complex, plot driven stories with a satisfying relationship at the core. As much as I love the SRS line, I can’t do that within its parameters--55,000—60,000 words with the focus solidly on the romance, and the suspense in the background. Writing those first three thriller titles was curiously liberating, as I was freed to write exactly the story I wanted, in the length it required.
But as the release dates approach, more and more frequently it’s not the freedom of the stories I’m thinking about, it’s the worries that come with a single title career that I never used to have to consider. Is there going to be a publisher push for the books to help them stand out? There was no reason to worry about that before. In most cases, Harlequin/Silhouette’s titles just arrive in stores in the same quantities each month, regardless of author. Any vendor that sells SRS would be selling my book. Promotion other than a good website was probably largely wasted. There was never going to be reorders. After three and a half weeks, the books were off the shelf to make room for next month’s offerings. Now, however, I’m juggling questions I never had to consider before. How much should I spend on promotion? Knowing the answer is largely unquantifiable, I’m left to determine which avenues offer the best bang for the buck.
Now I have to consider pre-sales and orders; whether the books are picked up by Target and Walmart. And then there are sell throughs. Of course it matters how your books sell in category, too, but a lackluster showing on a previous trilogy probably isn’t going to impact the advance on the next. Not so in single title land. Sales numbers drive a career. It’s all about hitting lists and acquiring cover quotes; getting positive reviews by Publishers’ Weekly and/or Booklist. And buzz. Creating an author buzz months prior to the books’ release that have people recognizing your name and ready to buy your books.
At the heart of all of the decisions and worries is the knowledge that I have very little control over the outcome. And that, unfortunately, that’s true regardless of whether the books are released as category or single titles.