In 2011, I completed a multi-book, six-figure contract with the publishing house where I’d been for more than 15 years. When I submitted a new 3-book proposal, my editor loved the ideas but the publishing brass wanted to cut my advances for these books in half. The “numbers didn’t support” my current advance level, so they said.
When I’d left my former publisher to come to this one a decade and a half before, my advances had been in seven figures, my print runs were three times higher, and I consistently made the best seller lists. I had been recruited, with big promises, as a “name” author to attract other writers to this new imprint. All that had slowly died away due to changing corporate policy and mismanagement.
This proposed cut, third in a row, was the final straw.
Added to it, I’d had back-to-back publishing contracts for more than 35 years, had been dealing with publishers, editors, agents, sales reps, wholesale distributors and the whole top-heavy system since 1969 when I sold my first book. I was tired of the deadline pressure; tired of the lack of control over what I wrote, tired of the run-around that occurred at any request for hard facts and figures — tired of the mindset that blamed any decline in sales on the author while any increase was credited to publisher efforts. The only thing I wasn’t tired of was writing.
Traditional publishing was declining during this period with sales were down across the board; I knew that. If someone at the publishing house had acknowledged the situation, had said, “We’re sorry, but we can’t afford to keep paying you what you’ve earned in the past,” then I’d probably still be with them. But no, they took a hard-nosed stance. Their numbers – which I wasn’t allowed to access – said my sales didn’t warrant the same advances, and that was that.
Except it wasn’t, not for me. I’d been a best-selling author for more than 30 years. Money wasn’t the issue; it was the ongoing irritation of the thing.
A huge factor in this equation was, of course, the rise of e-books. This phenomenon had been on my radar since 1999 when I signed with E-Reads, the e-book company established by Richard Curtis. At that early date, I acquired the reverted rights to 37 of my backlist titles from my previous publisher, and they were put into electronic and Print on Demand versions. By 2011, I could see the writing on the e-reader.
It was at this time I was contacted by my niece, Phoenix Sullivan. She’d written a novel, “Spoil of War,” which she’d published herself using Amazon’s newly created Kindle Direct Publishing program. Being a former editor for HP’s in-house magazine and something of a computer geek with a passion for spreadsheets, she had her fingers squarely on the pulse of the growing independent publishing industry. And that pulse was racing.
By lucky chance, a contract with E-Reads covering 17 of my books was due for renewal just then. I hadn’t signed it because it was misplaced among papers that piled up on my desk during a family health crisis. A change of direction in my career seemed meant to be.
Phoenix and I had several long talks and the result was Steel Magnolia Press LLC. We began operation in late 2011 by releasing several print-published novellas for which I owned reverted rights but that had never been put into e-book format. When these took off, we advanced to the 17 reverted E-Reads novels, and then later negotiated for return of the remaining 20. In 2012, my first e-book original was published, Book 1 in what has become the 3-book Italian Billionaires series.
We’ve never looked back.