I've been waiting a long time for the kind of success I'm having right now. I've been planning for it, dreaming about it, and fully expecting it every since August 24th, 1992, the day I sold my first novel to Silhouette (now Harlequin) Intimate Moments (now Romantic Suspense.)
Where I was mistaken was in how it was going to come. Every time I had a new release, I expected big things to happen. And every time I had a big single title new release, as opposed to another category romance, I expected even bigger things to happen. My expectations of success were accurate. But every notion I had of how or when or where it was going to come to me were way off.
When my most recent contract with Harlequin MIRA expired, I fully expected there would be another one to sign within a few weeks. That's how it has worked for the past 22 years, after all. My advances had risen to the point where the signing payment on a new five-book contract represented a solid year's worth of income for us. When my discussions with Harlequin went south, and I realized there wasn't going to be another contract at all, I was in a complete panic. Not only heartbroken that this long and lucrative relationship was coming to an end, and feeling betrayed at how little the company was willing to do to keep me, but terrified about how I was going to make up the loss of income.
However, I knew it was the corporate bean counters who forced me to leave. The people in the editorial offices were almost as devastated as I was, and asked what they could do to help me make the transition easier. I asked them to revert one of my series, an entire series, so I could make a living while creating original front list titles, which would obviously, take some time. Wings in the Night was, naturally, at the top of my list, but short of that, I said I would like to have the Texas and/or Oklahoma Brand series back. I was both surprised and delighted when they game them both to me. This was no small thing. The books were Harlequin's legally, for several more years, and it was a logistical nightmare for them to pull them all from every outlet, in every format, worldwide. It took several weeks, but they did this for me. They did this because I had never let business come between me and my team at Harlequin. When
I disagreed with company policy, I and the senior staff had discussions that lasted weeks, and while we did not agree, we were always kind, respectful of each other, and we never let things get heated or personal. When others jumped on the “Let's bash Harlequin” bandwagon, I not only didn't join in, I often posted rational, reasonable comments and blogs calling for calm and understanding both sides of the issue of the day. At those times, I was personally thanked by more than one Harlequin staffer for those posts and comments. I have never, in my entire career, treated my publisher as my enemy the way so many seem prone to do. And I didn't do it because I honestly love the people I've worked with in publishing.
So Harlequin returned The Texas Brand series to me, in its entirety, books 1-9. A couple of the stories had already reverted, but now I had them all. They also returned the Oklahoma All-Girl Brand novels to me. I had two of them, they reverted two more and one is still in progress. I'm writing a sixth.
My brilliant daughters (Jessica of AuthorsLifeSaver.com and Jena of PracticalProofing.com) and I got to work immediately, scanning the Texas Brand books into Word documents, proofreading them, formatting them for ebook and print, and creating covers. We found a cover look we liked, and decided to make it consistent through each book in the series. We changed a few of the titles that were not our favorites: That Mysterious Texas Brand Man became The Lone Cowboy. And The Husband She Couldn't Remember became Long Gone Lonesome Blues.
Once we got the first few books uploaded, I made book 1, The Littlest Cowboy, free at all the outlets where I could do that, and figured it would take Amazon about a week and fifty “report a lower price elsewhere” emails before they would price match and make it free there as well. This had been my experience with other backlist books I had self-published.
But the Universe had a whole different plan. Amazon price matched it on day-one without a single email, and by the time I noticed it, books 2 and 3 were in the top 20 on Amazon's Top 100 list for western romance. I knew right then that this was going to be something special. All of this happened without a single ad, and before I had even got around to posting the freebie on my FB page or tweeting it, or listing it on my website!
Now, today, the first 7 books are on that top 100 list, and they're hanging there steadily. Our usual monthly earnings from Amazon tripled in August, and so far September sales are running double what August's were. We have an ad scheduled for October 6th that will boost sales even further. I'm seeing the kind of success I have always dreamed about, with books I wrote a decade ago and more. At this rate, we will earn in just two months, about the same amount that new contract would have provided. Except this money isn't an “advance against royalties.” It's based on actual sales. And I expect the momentum to keep rolling. Especially since we haven't even begun to re-issue the Oklahoma All-Girl Brands yet! We anticipate similar success when we do. I'm writing a brand new (pun intended) OK Brand Christmas story, Sweet Vidalia Brand, for release around Thanksgiving, giving us a total of six novels in that series, three of them Christmas stories. (We didn't plan it that way, it just happened.)
The morals of the story: “Nothing happens to me. Everything happens FOR me.”
What I thought was a disaster, being forced to leave Harlequin and traditional publishing after 22 years, was probably the best thing that ever happened to my career.
And: “Ever mind the Rule of Three. Three
times what thou giveth, returns unto thee.”
The happy outcome I'm having now is, in large part, due to the relationships I built and the way I treated the people I worked with over the years. You can never be too kind or love too much.
I just love stories with happy endings!