Are agents and publishers avoiding me because I have what appears to be nine self-published books? Does this make me look like I'm too impatient for a publisher's contract? Well, listen up and learn. The one thing I crave is a publisher's contract. The one thing I do NOT want is to self-publish (SP) one more original novel.
My first novel, Felling of the Sons, an authorized Bonanza novel, had two different publishers. Electric Works Publishing released it in 2001 and told me they were working hard to establish a relationship with Amazon. That's what I wanted. In the meantime, all they sold were PDFs or "floppy disks." Yes, believe it or not, Felling of the Sons was first issued as a second gen floppy disk. I found a printer and printed 100 so I could bring some to a Bonanza convention. Those first editions sell for a lot of money these days.
I canceled that contract after three years because he was having no luck getting on Amazon and my stock was gone. It was sad for me, because that was my first and only appearance in the Writers Market (2003 edition). A week after my book was canceled, he folded up his business.
So I searched for a publisher for second edition. That's not an easy task, but maybe a little easier in 2004 than it is now. Write Words picked it up and that was an uneasy relationship I kept for a decade. She also published Mystic Fire. In both cases she paid a royalty, which amounted to the retail price of a book purchase, so she could call herself a traditional publisher. These days most small presses do not pay royalties but we still call them traditional.
Anyway, she retired, maybe back in 2014 or so. I remember her saying she'd still have the books for sale but she would only pay out once a year. Since my two novels paid a fee to Bonanza Ventures, I didn't think I should allow her to keep our money that long, and I pulled out. The search was then on for a new publisher, but finding one to take previously published works had become more difficult. After a slight effort, since I was doing too many other things at the same time, I decided to put them up at Amazon.
In the meantime, I was seeking publishers for Dancing with Cannibals, Civil War and Bloody Peace, Saving Boone, and Grimms American Macabre.
I developed Civil War & Bloody Peace during my bachelor's in history and took it with me to my master's, where it was my master's thesis. Before, after and during my college years I was on the road, going to every place mentioned in that book to get primary details of what went on there. When I felt the book was close to developed I began the query process. I must have queried every publisher three times.
Don't tell me I don't have patience to wait for a publisher. I had traditional publishers tell me that I should try the university presses. I had university presses tell me I should try the trade presses, which I eventually learned are traditional presses. I had some say it was too long, so I shortened. I had some say it was too general, some say it was too specific, some say I didn't analyze enough, some say it was more like a memoir. I had come to a decision. I wasn't going to waste this research, and put it at Amazon in 2019.
But this decision came after a series of book sales, and my devastating first publication at Amazon in 2015. I had co-authored Dancing with Cannibals, helping an African make one of his books publishable. He had a lot of disjointed scenes and history about the Congo in the early 1900s that he just wanted someone to edit for better English, but the book was such a mess I had to ask him, is this fiction or nonfiction? At first the deal was that I got 20% of the sales. But I said it was way too much work and I would need to split this 50/50 but I'd also do the submitting. We worked on it, back and forth, for seven years, and finally I got what I thought was a publishing contract. Turned out to be more like a money-making scheme for some college students (can't even remember the name of their company), so I got us out of that. Well, that made him mad, although I kept him abreast of developments all along the way. He began to bad-mouth me everywhere. And after a few months of silence, I got a little worried. I knew he wanted to put it on Amazon, but I said we have to go through the submission process first.
So I did a search one day at Amazon in 2015 and there it was. Same title, but different co-author, although this guy was referred to as an editor. I got the sample Kindle, compared it word for word with mine, and saw only one sentence (poorly written) had been added.
I went through the process to prove to Amazon he didn't have the right to publish without me. I then went through the process of, once again, editing it, and then putting it up with both our names on it. That was so little fun I'd never do it again, by the way. He does not market it. But I have to share half of the sales with him. Suffice to say that it's a good book that doesn't sell. He's yet to make $10 on it, and I won't send him a check until he makes $50. All rights go to him when I die, though. I won't have my kids dealing with him.
Anyway, while I was still submitting on Civil War & Bloody Peace, and after I moved to Madison to take a full-time job with benefits in 2015, I continued to promote my three fiction novels; the two mentioned above and the third was Vrykolakas Tales: Adventures in Death & Romance. Now this novel's title is not one I was particularly keen on. I was willing to take a publisher's advice on it. It had even been agented, back in the 1990s, under the title Journal of an Undead, when it wasn't yet part of a trilogy. But the agent seemed to indicate that they all thought it was a Zombie novel and were disappointed to learn it was just an "Anne Rice" wannabe. Well, I started mine before I knew anything about her, thank you, so no comparisons, please. I played around with titles while submitting and ended up with one I still wasn't convinced about. "Let the publisher decide" has often been the advice.
In 2016 I got the contract -- after canceling numerous others that weren't good enough - from Solstice. It was a pretty poor royalty but they sounded like they did a lot of marketing. They were promoting it as a paranormal romance. Well, given that title, I thought that was okay. They didn't change the title or even mention to me that they thought vrykolakas is hard to pronounce. I gave them a cover idea, which they ignored. They came up with a cover that was, at first, fun, but then not. I eventually found that it's a stock image when I saw another book with the same cover. At that point I insisted they let Adam add the flower in his hand. (Adam is my cover artist for my SP books and my graphics artist son.) But the worst part of the cover, and I told them this, is do not make Vrykolakas Tales the featured title. That part should be in small print. They didn't listen to that either.
It also turned out that it was poorly placed as a paranormal romance. They got several reviewers for the book and not one of them could get into it. Another weird thing about Solstice. I asked why they didn't have their publishing imprint on the back book cover. There was this big blank space where that was supposed to be. They didn't know what I was talking about. So much for a "good" publisher. After the three years I allowed that contract to expire.
But getting a publisher for a formerly published had become even harder. In the meantime I found a different edit of that book that I had lost (it was on Google Drive) and I worked on that, and the other two in the trilogy, and I went to Crete, where part of the action takes place, and worked on it more there, and now I have a trilogy to offer. This one is called Journal of an Undead: Love Stories. But it's still a previously published, and it's even harder to find a publisher now than before. So now I'm marketing Journal of an Undead: Climax instead. The last publisher interested said they wanted the first book of the series, and after taking that, then said they didn't do reprints.
Also in 2016 All Things that Matter Press agreed to publish the Grimm's anthology collection. It was scheduled to be released shortly before the Grimms TV series was to end. I joined a Facebook group because I loved the Grimm series and hoped to promote the book. I had them publish it under my pen name, Lizbeth Grimm, derived from my grandmother's maiden name. They lived in Grimms, Wisconsin, which is also fun, and we used a photo I had of their old house on the cover. They had a horrible looking type for the cover title, though. They wouldn't use the font I had. They also had the cover much too dark, you could hardly see the house. I complained, they said there was nothing they could do, and yet the next time I looked, it was better.
In the meantime I read one of the publisher's books (a mom and pop operation is what they were) and was honest about it. I don't think they took kindly to that idea. Honesty, I mean. Though they never said anything. In 2017 I offered them Saving Boone: Legend of a Half-breed, but in the meantime realized I didn't want that on the cover and changed it to Saving Boone: Legend of a Half-White Son. We tossed a few different ideas around. They wanted half-breed on the cover and I said no. They didn't like Saving Boone because they thought readers would think Daniel Boone right away. And they proceed to butcher the cover, to the point where I could not even promote it. I spent a year in agony with what I thought (and still think) is one of my best written novels, before finally joining Authors Guild and getting that contract canceled. The reason? The title was wrong and they would not change it. Instead of "a son" they had "the son." It entirely changes the connotation. Anyway, once they canceled that, they just naturally canceled the Grimm, too, which actually had pretty good reviews, now lost to eternity.
But now I had two more books that were likely not going to find a publisher. No, I'm not impatient, except perhaps in not waiting for better contracts. I have had a number offered that just didn't feel right, so I don't take the first one I get, ever.
I hope publishers don't see my experiences as making me too hard to work with. I don't think I am. But at the same time, when I have ideas about what goes on the cover, I should be listened to. All three of those published covers were bad. But, that said, Adam's covers don't guarantee they'll sell, either. I've even had people tell me they liked that old Saving Boone cover. I just don't see how that's possible.
Anyway, Saving Boone went a few rounds of submissions with a new edit and title, Saving Boone: Legend of a Kiowa Son but there are even fewer that will take previously published. I told Adam I wanted movement on the cover, buffalo if possible, but the book does not sell. Grimms American Macabre has a new cover ready to go and it will be called Grimms American Fairy Tales.
Why wouldn't publishers want a cover free to them and ready to go? I'll try a few publishers for Grimm but I don't hold much hope. It'll have new stories, and be more whimsical.
In 2019 I self-published Civil War & Bloody Peace with Adam's cover because I wasn't going to let all that research go to waste. When the pandemic hit and Trump was making such a mess of everything I researched and wrote From Lincoln to Trump. Though I queried a few, I wanted it out before the November 2020 election and the only way was to do that myself. Now it's in second edition, and of course I know better than to try and market it again.
Then there's my series of copper resource manuals. I have been compiling a master database of all pre-contact copper artifacts found in the Americas for over a decade, and realized that I need to start getting the books out there. I have 23 planned. I queried several who would take this kind of work and they all responded with affirmatives, but I would have to accept little to no royalties. They were academic publishers only, and I guess meant for professionals who have to publish in their field. I'm no professional, I don't teach and I spent money gathering these materials. I suppose I could have just gone with them for the "prestige," but I was also afraid they wouldn't be able to handle the data appropriately. So all of these will be SP at Amazon in book form only.
What I have left in my unpublished book list are one history nonfiction where I have a beta reader ready to help with the final clean-up and a publisher ready to take a look. I have my Journal of an Undead trilogy that I don't want to SP but I will do Love Stories if I have to. I have an archaeology novel making the rounds, a mythological erotic that's having a hard time, and I'm doing continual work on a first-person thriller that's been giving my trouble and gets no feedback from previous submissions where I thought it was ready. I always look for publishers before I self-publish anything.
So please don't tell me I'm not patient. This is just the way my publishing life has gone.