The Romance Reviews

Sunday, 6 June 2010

What a ride it's been.

Although I had been writing and published for nearly two decades in the non-fiction world of newspapers and magazines, I was still considered a “newbie” by publishing houses when I approached them with a fiction manuscript in the late 1990’s. There were rules upon rules – get an agent, no unsolicited manuscripts, no unsolicited queries, agents that didn’t want to invest time in an unknown… All I wanted was for someone to give me a chance.

I had two manuscripts I was trying to market – More Than a Friend (never published - yet) and Courage of the Heart (published twice since then). I received a few personalized rejections (and I appreciate the time a couple of editors took to help educate me); while they complimented my writing, the main reason for rejection was that my stories didn’t follow “the formula strictly enough”. Perhaps if they hadn’t regarded me as a “newbie” they might have been willing to take a chance on a storyline that dared to step outside boundaries.

One agent recommended that I self publish and try to overcome my unknown status, but I couldn’t afford that. I did however find a print-on-demand publisher that would be willing to make my book available at no cost to me and a fairly hefty cut of any profits for themselves. My book, Courage of the Heart, was accepted and I was thrilled. However before the book was actually “published”, this company decided to enter the subsidy publishing world; since we had already signed a contract they did not impose any fees, but they also left me totally to my own devices to publicize and market the novel. Courage of the Heart sold VERY FEW copies.

Several years later I was still determined to be a published novelist – I had also learned a lot more about the industry and marketing. When a friend on MySpace began bragging that she had just signed a contract with Vanilla Heart Publishing and was thrilled with the experience, I looked them up and liked what I saw. I submitted a query for my novel Bartlett’s Rule. Managing Editor Kimberlee Williams expressed an interest and asked for the complete manuscript – I was literally speechless the night I opened an email telling me that she was going to offer me a contract. That was almost three years ago.

Since Bartlett’s Rule was published in April 2008, I’ve penned several more manuscripts and so far I’ve had a total of eight novels with VHP (one romance, six romantic-suspense, and one murder-mystery). Courage of the Heart was updated, the contract with the first publisher was nullified and it was released by VHP in January, 2009 – and it has sold many, many more copies.

Vanilla Heart Publishing is a traditionally based small press offering contracts and decent royalties. Between what I’ve learned about promotion and marketing and the excellent guidance, knowledge and support from Kimberlee Williams, I have enjoyed a small modicum of success.
The publishing industry today is very competitive – fortunately there are many more options for newer and unknown authors. No matter whether an author is completely self-published, under contract with a small independent or published by one of the “Big Six”, the process of promotion and marketing has to be a team effort. An author’s responsibility does not end with the words “The End” – unless you have a six figure reputation that a publisher is willing to invest in, you will have to heavily involve yourself in promoting yourself and your work. Many successful writers maintain a strong internet presence between social networking and blogging, set up in-person appearances, and jump on every opportunity to publicize their books.

Vanilla Heart Publishing and its authors work together as a team to ensure success. Kimberlee encourages us to use social media and blogs, she maintains a company blog and helps to “brag” about her authors, and provides online forums where we can get more exposure. She also sends out press releases, review copies, creates trailers, distributes sales sheets, designs our covers and markets the VHP line to distributors, online retailers and indie bookstores. As much as Kimberlee does for each of us, she is demanding – no one is allowed to sit on respective “arses” and wait for it all to be done for us. It is definitely worth it all.

It’s been an interesting and exciting ride. Sometimes it might even seem a bit overwhelming – those are the times when Kimberlee shifts from gentle taskmaster to nurturer and helps to re-build our egos. With her knowledge and encouragement, it is fun as we watch the sales rankings and get “Google alerts”. I don’t know if I would be as happy doing what I do if I were with a bigger publisher or self-publishing and doing it all on my own.

For now, I’m working on my next novel - and loving the work I do.

Check out my website - Welcome to Chelle's World


Janice Seagraves said...

Your publisher sounds absolutely wonderful. I'm thrilled that you found a publishing home.


Lindsay Townsend said...

Congratulations, Chelle, on an amazing journey! I've heard nothing but good things for your publisher and seeing all your books together is very impressive!

Do you have the audio rights for your books? Could you perhaps try Audio Lark with them?

I agree about publishing being a team effort. The excellent thing about modern publishers is that provide info on where to promote and how.

Have you tried twitter at all? I'm toying with the idea but not done it yet.

Unknown said...

CHELLE--I checked out VHP a year or so ago, and honestly--they intimidated me by the strict submission guidelines--technical stuff--and their view on what they wanted and didn't want. Publishers still intimidate me some--I suppose I'll never get over it--but I'm a braver soul now with a tougher skin. I congratulate you on your success with them. Since I know how difficult it seems to be on their list, I'm truly impressed.
I'd already looked at your books on VHP, and then I began to see your name here and there. I felt as though I knew you! I enjoyed your story of the road to publication, and thanks for visiting us here on Lindsay's Romantics. Celia

Stephanie Burkhart said...

what an amazing and inspirational journey. Thanks so much for sharing.


Julia Rachel Barrett said...

Interesting journey into the publishing world. Yes, there are lots of options out there now - independent and small publishing houses are filling a much needed void - authors ignored by the big pubs. Congrats!

authorcharmainegordon said...

Chelle, a beautifully written journey of your perseverance and the rainbow. Yes, Kimberlee Williams is all you say; tough, loving, a friend and teacher. She's brought me along in these few months.
You are an inspiration.


Savanna Kougar said...

Chelle, thanks for sharing. Yeah, I've been writing romances since I was sixteen and on rare occasions I've submitted. But I soon discovered there was no way I was going to make it in the romance pub world as it was in the 70's through most of the 90's.
Like you say, the requirements were simply too strict. Furthermore, I didn't want to write those kinds of romances. So why bother and knock my head against a brick wall.
So, I wrote for myself because, hey, I'm a writer and during the 90s I wasn't finding the books I wanted to read, either.
Glad you found the best publisher for you and your books!

Linda Banche said...

Good for you, Chelle! I wish you lots of success.

Like Savanna, I'm not finding the kinds of books I like, either. I doubt I'm the only person like that. I just hope things change enough so that those of us who don't quite fit into the corporate idea of what's acceptable stand a chance.

Chelle Cordero said...

Hi and thanks for stopping by Janice, Lindsay, Celia, Steph, Julia, Charmaine, Savanna & Linda (geez, I go out for a day and find all of your comments - great feeling)

The publishing world has changed dramatically over the past few years and thank goodness for that. There is a lot of talent that had previously been overlooked, I know I have read many more "unknown" authors and have enjoyed the stories immensely.

Celia, never let yourself be stopped because you are intimidated. While I can't guarantee that any particular publisher would take on an author, you never know until you try.

Linda & Savanna, I've heard many times that we should write the type of book we would like to read - thsat is what I've done.

Lindsay, thanks, I will speak with Kimberlee about Audio Lark. And yes, I am on Twitter -


LK Hunsaker said...

Hi Chelle, that's the biggest reason many indies become indie ... we don't fit the mold! I like mold breakers and can't imagine why publishers wouldn't want better variety.

Congrats on pushing through to find what you needed!

Linda Acaster said...

Yours is an inspirational story of 'never taking no for an answer', and I'm glad you didn't. I wish you ever success in the future.

Bekki Lynn said...

Like they say, there is no 'I' in teamwork.

Hurray for the different! And the go get'm attitude. I love it.

KBWalker said...

Thanks for sharing your story. I've self-published my memoir(see Tuesdays installment here on Lindsay's blog). For various reasons it was the right choice for that book at that time. It's been a challenging journey but I've learned alot! I hope to find a publisher like the one you've described so glowingly for my debut novel. You've given me hope!