My experience with publishing has been a winding road. My first 3 books, all large royal genealogies with no text to speak of, were published by Clearfield, a genealogical publishing company in Maryland. By the time the 3rd book came out (2002), the internet was making such genealogies less marketable so I stopped making books. I can’t really say I wrote them, as it was more correct to say I compiled them.
However I still wanted to do a book abut the Romanov imperial family of Russia. So I kept researching and “compiling.” As the decade was coming close to an end I finally decided to go a different direction with this family and write a biographical genealogy of them. I was inspired by a book titled “Queen Victoria’s Descendants” by Marlene Eilers which came out in the mid-80s. Her book included a complete genealogy but also significant text telling the stories of those people on her list. I replicated the format for the Romanovs
Writing such a book never would have worked for my first 3 books because the genealogies were entirely too large. Each one included some 10,000+ people. But for a smaller group of people this seemed to be the way to go. So I limited my Romanov book to the descedants of Emperor Nicholas I. He is the common ancestor of all the male lines still living today. But instead of telling the same stories that had been told over and over in other books about the 19th and early 20th century Grand Dukes of Russia, I chose to focus on the current generation of the family which then included several elderly members who were born shortly after the Revolution. By now it was well after the year 2000, so I titled the book “Romanovs in the 21st Century.” There was some discussion of the long dead family members but only as a bridge from the past to the present.
But the question came of how to get this thing published. Clearfield was on its last legs at this point. They had gotten to point that they had been sending letters apologizing for not having the funds to pay my pultry little residual royalties from those first 3 books, so it did not seem prudent to attempt to publish through them. During my searches for a publisher, I came in contact with a German print-on-demand publisher who specialized in academic work. Hooking up with them has turned out to be the worst decision I have yet made in my writing career. Under the terms of the contract, they had total control of everything, including the cover art and setting the price.
Their first sacriledge was the cover art. They chose a modern day photo of the Kremlin, and nothing else. The remainder of the cover was a solid purple with white writing. I was appalled. By this time the Kremlin was the absolute emblem of the Communist Regime whose founding fathers were responsible for the murder of over a dozen Romanovs during teh Revolution. Then they added injury to insult by setting the price at 68 euros, which was then about $95. Who in their right mind is going to pay $95 for a book of this nature? No one, and that is who bought it. I have not made one dime off of the printed version of this book.
Through my depression of being had on the Romanov book, I noticed there was a new fad that seemed to be taking hold: ebooks. The German publisher had rights to the printed book but not to electronic versions of it, at least not if I made significant alterations to it. So that was what I did. I added a new chapter, updated the text with several pieces of information that had come to me too late to include in the print version, and completely reformatted the genealogy to be more readable on an ebook reader. With the help of a friend who was working on her first novel, I quickly discovered Smashwords, a company that allows authors to self-publish, for very little cost, to all e-reader formats (except Kindle). So I published an ebook of Romanovs in the 21st Century. Because Smashwords and Kindle have never quite worked out an agreement between them, I also published to Kindle directly. Since I own the ebook rights, I can publish with as many different outfits as I want to, but cannot publish a paperback version because those rights are still held by the German company.
Romanovs in the 21st Century, as an ebook, has turned out to be my best selling title to date. There’s even been a few months during a recent lay off where it paid the rent.
This success prompted to me top pursue a few more royal projects I had been working on over the years. With these new projects, I was able to add a paperback element to my self-publishing through CreateSpace. Each of these books has been relatively successful, especially considering the limited market they would appeal to. By 2011, I had finally gotten to the point that was ready to indulge a long-held desire: a novel.
As it turned out, writing the novel was the easy part. I knew it would be difficult to sell as a self-published book, so I tried to get professional assistance. By this point, the big publishers were generally all to the point of working only with agents, so I searched for an agent. I queried dozens, but never found one. So I decided it was time to go out on a limb and try self-publishing and see how it went. I have managed to make a name for myself in the circles that care about Euroepan royalty, but that did not translate into sales for a novel, even one with Imperial Russia as the backdrop.
Lesson learned? To be successful in the fiction market (any genre) requires good marketing. If you are able to make you book really stand out from the pack (and it is a HUGE pack), you may do okay. But realistically, the number of authors who make it big starting off in self-publishing can be counted on one hand with some fingers left over.
So where has that left me. I very recently found a small press to publish the series I started with Immortal Betrayal. I have other works outside of that series to use to continue to query agents who can hopefully help me get a publishing deal which comes with a large marketing component. Small presses are wonderful and they do afford me some benefits. Most notably, their books can be marketed to retailers and reviewers who still thumb their noses at self-published authors. Also, Barnes and Noble, the largest brick and mortar book store chain still in existence, will now at least consider carrying my books. Because I self-publish through CreateSpace, which is owned by Amazon (B&N’s only real rival), they will not even consider those books for their stores, but they are all available on their website.
There are lots of people who dole out advice for up and coming authors, much of which can be conflicting. But the one consistent thing I keep being told: keep writing. If you eventually have a hit, or at least develope a following, they will seek out you older books. So that is my current plan. keep going on the Immortal series, and use other fiction projects to try to entice bigger publishing deals.