Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Favorite Author and My Guest Today: Western Historical Romance Author Ellen O’Connell Talking About An Independent Path
Ellen has graciously agreed to give away a copy of any one of her books to one of those leaving a comment--an eBook sent anywhere or a paperback to someone commenting with a US address who prefers paperback). So comment for a chance to win!
Thank you, Regan, for the invitation to be a guest on your blog. I’ve read previous guest blogs here and know I’m in illustrious company.
Writing My First Novel
Those other guests undoubtedly all started their writing careers in more dignified ways than I did. In fact if someone held a contest searching for the author who started in the strangest way, I would enter and expect to win because a bet started me off. My sister and I had been having one of those common reader discussions of books we liked and disliked and of course before long we got to, “I could write something better than that.”
That particular day we didn’t stop there. We kept going and challenged each other to prove we really could do it. We would each write our better book, and the first one to finish would win. Being competitive at best of times and more so in sibling situations, I set out to win that bet.
Threads in romance forums along the lines of “What I Hate About....” show I’m not the only one with a list of tropes that don’t make me sigh with satisfaction but grind my teeth in aggravation. From the start I knew I couldn’t write anything that mentioned flowing tresses or emerald eyes once, much less once every five pages, but I concentrated on more substantial issues.
My book would have a hero who came across as strong and masculine without being arrogant, domineering, or manipulative. My heroine would be strong enough to be his equal, no silly TSTL script for her. Love was not going to change anyone’s personality 180 degrees in 300 pages. My hero and heroine were not going to quarrel their way into bed; lust wasn’t going to substitute for love. I wanted to stay within the conventions of what we all know as romance but also wanted to stay as realistic as possible.
Investigating the Publication Possibilities—the Indie Path
After winning the bet with my sister, I investigated publishing. That was long enough ago that traditional publishing was the only available route. I joined Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, attended writers’ conferences and editor/agent appointments. I entered contests. ROTTWEILER RESCUE, my first indie published book, won the mystery division of RMFW’s annual Colorado Gold Contest. EYES was a second place finalist in that contest and one other. I was a member of a very good critique group for several years.
The problem with all that investigation was that while I learned a lot about writing, I also learned a lot about the publishing industry and didn’t like any of it. In spite of attending the conferences and meeting editors and agents, I never mailed a single query letter or sent a requested partial manuscript. The lack of control, time necessary to invest, and minimal financial reward for that time invested all convinced me that writing as a profession was nothing I wanted to do. A full time job and an avocation raising, training, and showing horses were all I could manage anyway.
By late 2009 when I first saw tantalizing snippets of information on the Internet about Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) program, my situation was different. Age and injuries had forced me to wind down my horse operation. At that time I believed all the conventional wisdom about the futility of self-publishing, but I had two and a half books on my computer that would never see a reader any other way. I had nothing to lose.
After months of reading everything I could find on self-publishing both eBooks and POD (print on demand) paperbacks, I published ROTTWEILER RESCUE with no expectations whatsoever. If it sold one copy, that would be one more than I ever expected. ROTTWEILER RESCUE sold 300 copies in its first full month, and although it is my slowest seller, it has now earned more than twice the advance published authors once assured me a book of that kind could bring a first-time author.
The results of my experiment astounded me. What if I had four of those? I didn’t. All I had finished was EYES, and everyone knew western historical romances were out of style and had no audience. Still, what if it sold a few copies? I published EYES in April of 2010. At first all my dismal expectations looked to be coming true. EYES didn’t sell nearly as well as the mystery, but by June something magical started, and I am so very grateful to the readers who found an indie western historical romance among the hundreds of thousands of books at Amazon, spread the word, and changed my life.
The indie path isn’t for every writer, but for me it has been the only way. Since the success of my books, I’ve had contacts from editors and agents involved in traditional publishing, and I’ve tried to remain open minded, but what they offer still doesn’t work for me, either financially or artistically.
I like what I’m doing and the way I’m able to do it. DANCING ON COALS, my Native American romance, has the best overall review average of all my books, but an occasional reviewer says, “It’s not a romance.” I think it is, but it’s my kind of romance, and no agent or editor was able to force me to make it a more conventional Native American story. In BEAUTIFUL BAD MAN, the hero, Cal Sutton, doesn’t do any politically correct turn around and hang up his guns for love of his lady. He may love Norah, but he’s not hanging up his guns and she’s not asking him to. In fact he’s as ready to gun down an enemy in the last chapter as the first.
As the saying goes, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.