In the sixteen years I’ve been traditionally published, I’ve seen plenty of lines close and publishers shut their doors. It’s a sad, unfortunate part of the business. Lucky for me, I was never directly affected by these closures or shutting doors. And while I sympathized with and supported author friends who were suddenly “orphaned”, I also secretly breathed a tiny sigh of relief that I’d been spared.
This past May of 2017, however, my luck ran out when Harlequin closed five lines. For three of those lines, including mine (Western), we had absolutely no warning and received the brutal news via a mass, impersonal email. In all fairness to the editors, they had only a brief warning themselves, a mere few hours ahead of the authors. The results of this decision were devastating and far-reaching. Along with “letting go” a hundred-ish authors, several Harlequin editors and art department/marketing personnel also received the boot.
I was immediately inundated with phone calls, texts, emails, Facebook messages, and Twitter messages to the point where I stopped responding after two days. I worried I’d drown in all the negativity and wind up hiding under the covers for a week in a state of deep depression. Instead, I took stock of my situation and quickly realized I was in about the best position possible under the circumstances.
Not two weeks earlier, I’d turned in the last book on my current Harlequin contract, which left me contractually free to submit elsewhere. This was very good as I was in the middle of putting together a new 3-book proposal. I had my first ever indie-published novella releasing the next month and the rights back to three books from my pre-Harlequin publishers. This was more than enough to keep me busy over the next few months. Lastly, and most importantly, writing is a second income for me. I wasn’t going to starve to death or be out on the streets.
My first step was to develop a plan of action which I later honed with my agent’s input. On that list were things like submitting new proposals (to Harlequin and other publishers), revising and rereleasing my older books, growing my platform, having a long heart-to-heart with my Harlequin editor, trying a new genre like women’s fiction, and meeting with industry professionals.
Despite having no deadlines looming or contract obligation, I kept my nose firmly to the grindstone – something my husband didn’t quite understand. I networked with other authors who were or had been in my shoes and gleaned advice from them. I attended writing workshops and conferences. I stepped up my promotion efforts. By the end of four months, I’d submitted three different proposals to multiple publishers and successfully launched two indie books.
In September, I got ‘the call’ from my agent. Harlequin offered me a 2-book contract with their Heartwarming line – which my agent then negotiated into a four-book contract ☺ (FYI, I’m still waiting to hear back on the other two proposals so fingers are crossed). While Heartwarming isn’t as widely distributed as Western was, (which means less availability and potentially less royalties), there were many good reasons for me to accept the contract. Besides building in easy deadlines that allow me to work on other projects, like that women’s fiction story, I’m able to keep my career momentum going by regularly releasing new books.
Plus, who knows what the future will bring? The industry is always changing. Harlequin could shuffle lines or create new ones. I might sell one of those two other proposals I submitted. I could finally be discovered and hit it big!
If I was to offer advice to someone who’s been “orphaned”, it would be to:
1) Examine your financial situation first – do you need to get a day job or can you comfortably afford to write full-time until the money starts rolling in again?
2) Work hard like you’re under contract even though you aren’t. Develop a plan of action that includes doable goals listed in order of priority.
3) Network with other authors and industry professionals.
4) Surround yourself with positive people who won’t dim your light with their horror stories.
The good news is most authors I know have eventually bounced back. Some have even reached greater heights after re-evaluating their career and choosing a new direction. For me, I’m grateful to be under contract again and writing the kind of stories I love.