Leigh Duncan‘s legions of fans are familiar with her Harlequin romances, but may not be as familiar with her recent venture into indie publishing. Leigh’s last post with RU resonated with so many people, we are very glad to have her back with us again. Be sure to scroll down for details of Leigh’s giveaway (available for U.S. shipping addresses only).
First off, let me thank the wonderful faculty at Romance University, and especially Becke Martin Davis, for inviting me to chat with all of you today. When Becke asked me to post on RU last month, I thought, “Wow! What an privilege!” But to be invited back again, well, I am doubly honored.
Today, I’d like to talk a little bit more about a subject I touched on during my previous post—writing the book-of-your-heart—and how indie publishing has provided an avenue to put those book in the hands of readers when, until recently, that might not have been possible.
In 1998, Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible took the book world by storm. I caught her on a talk show and listened in awe as she said she’d worked on the Poisonwood for ten years before she sold it.
I was amazed!
“Ten years,” I thought. “How on earth could someone spend ten years of their life on one book?” She must have really, really loved that story. Something I would find out for myself before too much longer.
Fast forward a bit and there I was, knee-deep in my own book-of-my-heart. The story had come to me gradually. Along with the rest of the world, I’d heard about the tragedy of Jonestown, the stories of the Branch Davidians. The images haunted me, refused to let go.
“What if?” I began to ask. “What if?”
What if a young woman discovered her father was the leader of such a cult? What if he wasn’t as evil or misguided as everyone thought? What if he’d started out with a true vision that had somehow been perverted along the way? What would it take for her to save him, to save his followers?
I can’t begin to know what else Ms. Kingsolver did in those ten years she spent working on The Poisonwood Bible. I can only tell you that, no, I did not spend an entire decade working on a single book. Between the day I first hunkered down over a yellow legal pad and began writing the story of a young woman who embarked on a search for the father she’d never known, infiltrated his end-time cult, and had to “find herself” before she could save anyone else, and the day Pattern went on sale, I wrote dozens of short stories and self-help articles. I sold them to a variety of magazines and publishers. I wrote eight books for Harlequin American Romance. When that line folded, I took it as a sign that I should move on, as well. Since October of last year, I’ve indie-published two novellas and my first women’s fiction novel, which I released as a three-part serial.
In the meantime, Pattern spent most of its time collecting dust, but I never forgot it. Not truly. More than anything else I’d ever written, I loved this story of a woman’s journey and wanted to share it with the world. Whenever I had the slightest break in my publishing schedule—while I was waiting for an editor to red-line my latest manuscript or waiting to hear whether my latest proposal had been accepted—I’d drag Pattern onto my desktop and work on it for a while.
And, oh my, did it need work.
I remember the first positive response I received to one of the dozens of query letters I’d sent out for Pattern. (Yes, query letters—typed on special bond purchased for just that purpose, signed, inserted in a stamped envelope and hand-delivered to the post office. Oh my, how things have changed over the last decade!) The agent suggested we “discuss the manuscript over the phone,” which sent me over-the-moon. Despite a hammering heart that literally made my voice wobble, the conversation went extremely well…right up to the point where he asked about word count. Two-hundred-and-four-thousand, I said rather proudly. To which he replied with … dead silence. Without asking to see the full, he suggested I cut the page length down by, oh, say half, before he could possibly offer representation.
And so began the first of Pattern’s many, many revisions and re-writes. In 2009, the manuscript won the Inspirational Category of the TARA contest (and I received a beautiful TARA pendant that I treasure to this day). But winning that contest prompted a re-write to heighten the religious elements of the story before I delivered the requested full to one of the largest publishing houses for Christian fiction. Despite my efforts, the acquiring editor decided the book wasn’t “inspy enough” for her line.
Certain my baby would find a home with a major publisher, I moved on. At the next publishing house, someone thought Pattern needed more suspense, which prompted another re-write, this time focusing on the manipulations of the evil men who bilked millions from their ardent followers. A different publisher thought the story would make a great contemporary romance…if only there wasn’t so much suspense and there was more, um, romance. Determined, I re-wrote again, this time hoping to hit that sweet spot.
But, no matter what I did, no matter how many plot twists I added to—or removed from—Pattern in response to one editor’s request or another’s, it didn’t sell. Worse, I felt the book had lost its focus. What I saw as Pattern’s underlying theme—that even good, well-intentioned men can veer off the path—had become muddled, the message diluted by an author—this author—who, in trying to please someone else, had lost sight of the pattern in Pattern of Deceit.
Hindsight being what it is, I see the problem now. This book didn’t fit neatly into one of the big publisher’s boxes. Give NY a straightforward Historical, and they’ll jump on it. They know how to package that book. They know which elements need to be on the cover. They know where it fits on store shelves and what kind of advertising will draw the attention of fans of Historical fiction. The same goes for contemporary romance or any of a dozen other genres.
Not so with Pattern.
This book contains religious elements, but it certainly isn’t inspirational. There’s mystery and intrigue, but it isn’t a straight-up mystery. The hero and heroine in the book meet, fall in love and live happily ever after, yet it isn’t a contemporary romance. Not entirely.
After a while, I wondered if Pattern would ever find a home anywhere else but in my heart.
Then, beginning in 2011, the publishing world underwent a fundamental change. The popularity of e-readers exploded. At the same time, the possibilities for indie publishing expanded. Before 2010, an author who wanted to self-publish usually shelled out thousands of dollars to a vanity press, filled the trunk of the family car with hundreds of print copies and hit the road in an often-vain attempt to hand-sell their books. (Don’t get me wrong. Indie publishing still requires a considerable cash outlay. See my Romance University post from August 12th for more details.) But e-readers and a new willingness to handle self-published books by retailers like Amazon, Kobo and iBooks gave indie authors the ability to reach readers without ever having to leave home.
For friends of mine, the re-birth of indie publishing mean there was finally an avenue for putting their books-of-the-heart into readers’ hands. I’d offered moral support when the big-name publishers turned aside from my friend Rocki’s books because they featured less-than-perfect heroines or slightly older heroes. And, then I watched as she launched her Barefoot Bay Timeless series, books that feature “Heroes that are older, wiser, hotter. And silver.” That series instantly resonated with readers and firmly established NY Times Best-Selling author Roxanne St. Claire as the Queen of Silver Foxes, a brand new contemporary romance sub-genre.
Had indie publishing given me a brand new way to reach readers, too?
Unfortunately, after making multiple attempts to fit others’ expectations, Pattern of Deceit was an unwieldy mess, a tangle of threads, a story that had lost the inspirational elements I felt were critical to the plot, one that wasn’t nearly as suspenseful as my vision for it, one that no longer focused on the heroine’s growth. The only way to fix things was to start over. And so, once again, I reached into my proverbial drawer which, by now, was safely archived on my computer. And I hired my own editor. Someone who shared my vision for a suspenseful women’s fiction and thought the inspirational and contemporary romance elements of the book only added to its appeal.
So, what has the recent uptick in indie publishing given me? It’s provided me with the ability to deliver my very own book-of-my-heart to my readers. And I think the same holds true for everyone who has a project-of-their-heart that doesn’t immediately find a market. Keep trying. Be persistent. Never let go of your dreams. Because, sooner or later, the landscape will change enough to let your baby find a home.
Even if it takes ten years.
Have you had a project that took years to complete? How did you keep your focus, maintain your faith in the project, while you worked on it?
Leigh Duncan is the award-winning author of more than two dozen novels, novellas and short stories. Her first full-length book, The Officer’s Girl, was released by Harlequin American Romance in 2010. Leigh went on to write seven more books for Harlequin, including the highly acclaimed Glades County Cowboys series, before she began writing the more complex, heart-warming and emotional stories that have resonated with her readers. An Amazon best-selling author and a National Readers’ Choice Award winner, Leigh lives on Central Florida’s East Coast where she writes women’s fiction and contemporary romance with a dash of Southern sass. Contact Leigh through her website (www.leighduncan.com), Facebook (LeighDuncanBooks) or on Twitter (@leighrduncan). Sign up for Leigh’s Newsletter: http://leighduncan.com/newsletter/
One winner will be chosen at random from the comments to receive an autographed, print copy of Pattern of Deceit (US shipping address only, please).
Finding her long-lost father was the easy part.
Following the hit-and-run death of her grandmother, Meridith Woodson discovers that her entire life has been based on a lie. Leaving everything she’s ever known behind, she sets out to unravel the truth. Her journey takes her to the Amish countryside outside Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where she infiltrates a demanding religious cult to meet its founder—her father.
The ink has barely dried on Brad Lang’s medical license when yet another odd accident lands a raven-haired tourist on his exam table. Concerned for her safety, Brad warns Meridith away from the ragtag sect on the outskirts of town, but his fears mount when she falls under the spell of the group’s charismatic leader and disappears behind the compound’s fortified walls.
With guards monitoring her every move, Meridith quickly discovers that gaining acceptance among The Prepared was the easy part. Escaping—even with Brad’s help—will require more strength and courage than she possesses.