Marsha Canham's Blog

June 21, 2011


Filed under: Caesars Through the Fence — marshacanham @ 2:59 pm

We all have them, we all make them every day.   Some are minor, like what shoes to wear with what colored baseball cap (shot there at my grandson LOL who actually has more pairs of shoes than I do) to the big, major choices that can be life changing.

Over the past year the publishing world has undergone a huge upheaval.  Ebooks have suddenly taken over a large sector, offering writers as well as readers the choice of whether to read a book in print, or on their Kindle or iPad or Nook.  There are blogs all over the internet about writers making small fortunes because they had forsight to jump on that wave when it was just a tiny swell out in the ocean.  I know from my own experience that I was cynical of all the woo hoo posts back in August of last year.  I hadn’t really heard any of the rumbling going on. Didn’t own a Kindle, and still had the mindset from years ago when the first clunky wave of ereaders came onto the market and failed miserably. (Bear with me if I repeat some of things I’ve blogged about in the past.)

Then along came Kindle and iPad and the clunkiness was gone.  Ereaders were flat and sharp and did tricks and could fit in a purse and be carried anywhere. They could hold more than ten books at a time…hell, they could hold an entire library at your fingertips, and writers were waking up to this.  I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that over the years, I’ve had many emails from readers asking when books like The Wind and the Sea would be reissued.  It was 25 years old, long out of print, and (according to my agent) there were no publishers wanting to reissue backlist books when their desks were flooded with new books that they didn’t have the capital to publish.

Along came Julie Ortolon, a writer and a friend on an email loop, who suggested I publish my backlist myself.  Huh?  Myself?  She was all excited over the rumblings she’d heard about places like Smashwords, that would let you upload your books for free and give you 60% royalties on the sale price.  Blink blink.  Most publishing houses offer 8% of the print price, and a maximum of 25% of the ebook price.  She was even more excited that Amazon was allowing writers to upload their own books as well, and they paid 70%, no strings attached.  Paycheck every month like clockwork, again unlike publishing houses who still work off the archaic system of paying their authors twice a year.

The little tingle started at the back of my neck.  I knew I had four out of print books, so what the heck, it was worth testing out this brave new world.  A couple of them needed major updating, and we all had to learn about formatting and making covers and then marketing the finished product.  Those were all the things the traditional publisher handled.  They also handled the editing and copyediting, catching all the spelling and grammar mistakes, and finding little inconsistencies in books that required tweaking or rewriting.  By publishing ourselves, we would be without of all those things, like the emperor with no clothes.  The good thing, of course, was that these were books that had already been in print, already vetted for errors in logic and spelling.  The sheer fact they had been accepted at some point by a publisher meant the stories were good enough to pass that mountainous slush pile of manuscripts that land on an editor’s desk every year.

BacklistEbooks was formed, a group comprised of authors who, like Jules and me, were groping our way through this new labyrinth of formatting and self publishing.  We went from about 20 authors to over 200 in the course of a few months as more and more authors realized there was now a CHOICE.  We had the *choice* of whether to let our backlist books remain on a dusty shelf somewhere, or haul them into the light, brush them off, put spiffy new covers on them, tidy up the writing and content, then upload them ourselves. 

I must say, I held my breath when China Rose went live.  I’ve been out of the publishing world for the past seven years…way worse than dog years in a writer’s life.  Most authors try to put at least one book a year in front of their readers and fans, and many try for more than that.  To be gone for 7 years with nothing new…well…I honestly thought China Rose wouldn’t go anywhere. Perhaps a few diehard fans would notice it and buy it as a memento or a curiosity, and in fact, it only sold a handful of copies that first month.  I had committed to putting up the four books, so regardless of numbers, I kept working on the others, polishing them up and eventually, by Christmas, had all four on Amazon and Smashwords.

Some names get bandied around like ping pong balls…John Locke, Joe Konrath…both of whom have made a huge success out of getting on that wave early, pricing their books and stories at .99 and selling in the thousands *every day*.  Others have sipped some of the Koolaide and while their numbers are not a fraction of what either of those gentlemen sell, they’re still thrilled just to see their old books getting a second chance at life.  I happen to fit into that latter catagory and while I do tweet (had to learn that sucker augh) and post to Facebook, I’m not as adept at flooding the cyberworld with promotion and marketing.  Nor do I really want to spend five and six hours a day flogging 25 yr old books. 

One of the surprising side effects of self publishing these backlist books has been the realization that I am the Master and Commander of my own fate now.  I have a choice.  Seven years ago I *chose* to retire rather than follow orders from the publishing house to write what *they* wanted me to write.  My creative choice was being smothered, so I chose to be more of a grandmother and less of an author.  I’d had a good career…not great, and never made it out of the midlist herd…but I had some books out there that were considered “classics”, most of them with great five star reviews, and a huge shelf full of awards and acknowledgements.  But after 7 years, I knew it would be nearly impossible to get my foot back in that particular door.  Hell, my agent hadn’t even returned my calls in about three years, and the last email I got asked me why on earth I would want the rights back to my other backlist books? What could I do with them?  Even a few sales a year through the publisher were better than none.

Duh.  Whole other rant possible about that, but we’ll let it go for now, and get back to my surprising side effect…my epiphany if you will.

I realized I had a choice.  I could now write whatever I wanted.  There were no anonymous faces in New York striking down my ideas with the ubiquitous red pen.  No orders to write Regencies or vampires.  No ultimatums of join the herd or be cut loose.  I was already cut loose and frankly, it was like a huge black and depressing cloud being lifted off my shoulders. 

Someone who writes, who creates whole new worlds out of their imaginations, cannot and should not be driven into a herd and told their creativity is not currently the popular choice.  I was told point blank that readers didn’t want swashbucklers or pirates or knights, and certainly not the big bold lengthy novels I was accustomed to writing.  But my numbers at Amazon and Smashwords have proven them wrong. Dead wrong.  They’ve risen every month, and I’m getting wonderful letters from fans thanking me for bringing my backlist out in digital format.  One email in particular, from an 18 yr old stood out from the others.  She said she tried one of my books because it was free and was hooked from page one to the end, drawn in by the adventure and romance and huge swashbuckling scope of the book.  She represents a whole new generation of readers, some of whom might think the only historical romances out there are all regencies or vampires LOL.

And what that has done is wakened my muse.  I know I now have the choice to write what the heck I want to write, how I want to write it, and to make it as long and big and bold as I want to make it.  I’m not cocky enough to think I can go this on my own. I still plan to get the finished book edited and copy edited by eyes sharper than mine (why *don’t* editors let you make up words if there are no existing words to say what you want them to say…how DO new words get into the dictionary *snort*). In the meantime, my backlist is up and I’m thrilled there are readers finding it and enjoying the world of my imagination.

Do I think this choice is good for everyone?  Do I think ALL authors should bypass traditonal publishers for the far easier, far more accepting worlds of Amazon and Smashwords?  That might be fodder for a new blog tomorrow, but the long and short answer is:  no.  I don’t.



  1. Go for it Marsha….. we’re all waiting

    Comment by Barb — June 21, 2011 @ 3:19 pm | Reply

  2. I understand clearly what you said about choices. As a reader, I prefer to read in print but ebook give me so many choices. It brings me back my favorite author who disappeared (for whatever reason). So I am willing to read an ebook if it deliver.

    Marsha, I waited for you new book. As you said, it had been seven long years.

    Comment by May — June 21, 2011 @ 3:34 pm | Reply

  3. Terrific post, Marsha! As a former editor & publisher (as well as a bestselling author), I can tell you that some of us on the publishing side felt equally confined by what “the market,” the distributors and the chain store buyers wanted/demanded. A lot had changed since “the good old days” when publishers & editors could be creative, try something wild, expand genres, introduce writers who weren’t “guaranteed” zillion-copy sellers. Over the years, the publishing “box” kept getting smaller but now with epub, readers & writers have a huge choice. There is–truly–something for everyone. And portable, too!

    Comment by Ruth Harris — June 21, 2011 @ 3:46 pm | Reply

  4. As a long time fan, all I can say is “Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!” What a wonderful thing it is to be able to do what you love and and do it the way YOU want to do it. I for one cannot wait for your books on swashbucklers, knights, and whatever else you dream of. I finally am getting to read The Wind and the Sea, and for $2.99 on my kindle!! Do you know what kind of awesomeness this is?? Especially when the regular copies were going for $20. Yea!

    Comment by Julie — June 21, 2011 @ 6:35 pm | Reply

  5. I am so happy that you can write what you like because that is when you can bring us great books not when someone tells you what to write. And as a reader I want to have a choice, I like vampires and Regency but I love your books whatever they are because I love your style of writing so there you are. I am waiting for a new book by you!

    Comment by Susana — June 21, 2011 @ 7:43 pm | Reply

  6. I want to be you when I grow up. I love your stories. They are exactly the types of tales I love to read. Thank goodness for the choice.

    Comment by Kary Rader — June 21, 2011 @ 8:02 pm | Reply

  7. Marsha, from the first book I read of yours (Pride of Lions) I was brought into your world and have traveled with you now for years (20+?). I happen to love, LOVE, your epic long novels, full of factual information that could teach the “youngins” a bit about history without them knowing it (teehee!). My heart nearly burst with happiness that your muse was awakened and you’ve felt a new sense of creative freedom. Bravo!!! Your writing style is intricate and I’ve not found many writers with your expansion of the topic. My husband might think I’m reading a romance novel; little does he know I’m reading of the battles he has studied and we’ve chatted about! Thanks for bringing joy to our lives, and congratulations on launching into the cyber world 😀

    Comment by Lisa Suhr — June 22, 2011 @ 12:44 am | Reply

  8. Fantastic!

    I have loved your books for a long time and I’m so happy to see your work out about again.

    This was a great post too!

    Comment by Saranna DeWylde — June 22, 2011 @ 5:00 am | Reply

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