Last month I mentioned in my blog that several agents had suggested that I stop writing my Charlie Parker series and write something else, under a different name. A reader questioned why those in the publishing world would suggest such a thing, and I thought that would be a great topic for this month's post.

First, a little background: Publishing is a strange business. I don't know any other way to say it. Traditional New York publishing is now owned by six large corporations and publishing decisions are driven almost completely by sales numbers. It doesn't help that so many independent bookstores have gone under, in the face of overwhelming competition from chain stores and online sellers. The large chains set up sales models which were monitored by a very few buyers in a central location. Computer reports dictated what the stores would stock and this largely determined the fate of an author.

The way a book moved through the system was based on advance "buzz" about the title. If big advertising dollars were going to be put behind a title, the chains could justify ordering multiple copies for each of their stores. Publishers paid tens of thousands of dollars for placement of those books at the front of the store (don't think for a minute that some bookstore employee just takes a look through the stock and starts sticking books on shelves and tables---it's all very carefully planned), and that money was spent on the "name" authors and titles.

Okay, so what happens is that First Time Author writes a book and it gets published. Let's say there is a good amount of buzz, some positive reviews, and the author has planned a little signing tour (for all but the top ten or so bestseller list writers, all this is done at the author's expense). First Time Author's book does okay. For the sake of argument, we'll say that it sells 10,000 copies in the first two months. That's not bad. But by then new books are coming along, and the bookstores are allowed to return unsold stock to the publishers (a VERY weird business practice, in my opinion, but that's how it is in publishing). So, maybe 2,000 copies get returned, for a net sales total of 8,000 books.

The author has written book #2 and it comes out a year later. But this one doesn't get quite the buzz of the first. Face it, everyone loves the concept of discovering that fresh new voice! So, this time the chain stores look at their records and see that the author's first book didn't sell out, so they order even fewer copies of the second book--say, 5,000 total. These most certainly won't get placed on a table at the front and, buried among 50,000 other books, will likely not get noticed at all unless the author has really pushed hard for this one. So, probably half of Book #2 get returned and the publisher is thinking this is an author who is definitely on his way out the door. If they give the author a chance at a third, fourth or fifth book, it will almost be a miracle. The computer doesn't lie, and that computer is telling everyone in the publishing world that this author is a loser.

The author still wants to write. There are fans who still want to read their books. But the publisher and the stores are no longer interested. So, if the author is still on good terms with his/her agent after all this, the agent may recommend writing a whole new series or genre and submitting it under a different name.

So, that's the strange world of publishing.

Now, I must say that my own case was not quite this bleak. I was lucky to be with a smaller press in the beginning and they stuck with me through ten books. But when my original publisher changed hands and the interest seriously began to wane I just didn't have the sales to make an agent or a bigger publishing house jump for joy. That's when I began to get those suggestions from agents.

Making a long story just a little bit longer...I came to the realization that the group who were really being left out were my readers. People wanted more Charlie books and I was  determined not to quit writing them.

Enter the new realm of e-books, printing presses designed to fill demand as needed--and I was on my way! Now I can write as much as I'm capable of, and I can get them out to the people who want them. To me, it's about the relationship between author and reader. Period. As long as I can come up with fresh plot ideas, and as long as you are out there wanting new books I'll be here!


Lil Gluckstern
05/04/2011 6:15am

I think that e-books are going to make a large difference in how authors get published. Actually, they already have. There are authors whom I enjoy who are only publishing on e-books, and I can better afford these books. I already have your new Charlie, and I look forward to more. It is really wrong, (but a basic tenet of capitalism) that the big 6 should control so much potential pleasure. It does involve self promotion, but I enjoy the personal touch too.
Thank you.

Connie Shelton
05/10/2011 12:10pm

Thanks, Lil! You are so right about the variety of books, reasonably priced, that are now available thanks to e-book venues.

05/16/2011 7:34pm

Thank you for these books.... I found the kindle forms of the books first quite recently, loved the price and tried a couple from the Charlie Parker series. I have now in less than two months read the entire Charlie Parker series and I think I am current with the Samantha Sweet series as well. I have to say that I wasn't sure I would like the Sam books; I love Charlie so much I couldn't imagine liking another heroine by the same author (it's rare for me)- but I am anxiously awaiting new books starring both women- I have fallen in love with the Santa Fe area from reading these books.

So basically, I've all the books for both series in two months or less- for a great price- one which if the price were doubled (like it should be) I could not have afforded to do and have found a new favorite author.

Your books; they are entertaining with strong inspiring female characters. Thanks again for writing them. I keep checking back in hopes of finding a new book authored by you to read. The last 6 of your books I read in less than two weeks-- and I'm a grad student, single mother of three, adjunct yoga instructor and exercise junkie-now turned Connie Shelton junkie as well.

05/18/2011 3:32am

Love Samantha Sweet! Just found you on Amazon Kindle and after reading 2 books in 2 days, I say thank you to the world of ebooks. And thank you to authors like yourself who will continue to publish in both ebook and physical book format.

Bea E.
06/09/2011 11:15am

Bela's remarks echo my own (except for the exercise junkie part). Thanks for writing such wonderfully entertaining and exciting books! I can't wait for the next one to come out.

Thanks, too, for keeping the Kindle price low; it has allowed me to purchase all your books, which I wouldn't have been able to do otherwise. (One wonders why other publishers haven't figured this out yet.)

I admit I felt guilty when I started buying books from Amazon, years before Kindle was launched. I felt disloyal to the big chain bookseller. No longer. Amazon, by virtue of their "you might be interested in..." offerings has led me to many new and interesting authors, which I don't think I would have found in the bookstore. It's how I found you! Add that to the fact that my Kindle can hold a room full of books without cutting down a single tree has made me a confirmed Kindle lover.

The only problem I have with your books is that I can't put them down! Once I begin one, I have to read it through. Wow! What talent.

Mara Salinas
02/24/2012 9:30am

I just finished your last Charlie Parker book and I am lost. I started reading the series with Balloons Can Be Murder in October after returning from the Albuquerque, my hometown, Balloon Fiesta. I was looking for some books about my home state and fell in love with this one. After that book I started at the beginning of the series and found that I was going through them so quickly I had to force myself to slow down and make them last. I really enjoy the great plots and characters but also all the references to my home state and the food and culture that make it so wonderful. I live in California now but reading these books has brought a touch of home back into my daily life.

Thank you so much.

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