Friday, April 26, 2013

Rolling on the River

Guest post by mystery author Susan Shea
There are times, as a writer, when I feel like a lumberjack rolling logs down a river, jumping from one unsteady floating raft to another, aware that I may fall into the roiling waters, get clunked on the head and go under.

Publishing is like that today, with so many options for getting to your readers, but on shifting platforms that move rapidly with the currents. Nimbleness is a requirement, risk-taking a necessity, constant vigilance demanded.

At the moment – and bless the fates for this – I am represented by a fantastic agent and being published traditionally, albeit with a small press, Top Five Books out of Chicago. (The second book in my Dani O’Rourke series, The King’s Jar, comes out May 1 in trade paper and e-book formats.) But if I have learned anything since 2010, when my debut novel was published by another traditional outfit, it’s that there are no sure things in this business unless you’re James Patterson or Sue Grafton.

Consider: My agent began shopping my first mystery in August 2008. Yes, that’s right, just as the bottom fell out of the stock market and editors at the major publishers got orders from the bean counters to freeze all purchases. The next set of orders began the trend we’re seeing today: Buy only sure best sellers from known authors – forget the mid list, those authors who might, if encouraged for a couple of books, find audiences.

My book eventually sold to a publisher that concentrated largely on library sales, so I got a hard cover debut and some nice reviews, but limited sales because it was difficult for bookstores to get stock. Eventually, as other editions were licensed, I began to get modest royalties, but it was no path to riches. Meanwhile, some of my savvy friends (including some on Crime Fiction Collective) jumped onto a different rolling log and decided to go the route of the new version of self-publishing, not the old vanity-press style but a more rigorous, credible, and audience-focused process that rightly blurred the lines between the traditional path and an independent one.

Today, there are many reputable authors, including scores who were traditionally published in the past, who have chosen the independent publishing mode and are doing well, editorially and financially. I’m not quite so nimble and, with the support of an agent who sticks with her authors, have that new book coming out. But I am keenly aware that the logs are shifting all the time, that there is no guarantee beyond my two-book contract, and that the burden to stay afloat is largely on my head.

If you’re a writer, hang on for dear life and never give up – there are alternative paths we never had before. If you’re a reader, thank you from all of us navigating the rivers of publishing – you’re why we’re afloat in any form!

Susan C Shea writes the Dani O’Rourke Mystery series. The first is Murder in the Abstract and the sequel is The King’s Jar, published May 1. You can read more about her at .


  1. Thanks for posting with us, Susan. I love your analogy for the publishing business and our choices. Those rolling logs are all a little scary, and you're spot on about readers keeping us afloat.

    Continued success for your series! I clicked through to your website and it sounds intriguing and fun.

  2. Nice to see you here on Crime Fiction Collective, Susan. I've published two craft-of-writing books myself within the past year, and the learning curve has been huge! I'm now trying to find time, between editing and writing, to design an author website, promote my books, and find more distributors for Style That Sizzles, which is now in print. Even more to learn! Then I'll need to start thinking about cover designs for the next books in the series... The list goes on!

    Good luck with your writing and publishing journey!

  3. Hi Peg and Jodie and thanks for letting me share space with this smart group of writing professionals!

  4. It's the best time ever to be a writer. I say that having my first book come out in 1991 and over 50 titles later. We control more than we ever did. But we also have more responsibility.

  5. Hey Susan - Great metaphor! The thing about those funny scenes in movies when the lumberjack is dancing on that one rolling log is that it just keeps turning faster and faster. It feels like publishing is rolling along like that these days, with new stories and options for writers cropping up by the hour. It is enough to leave you breathless.
    Great line, too, about your books coming out right when the recession hit. I had two books release in Florida right after hurricanes had hit and I did more than one signing by candlelight. But today, my career has never been better, so like Bob said, these fast times make for the best times.

  6. Welcome to CFC, Susan. Great to have you here. My story is the opposite of yours. I was unable to find representation by an agent, let alone a publisher. As a result, I jumped onto The Other Log (the self-publishing one), and only after finding success there did I end up back in the traditional publishing world--A place I couldn't get access to in the first place.

    To quote Alice in Wonderland: if you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there.

  7. Thanks for the post. I appreciate hearing about the perspective and experiences of others. And much success with the new book!


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