Thursday, November 08, 2007

Carole Nelson Douglas

Ed here: On his blog the other night Martin Edwards talked about how many good writers were being let go by their publishers only to find themselves unable to sell their books anywhere. A few writers I know have simply given up. They've even lost the will to sit at the machine any longer. Most of us battle on.

Carole Nelson Douglas and I have been friends for more than twenty years. She's a smart, hard-working and very talented woman whose books are known and loved around the world. She's worked successfully in mystery, suspense, science fiction, fantasy and romance. And what's more impressive is that she's brought something fresh to each genre. So I wasn't surprised when she wrote a paranormal novel that is witty, unique in concept and a hell of a lot of fun to read--as the title itself tells you: DANCING WITH WEREWOLVES.

Carole updated me yesterday about her recent success and I asked her permission to share it with our readers. It shows you that there are many paths to heaven--especially for writers who don't give up.

From Carole:

Ed, thanks for your ear and advice all these years. I thought
you'd like to know that what I expected to be a mild down-sizing
in 2004 turned into 3 1/2 years of being publishing poison. But
Katharine Hepburn came back from being box office poison and
so have I made a comeback finally, I think.

Dancing with Werewolves, the first of my new Delilah Street,
Paranormal Investigator series, just out from a new imprint of
a small press, debuted at # 20 in its category it's first week out on
Nielsen Bookscan and has maintained this week. And the _names_
it sits next to there and on all the Amazon lists! Wow.

DWW is an urban fantasy/noir paranormal set in a slightly futuristic Las
Vegas from Hell. The reviews are great, including a starred one in
Publishers Weekly. It's hung in the mid-hundreds on Amazon for
the three weeks it's been available there. And all this without yet
being available in Barnes and Nobles stores. (Due later this month.)

Speaking of Las Vegas, feline PI Midnight Louie's Vegas-set
mystery series kept on going strong through all this; it was a
replacement for my Irene Adler suspense series that proved
to be an unexpected problem.

Happily writing Louie and Irene for seventeen years, I noticed a
softening in the mystery market, so wasn't surprised when it came
time to drop my Victorian Sherlockian series. Others had ended
even earlier.

I hadn't been to market with a book since 1990, so was startled
to find that even after 50 published novels in several genres, a New
York Times Notable Book of the Year citation, and more than 50 fiction
and nonfiction awards or nominations, I had to write an entire novel on
spec to sell in the current market.

In fact, I ended up writing three, and none of them sold.

Oh, sure, the editors were willing to read the books. And for each
spec novel, one of the ten-to-twelve editors showed a twinge of interest,
or even, in one heart-breaking case, extreme enthusiasm and a thirst
for a series. But everything melted away in the face of "committee"
decisions and editors being overruled.

I really shouldn't have been surprised, but I was: I'd always sold
everything I wrote before. And the rejections didn't hurt my ego so
much as my pocketbook. Writing has been my livelihood for decades.
Suddenly, I wasn't being _allowed_ to work, to prove that my career
had built an audience.

I was surprised when my "DaVinci Code for Smart Chicks" novel was rejected
in 2005 by all the major editors available these days, but with respectful
mentions of my good characters, writing, and research. One editor even
went into a flurry over it, copying it to everyone and asking for time, but
that suddenly iced over into nothing.

One editor contacted my agent, raved about me, and suggested I try an urban/
paranormal fantasy. Thank you, ma'am. We went back and forth on a proposal for
two weeks before she vanished off my email forever. (I discovered the house had
made a surprising major move Upstairs at the same time.)

I pitched a partial of the urban fantasy to another editor who'd read and rejected
the first spec novel and mentioned liking the Adler novels. She accepted a partial to
read, but rejected it with high praise, citing overbuying in the genre in recent months.
Thank you, ma'am. Now that I know book buys are committee decisions these days,
I'm guessing she was overruled.

I finished Dancing with Werewolves and it went to market in March of '06. These
rejections were particularly bad. They said that it had too many ideas and social issues.
Um, the sf/f genre used to be noted for ideas, besides, this was basically a fun,
imaginative, adventuresome read. The only male editor on the list was inclined toward
buying and "fixing" it, but was overruled.

The funny thing is, my first high fantasy novel back in the '80s was roundly rejected until
one house bought it. Six of Swords became a "surprise" bestseller, it and its sequel selling 375,000 paperbacks with no marketing. But that was in the old days when sales figures weren't common knowledge and my super-success in fantasy was secret.

So I commissioned a gorgeous cover for Dancing with Werewolves from retired sf/f
artist David Cherry, the kind of guy who'll help out a friend. I decided to self-publish it.

Last year at this time, at the World Fantasy convention in Austin, Texas, near my home,
I spotted some great covers on a new imprint focusing on women fantasy writers, Juno Books, associated with Prime and Wildside Books, long active in the sf/f world. I decided to try Dancing with Werewolves with editor Paula Guran. When she expressed interest, I asked my agent if he'd handle a small press book, and he did.

Suddenly, I was small-press published. A key factor was Juno moving from trade
paperback format to more highly distributed mass market paperback, through the encouragement of its distributor and the chain bookstores.

That's how it happened that last weekend, exactly a year after I crossed paths with
Juno, Dancing with Werewolves debuted as # 20 in its mass market category on
Nielsen Bookscan. I'm now getting reviews that make one wonder what those editors
were thinking:

"the fantastic first of a new paranormal series . . . fresh . . . spectacularly stylish . . . fabulous."-- starred PW review

“This is a smartly written, plot driven, original novel that deftly combines the elements
of fantasy, mystery, and romance to the well sated delight of the reader. Enthusiastically recommended."--Midwest Review of Books

"With a brilliant eye for detail, Douglas demonstrates her creative talents with a captivating storyline and some of the most unique supporting characters around. This is truly a fantastic start to a series that paranormal romance readers are sure to enjoy."--Darque Reviews

Juno and artist Tim Lantz did a stunning cover. The concept and title are strong, and my name is proving to have lots of pulling power in fantasy and romance as well as mystery. Five wonderful bestselling paranormal authors knew, or knew of, my work, and gave me great quotes: Kelley Armstrong, Heather Graham, Sherrilyn Kenyon, mystery star Nancy Pickard, and Rebecca York. I had a lot of help from my friends and long-time readers who have never forgotten my fantasy roots.

This story, which has a happy ending, so far, is not really about me "knowing best" and
being ahead of the curve, although I am a pretty savvy marketer, and you'd think
I'd get some credit for that after all these books and years.

It's about the industry needing to trust the time-tested creative artist, including their editors.

Clint Eastwood had a great quote in Parade magazine, which I saved and therefore lost, about Hollywood nowadays being cautious and following formula and thereby creating the surfeit of unoriginal products that disappoint and lose audiences. Only he said it much
better.

If even "Dirty Harry" is having trouble getting support for his work, it's a wicked world.

5 comments:

Richard S. Wheeler said...

Carole Nelson Douglas is one of the most impressive and courageous novelists around. I'm glad she lifted her career out of the ashes.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Despite the happy ending, this is a chilling story. I just hope some of the publishers that turned her down are looking at those numbers and regretting their decisions.

Todd Mason said...

Except, Patti, it does suggest that perhaps the small press will do better for you than you might suspect. And, then, on the other hand, it helps to have an established name, as CAD does. I wonder how A. A. Attanasio's Wildside/et al. books are doing.

Elizabeth Foxwell said...

Carole is nothing if not persistent and hardworking. I still think _Good Night, Mr. Holmes_ is one of the finest books she's ever written, with a respect for the Sherlockian canon yet a completely fresh take on it.

The Book Lass said...

I'm so happy for her. I'm really glad her book is workig out for her. I'll be getting it real soon.