P.S. This post was originally published as “Why I Terminated 2 Contracts in the Name of Branding” and has since been updated as of October 2016.
In January of 2015, I had a choice to make. I’d just gone through 10 months of extensive rewrites for Her Fallen Protector and had come through recovery after two months of burnout. January hit and I was faced with two options: I could give up on writing the stories in my head for good (I honestly felt like I shouldn’t have ever been writer at this point) or I could take a serious look at my business and fix the mistakes I’d made all throughout my career.
I chose the latter and I’ve spent the last two years assessing, testing, and redesigning my brand. Because you know what? I really didn’t have one before. In nine years as a writer, three of those years full-time, four of those published, I’d never actually figured out where I wanted my business to go. Now in 2016, I’ve spent countless hours and weeks discovering what had been staring me in the face for a good long while:
I want to become a household name in quality romantic suspense.
That’s my brand. That’s where I want my career to go. That’s what I set out to teach others to achieve: quality work in a genre they are in love with.
Of course by 2015, I’d already written a couple romantic suspense novellas and signed contracts with two small publishers for them and contracted two full-length romantic suspense novels with an agent-assisted self-publisher. White Trash Beautiful went to Evernight Publishing, Sour Cherry went to The Wild Rose Press, and Let Me Out and Die for Me went to Beyond the Page Publishing. As you can imagine from the title of this post, I’ve cancelled the contracts on all of them. While I will forever be thankful to these publishers for getting my career started, the sales haven’t been justifiable (plus a few more reasons below).
Quickly, let me just say I wouldn’t have done this at all if I didn’t have other books in my arsenal of published works. If these two books were my only published works, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. And right now, you’re probably asking why I would cancel contracts for any published work when there are so many writers out there who haven’t been able to land a contract at all. For me, it wasn’t an easy choice, but the sacrifice had to be made in the name of branding.
The Quality Didn’t Exist
I can tell you right now that these four books were the first books I ever wrote and, at the start of my career, I was writing and submitting anything I could. Just to get published. I’d actually bet my husband that I could write and get published (he didn’t believe me) and I proved him wrong. White Trash Beautiful was contracted and he owed me $20.00. Hell of a origin story, right?
I knew nothing of writing Romance when I drafted these books. Really, all I wanted to write about was two people who shouldn’t belong together but make it work. I had no idea torture could be a trigger warning in White Trash Beautiful or that I should’ve studied showing vs. telling way before I’d even considered a contract on any of these books. I’ve since forgiven myself for rushing into this industry without any idea of what I was doing and assuming an editor could fix everything I’d missed.
Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it. — TheHiyl.com
To be honest, after going through so many rewrites with Her Fallen Protector in 2014 (and learning so much!), I became embarrassed by the quality of writing in these four works. I didn’t care that they weren’t making any money for me because I didn’t want readers buying them. At all.
I shouldn’t feel that way about my own books. I should be proud of them, excited for them, and shouting from the rooftops that people should be reading them. It wasn’t happening and the lack of quality in these books was hurting my business and my goals.
If you’re familiar with my work, you’ve seen the covers for both White Trash Beautiful and Sour Cherry. If not, you can’t find them on my site, but I’m sure you can Google or head on over to Goodreads to get an idea of what I’m talking about here. (Quick note: the covers for Let Me Out and Die for Me have sense been updated and I love them.)
Right off the bat, the covers each publisher designed didn’t express the feel or even the plot of either story. Sour Cherry, for one, is a motorcycle romance centered around a motorcycle club, yet the cover, despite my insistence, didn’t have a motorcycle anywhere. Just the couple that sort of resembled my characters and a whole lot of red as a background. As for White Trash Beautiful, I have to give it to the designer for getting my characters spot on (considering my heroine was a prostitute), but the farm in the background really confused readers. And me. Okay, mostly me. The story took place in a small town. Not on a farm.
I’m not giving up. I’m just starting over. — Unknown
Overall, I didn’t feel the covers translated very well considering each story and really only added ammunition to my reasons to pull these stories from publication. Romance covers have evolved in just the past few years and there are plenty of designers out there who would be able to give these stories justice if I decided to republish them.
My Vision has Changed
This was a recent discovery circa, the beginning of 2016. I was actually having this discussion with one of my critique partners when she asked what I was working on. I explained my overall goal to her (to land a series contract with a specific publisher) and went on to say I was working on a project that wasn’t even going to that publisher or that goal. It was in a different genre altogether.
The advice she gave completely changed my focus. She said, “Why are you working on something that’s not getting you to your goal?” I sat there at my computer, my hands positioned over the keyboard, and I didn’t have an answer for her. She was right. Why the heck was I working on a project that wouldn’t help me reach my goal of becoming a household name in romantic suspense?
I was writing books just to get contracts all over again when I swore I wouldn’t do that.
Ask yourself if what you’re doing today is getting you to closer to where you want to be tomorrow. —Unknown
That got me thinking about the books I’d already published. For White Trash Beautiful and Sour Cherry, I realized these books weren’t meeting my current goals (and I’ve had this feeling for a while). As for Let Me Out and Die For Me, I’m still not sure. I’ve republished Let Me Out of my own, but Die for Me is a whole different story. Sure, all of these books had been fun to write at the time and were in the genre I want to build my career in, but they weren’t doing anything for the brand I’m constructing now and weren’t making me any money. Just as I’d rebranded and redesigned my entire blog to fit my current brand, I had to do the same with my products.
It wasn’t an easy choice. Without these four books, I wouldn’t have a career to build from. They were the stepping stones that led to bigger and better things. But if I want to build a quality romantic suspense brand with a specific publisher, I had to terminate the contracts for these books that didn’t meet that standard and start all over.
Have you had to make a sacrifice for your brand? Tell me about it! I love war stories.