Is Opportunity’s Window Closing?

Is Opportunity’s Window Closing?

Good timing is critical in a successful writing career.

For instance, think of the fortunate women who were pursuing their writing career in the early eighties when Harlequin launched its Silhouette lines, introducing stories set in America. Suddenly, there was enormous growth in the publishing industry, and these women, many of whom are household names today, got their start during this “heyday” of romance publishing: Janet Daily, Nora Roberts, and Debbie Macomber, to name a few. Not to say that their successes were the result of good timing and luck alone, but I think if you take a close look at most success stories, you’ll find that good timing and a bit of luck often play a big part.

Another example: the hundreds of aspiring authors who spent years chasing their dream of publishing through a traditional New York imprint. These men and women soldiered on, despite receiving rejection letters. Then when ebook publishing came along, they – and their sizeable catalogue of novels – were perfectly situated to seize this new opportunity and become trailblazers. In many instances, these determined authors turned their rejected manuscripts into a very profitable publishing career. Again, right time, right place – not to mention an excellent work ethic and a bit of good luck.

Unfortunately, good timing often falls under the “wish I’d known then what I know now” umbrella.

In January, at the monthly meeting of my local chapter of Romance Writers of America (Houston Bay Area RWA), our phenomenal and generous speaker, Cheryl Bolen, gave an inspiring workshop on how she is currently making a steady six-figure income as a self-published author, which is easily two or three times more than she ever earned as a traditionally published author. There were so many great kernels of advice in Cheryl’s speech, but what stuck with me the most was anecdotal comment she made as an aside.

She was showing us a breakdown of her sales through each ebook retailer, and Amazon accounted for over 75% of her total sales. To paraphrase, Cheryl remarked, “Amazon has made no secret about their plan to put Barnes and Nobel out of business, and when that happens, e-publishing royalties will probably become as stingy as traditional royalties.”

Wow! This was an eye-opening statement for me.

As a teenager, I devoured the early works of the authors I mentioned earlier, and when I decided to pursue publication, the idea of publishing with anyone other than Silhouette Special Edition never occurred to me. Thanks to good timing and a bit of luck, I accomplished my goal and sold two books to Special Edition. My royalty rate was six percent. On a 4.99 cover price, that’s thirty cents per book sold.

When I first sold, in 2005, there were a number of authors making a good living publishing with Harlequin/Silhouette, but they were cranking out three to four books a year. That pace was beyond my capabilities at the time, and honestly, beyond my drive and devotion. I was a stay-at-home mom with school-aged kids. Writing was something I did when my kids didn’t need me, not something I was willing to put before family time.

Now, as a retired stay-at-home mom, I’ve returned to my dream to write and publish, only this time, I’ve set my sights on the more lucrative self-publishing path. Unfortunately, my pacing hasn’t improved. But, no worries, right? I don’t need writing to support myself, and I do have a plan. I’m working on a trio of connected stories, and my “business plan” is to write all three and publish them in three consecutive months. My thinking: I want readers to find me and be able to buy/read three of my stories in short order so that my name and storytelling style stick in their memories. In other words, I want them to buy the first three books and be waiting with bated breath for my next series. (I believe in dreaming big!)

So whereas my old math was a thirty cent commission on each book sold, thanks to Amazon, my new math is more like two dollars per sale. Sweeeet, right?

Sure, as the author, you have to do tons more work to earn that higher profit margin – you are the editor and formatter, you make all the decisions on cover art, you are in charge of setting the price point and uploading the product. Oh, and you have to write more books!

The upside of all these extra duties: complete creative freedom.

Are you dying to write about a time-traveling Elvis-impersonator who becomes an unwitting member of Jesse James’ Gang? Go for it!

Wanna write about a recovering anorexic, ex-supermodel who falls in love with a Tennessee farmer and finds herself the unexpected role model of said farmer’s two young daughters? Do it. (My editor eighty-sixed this plot line when I had the story about two-thirds written. Guess I need to listen to my own advice and dig this one out and set it free!)

So back to my original topic – the eye-opening notion that Amazon was gunning for Barnes and Noble. Why did I find this so astonishing? Well, if Amazon should succeed, the current profitable landscape of self-publishing could be long gone. And if I don’t get my act in gear, I’m going to miss the good time/good luck window.

The Kindle is the gold standard in the ebook reader industry. In fact, even though I now own an iPad, I still refer to it as my Kindle. The word has transcended its brand name, kind of like Kleenex and Band-Aid. That’s some serious market share. Literally. As Cheryl documented during her workshop, Amazon and its Kindle format currently account for more than 75% of her sales. Once Amazon ups its percentages to the 90% mark, I worry we’re going to see a return to the dreaded single-digit royalty rates.

Do you have any idea how hard I’m going to want to kick my own ass if my slowpoke tendencies time me out of this potential opportunity?

Now that I’ve had my eyes opened, it’s almost like being granted “hindsight” in the here and now. Heed my warning, fellow writers, now is the time to get it in gear. Up your writing pace. Get those novels polished. Hit the publish button. Seize your dreams.

And, just to hedge our bets, maybe go out and by an expensive coffee table book from Barnes and Noble.



Dawn Temple

Back when her twin sons were young enough for daily naps, Dawn Temple took advantage of those quiet moments to pursue her dream of becoming a published romance writer. Sneaking in an hour here and there paid off in 2005 when she sold her first book, To Have And To Hold, to Silhouette Special Edition. She managed to secret away enough time to write and sell the second book in her Land’s Cross series, Moonlight And Mistletoe, but alas, her boys outgrew naps and Dawn let go of those stolen moments with her laptop to enjoy life with her two little guys and her big guy, hubby of 21 years.
But now, as an officially retired stay-at-home mom, Dawn has once again found the time and the creative drive to return to writing, and this time around, she’s set her sights on independent publishing. Her first self-published book, Peace of Heart, is scheduled for release in 2017.

8 thoughts on “Is Opportunity’s Window Closing?

  1. Great post, Dawn. Very thought-provoking.

    Dear Him has just finished reading The Black Swan, which is a book about how we make up stories around events that are, in the final analysis, “luck” in the broadest sense of the word. There are simply too many variables in play at any given time to be able to say, “Here’s why I’m a successful author.” Or “here’s my formula for becoming a best-selling author.”

    Maybe we write just the right book in just the right way and send it off to just the right editor at just the right publishing house at just the right time and… you get the picture.

    Here’s how my own timing worked: I was writing stories about strong heroines outside traditionally feminine roles just as Silhouette was launching its Bombshell line AND a Silhouette editor who wanted to edit for that particular line attended the Bay Area Writers League conference in my area and judged the contest I entered.

    It was a perfect storm. And I never could have predicted it.

    But you and I did our donkey work, Dawn: We wrote our books, and finished them, and cultivated our relationships with our editors. We did what we knew to do about marketing ourselves and gaining a readership.

    After that, it’s all in someone else’s (or Someone Else’s) hands… But I have to do my part first.

  2. Sandra, success definitely comes down to doing our part first! God isn’t the only one who helps those who help themselves.

    But a little fore-thought and fore-warning never hurts, so I’m hoping the idea of getting my “15 minutes” during Amazon/Kindle’s heyday will help further light the fire under my sloth-like ass!

  3. I’ve missed so many opportunities. I’m too embarrassed to chronicle them all. And yay! I’m still unpublished. I think I’m afraid of failing. I also think I’m afraid of succeeding. Not sure why to either. It’s frustrating, defeating, demoralizing. And yet despite all that, and even despite the plethora of life happening to me these days, those pesky characters stay with me, churning in my noggin, seeking life on the page. It’s my dichotomy, my albatross, and my hope. Do they make pills for this?

    1. I don’t know, Lorinda, but I’m coming to land on this idea: I can give myself permission to love my characters and stories more than I fear failing.

      And can someone please define “failure”? Is it my book not being well-received? Is it me not having a 4.99-star rating on Goodreads? Is it 0 bad reviews on Amazon? Is it me not making $1k/month on the book within 2 months of publishing?

      Your characters are always so vivid and engaging, I’m not surprised they stay with you!

      The only possible failure that I see, Lorinda, is not letting those characters and stories loose on the world.

  4. You know what’s kinda fun? Dori and Jamark have been reasserting themselves. And even farther in the dark recesses of my gray matter? A new, unnamed character in a newly forming world. It seems that I can only go for so long without writing – something. Anything. I guess right now, success for me would be actually finishing something. My When Pigs Fly long term goal – finish my contemporary serial.

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