An Author’s Life: Persistence and Rebounding from Rejection
Updated: Apr 16, 2019
Writing a book is hard work. I know it may look fun, and the finished project is hopefully fun to read. But I promise you, once you dig in, it’s a lot harder than it looks.
Once you realize that publishing is all about writing, rejection, rebounding from rejection, and rewriting, then you’ll start to understand what is involved. And once you get published, if you’re anything like me, you’ll find it is quite addictive. Sometimes you feel like a crazy person to keep doing it, but you don’t know any other way of life.
I was asked today on Facebook to talk about the gestation of a book. Well, it all depends on what type of book I’m writing. And that means, at least for me, is it narrative nonfiction or a novel or a memoir?
Today, I’m going to talk fiction, starting with my one and only novel, Naked Addiction. Next time I will do the same for one or more of my narrative nonfiction books, some of which are memoirs. Many are true crime stories about real-life murders and mysteries, and some are combinations of true crime and memoir.
Naked Addiction began back in the late 1980s in Northampton, Massachusetts, where I was working as a cub news reporter for the Springfield Union-News. It started as what we call in fiction-writing workshops “a germ,” a quick, short piece inspired by a trigger exercise, written in a group while the clock is ticking, and sometimes read aloud to the group.
These germs became a series of diary entries written by one of my main characters, my murder victim, which evolved into a short story with a more elaborate plot, which I then expanded into a mystery novel. At the time, I was writing as many as four newspaper stories a day. I needed a creative outlet, and I found it in fiction.
But it took me 17 years of writing, rewriting, looking for an agent, and then a publisher, to get this baby in print. And although I could spend this entire blog telling you about those 17 years, I'm not going to do that here.
I'm only going to focus on some of the years prior to its first publication in 2007, and then the years after that, when you will see why I say sometimes I feel crazy to keep at this writing life.
I used to be way more driven, because that was it took to survive in the publishing world, which threw me a
good number of curveballs as it continued to shrink and readers moved to the digital market. Well, these days, many more have moved over to TV. They have shorter attention spans, are glued to their cell phones, and are mired in podcasts and other forms of entertainment that don’t involve turning paper pages they have to pay for.
In recent years, fewer readers have wanted to buy books if they cost more than $1.99 or even 99 cents. But lately I’m hearing that readers are finally starting to realize that most of these books aren’t worth much. That they must pay more for professional storytelling. They are starting to miss their favorite writers who can no longer afford to write in the genres they used to. True crime is one of them.
Which is why I’m now about to embark on a new novel. As I continue to work on several narrative nonfiction book projects, I’m also going to start crafting a science fiction idea I have. Narrative nonfiction has been my area for many years now, and it’s not as easy for me to just make things up, so we’ll see how it goes. Plus, as I’m about to explain to you, my first novel, Naked Addiction, (and my unpublished second novel, which shall go unnamed) were very tough on me.
Fiction used to be my passion, and it helped bring my narrative nonfiction thrillers alive, so that’s the bright side of it all. With that preface, here’s the story behind the story about Naked Addiction:
I can't tell you how excited I was when the book got accepted by Dorchester Publishing back in 2006. I'd hoped to get a bigger publisher that would release it as a hardcover, but after so many years of rejection, this was a victory and it felt good.
Even though the cover illustration had nothing to do with the story, at least they kept my title and barely
changed a word of the text. The front cover also proudly displayed one of my favorite blurbs to date, from bestselling novelist Michael Connelly: “With a journalist's eye for telling the details of life, Caitlin Rother is a keen architect of the most important part of storytelling: character. The people in her prose grip you tightly with their truth.”
Sadly, the book didn’t sell well, mostly because no one knew it existed. The publisher didn’t promote it, and I didn’t know how at the time. Nor did I have the time as I was working on back-to-back true crime books, literally without a day to spare in between.
My first published book, Poisoned Love, had sold so well that Barnes & Noble ordered 10 copies of Naked for every store. When they didn't sell after only two or three months on the shelf, which was typical for a paperback—and today there may be an even shorter “shelf life”—many of them were returned. That means the cover is ripped off, and the rest of the book goes into a dumpster. This practice is called stripping; the seller returns just the cover to the publisher for reimbursement. Suffice it to say, my royalty statement literally broke my heart.
After that, the book disappeared from the Borders computer and Barnes & Noble stopped carrying it. No one could even order it unless they knew to buy it off the publisher’s website, or they could buy overstock on Amazon for 99 cents, and later, for only one cent. It broke my heart again. And then my bank. I was in tatters. I was shattered. (That’s a Stones lyric. I’m no plagiarist.)
Still, I could not let go, not after all those years of hope and rewriting the dang thing a million times.
After relentless calls and emails to distributors, Barnes & Noble, and my publisher, I urged my agent to try to get my rights back, or at least ask Dorchester to re-release the book now that I was doing so much better with all my non-fiction books. At the time, including this one, I had six books come out in 18 months, which was no small feat.
After a year of lobbying, we finally persuaded Dorchester to do a re-release. What I didn’t know until later was that Dorchester had been going through serious financial woes and was selling books for which it no longer owned the rights, which angered so many authors that they launched a boycott.
With a new editor and management team in place, I was promised that this was a new Dorchester and it wanted to do right by my book. Naked Addiction would be part of its new trade paperback line. It would also come out as an ebook, with a higher royalty percentage than the measly 4 percent I’d been getting at the start. Yes, that’s right, 4 percent. Today, percentages are more like 25 or 35 percent, which is better, but still not making anyone rich, as book sales have fallen off for many of us.
Needless to say I was thrilled. The new release date was January 3, 2012, a month after the re-release of my first book, Poisoned Love, an updated edition with 20 new pages. This was a carefully choreographed move so I could promote the books simultaneously.
I spent more than I could afford on a combined web-and-radio tour; I also revamped my website. Along the way, I was thrilled that one of my books, My Life, Deleted, had landed on the New York Times bestseller list, which was a first for me, so I persuaded Dorchester to design a new cover for Naked Addiction, and they redid the cover text, last-minute, to reflect my new bestseller status.
The first leg of my radio and blog tour in late 2011 went great. Things were looking bright. Until that December.
The bookstores where I had arranged signings for January told me they could not get advanced copies as Dorchester had promised, and even if they could, the books were non-returnable, so the stores didn’t want to carry them.
Next, the VP of sales left the company, followed by the president, silently like ghosts in the night. Panicked, I persuaded someone at Dorchester to sell me a box of advanced copies so the bookstores would have some to sell during the holiday gift-buying season, with the promise that the stores would replace my personal stock once the book came out.
Then a friend emailed me to say that he’d been notified his pre-ordered copy from Amazon wouldn’t be delivered until March. March? How could that be?
No one at the publisher would answer my e-mails. I reached a very sweet woman in sales who did everything she could to help me, but she couldn't tell me anything other than the January 3 release date “might” not happen.
Well, January 3 came and went, the book was not released, and I still had gotten no responses to my emails, even from the editor, who had seemed genuinely sincere in his previous efforts to do right by my book. (I don’t hold him responsible, by the way, and we are still friends on Facebook.)
The release date on Amazon now said March 1. This was perplexing and frustrating, after I’d paid for and then had to abort my dual-book promotions plan and web-radio tour.
I finally reached Dorchester’s publicist, who said the editor was trying to deal with this quagmire and would get back to me. I had heard that this had something to do with ongoing negotiations with the distributor about the “no-return” policy, but she had stopped reassuring me that the book would come out
as planned. She always tried to sound upbeat, but we could never seem to chat by phone as promised.
Then the release date on the Dorchester website changed to a retroactive December 15, 2011, and the trade version of the book disappeared altogether. This was bad. My hope dissipated like the tufts of a cloud in a strong wind.
I was right back where I’d been, only worse, because I had lost the benefit of the thousands of dollars I’d spent on publicity, plus an entire year’s worth of potential royalties I could’ve earned if I’d published the book myself the previous year.
Then the sweet lady in sales was let go. The editor left a few weeks later, followed by the publicist. “They're moving offices,” I was told by someone who had been laid off, which apparently was code for “we’re going out of business and shutting our doors,” because my agent was never able to get anyone on the phone after that.
At that point, I took matters into my own investigative reporter’s hands. I found a blog that said Dorchester had been acting as if it were in bankruptcy for the past year, trying to squeeze out every last cent by selling off assets, and still owed hundreds of thousands of dollars to authors and booksellers. The goal was to liquidate everything, including book rights, before actually filing for bankruptcy.
I fired off an email to my agent, asking that we immediately request my rights to be returned, and included the address I’d found online for the corporation’s registered agent, before my book could be “liquidated.”
After much anguish, I decided to go ahead with the prepaid web tour because I still had the couple boxes of books in my closet that I could sell myself. The ebook was still available on Amazon and B&N.com, and even though I knew I’d never see the royalties, I hoped it would help draw some new readers for my other books. Then I couldn’t get the web tour publicist to respond to my emails either. It was a mess, and I have since blocked much of the rest out of my brain.
All I remember now is that I almost gave up, but who can abandon their first child?
Fast forward to 2013. Thankfully, I was able to get a deal with WildBlue Press, a new indie publisher, as one of its very first five authors to sign up before it launched. The book came out in 2014 and is now available as a beautiful trade paperback, as an ebook and also as an audio book.
With the previous designer’s permission, we used the same cover as the aborted Dorchester re-release version, and I also rewrote and updated the manuscript to reflect my improvement as a writer as well as changes in the town where the story was based, my hometown of La Jolla.
This, my friends, is the world of publishing, and I hope this story helps you understand the business side of books. I also hope it inspires you to read Naked Addiction, my first and only novel, the first book I ever wrote (and rewrote dozens of times), and could not get published until after I’d published two or three nonfiction books. It still holds a soft spot in my heart to this day.
You can buy it here in any format, https://wildbluepress.com/naked-addiction-caitlin-rother-crime-fiction-classic/. If you do decide to get a copy, or have already read it, I’d love it if you wrote a reader review to post on Amazon and Goodreads, because books sell by word of mouth.
Here is the new cover, and thanks for reading the blog!