On January 3, eighteen months after Simon and Schuster released the first of my four thriller novels, my publishing career in the U.S. came to an abrupt halt. If that had happened on January 3, 2007, my career would have been over in this country. But because it was January 3, 2012, I now have an opportunity to go back to what got me started in the first place: self-publishing.
I talked about my publication journey two years ago, and it's been a fun ride since then. My first novel in the Tyler Locke series, The Ark, made several bestseller lists in the U.S. and became a top 15 bestseller in the UK. My second Tyler Locke novel, The Vault, received a coveted starred review from Publishers Weekly. We published two standalone thrillers in between, and my books have been translated into twenty languages. With all that going for me, I had it made, right? Smooth sailing from then on.
Then I turned in my third novel in the series, The Roswell Conspiracy. My publisher at Little, Brown UK loved it, saying it was his favorite so far. I value his opinion, not just because he's the lucky guy editing J.K. Rowling's first adult novel, but because he's been an enthusiastic supporter of my books from the very beginning. Little, Brown has big plans for the new book's release in Australia on May 31 and in the UK on July 19. The Roswell Conspiracy has also received glowing blurbs from NY Times bestselling authors James Rollins, Brad Taylor, and Patrick Lee.
Given all the praise the book has garnered, it was quite a surprise when I got word in January that Simon and Schuster rejected the book and canceled my contract. Deciding not to renew a contract is common in publishing, but canceling a contract once the book has been turned in is much more unusual. S&S didn't give me any editing notes or let me submit any subsequent revisions. They simply declared the manuscript unacceptable because it needed "too much work" and demanded the advance back, a permissible action according to my contract as well as the contracts of most other authors. I admit the book needed some editorial guidance, which was provided by my wonderful editor at Little, Brown, but I didn't end up adding or a removing a single chapter from the version I sent to S&S.
The first step following the rejection was to see if any other publishers would be interested. After the manuscript was in its final print-ready form, my agent shopped The Roswell Conspiracy around to the other North American publishers. Many of them praised the novel itself, but all eventually passed on it, considering it too risky to pick up my thriller series in mid-stream. While The Ark has already "earned out," meaning the sales of the book have earned me royalties over and above the advance payment, The Vault sold in fewer numbers, not the trend publishers like to see. The last of them dropped out a week ago.
So I'm back to where I was in 2009, with a highly praised novel and no one willing to publish it. Before electronic self-publishing became a viable alternative, that would have been the book's death sentence. The novel would have never seen the light of day in the U.S. But because this is 2012, when self-publishing is no longer stigmatized as vanity publishing, I can release the book on my own. I've done it before, so I have no problem going back to it, and my agent is very supportive of the decision.
Because of the strange circumstances, I'm in a rather unusual -- perhaps even unique -- position. I will be electronically self-publishing a novel in North America that is simultaneously being launched by one of the Big 6 publishers across the rest of the world in the same language. The book has already been edited and copyedited by Little, Brown, and they've graciously allowed me to buy the rights to the British cover for use in the US. Essentially, all I have to do is upload the book, and it will be on sale throughout the U.S. I plan to do so just a few days after it's available in Great Britain.
It might seem like I would become a rabid self-publishing advocate because of my situation, but that's hardly the case. My ultimate goal is to get my books to readers in the best possible way. If that's through a traditional publisher, great. I'm thrilled to be with Little, Brown UK because they do a fantastic job publishing my books, from the editing to the book packaging to the marketing and promotion. I have hardworking publishers around the world, with books being released in the next few months in Israel, Germany, Italy, and Thailand. And I'm even still published traditionally in the U.S.: Simon and Schuster will continue to be the publisher of my first four books for the foreseeable future.
But sometimes, as with The Roswell Conspiracy in the U.S., self-publishing is the best (and in this case, only) option. I'll take on all the risk, but I'll also reap the rewards if it goes well. That's the amazing thing about what's happened for authors in the last five years. Rejection by publishers no longer has the same power. What could have been a crushing blow in January was actually just a detour sign, and maybe that new path will turn out to be even better than the route I was planning to take.