Saturday, May 16, 2015

Declaration of Indie-pendence

Posted by: Shawna Reppert

For some reason, significant events in my life always seem to happen to me on the pagan high holidays.  My divorce was finalized on Samhain, 2002.  My beloved wolf died on the Winter Solstice of the same year.  And this year, Beltane marked the end of my relationship with my last publisher and my transition from a hybrid author to full-on indie.

On one level, it was an easy decision to make.  I won’t name the publisher out of professionalism, other than to say that it wasn’t Carina.  I feel that has to be stated, since this is a group blog of current and former Carina authors.  My experience with Carina was a good one and I might still be with them if we could have come to an agreement on my next project after my debut with The Stolen Luck.  My relationship with Unnamed Small Press started out bad and got worse.  They saddled me with an editor that didn’t understand the basics of POV, let alone the use of deep POV in modern fiction.  She made changes that seemed to be simply arbitrary.   (‘The horse nickered’ as opposed to ‘the horse whickered.’) She made suggestions that reminded me of the sort of mistakes that rookie critique groups make, like wanting to move all the backstory to the first chapter, preferably the first paragraph.  She made errors that were just bizarre, like wanting to change ‘the tea was chamomile’ to ‘the tea was chamomiles’. 

‘Stet’ means reject the proposed change and let stand as is.  I ‘stet’-ed more changes on this manuscript than I have in my last three books combined.  By a generous margin.  And that’s even with me swallowing and accepting minor changes I didn’t like just to keep the peace.

Lest I come off as an uneditable prima donna, I got along great with both my editor with Carina and the indie editor I hired for the Ravensblood series, and both praised me for being easy to work with.

In the midst of all this, the cover came in.  Now, you have to realize that, like The Stolen Luck, Where Light Meets Shadow is more fantasy than romance.  I joked that it had three times the sex of The Stolen Luck, meaning it had three sex scenes.   And I don’t write graphic sex scenes.  There is no naming of the parts.  I personally find you can raise the temperature a few degrees by well-written prose, by careful use of slow build-up, and by involving the readers in the character’s emotions.  The Stolen Luck was a book that my sixty-year-old Catholic dressage instructor described as very tasteful,  and that my friends’ straight teenage sons found readable, while still being deemed ‘squee-worthy’ by habitual readers of male/male fantasy romance, so I must have done something right.

Not that I have anything against erotica.  It’s just not what I write.

So having waist-up shots of mostly naked elves is not a good idea for a cover for this book.  It promises the reader a lot more sex than they’re going to find between the covers, and reader disappointment leads to bad word-of-mouth leads to bad sales.  And, given that this is very much high fantasy, why in the world does the blond elf’s hair look like David Bowie in Labyrinth?  And what’s with the tribal jewelry?  And what’s that on the dark-haired elf’s wrist?  Oh, sweet gods, a friendship bracelet?!?

Do I even need to mention the tinted lip gloss, or the fact that apparently these elves had discovered peroxide because the blond elf’s eyebrows didn’t match his hair.

I showed it to a friend, hoping to have her tell me it wasn’t as bad as I thought. 

The first words out of her mouth were “Oh, sweetie.  I’m so sorry.”  

And then she went out to the kitchen and came back with a bottle of Jameson’s and a shot glass, and set them in front of me.

I considered breaking the contract then and there.  But lots of writers have been stuck with crappy covers, and have lived to tell about it.

So I soldiered on, muttering about how I could do a better cover for myself.  And dredged my way through more incompetent edits from an editor apparently not sophisticated enough to recognize sarcasm and irony in dialogue.  Those of you who have read my fiction will understand how much of a strain this put on our working relationship.  

By this point, I had given up writing essays on modern fiction techniques in the margins and simply started sending her grammar links and recommendations for books on fiction writing. 

Now, Mary Rosenblum, the editor I use for my Ravensblood series, doesn’t come cheap, (although she’s worth every penny three times over, and more.)  But I quickly realized that the copyeditor I use, a friend who works for rum, is a better editor than the idiot the publisher saddled with me.  And for certain I could come up with a better cover even if I had to do it myself.  This was the point when I decided that the next novel I had planned for the genre was going to be indie, but I was still committed to seeing the contract through.

And then I got the galleys.

For those of you who are not from the publishing the world, the galleys are basically ‘this is the book as we intend to publish it.  Look it over and see if you find any typos we missed.’  The galleys are supposed to be as close to perfect as any human endeavor can be.

These galleys had clearly not been proofed, or even copyedited.  There were multiple, glaring formatting errors and far more typos resulting from the editing process than should be at this stage.

Worst of all, the editor had ignored many of my stets, without warning or discussion, causing POV violations and weakening my dialogue.  And she had made several large edits that had not appeared in the line-edit stage, editing in errors that a grade-schooler would have been ashamed of.

At this point, I wanted to walk.  But I took a deep breath, reminded myself that I was a professional, and sent her a carefully worded email.

I got back a snotty reply that she was going to do what she wanted and that, if I refused to comply with the changes, Unnamed Small Press would either delay publication or else refuse to publish and declare the contract forfeit.

At that point, I had no choice but to walk.  I could not let my work be butchered, and especially I could not let my name be associated with such shoddy work.

I won’t bore you with the flurry of emails back and forth, the negotiation and the posturing.  The point is, I got me rights back, restored my manuscript, and sent it and a bottle of rum off to my friend for editing.  I have another friend working on the cover.  The indie release date is set for August 8th.

It’s funny, though.  I have every confidence that the book I put out will be a far, far better product than what would have come out of that publishing house.  Certainly, it will be more profitable for me, as I am no longer giving up the lion’s share of my profits to people who were going to make my book less salable, not more.
And yet, there’s still that tiny voice that says that real writers have publishers.  That tiny voice came out of the publishing world I grew up in as a writer, and is encouraged by publishers who want biddable writers who feel that they have no choice but to let the publishing house work its will on their words.

Now, I’m not against traditional publishing per se.  If New York comes calling, I’d certainly entertain their offers.  But let me tell you, it had better be a damned good advance and publicity package to tempt me into the stress of book serfdom once again.  And any editor who takes me on had best remember that I expect quality, I expect fairness, and I know that I have a choice.

Read my blog and find out more about my books at

Also look for Where Light Meets Shadow available on Amazon August 8th!

The Scathlan elf Kieran  journeys through mortal lands in search of new songs and tales to renew his people’s dying culture. His most cherished, most impossible hope is to rediscover the powers of bards from legend in order to wake the queen, in a stupor since the end of the war between his own people and the Leas elves.

 Kieran accidentally wanders into Leas lands, and a fall from his horse leaves him injured and at the mercy of his enemies. 

He discovers that the Leas are not entirely as he believed them to be.  He develops a friendship with the Leas healer-prince, and the two work together to recreate an ancient technique for melding bardic and healing magic, a technique he secretly hopes will wake his queen.

As friendship deepens into love, will they find a way to heal the rift between Leas and Scathlan, or will the old enmity destroy them?



  1. Oh goodness, I'm sorry you had to go through that. But I'm glad you were able to break it off cleanly with the publisher!

  2. Shawna, I think at some point most of us went through something similar with a bad publisher, which is what turned us toward indie publishing. Thanks for sharing your experience. For me, it was nice to hear my dealings weren't unique. :)


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