Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Watch That Basket

Somebody—either Mark Twain or Andrew Carnegie, the jury’s still out—once gave this questionable financial advice: “Put all your eggs in one basket—and watch that basket.” I doubt if Enron’s employees and investors would appreciate those words of wisdom. Especially if not only the basket, but the whole henhouse happens to tip over. What are you supposed to do then?

What brings on my latest bout of pessimism is the news that Samhain Publishing, one of the first and biggest e-publishers of romance, announced over the weekend it’s throwing in the towel. Reasons are varied, but the bottom line appears to be that old standby, low sales.

When Samhain started, there wasn’t much competition out there. Epublishing was a whole new animal. Ellora’s Cave came up from nothing and cornered the erotica market. Samhain and a whole slew of romance e-publishers soon followed. For the longest time Ellora’s Cave and Samhain were considered the Holy Grail by us striving writers. Get a book accepted by one or the other and you knew you’d finally arrived.

What we didn’t know back then—how could we?—was that the road we were on was destined for a dead end. Without going into the sordid details (readily available through a simple Google search), Ellora’s Cave hit a financial speed bump that included massive layoffs and a growing number of writers claiming they haven’t been paid. They’re still in business, more or less, but appear to be circling the drain. Now Samhain says they’re closing shop. And these two were at the top of the mountain. What does that say for the scads of smaller e-pubbing outfits out there? And what does it mean for us nervous writers who hope to publish with them?

I myself never published any books with either EC or Samhain, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. In fact, my career in romance started when I wrote a story for an open call at Samhain. They rejected it, I sent it elsewhere, it got accepted, and suddenly I was a romance writer. The following year I wrote an M/M story for another Samhain anthology, and again I was rejected. I sent it to the other publisher, they took it, and suddenly I was an M/M writer. So Samhain’s responsible for my success, even though it wasn’t with Samhain. I might have sent them other things, but I sent them to my regular publisher first—loyalty, y’know—and they got accepted there. Samhain started a horror line about a year or so ago, but I never got around to writing for that. Too late now.

A few months back, around October-November, I applied to Samhain for work as a freelance line editor/proofreader. I took the test and waited. And waited. After six weeks and a nudge letter, I was told thanks but no thanks. Fair enough. Then within a month Samhain announced they were firing the editor of their horror line and closing to new submissions of all types while they “regrouped.” When I read the bit about how they planned to cut personnel through attrition I realized why I hadn’t gotten hired. My timing has always been lousy.

And now this. My timing’s not only lousy, it’s fatal. (I killed both TSR/Dungeons and Dragons and a local adult bookstore. Ask me for details sometime.)

What brought about Samhain’s demise? A lot of people seem to want to blame Amazon, the way retailers want to blame WalMart, but I’m with the group that blames the rise of self-publishing. There’s a glut on the ebook market right now, primarily in romance and all its subgenres. Anybody with a computer, ten fingers to type and format, and enough bucks to buy a cover from someone on Fiverr (or download a free stock photo and do it themselves) can now write and publish a book. It may not be good, but it’s there. E-books from publishers can run from $3 to $5 and up. Rhonda Writer from Great Egg Harbor, New Jersey can hit Send and have her magnum opus up on Smashwords or Amazon overnight and charge 99 cents for it. You’re a romance reader on a budget, looking for a cheap fix. Which book are you going to buy?

Like I said, I don’t have any books with Ellora’s Cave or Samhain. I wish the best of luck to the writers who do. They’re going to have to get their rights back now, so they can rework and try to re-sell their books, or else go into self-publishing themselves. Even more competition for dwindling bucks from a dwindling number of readers.

As for me, I’ve got my eggs in two baskets right now, with two different romance e-publishers, and I’m anxiously watching those baskets. I may have to ask my hens to start laying eggs in other genres, like science fiction (my old standby) or young adult. Maybe even horror. Or mystery. Hard-boiled eggs, anyone?

I knew I should have taken art in college. I could have had a career as an illustrator and written books on the side. I could be on Fiverr right now, making up covers for all the self-publishers. What’s in your basket, folks?

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