Here’s a little history. When the marketing department at our publisher, Avon, (an offshoot of Harper-Collins) decided that the public was no longer interested in Debbie Sue Overstreet and Edwina Perkins-Martin, my sister and I more-or-less threw in the towel. The books were getting harder and harder to write anyway and as long as they were being marketed as they were, they really didn’t have a chance to reach their true audience. They were getting to be an exercise in futility.
Our editor at Avon wanted us to come up with new characters and take Dixie Cash in a new direction. We made a stab at that, but after seven books, we were sort of wedded to Debbie Sue and Ed and their zaniness. After all, we knew them better than we knew our kids.
Our agent believed Debbie Sue and Edwina were not dead. She wanted us to take them to a new publishing house, but at the time, my sister was changing jobs (her *real* job) and neither of our heads was in the right place to give it our all. Still, we made a stab at that, too. We came up with a couple of ideas we thought were good ones, but our agent believed they weren’t “strong “enough.
Through that whole process, I’m asking myself, what was so *strong* about the books we had already written? “Strong” is one of those words you hear bandied about by the New York crowd a lot. I never have known exactly what it means. “Funny” seemed like the word we should have been looking for, since laughter was what we had always wanted.
We have always believed the books should have been marketed at mass market paperbacks, as SINCE YOU’RE LEAVING ANYWAY, TAKE OUT THE TRASH was. TRASH hit the USA Today list and stayed on Walmart’s shelves for a month. And here’s an irony for you. At about the time we were going into contract on a second book, I attended a writers’ conference and sat in a lecture given by a well-known and highly respected New York agent who talked about what a mistake it is to take an author into hardback before a broad fan base had been established.
So what happened? A couple of weeks later, lo and behold, Avon decided to publish MY HEART MAY BE BROKEN, BUT MY HAIR STILL LOOKS GREAT and I GAVE YOU MY HEART, BUT YOU SOLD IT ONLINE, in hardback. My sister and I squalled like mashed cats. We whined to our agent , but she was giddy from the dollar signs swimming in her head. The books went on the market at somewhere around $25. What my sister and I wanted and hoped for were mass market paperbacks in the neighborhood of $5. Volume, you see.
But it was not to be. It goes without saying, the sales on the 2 hardbacks tanked. Avon came out a year later with the same 2 books in trade paperback, but it was too late. The bloom was off the rose.
Unfortunately, Avon didn’t, and still doesn’t, really have a paperback line in which the Dixie books fit. Avon is, after all, a romance house and the Dixie books aren’t romances. Avon tried to market them in trade paperback as Southern humor, which they love for some reason. But they don’t fit that category either. And the trade paperback books still had to be sold for $15.
For the most part, the only place they were for sale was in book stores. I don’t know about you, but I know very few people who travel to book stores to buy books. The people I know buy them where they can get them the cheapest, which isn’t book stores. So the Dixie books in trade paperback never did show up regularly in a venue where the largest number of people could even see them, much less buy them. Occasionally, one would show up in Sam’s or Costco or even Target, but that wasn’t a regular thing. They *never* showed up in Walmart stores or in grocery stores. Consequently, the marketing department determined readers must be tired of Debbie Sue and Ed.
I’ve written before about what happens when you sell a book in New York. It can be like finding a pot of gold, i.e., Harry Potter or he “Twilight” series. Or it can be like slipping and falling into a water slide head first.
For a struggling author, you see, unless you’re Nora Roberts or John Grisham, every day brings a surprise if not a shock. One of the surprises came in the form of a lengthy conference call with a Hollywood producer who pitched a sit-com idea to one of the networks, using Debbie Sue and Edwina as characters. We crossed our fingers on that one, but it was a huge long shot. Beyond that, Avon flew Pam and me all over the South, to book signings, book fairs and festivals, which only went to show that those events don’t do much for sales in the final analysis. We did entertain a lot of people and we had a lot of fun.
So now we’re at it again. Pam and I decided to go ahead and write one of the stories we proposed that our agent rejected. And we’re going to self-publish it. We *do* believe it’s *strong.* It doesn’t have a name yet, but we’ve started. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Keep your fingers crossed for us. Because this time, we’re on our own. And if we screw it up, we’ve got no one to blame but ourselves. Yikes!