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31 January 2010 @ 04:11 pm
I Am My Own Fairy Godmother: Going From POD to Published--A Cinderella Story  
This is the first of two essays I had worked on with the hope of getting them published in the Huffington Post. I'm posting them here, and also as the first entry in the Blog page on my website, so people can read them: http://annherendeen.com/blog.htm

Part 1. Getting to the Ball.

Whenever I tell my story, I’m inevitably compared to Cinderella. I even make the comparison myself in the dedication of my first book.

No, I didn’t lose a glass slipper at a ball and end up married to Prince Charming. I did something far more extraordinary: I self-published a first novel (subsidy published, print-on-demand), then got an offer from a real publisher—HarperCollins, no less.

So what? Happens all the time. Someone taps into the zeitgeist, thinks up the new Harry Potter or whatever feel-good formula will replace The Secret, sells a gazillion copies… Whoa! No, that’s what so amazing. My POD didn’t sell. I have no indulgent family members to buy multiple copies, no car to sell copies out of the back of, and no marketing savvy. The zeitgeist and I rarely occupy the same universe, and I doubt I’d recognize it if I spent my life tweeting MyFacebook off.

Plus I wrote something that is not only out of the mainstream, it antagonizes whole segments of the market: a “bisexual” m/m/f romance novel. I took the Regency romance, a lighthearted comedy of manners set in the years between 1812 and 1820, inaugurated by the matchless Georgette Heyer in the 1930s and 40s and updated by modern writers like Jo Beverley, Mary Balogh and Laura Kinsale, sexed it up, and “queered” it by making the hero bisexual and giving him a happily-ever-after with a wife and a boyfriend.

This is not the kind of book that makes it to the big leagues, any more than princes marry kitchen wenches. (Well, times have changed in some respects, but that’s tomorrow’s bedtime story.) The fact remains that I did write Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander, tried to get a publisher or an agent for six months, gave up, and subsidy-published it POD. A year and a half later, PBP was picked up by HC and released as a trade paperback. It’s on the syllabus of at least one graduate seminar, and I was a panelist at a first-of-its-kind conference on romance fiction at Princeton University (“Love As the Practice of Freedom? Romance Fiction and American Culture,” April 23-24, 2009).

Now my second book is about to hit the stores, also from Harper Paperbacks: Pride/Prejudice: A Novel of Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet and Their Forbidden Lovers. And yes, it has an m/m/f storyline, or in this case, slightly m/m/f/f. No wonder people think I’m living a fairy tale, and want to know how I pulled it off. Fairy godmother?

The short answer: luck, blogs—and an editor who likes comedy.

POD “self-publishing” is hot these days. The conventional wisdom, that a writer must hold out for real publication, and that to succumb to the allure of the “vanity” press ruins a budding reputation forever, is being questioned by more and more frustrated authors with polished manuscripts they can’t sell. Surely it makes more sense to put your work out where it can be seen than to lock it away in a drawer or on your hard drive.

But as more writers turn their manuscripts into PODs and serialize them on websites, it can feel as if the guests at today’s ball are all Cinderellas, or members of her entourage, each with an alternative version of the classic story to tell. Stepsisters, father and stepmother, Prince Charming—even the rat-turned-coachman—have their own perspective on what once seemed to be a straightforward narrative.

So how does today’s self-published Cinderella stand out from the crowd and find her prince—or her readers?

In my case the honest answer is: I don't know. PBP went from POD to published, not because I wrote a bestseller, or even because I wrote a romance with mass appeal, but because a young editor willing to take a chance on an unknown author liked the book for its comedy and writing style. Although the POD PBP received some terrific publicity from two leading romance blogs, the Smart Bitches, Trashy Novels and Michelle Buonfiglio’s Romance B(u)y The Book, it was the humor that appealed to my soon-to-be editor, and the HC edition was sold as fiction, not romance.

One thing I do know: This happy ending could not have happened if I'd stayed at home, sitting by the hearth, hiding my manuscript like a single glass slipper and waiting for my fairy godmother to give me a makeover. I went to the ball as myself, and somehow my Prince Charming saw his princess in the unembellished Cinderella. Self-publishing has given all of us Cinderellas a way to get to the ball on our own if we're willing to take it. But like the original heroine, we still need a bit of magic, or simple good luck, if our editor/prince is going to recognize the writer/princess without the enchanted finery of an agent's backing.
Gaedhalgaedhal on January 31st, 2010 10:16 pm (UTC)
This is a different world than it was even ten years ago. You
have to do things yourself if no one else will -- and they
probably won't!

Keep doing what you're doing -- you've found an audience and will
hopefully find a bigger one as people (publishers?) begin to think
outside the box.

ann_amalieann_amalie on January 31st, 2010 11:12 pm (UTC)
Yes--it already feels several generations removed from when I self-published back in 2005.

And I think I'm still way outside the box, because this bisexual Mr. Darcy seems to be making people's heads explode.

Thanks for your support. You've been such a good friend from the start--and always with such great homoerotic icons!

Gaedhal: B&JNoRomance (Kitkatbyte)gaedhal on February 1st, 2010 05:08 am (UTC)

Keep up the fight!

I saw the new book in B&N on Thursday -- it was displayed on the main
table along with the other new fiction. I would have nudged it to a
good position, except it was already front and center! I hope they
move a lot of copies.