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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Guest Author Post: Julie Ortolon on How eBooks and Self-Publishing Saved Her Writing Career

KB: If you're a writer or a published author and have been going back and forth on whether you should self-publish, look at Julie Ortolon as an example. The once traditionally published author has overcome being dropped by her publisher and has become a huge success self publishing.

This is her story...

For me, as a reader and a writer, the ebook revolution equals variety and freedom. With increasing frequency over the years, when I went to the bookstore, I started to wonder, "Who stole my romance?" Western romances were some of the first to vanish from bookstores, along with swashbucklers, traditional Regencies, and long, sweeping historicals. In their place came a growing number of dark paranormals and urban fantasy. Not that I have anything against those. I've read some great stores about werewolves and vampire hunters, but what happened to the cowboys, pirates, and knights?

Seeing what I enjoyed reading disappear was disturbing enough, but I could still peruse my keeper shelf at home or swap cherished reads with a friend. I know, blasphemy for an author to say, since writers don't get paid when readers share books or shop the used bookstores. But when publishers stop publishing what we want to read, what choice do we have?

The changes in publishing trends went from disturbing to devastating in 2007 when I was told point blank by editors that readers no longer buy what I write: which are fun, sexy, feel-good contemporaries. How could that be? My Pearl Island trilogy -- about three siblings who buy a dilapidated mansion supposedly haunted by their colorful ancestor and her pirate lover to turn it into a bed and breakfast -- won all kinds of awards and rave reviews from Publishers Weekly. Almost Perfect, book one in my Perfect trilogy, had just been a Rita finalist and was named Best Single Title Contemporary Romance of the Year by Affaire de Coeur magazine. Still, I was told "readers no longer buy that."

Sadly, the numbers from my Perfect trilogy supported the publisher's claim. Long story short: The print books had very cute but horribly inappropriate cartoon covers. Here they are:

These books hit the stores right at the time when cartoon covers had fallen out of favor with readers. The covers were so cute, in fact, some booksellers mistook them for YA (young adult) and shelved them on the wrong aisle. I got fan email from 15-year-old girls when the Perfect trilogy is about three women in their early 30s who discover a fourth friend used them as negative examples in a self help book about how women let fear hold them back from pursuing their dreams. The three friends form a pact in which they each have one year to face their biggest fear to do something they always wanted. The challenges take them on three separate adventures to the art galleries of Santa Fe, the ski slopes of Colorado, and the posh island St. Bart's in the Caribbean. They find love and their perfect match along the way.

The Perfect trilogy, while fun on the surface, appeal to woman looking for some emotional complexity in their romance novels. I ask you, do those cartoon covers convey that at all? The stories also have some fairly steamy sex scenes, so definitely not YA.

My editor openly acknowledged -- in hindsight -- that the covers were a huge misstep. Didn't matter. In the publishing business, your numbers are your numbers. So, the low sales of the Perfect trilogy combined with the industry's perception that readers "no longer buy straight contemporaries" killed my print career. I went off to Santa Fe to paint, de-stress, and ponder clouds for a while.

Fast forward three years to when the word "ebook" first popped up on my radar, and I decided to investigate. This was early days in the revolution that has now taken the publishing world by storm. Few of the current resources existed, so a handful of adventurous authors banned together to hack our way through the challenges of scanning, formatting, and uploading.

Since I was both an artist and graphic designer before I sold my first novel, I found an unexpected career dropped into my lap, designing ebook covers. That went a long way to covering the bills while I prepared my own ebooks for uploading. Nothing, however, could have prepared me for what happened when my backlist went live.

When I uploaded the Perfect trilogy, with covers I designed myself, the sales shot through the roof! Contrast those cartoon cover with these.


The same stories that fizzled in print hit #1 in Romance at the Apple iBookstore and #2 in Contemporary Romance at Amazon. All three titles, Almost Perfect, Just Perfect, and Too Perfect, rode in the Top 100 Storewide at Amazon for weeks. Their success was so startling, people from the business development team at Amazon actually called me to talk about ways they could help other indie authors succeed.

I’m happy to say I’m not the only author experiencing this whirlwind rebirth of my writing career. Several of us in that early band of intrepid authors are seeing great success with backlist titles plus writing new stories we plan to take straight to ebook. This revolution has given new life to pirates, cowboys, knights in shinning armor, and yes, my contemporary heroes. As a reader, my iPad is brimming with the kind of stories I love to read but publishers no longer publish. As an author, I have the freedom to write the stories that I and my readers enjoy.

I just released my seventh backlist title, Dear Cupid, about a recently divorce advice columnist who realizes her sourness toward marriage is leaking into her letters to the lovelorn and potentially endangering her job. She decides a little harmless flirtation with a gorgeous stranger might help her remember that romance can be fun. But when the object of her flirtation falls in love at first sight, the chase is on in a tale that will warm your heart and tickle your funny bone.

Synopsis: Once upon a time, there was a redhead named Kate Bradshaw who naively though Happily Ever After was just a heartbeat away. One kid, one divorce and a stack of bills later, Kate isn’t necessarily a candidate for Man-Haters Anonymous, but she’s not winning any points with the love-struck readers of her Dear Cupid advice column either. If she’s gong to keep her job, she needs a man to remind her that romance can be fun. Someone attractive. Someone easygoing. Someone with whom she can polish her rusty flirting skills—and absolutely nothing more. Enter Michael Cameron…

One might think a drop-dead-handsome movie animator would have no problem marrying himself off. As Kate soon discovers, one would be sorely mistaken. A little too attached to his shabby bachelor pad couch and rumpled Hawaiian shirts, Michael is counting on Kate to turn him into husband material and find him a wife. But little does Kate know that this is just Michel’s plan to convince her to give love a second chance and to look for the future Mrs. Cameron in the most obvious place of all: the mirror…


You can learn more about my books and read excerpts at my Website: JulieOrtolon.com. I also have samples of the covers I designed on the “My Cover Designs” page at JuliesJournalOnline.com (a blog dedicated to helping aspiring writers and published authors navigate the brave new world of publishing). And if, like me, you’re looking for some good old fashioned romance, check out the directory at BacklistEbooks.com.

Interested in buying Dear Cupid, Julie's latest? *psst...it's at a great deal at the low price of .99!*

For the Kindle
For the Nook
For the Ipad
For the Sony Ereader

9 comments:

bafriva said...

Julie
Alas, as a former bookseller, I can attest that cartoon covers almost never worked, even in their heyday. The message given to book browsers by such a cover was that it was fluffy, or silly or YA.
The covers you designed are gorgeous! I could have sold a ton of those!!
Now off to track down the books--

Barb in Maryland

RK Charron said...

I am very glad that Julie Ortolon has found rebirth in the ebook medium.

Thank you for the interesting post.

All the best,
RKCharron

heidenkind said...

I have read all of Julie's books and think she's one of the best contemporary romance writers out there. I hope she releases a new book soon, I'd love to read it no matter what the cover looked like!

CBlaire said...

Julie,
Just Kindled DEAR CUPID Friday! Appreciate your insight on book covers! Thanks!
Chloe

Marg said...

I loved the Perfect trilogy which I bought despite the cartoon covers! Now I am off to buy Dear Cupid!

susansheehey said...

You are so right, the second covers are a million times better than the cartoons, and it just goes to show that while you can't judge a book by its cover, the covers are definitely important in picking which book to pick off the shelf (after all, there are thousands to choose from).
Your covers are gorgeous and I only wish I had your incredible talent!

Farrah Rochon said...

I've been following Julie's epublishing journey and am absolutely thrilled at the new life she has been able to breathe into her older stories. I'm also really excited that she'll bring out some new titles direct to ebook. Shows that great things happen to good people.

Sherri Browning Erwin said...

I'm a longtime friend of Julie and big fan of her writing, and so happy to see her doing so well, but also inspired by her success. She makes it seem easy, but I know she works hard and makes things happen. And it doesn't hurt that she makes great covers. Yay, Julie!

Jackie (Literary Escapism) said...

I must be in the minority because I actually love the cartoon covers. Well, when they are done well. For instance, Nicole Peeler has some fabulous ones as does Charlaine Harris.

I'm not generally a fan of the contemporary romance, so the cover has to speak to me. The cartoon covers tend to do that since they are more fun. Honestly, they were the reason I picked up the Perfect trilogy. They piqued my interest and I was curious to see what was beneath the cover.

And I have to disagree, I think they do go with the stories. It gives a sense of the environment that each story takes place in. But again, I'm already in the minority for enjoying the cartoon covers. *grin*