Self-Publishing after a Series Has Gone South


The Princess and the Hound was a kind of sleeper hit with Harper when it was published in 2007. It kept selling out small print runs and being reordered in larger quantities by Barnes and Noble. My editor hinted that a sequel would make the publisher happy, but I had no ideas for a sequel and wasn’t interested in trying to force one. I had told George and Marit’s love story and while I loved it, I couldn’t see another story to tell.

As I was working on the final galleys, I had a brain storm for a sequel. It wasn’t about George and Marit at all. It was about the hound and the bear, whose story hadn’t really been finished. I pitched it to my editor and despite the fact that she was nervous about mixing time travel, a science fiction device, in with fantasy, she offered me a two book contract for two sequels, which were eventually The Princess and the Bear and The Princess and the Snowbird – though in my mind these books are always going to be The Hound and the Bear and The Hound’s Daughter because I think of the series as The Hound Saga. In fact, I have been known on occasion to sign The Princess and the Bear “there is no princess in this book” … because there isn’t.

The Princess and the Bear was supposed to be a big seller. Barnes and Noble offered prominent placement and the book had its own display. But something went wrong. I still don’t know what that is exactly. It may have been in part because my beloved editor was let go in that horrible weekend of 2008 when so many editors faced the same fate in a shrinking publishing world. The third book was edited by a different editor and I think readers noticed the difference. All three books contained their own romances with different characters, and all three showed the development of the world building through time.

By the time I had an idea for a fourth and fifth book in the series, Harper was no longer interested in it at all. The third book felt like it had been dropped and sold so poorly it never came out in paperback. But I had written the fourth and fifth book already. What was I to do? There were fans out there who were sincerely interested in the series and I felt I owed it to them to give them a chance to read these other stories, especially when I had already written them.

In 2011, I experimented and put out a novella as an ebook. It wasn’t a huge bestseller by any means, but it showed me that I could do it. I asked a couple of friends to help with the editing process and paid for a professional book cover artists to do two covers that matched the originals, and then I put the two books in the series The Princess and the Horse and The Princess and the Wolf a year later out on my own. In some ways, I think that they are better sequels to the original book than the ones I wrote set in very different time periods with very different magic systems.

What has my experience been? I have a lot of mixed feelings about this. My agent wasn’t very pleased with this choice. He understood it, though. I really enjoyed the sense of power I felt in self-publishing. I could choose my own cover and title, which I’d had very little control over before. I wished I had my old editor back to help me, and if there is one thing I regret, it’s not having the money to hire her on the side to do this for me. I sent out an email to all my fans who had contacted me about the series before and told them the book was out. I never thought I would self-publish and never look back to traditional publishing again. I was just doing what made sense in the situation I found myself in.

Since then, I have published a number of short writing related books including 21 Reasons You Think You Don’t Have Time to Write (the best-selling of them). Again, I have done this because fans and students of mine have asked for a single place to get all of my articles on writing published on-line on my blog and on Intergalactic Medicine Show in one place for a reasonable price. I have at times put them on sale for $0.99, but didn’t see much change in sales numbers. I wish I had the ability to give them away for free when I chose to do so, but amazon, for all their tooting doing what is best for authors, does not always allow us to choose the pricing for our books. I’ve been frustrated when Amazon decided to put other books for free and I could not get them to stop.

I can’t say that if I had it all to do over again, I would do the same thing. The sense of power that I gained from doing everything on my own has been combined now with a sense of powerlessness about trying to sell the books. I admit, I don’t spend a lot of time marketing my books and feel uncomfortable using social media to try to push books on friends. I haven’t invested time or money in trying to make it easier for readers to buy paper copies of my ebooks, or in bringing paper copies of ebooks with me to signings. I tried a few promotions with various on-line book clubs, and they did net me sales, but not enough to pay for the money spent in promotion.

Maybe if I kept doing it, I would figure it out. I have friends who have been successful at selling ebooks, but I will admit I just can’t bring myself to do the kind of hard selling they do, and there is some proud part of me that feels like people should seek out my book, not force me to become a saleswoman for it.

And yet, I am glad those books are out there, available to fans. I get emails now and again from people who complain that they can’t get all the books in one hardcover set, and yes, I could figure out how to do that, too. I might make money on it. But for me, the problem has become a question of looking forward or looking back. I loved this series. I loved these characters, their world, and their magic system. But no matter how much time I spend on them, I’m not going to make a living selling these books now. Not a good living, anyway.

mette ivie harrison

Author Mette Ivie Harrison.
Courtesy of Mette Ivie

So I have chosen instead to focus my attention on the future, on books that have a better chance of getting me the bigger marketing dollars of a publisher and the attention of a larger public of readers. The Bishop’s Wife, my debut adult mystery novel, comes out in December 2014, and it seems so far to be proof that this was the right choice to make. There is no guarantee that the next book I sell is going to make millions, but there is a guarantee that writing more books in a failed series isn’t.

Mette Ivie Harrison has written The Princess and the Hound series, The Rose Throne, and has a new adult mystery set in the Mormon world out in December 2014, The Bishop’s Wife. She is a nationally ranked triathlete, has a PhD in Germanic Languages and Literatures from Princeton University, and lives in Utah with her husband and five children.

Want to learn more about Harrison? She talks about how she became a writer in our feature on YA Interrobang.

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