Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Going Independent With My Crime of Fashion Series Relaunch

This summer is in many ways a season of new beginnings for me as I continue to go independent and relaunch my Crime of Fashion Mysteries under my own imprint, Lethal Black Dress Press.

This heady challenge is possible because I recently reacquired my rights for the first nine COF books. I had already independently published the 10th  book. The series (and my relaunch) begins with Killer Hair,  which was originally published in 2003 by Penguin Putnam, now Penguin Random House.The latest, greatest version of Killer Hair is available as an ebook and in trade paper. Designer Knockoff, the second in the series, is available in Kindle and very soon in trade paperback.
While it was exciting to be ushered into print by one of the Big Five traditional publishers, it eventually became clear that I was heading in a different direction.

Everybody Wants to Know—Why Go Indie?

Publishing has changed dramatically since my first book came out in 2003. Back then, writers who independently published were scorned, ignored, and certainly not considered "good enough" for the all-hallowed New York publishing world. To be honest, in the early days of the self-publishing movement, I wasn’t convinced that self-publishing was the answer. Even though there were drawbacks to NY pub, I rationalized that the one thing trad pub did well was distribution. My early books were in all the bookstores, big chains and independents, all over the country, and always in multiple copies. Mystery bookstores were particularly great for me and other mystery writers. That was cool, I have to admit. I could walk into any bookstore across the USA and find my books on the shelf. 
The late lamented Borders Books, in particular, was very good to me. They kept my back list in stock and in multiple copies. And then Borders fell, like the first domino. After the tragic demise of Borders, Barnes & Noble suddenly didn’t seem to be ordering nearly as many copies (of anything but the latest best sellers) as they had in the past, and they weren't stocking my back list anymore, except occasionally the first book in the series. By the time my last traditionally published book came out in 2013, I found only two or three copies of the brand-new book in each B & N bookstore. The competition in the big bookstore chain world was disappearing, and the distribution advantage of the traditional publishers seemed to be disappearing with it.
Other things changed as well. My first editor at the publisher was fabulous. She acquired the series, she championed my books, and she was thoughtful, helpful, and attentive to detail. However, she left the NY publishing world after our first year of working together. After that, I was issued four more editors of varying quality and enthusiasm. Although two of my books, Killer Hair and Hostile Makeover, were filmed for the Lifetime Movie Network, the publisher was pretty ho-hum about it. However, they did consent to put movie tie-in stickers on the covers..

I left traditional publishing for a number of reasons. While I won’t go into detail, I will say in the end, I felt disrespected. 
As a former Washington, D.C. reporter, I've had my share of encounters with people who hated journalists. I was occasionally kicked out and barred from meetings, and I regularly had to dance a jig for certain press secretaries and gatekeepers in order to reach the newsmakers and report the news.
I look back fondly on those encounters.
Let me emphasize I was not alone in how I was treated by traditional publishing; I was not a special case. Not by a long shot. Nor was I particularly sensitive to the slings and arrows of outrageous copy editors. Other writers I know and admire have been treated with disrespect and disdain: Contrary to what the contract says, I know writers who have been ordered to rewrite books in a week, or even a weekend, and told that the authors' own corrections on galleys (caused by publishers' mistakes) would not be made. In addition, their scheduling requests are often ignored, their needs disregarded. 

Am I exaggerating? You be the judge. 

And yes, there are writers who will go down claiming everything is lollipops and cotton candy, and life with traditional publishing couldn't be better, 8 percent royalties are swell, and they just adore their covers.
At the moment, I am hearing many sad stories of authors who are unable to recover their rights after their publishers let their books go out of print. I feel especially fortunate to have accomplished this feat.

The Rights Reversal Process

Late last year, when I discovered reported sales of my books had fallen below the threshold specified in my contract, I requested that the publisher return my rights in accordance with the contract, and I duly cc’d that request to my attorney. (The process is not quite as simple as it sounds.) Although I received no immediate reply. I had an inkling the rights reversion would finally happen when I started hearing complaints from readers that they could no longer purchase e-books of the first nine mysteries. It seems the publisher had taken the electronic books off booksellers' websites even before they officially informed me that my rights would revert to me. I took it as a promising sign.
At present, limited quantities of the original mass market paperbacks can still be found, for example at your favorite independent mystery bookstore, on Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, but the traditional publisher will not be printing any new editions. That is now MY job!

Great New Covers and Design

In the coming months I will continue to publish my updated and corrected mysteries as e-books and in trade paperback format, where they will have a much more readable book design and beautifully stylish and evocative covers by Bob Williams. The original mass market covers were cartoon-like and I admit some people actually really liked them. But no longer will you need a magnifying glass to read one of my books! The revised editions more closely reflect my original intent and the feel of the stories. To view the first two of the new covers, scroll down.

Killer Hair is the first volume in the Crime of Fashion series featuring Lacey Smithsonian, the intrepid fashion reporter who solves crimes with “fashion clues” in Washington, D.C., “The City Fashion Forgot.”  It sets the scene for Lacey’s further adventures in crime and couture (and romance).

Designer Knockoff, the second book in the series, explores the disappearance of a young designer in the 1940s and a D.C. intern in the present. 
As with anything, this project is taking more time than I anticipated, but we don't want to rush the process—we want to make the books the best they can be.

There is a lot of work ahead, but rest assured I am still writing and working on the next book in the Crime of Fashion series: The Masque of the Red Dress. 

For more information about any of my books, you can always check my soon-to-be-updated website at 
ellenbyerrum.com. You can also follow me on Facebook, my FacebookAuthor Page or on Twitter. . 


  1. Ellen,
    Excellent post! I'm curious--are there things that you're excited to change/correct in the re-issued books? Love the new covers BTW. All the best to you!

  2. Thanks, Shawn. Some of the changes are necessitated by time moving on and updating some references without ruining the story. Also, there were corrections the publisher refused to make, which were caused by the publisher. Some mistakes were inserted between the proofing and publishing steps. Some formatting and things like that. It's not that much, but it all takes time.

  3. Started reading your books years ago and have missed Laci. I'm looking forward to the continued series and am very glad you are still writing your stories. I know of three different authors that had to stop writing their popular series because of their publisher (which makes me want to boycott those publishing houses). Best wishes on your new venture. Please know your books are well loved!

    1. I'm so glad you wrote. Being reminded that people like my books keeps me going.

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  5. Thank you for your honesty in what is a very informative post. In a previous life, I was an editor at a publishing company (not one of the Big Five). One of my joys was helping first-time authors publish a book they could be proud of, and one of my frustrations was the outsourcing of copyediting and cover art - authors had little input into issues that were clearly problematic for their work. As a freelance editor with a day job completely outside the publishing world, I now enjoy a more fulfilling partnership with authors, making suggestions but allowing them complete control over their work.

    I've just begun to write my own short stories, and hope to do a novel or two in future. I felt like you did, that, ten years ago, self-published works were not as respected as those from NY houses. A friend of mine who is also a published author agreed that this world has completely changed, and that the lack of marketing and other traditional benefits from the Big Five has made self-publishing a much more attractive option. The playing field is more level, and authors we may have never had the opportunity to read can now compete with the Icons.

    I'm so looking forward to your next Lacey book; I want to see what she and Stella and Brooke are up to! I'm so glad there *is* a next book. There is another author I follow whose mystery series has gone MIA, and I suspect she is in similar circumstances, but not as fortunate as you were to recover her rights.

    If anyone you know is in need of an editor, I'd be happy to assist them if my schedule is compatible with their deadlines. I'm at www.shorelinewriting.com

    Best wishes as you continue to re-publish your work!

  6. It's a brave, and sometimes annoying, new world out there, isn't it? I'm so glad to be able to go forward without some of the usual interference because marketing has to be mollified or other such thing that I ran into before indie pubbing. Thanks for your comments about traditional publishing, it's nice to know that there were annoyances on the other side. It's great to hear you're working with writers in such a positive way. Best of luck with your writing. And finally thanks for your comments about my Lacey books. I do wish I could write them faster. But quality takes time for me. I'm glad people are waiting for them.

  7. Great post. I've decided to walk from an offer on a new series for the same reason and will be getting my rights back on my current series starting next year. I've been nervous about the decision, but have read so many stories like yours, that I feel it's the best path for me, too. If I'm going to have stress, it might as well be my own! Thanks so much for sharing! Congrats on your imprint. I love the logo!

    1. Getting your rights back is pretty exciting and I applaud you for moving on, Larissa. I just stopped seeing the advantage with traditional publishing. The one thing I didn't expect is how much happier without all that weight on my shoulders. The truth is doing it yourself is not that much harder than going with a publisher. So glad you like the logo.

  8. Getting your rights back always depends on the publisher and how fast they are. Then you have to be sure they get their version down everywhere. I got my rights to Downsized back and used D2D then found out the publisher forgot B&N. It causes problems, so one should check all outlets themselves to be sure.
    Good luck. Patg

    1. Thanks for the heads up about B&N. It's terrific advice. I haven't seen anything like that. But it's always good to keep a lookout.

  9. Glad you could get your rights back, Ellen. I'm taking the same path as you are these days.

  10. I'm glad to hear it. there is so much to do. Maybe someday we could do a roundtable discussion, someplace, sometime, on what we've learned.

  11. Love your series! I own every book. Are you writing another one? I miss Lacey!

    1. I am writing another Lacey book. Unfortunately it is much slower than I would like because I have been dealing with the relaunch of the earlier books. I'm off schedule on the next one, The Masque of the Red Dress, but never fear, it will appear early next year. Please stay tuned.

  12. Fantastic post, Ellen! I heard you speak at the Hollywood conference this past April, so was interested in hearing why you'd want to leave traditional publishing. But you're right things are changing. When I go to my local B&N, I can only find cozies published by Penguin, and a handful of books by the other Big Five. Bookstores and libraries used to be how folks found out about new books. Now Amazon and Goodreads present readers with a host of excellent choices. And, of course, these days authors are also expected to assiduously work at and spend on promoting their books -- the kind of thing you'd expect the publisher to do. It's an interesting time to be sure! Nupur

  13. Thanks for a great comment. And so glad you were at the Hollywood conference. It was so much fun and I was able to meet so many fascinating and intelligent writers. It's not easy to self pub, but it isn't easy to be with a traditional publisher either. I had very little input into what happened with my books and was expected to do almost all of the promotion. In that respect it isn't that different. Promotion is always difficult. However, now I have a lot more personal satisfaction knowing that the books are lovingly produced and have my personal stamp of approval.