Guest Blog: Author Toni Andrews speaks about the surprises in her publishing experience

A note from your host: I just received this blog post from Toni this morning due to her insanely busy schedule. If you popped in this morning and didn’t find anything about Toni, it’s because I am insanely lazy on the weekends and sleep in until at least 9 a.m. My sincerest apologies.

Toni has some worthwhile insights about being published. If you’re an aspiring writer, like I am, pay close attention lest you have unreasonable expectations of fame, fortune, and a life of leisure after publishing.  🙂  And without further ado, here’s Toni…



Toni Andrews

When I decided to become a writer…

Wait a minute. I’m so used to starting sentences with that phrase that I forget that not everyone knows the story.  I did indeed just decide one day.  I didn’t write all my life, like most of the other writers I know.  Oh, I was always a story teller, but I seldom wrote anything down.  In fact, the only example of actual fiction writing I could find was a short story from when I was five or six. My sister was taking a college typing course and wrote down a tale that I, apparently, dictated to her.  I have no memory of this, but found the typewritten page in some of my mother’s things.

It starts out, “There was a little girl and she was out in a hurricane…”

But I digress.  Which I frequently do. Like most writers.

Anyway, if you want to hear the story of how I made the decision to abandon a successful, lucrative career as a business analyst in favor of the satisfying but financially capricious life of a novelist, go to my website. The story written there is absolutely true.

When I had the epiphany described therein, I had a few disadvantages. One, I hadn’t written a book. Two, I didn’t know anyone who had written a book.  Three, I had no idea what one did with a book once they’d written it.

Lucky for me, I headed down to Borders and bought a copy of Writing a Romance Novel For Dummies, by Leslie Wainger. Amid the many pages of priceless advice was a suggestion that I join Romance Writers of America. Which I did, immediately, and then found a local chapter and headed to my first meeting.

Voila! A room full of experts.  This was when the learning really started.

This all happened about five years ago, so when Sharon asked me about the surprises in my publishing experience, they’re all still pretty fresh in my mind.

So, here goes:

Surprise #1: Writers don’t make a lot of money.

I don’t know where I got the idea that major publishers paid well for the books they purchased.  Probably from novels, in which the author characters wrote fabulous books that made them the object of pursuit by acquiring editors offering huge advances. I didn’t realize the authors of these books were putting their personal fantasies on the page.  The vast majority of the authors I met had day jobs to support their writing habits.

If you want a rough estimate of what authors are getting paid, check out Show me the Money, a web page run by Brenda Hiatt. It’s specifically about romance novels but, from what other authors tell me, the numbers are pretty typical for most genre fiction.

This didn’t discourage me as much as it probably should have.  Earl Nightingale once said that “…if you’re in the top five percent of your profession, it doesn’t matter if there’s ninety-five percent unemployment.”  I figured I’d take the same attitude with writing, and become one of those authors that bring the average up (I’m still working on that one).

Surprise #2: Editors and agents “read to reject.”

I vividly recall the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when an editor, speaking on a panel, said “When I’m looking at a manuscript, I read until the first thing that stops me.  If it’s in the first paragraph, I don’t read the second paragraph.”

Surely, I thought, it’s only her. Not all editors and agents are so harsh. Alas, the rest of the editors and agents on the panel all nodded their heads.  “I usually read at least the first page,” said another, who had probably noted the gasps and dismayed expressions from the crowd. “Unless I’m really busy,” she amended.

I eventually learned that all editors and agents receive an enormous volume of unsolicited manuscripts.  The more prestigious, the greater the volume. Big houses and agencies don’t have slush piles, they have slush rooms. They cannot possibly get through all of those manuscripts—it’s just not possible.

Once I got over the initial shock of this surprise, it made sense.  I vowed that, in all future submissions, that first paragraph would be so riveting that they’d keep reading, and to make sure that the first page hooked them well enough to make them turn it.

Which leads to the next shocker…

Surprise #3: If you don’t have an agent, a major publisher won’t read your work.

Imagine you’re an acquiring editor, gazing across an ocean of slush, wondering if there’s a best seller swimming in there and fearful that you’ll probably drown before you find it. Then, a literary agent calls you up and says, “I have something you’ll want to see.”  You’ve done business with the agent before and he knows what you like, and he’d never risk his reputation by giving you something that wasn’t up to your professional standards. You’ve just been handed a life raft.

This surprise was barely a speed bump because, by this time, I knew that agents regularly attend writers’ conferences, where they take pitches from hopeful clients.  I targeted an agent who was selling the sort of thing I was writing, stalked her to a couple of conferences, got to know her and, eventually, sent her my work.  And got the bestest agent in the whole wide world, Miriam Kriss of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency.

She was interested in an urban fantasy novel I had written called Mercy Killing, having just successfully sold another UF series, and thought she could find a home for it quickly.  Which she did.

Surprise #4: As often as not, publishers change the book titles.

Oh, I’d heard rumors about this but I figured my titles were better than most.  My first sale, which happened more or less simultaneously with finding an agent, was to Ellora’s Cave, and they’d kept my title (Witch’s Knight, by Virginia Reede). And, seriously, Mercy Killing had to be the best title ever.  I actually came up with the title first, and then the plot.  It’s why I named my protagonist Mercy and figured out a way that she could kill someone.

Imagine my shock when Mira Books told me that Mercy Killing sounded too much like a medical thriller!

The title they came up with, Beg for Mercy, wasn’t half bad, so I resigned myself. And, because it’s a series, I haven’t given up on Mercy Killing. I’m writing at least three more books about Mercy and her friends and, in my mind, book #6 is titled Mercy Killing. We’ll see.

Anyway, it took almost two years from the time that I turned in my finished manuscript until the books were actually printed.  I waited nervously because, by that time, I’d already learned about the next item.

Surprise #5: Authors have little or no control over their book covers.

Any number of authors had told horror stories about bad covers and their frustration with trying to get them changed.  Cherry Adair had a novel that took place on icy slopes in winter, and got cover art featuring people in shorts. The most famous is probably Christina Dodd’s Castles in the Air, on which the heroine had three arms. Here’s an image:  Count ‘em.


Luckily, all of the Mercy series covers have been excellent, but I can claim no credit.

Cover with blurbCry Mercy CoverANGEL OF MERCY


Surprise #6:  Only a tiny percentage of books get a hard cover release.

I guess I’d mostly read bestsellers.  I thought that most books came out first in hard cover and later in paperback.  Now I have another goal on my list—to write a book that a publisher deems worthy of a hard cover release.  I’ll keep you posted on that one.  So far, I have had six paperback releases.

Therefore, I have learned…

Surprise #7: Mass Market Paperbacks don’t stay on the shelves for long.

If you’re a bestselling author, there’s a little notation in the computer at Barnes & Noble and Borders that when the in-store stock of any of your titles gets below a certain number (probably a small one, like 2 or 3), they automatically reorder.  But, for ninety-nine percent of books, not only do they not reorder, but they remove any remaining copies of the shelves after ninety days or so and destroy them.

Yup. You read that right.  They tear off the covers (this just makes me shudder), which are sent back to the publisher for credit, and throw the coverless books into the dumpster.

Sniff.  The thought of my babies decomposing  in a landfill…

I thought that, because I am writing a series, this wouldn’t happen so swiftly with my books. And I was wrong.

Beg for Mercy came out in September 2007, Angel of Mercy in May 2008 and both are completely out of stock everywhere.  In fact, Angel was completely gone from the publisher’s warehouse shelves by July of 2008.  The publisher has no plans for a reprint, even though the books “sold through,” which means they sold enough copies to cover my advance.  New copies of Beg for Mercy, purchased by some smart dealers, are selling for upwards of $50 (original cover price $6.99).  Man, I wish I’d bough a garage full that first month.

Despite all of these surprises, I’m happy with the choice I made that day (with my underwear around my ankles, like my website says). I’m sure more surprises are right around the corner, but I’ll figure them out. Check back with me…I’ll let you know.

Toni Andrews’ website

Where to send your Self Addressed Stamped Envelope to get a signed book plate for your copy:

Toni’s Blog:

Toni’s TV show:

Cry Mercy Trailer:

Book Rx, Toni’s “Book Doctor” service:

Links to purchase the book:

Mira Books (discounted while they last!)

Amazon Link:

Amazon UK Link:

Barnes and Noble:

Indigo Books (Canada):

Rendezvous Romance (Australia)


10 thoughts on “Guest Blog: Author Toni Andrews speaks about the surprises in her publishing experience

  1. Heather Paye says:

    Just looked up and realized I posted a reply in the wrong place! Leave it to me.

    I can definitely agree with some of these surprises that you mentioned, Toni, I have found these to be shocks myself. One thing that I didn’t know was that they actually ripped apart your books! Like pieces of trash! This is my latest and most recent discovery, and it’s quite upsetting.

    I, like you, have read basically only bestsellers, so it did come to a shock to me when I found out that only a percentage of books are every made into a hard back; hopefully yours are!

    So far, I have yet to be rejected by a publisher, my first novel, “A Gift From Above” is self-published, but I decided to start small and just send a manuscript (of one of my other works, yet to be published) to one publisher and see what they do with it. So far, I haven’t been rejected by a single publisher, the first one is still looking over my novel and I’ve done quite a few rounds of editing with the publisher.

    Well, before this turns into a novel it’s self, I think I’ll just say, great post, Toni! It really inspired me and gave me some valuable information that I’ll have to store inside a vault.

    Heather Paye

  2. ME Staton says:

    Thanks for that post, it is very enlightening. I do recall, all too well, the tearing of covers off of “unwanted” books, it always saddened me. I used to take home a lot of coverless books and give them to friends (if I didn’t read them myself). Better, I figured, than books being thrown away, not even recycled.

    Having worked in many bookstores in my youth I shouldn’t be surprised by some of the harsher practices of the publishing industry (I also have family members who are published). It’s always amazing to get a little glimpse behind the curtain and see how vastly a different world it is to the one most aspiring authors imagine.

  3. Jessica Rosen says:

    Okay, #7 got me! Here I am, reading along, bobbing my head and thinking how ahead of the curve I am for an unpublished newbie and *wham*. On the shelves for how long? They do what to the poor little defenseless books??

    Thank you for all of it, including the one that made me blink hard. We who are new to the world of publishing need this sort of article. We may have the creative side down, but publishing is a business. We have to learn both sides of the coin to… erm… make any coin. [Gets red pen out for that one.]

    Appreciate your time on the post,
    Jessica Rosen

  4. Angela says:

    *sniffles and CRIES* I did -not- know about #7. Seriously? They just trash the books?

    That’s it… I was a bit of a fence-sitter before, but I’m not going traditional publishing on my babies. You just -don’t- treat books like that.

  5. Rob Charron says:

    Hi 🙂
    Another great blog by the wordsmith Toni Andrews. Thanks for sharing with us. This was informative and enjoyable. It definitely helps me and probably any other as-yet-unpublished author keep our expectations grounded.
    Love From Canada

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Wow. That’s amazingly informative. Guess I’ve gotta keep stroking the job market for a new chemistry position and dash my dreams of living off my writing (I actually always knew it would take several years to live off writing, I just didn’t realize the numbers could be that low).

    I’m really tempted to do that “First 5 pages” thing you have up now, but I’ll probably wait until I’m closer to the end of this SS turned novel

    Thanks Toni

  7. Bryce Beattie says:

    I love that book cover.

    Yeah, #7 is apparently one of the big things that makes it so hard for self/small publishers to get into brick and mortar stores.

    Even with all the surprises, I think I’d still like to be an author full time (if possible).

  8. Elizabeth says:

    I really wish stores would off some “discount sale” on paperbacks before the slaughter of the books…. Sniff…. and all those trees that have been lost too

  9. Toni Andrews says:

    Sorry to be so late in announcing! The winner of the copy of Cry Mercy is Heather Paye. Heather, get in touch with me through the comment link on my website, and send me your mailing address so I can make sure you get your book!

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