There is one genre convention in romance that may never be broken: the happily ever after. Hearts must flutter at the close or heads will roll (or both, in the case of my Tudor books). But how do you pull off a romance serial—following the same two lovers—in which each novel features a happily ever after, yet keeps the story going, and is set in a different time period? I faced this conundrum while writing my trilogy that begins with Emmie and the Tudor King, a YA time-slip romance (think Outlander for teens, and with crowns not kilts). After solving the puzzle, I pitched my novel directly to a small press publisher who ended up buying three books. Here’s how (and why):
(Writing and Pitching) With a Love That Shall Not Die…
I picked a historical era packed with drama queens
My books are mostly set in the sixteenth century during the reign of the Tudors. You need only pull up the Tudor family tree to see that this real-life Dynasty drama was a hot mess, strewn with backstabbing, beheadings and baggage. Few haven’t heard of the capricious king Henry VIII with his six marriages, or Anne Boleyn—the first young wife he executed (there were two). How about the conflict between Henry’s daughters Mary and Elizabeth, who had different mothers, different religions, and the same ambitions to rule England? This was an era I could sink my teeth into that would provide a thrilling backdrop to an angsty love story able to sustain three or more books.
I only tried to sell the first book in my series
Even though I saw more than one novel in my writerly-mind’s-eye, I didn’t even mention additional novels in my query letter. I’ve consumed enough romance to know that I could come up with plots for more books in my angsty series. Complicated love is never not-complicated. However, I wrote Emmie and the Tudor King as a standalone novel with the showdown beginning and ending within the book. If I’d plotted out the entire series in advance, I’d have risked the first one becoming a 300-page preamble. Furthermore, because I targeted a small press publisher, I didn’t have to prove all three books to sell the first one. And on that note…
I skipped the agent and went right to the publisher
I totally get that many authors dream of finding an agent who can sell their work to a major publisher. I, too, saw only this path, and began trolling Twitter for compatible manuscript requests by agents. There, I found tweets gushing about swoonish YA romance, written by Literary Crush Publishing. I flew to their website, found more to love, and followed their guidelines to submit a query letter and sample pages—just as I would with an agent. You can read my query letter here. After a requested full manuscript, a video call, and a publication offer, I took a chance and never looked back. I knew I’d have a collaborative relationship with Literary Crush and I wanted to work with people who were as in-love with love as I am. Spoiler alert: they have been brilliant for both my series and my brand.
But There’s the Rub…
Make sure you understand your contract
If you pursue a publisher without an agent, you’ll receive pages of legally binding gobbledygook concluded with a dotted line for your signature. I hired a literary agent to negotiate my contract for me and she did a wonderful job; however, I’m an Australian author who sold my book while I was living in Asia, and my publisher is in the United States. Given my publisher didn’t have connections in foreign language markets (that I knew of) I retained my foreign language rights, but…oh right…no international territory agent wants to work with an author directly, so what exactly do I do with these foreign language rights now? I probably would have been better leaving all the language rights with my publisher so they can pursue other territories if the book sells well in English. My bad. Know how to make the most of your contracts.
Consider where you want to live and work
When I wrote and sold Emmie and the Tudor King, I was living overseas and considering a move to North America. Many Australian authors dream of becoming published in the United States and I regret nothing, but now that I am living back in Australia, I have few opportunities to push my work in my own country. Most people move around less than me (I have ants-in-my-pants syndrome), but more foresight about my plans could have benefitted me in the place where I’m most available to market my work.
Get good at your own marketing, and in haste
I know authors with major publishers that have hired external publicists, so when I made that move myself, I didn’t chalk it up to being published by a small press. Having a larger publisher is no guarantee of a strong marketing budget. Nonetheless, if you sign with a small press, it’s almost a guarantee that you will have to do a lot of work to push the book yourself. My publisher has been truly amazing from a creative perspective, but there’s little budget for aggressive paperback distribution, major advertising, or press tours. Again, larger publishers will also vary in this capacity. Be prepared to get to know your social media apps really well and become a marketing ninja, which is a feather I’m thankful to now have in my bow.
Overall, my goals out of the gate were: to write the sort of book I’d love to read, to give it serial potential but look at it as an independent work, and to have it traditionally published by people that I’d want to hang out with and chat about books and tropes we both love. In that capacity, I’m totally sweet on my writing journey.
How about you? Have you been working on a historical romance serial, a different genre of serial, or are you considering small press publishers? Please feel welcome to leave any tips or share your comments!
Natalie Murray is the author of EMMIE AND THE TUDOR KING (June 11, 2019; Literary Crush Publishing). A fast-paced YA time-slip romance, Emmie and the Tudor King follows an American high school girl to a reimagined Tudor England, where she meets a doomed, but utterly dreamy, Tudor king. Books 2 and 3 in the series will be published in 2020 and 2021, and Emmie and the Tudor King has already received acclaim from Foreword Reviews, YA Books Central, and popular YA authors Brigid Kemmerer (A Curse So Dark and Lonely) and CJ Flood (Infinite Sky), among others. You can visit Natalie at nataliemurrayauthor.com.