I received an inquiry from a librarian today asking me if The Jade Temptress has been cancelled. This is the question I’ve been dreading for a while now and I know more readers will have questions, so I thought I would lay it all out here:
Do you want to know what it feels like to write exactly the stories that you want to write, in a setting that the industry insists is too much of a risk, about characters who are a hard sell?
For the last five years, I’ve been able to do exactly that. EXACTLY that, no compromise. How did it feel?
So damn good.
I want that to be the very first thing I say about this. From the moment I stood on that RWA stage in 2009 to announce that Harlequin would be publishing Butterfly Swords to this moment right now, I did it my way, writing the stories I wanted to tell, the way I wanted to tell them. It felt really frickin’ awesome to be able to do that.
In September 2013, Harlequin HQN released my first single title historical romance set. The Lotus Palace was supposed to be a new milestone in my writing career. A chance for a higher advance, wider distribution, more readers.
It tanked. The print sales were so poor on Lotus that Harlequin pulled the sequel, The Jade Temptress, from print distribution to publish it digital only. There’s no other way to slice it – this is a huge step back from the Jeannie Lin master plan.
I once reflected to my BFF Amelia, the same friend who got me into romance novels, that whenever you talk about a past relationship, it inherently has to be a story of failure because that relationship is now over. Well, I know how this sort of publishing story usually ends, but I don’t want to spin a tale of “unfortunately” and “not as well as I hoped”. I’m not going to go into why the book didn’t sell because…boring. You’ve heard that lament before. I’ve heard that lament before. You know how it goes.
I’ll be brutally honest and say I did cry actual tears over The Jade Temptress losing print distribution. I need as many eyes as I can get and that means I can’t discount any opportunity to have my book on shelves in stores and libraries. It’s hard enough for readers to find me as it is.
I haven’t cried actual tears over publishing since I saw what they did to the cover of Cindy Pon’s sequel to The Silver Phoenix. And in my angst-filled write up on Phoenix’s behalf, I lamented that it takes a while to build a name and a readership and that it was unfair to dilute Cindy’s brand because of lower than expected sales on her first book and immediately blame the Asian theme.
Well, this didn’t happen with me. For six novels and four short novellas, Harlequin stuck by me. They never white-washed my covers. They promoted me when they could have easily spent time talking up other more lucrative authors. I can almost guarantee you that Harlequin at any time could have put out a historical romance in my slot set in almost any other era besides mine and made more money. Instead, my editors worked their asses off. The art department went above and beyond themselves again and again. The digital department stepped forward, creating trailers and trying out promotions. And even when my sales in the category line were humble at best, they still said, “Let’s try you in single title with HQN.”
I’m not being naive and saying this was charity. In the beginning and the end, publishing is a business. My stories failed to woo a significant number of readers even after five years and multiple releases. It’s down to the numbers; the cold equations. I can’t say that Harlequin and I didn’t give it a fighting try.
The truth is I knew in 2011 when my second book released that this couldn’t continue forever. I looked at my royalty statements and knew that any publisher worth their salt couldn’t continue putting money into a risky investment like me. I started to get depressed back then, but I thought of an analogy from tennis that I’ve taken to heart.
I was watching the Wimbledon women’s final one year and the announcer was remarking how the player who was behind in the score was feeling timid, so they were pulling their swings, afraid to hit out of bounds. When you’re under the gun, the instinct is to pull back and be conservative, but that actually makes the ball more likely to ping outside.
The real answer is to swing harder. That’s how you control the ball. So even though I had the sinking suspicion I was going down sooner or later, I made the decision to keep swinging as hard as I could.
Lo and behold, after The Dragon and the Pearl, Harlequin offered to contract more books and I took the opportunities, swinging for the fences in each one. I would go down swinging.
Now that my writing career is hitting this setback, it’s hard not to feel down. To feel that this great experiment has failed. But I wrote ten stories in five years set in a historical era that no one had ever done before in this genre. I convinced a major player in the romance world to go along with me, hand in hand, in a real way. Over and over again, I wrote the book of my dreams. Every single one; the books I dreamed of writing.
Six full-length novels set in the Tang Dynasty and pretty good ones at that. Yes, I said it. Memorable stories. Emotional stories. Romance novels, the books I had always wanted to write. That doesn’t suck.
In fact, I think that’s pretty badass.
To the readers, authors, reviewers and bloggers who have supported me, I owe you everything.
I still have one more Tang Dynasty romance for Harlequin in the works, the sequel to The Sword Dancer. I have a two book Opium War steampunk duo to write for Berkley Intermix. After that, who knows?
The Jade Temptress is still releasing next year March 1, 2014. I’m proud of this book. Ironically, of all my books, it’s the one that the most readers have e-mailed me to say they wanted to read immediately after reading the previous book.
I hope readers who enjoyed The Lotus Palace in print, will still buy the sequel in digital. I hope that new readers will still be able to discover The Jade Temptress.
In the meantime, I’m still swinging hard.
Dec 10, 2013 @ 11:52:33
Beautiful, inspirational post, Jeannie. Please, please, please keep swinging.
P.S. The cover for The Jade Temptress is gorgeous. I love all your covers but this one is my favorite.
Dec 10, 2013 @ 14:20:41
Its no secret that I adore the stories that you put out Jeannie Lin (its also no secret I love Cindy’s books as well). I was so excited every time I saw a new cover for your books and novellas because they are different. Not just culturally, but also the tone and style of the romances was very different.
I can understand that Harlequin is a business and as a business they have to make calls they wouldn’t make if money wasn’t the problem. However as a reader, who has largely moved away from Harlequin titles because of the…sameness feeling, I took their gamble on your books as a sign that they want to expand and be more then they are.
Sigh regardless I’ll go preorder JADE TEMPTRESS on my kindle. It bites I won’t be able to display it proudly next to my other Jeannie Lin books though :/
Dec 11, 2013 @ 09:29:46
This was sad news. I love your books and am looking forward to seeing how you rise from and to the new challenges.
Dec 12, 2013 @ 10:28:23
I felt sick when I read your post. When your first book came out, I was so excited that a romance publisher was finally willing to take a chance on something fresh instead of the same-old-same-old, and I’ve bought every book of yours since. I cannot imagine why they didn’t sell like crazy. The covers alone were gorgeous and should have sold lots of books.
I know you’re really discouraged now, but I hope you don’t give up. If your audience is a niche audience for some reason, a smaller publisher may be happy to have you. Also, some of my friends have done very well for themselves self-publishing. (And by “very well,” I mean >$100,000/year.) That includes people who write romances with a small audience.
I will continue to buy your books set in China wherever and however they get published, and I will continue to recommend them to friends.
Dec 19, 2013 @ 01:07:02
I just started reading one of your novels tonight and I am enjoying it so much that I had to come and check out your website. I am sad to read this news, and I can imagine how discouraging this must be for you. But, know that as long as you keep writing, I will continue to buy your books. It is so rare to read such beautiful stories with a Chinese historical backdrop that is written in English. I am happy to have stumbled across your works.
Dec 28, 2013 @ 10:58:17
I wanted to say that I have read all your books to date and I like them a lot. Please keep writing books.
Jan 01, 2014 @ 12:53:14
I haven’t checked the post in a bit, so thank you for the comments. I’m always happy to hear that someone has discovered and enjoyed my books and I’m also glad to see many people got something out of this post.
Jan 20, 2014 @ 07:00:25
I wanted to cry when I read this. You are so talented, Jeannie. I have almost all your books, and they are cherished. I am white and I’m deliriously happy that someone like you is out there and writes something different, about something else than white folks. It’s not about England, Scotland, Vikings, Dukes, rakes and rogues. Those are captivating stories, with people who feel so real, with stories that are different. I learn things, I want to know more about China, I want to read more of your fantastic books. Just an idea here, but maybe someone could do something about promoting your books in China ? Trying more on the USA and Canadian west coast. Can’t someone do anything ? There is so much junk out there that sells (I’m thinking here of a godawful trilogy…) and here we have this brilliant voice… Depressing. Please hang in there, Jeannie, we need your wonderful words !
Jan 20, 2014 @ 10:45:30
I found your blog posting after Courtney Milan recommended your book and urged readers to buy it.
I hope you will continue to write many more amazing novels. Kickstarter perhaps? Maybe self-publishing?
If talented authors like you can’t make a go at it, the world will be a poorer for it.
Science fiction and Romance Linkdump | Cora Buhlert
Jan 22, 2014 @ 00:17:32
[…] me, you have enjoyed Jeannie Lin’s historical romances set in Tang Dynasty China, you will be disappointed to hear that Jeannie Lin’s upcoming novel The Jade Temptress will not be publishe…, because sales are allegedly too low. Courtney Milan weighs in as well and explains exactly why […]
Jan 26, 2014 @ 12:29:23
I love your books, each and every one. After a long and fruitful life of reading romance novels, as I approach middle age, I get so mad at the books I find out there in the romance world. The “alpha males” turn out to be bullies, the “winsome fresh faces” turn out to be beautiful idiots, the millionaires and billionaires, the same old stories….aagh!
I came back to Harlequin because I discovered your books in 2012. I can not tell you how much I appreciate your settings, your writing, and your characters. I urge you to not give up. I, too, love Marjorie Liu and Jade Lee but honestly, your novels get everything just right. The girls get to have action and adventure, they get to be smart, they get to grow and develop independent of the hero and yet are perfectly complimented by the hero.
I am going to buy two copies of ALL your print books and give one set to my library and keep one set for me. I’m crushed that Jade Temptress can’t be printed too, but I’m pre-ordering for my Kindle. Please don’t be discouraged. If even one person reads and loves your books, you will have created an enduring legacy.
Jan 28, 2014 @ 09:59:43
I am half way through your book The Jade Temptress. I was impressed enough to look you up on Google and find this webpage. Please keep up the good work.
Divergent, Private L.A. and The Fault In Our Stars Battle It Out for #1 | Babbling About Books, and More!
Feb 22, 2014 @ 07:58:23
[…] Samhain author, Dana Marie Bell’s Bear Naked charts at #100. Bear shifting romance for the win! Stacey Kennedy, under the Loveswept line takes over #115 with Bared. J.S. Cooper is unstoppable as she and Helen Cooper take over #117 with The Private Club and Harlequin author, Jeannie Lin is #118 with The Lotus Palace. Jeannie hitting the USA Today is extra special because recently she blogged how the print sales for her books were poor and now her books were going to dig…. […]
Links of late winter | How To Write Shop
Feb 26, 2014 @ 07:41:22
[…] * Here’s some context for that blog post above. […]
Feb 27, 2014 @ 15:24:41
“Ironically, of all my books, it’s the one that the most readers have e-mailed me to say they wanted to read immediately after reading the previous book.”
This was so true for me. Does this mean we won’t get Wei-wei’s story? I hope you’ll consider self-publishing it!
Jeannie Lin Tells Us: How My Worst Seller Became a Bestseller and What it Means to Write “Different” | Best Seller Review
Mar 03, 2014 @ 19:15:24
[…] last year, Jeannie Lin announced that the sequel to her RT Award Nominee, China-set historical romance, The Lotus Palace, would be […]
Mar 05, 2014 @ 02:22:56
I had just discovered your books and bought them all. I am even pondering buying Kindle for the Jade Empress. Please keep writing. Perhaps self publish? Never give up. I LOVE LOVE LOVE your books!!! The new settings, China, romance, action…what isn’t to love??? I’ll buy any book with your name on it!
L is for Jeannie Lin | Olivia Waite
Jan 02, 2015 @ 17:38:40
[…] Harlequin pulled The Jade Temptress from print distribution and made it digital-only. Ms. Lin blogged about her complex reaction to the news, and Courtney Milan responded with print sales figures of […]