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.
Suzanne Atkins Noll
Dec 08, 2013 @ 13:07:49
Keep swinging for the fences! I’m looking forward to The Jade Temptress.
Dec 08, 2013 @ 17:20:05
Thank you Suzanne!
Dec 09, 2013 @ 10:29:31
Go Jeannie! *fistpump*
Dec 09, 2013 @ 10:38:34
I’m definitely looking forward to The Jade Temptress, in whatever format, can’t wait for your steampunk, and know you’ll be great at whatever comes next. You keep doing what you do and the right fit will be there.
Dec 09, 2013 @ 10:46:29
The Jade Temptress is gonna rock! I can’t wait for the world to see how hard you worked on it. I look forward to seeing more from Jeannie Lin in the future!
Dec 09, 2013 @ 10:49:39
An honest and really inspiring post. Would be tempted to cue Frank Sinatra if it wasn’t such a cliché. Keep going and keep doing it your way.
Dec 09, 2013 @ 10:50:51
Well, the “world” is a bit brash. LOL. I prefer to say “We few. We happy few; we band of (sisters)” And brothers, of course.
Thanks much for the kind words. The show must go on.
Dec 09, 2013 @ 10:56:41
Marguerite – Would you believe I removed the part of the post where I said I had Frank Sinatra in my head as I wrote it? LOL.
It is both a proud, triumphant, yet melancholy song. *sniffles*
Dec 09, 2013 @ 11:07:21
Oh, Jeannie! Thank you for the update, and while I’m disappointed that we won’t have the Jade Temptress in print for the print keepers, I know all of us fans will be eagerly reading electronically! And I’m thrilled at all you’ve gotten out there so far–can’t wait for more, whether it’ll be historical, steampunk, or something else 😉 Write on!!
Dec 09, 2013 @ 11:13:36
I so appreciate your candor in the midst of this decision. Thank you so much for the update. I pray bigger and better things are around the corner for you in the face of this setback.
Dec 09, 2013 @ 11:25:19
You’re an inspiration to me. Thank you for writing this. I know how you feel.
Dec 09, 2013 @ 11:41:45
You keep doing it your way! I love all of you Tang Dynasty books. The Lotus Palace was one of my favourite books this year. They are a breath of fresh air. Please, please keep writing what you want, not what the “market” dictates – there are many of us who are heartily tired of the same old, same old that we keep getting because of the “market”.
Dec 09, 2013 @ 11:43:55
But I adored The Lotus Palace! I can’t understand how it could have weak sales. Too frustrating.
I’ll have to settle for ebook for Jade Temptress, but i hate not being able to get it in print.
Dec 09, 2013 @ 11:48:10
Jeannie, appreciate your honesty and enjoyed The Sword Dancer. I’m late to the party as I didn’t realize you had so many releases, but I appreciated the way you completely transported me into the time and place of the Tang Dynasty. Might not help much, but I plan to go back and read the others on Kindle.
Dec 09, 2013 @ 12:16:47
Jeannie, First and foremost, ten stories of your heart in five years isn’t pretty badass, it’s BLOODY badass!
When I was struggling along in pitch-and-be-rejected land two years ago, I remember someone telling me about your Golden Heart win and sale. And that one thing kept me going. Seriously, every time someone told me there was no market for foreign stories I thought of your stories on the shelves and I kept going. So you did more than write the stories you wanted to. You opened doors, carved them out of concrete and no matter how these books have done, there is no going back. You will find a way to keep on bringing us these stories and sooner or later one story will turn everything around.
At Jayne Ann Krentz and Susan Elizabeth Phillip’s workshop at RWA they talked about it being inevitable that you will be knocked down in this business if you intend to stay long enough. They said it was about finding ways to reinvent yourself and keep going.
They did it and you will too. Just keep swinging.
Dec 09, 2013 @ 12:18:34
What a beautiful post. My philosophy? If you stay in this publishing game long enough, everything will happen to you. Just think of it as another milestone you’ve reached that will make a good story for an RWA speech in the future. And move on! All my best wishes.
Dec 09, 2013 @ 12:40:28
I agree that this will make great fodder for an RWA Keynote speech someday. Your books are brilliant and you are a brilliant writer, and I will buy them, no matter what format they come in. And now, I will do my utmost best to help other people find them, too!
Dec 09, 2013 @ 12:42:10
This just breaks my reader heart. And it makes the blogger side of me wish I had done even more to promote your books, which you know I have enjoyed. I have marveled at your productivity these past few years; your juggling act of the personal and the professional is pretty impressive. So while this is sad news, I believe in you. If anyone can figure out a way to keep telling her stories, you can.
Dec 09, 2013 @ 12:55:27
Cover Cafe is a niche website and we specialize in celebrating romance covers. We understand the battle for exposure when in a niche market. Not everyone who reads romances cares about the covers but for readers who love the covers, we are there.
Cover Cafe loves the beautiful Harlequin covers created for your releases! The cover for My Fair Concubine was one of the ten Historical finalists in the 2012 Romance Cover Contest and finished in 7th place. We feel that your covers are trail blazing the way for more diverse romance covers. Here is a link to the Historical results of the 2012 contest:
We will continue to follow your releases! Remember, when one door closes, look for the windows. Linnae
Dec 09, 2013 @ 13:01:24
I’m an avid fan of asian dramas and manga, but tended to shy away from the historical eras. It may have to do with Hollywood’s cliche of parodying the era that sealed my mind. But I decided to take a chance, then fell in love with that world wholly (Water Bridge is a fav manga now). I may not know all the dynasties yet but do plan on getting your novels. I sincerely hope the industry continues to stick by you to pave this way forward. This is a world richly layered in stories that needs to be shown. Almost seems like you should create travel brochures to invite readers.
I’ll have to put your books on my holiday list to purchase. Glad Dray’s post tagged you.
Dec 09, 2013 @ 13:17:32
I have actually been looking for Asian Historical Romance for YEARS! I am so glad that Stephanie Dray shared this blog post on her facebook page, and I have found you. I have added all of your books to my wish list, but I don’t get paid until Thursday. This may be a good Christmas after all!
Dec 09, 2013 @ 13:22:13
I saw your book in the bookstore and was fascinated by the idea of a romance set in Asia and promptly purchased it. I am fascinated by the idea. Don’t give up.
Ruth Frances Long
Dec 09, 2013 @ 13:22:19
I adore all your books, Jeannie, as I hope you know. Ever since I first read Butterfly Swords, I knew they were special and continue to be.
This is such a hard business. I think we all shed tears at some point (indeed, more than one point). Stick to your guns, my friend. We’re with you.
*hugs and chocolate*
Dec 09, 2013 @ 13:27:00
Hi Jeannie –
We met when you came out to speak at our San Diego RWA Chapter and you inspired me with your spunk and determination to write the stories you wanted to tell. The dream of every author! 🙂
I’m sure it feels like a set back, but I’m confessing here that I read everything digitally on my Kindles and my phone. I can’t remember the last time I cracked open a print book.
Times are changing and competitively priced eBooks sell… So this may not be the path you envisioned, but I hope it’ll lead you to a wider readership and even greater success…
Great post! Don’t stop swinging…
Dec 09, 2013 @ 13:33:08
Dear Jeannie – thanks for sharing this news. I have loved your stories very much. I am saddened by what i see as the the risk-adverse marketplace as well as what I feel is a lack of marketing. Please know your books have brought much joy to my life. With thanks – and keep on writing!
Professional Romance Fan
Dec 09, 2013 @ 13:44:50
Keep swinging, Jeannie. You are an inspiration. Sending hugs!
Dec 09, 2013 @ 14:08:51
Jeannie – this post was brave and honest and courageous and every part of it – from the post to the way you approached your career – was most certainly BADASS! As will be whatever path you choose next! I admire you all the way around!
Dec 09, 2013 @ 14:19:47
We all know you are a talented writer and excellent storyteller – that’s a given – and the important thing is that you have been true to the stories you wanted to tell. That’s really all a writer can do – the rest of it is soooo out of our control.
I know this is not the end of ‘Jeannie Lin’ — it’s just a step…
Dec 09, 2013 @ 14:25:58
I’m pretty sure I’ve bought all your books to date, so I can’t see a reason I wouldn’t buy The Jade Temptress too, no matter what form it comes in.
Dec 09, 2013 @ 14:35:51
Thanks so much for your honest post. I look forward to reading The Jade Temptress 🙂
Dec 09, 2013 @ 15:17:05
I adore your books. Get ’em out there, whether print, electronic, or on papyrus, and I’ll keep buying them. I’ve been through this authorial heartbreak and it *does* get better.
Dec 09, 2013 @ 15:32:31
You are truly a strong lady and have come through the fires in a way just by having this mind set. I am one of those who has been enchanted by the Tang Dynasty since reading my first book. Thank you for being true to your craft. I will definitely be seeking out The Jade Temptress no matter what format it is in.
Dec 09, 2013 @ 15:38:31
Jeannie, so sorry to hear this. Hugs! It’s tough! But I’m so glad that you’re proud of those books as you should be – I loved the stories you told and I LOVED that you played outside the usual sandbox and built fantastic worlds that really set my imagination on fire. Applause for you!
Dec 09, 2013 @ 15:38:54
Go for it, Jeannie. If we’re not reinventing ourselves in this business, we’re standing still.
Dec 09, 2013 @ 16:23:51
I am a friend IRL with Amanda Berry and picked up your first book at her mention of you. Your more recent ones I picked up just based on story and blurb – and all in digital, as I no longer read print books. Too hard to hold for the hours I tend to read at a time.
Keep up the “different”stories – some of us are searching for something different from a bodice-ripper (and I read plenty of those, too!)
Dec 09, 2013 @ 16:49:59
Jeannie — I hang out with Joanna Bourne and she loves your work. I would like to read and review it for Lady Smut. Contact me if you’re interested. One of my favorite books ever is the romantic Dream of a Red Chamber — Chinese amazement. And I love Korean Drama.
There’s room for the Asian continent in romance — I want to be a part of helping you open that door.
Dec 09, 2013 @ 17:33:13
I know just how it feels to write exactly the stories I want to write, about characters who are a hard sell. I envy your skill and fortune in winning over a big publisher, even if only for a few years. That’s something I will probably never do, despite working damned hard and earning good reviews. But at least, like you, I can say I wrote the stories I wanted to write. The stories I loved to write.
Our success is limited by how willing readers are to take a chance on something new. Sadly, not enough readers are willing.
Still, I hope you keep writing the stories you love, for those readers who love them. If you close off that part of who you are as a storyteller, we’ll all be the poorer for it.
Dec 09, 2013 @ 18:29:38
This post made me tear up a little! Don’t be down. Your books have paved the way and opened the door for other authors after you, and even if they’re not finding the readership they deserve in print…digital is forever. That kind of shelf life might be just what the series needs to get a foothold. Jade Temptress has a gorgeous, eye-catching cover that will look FAB in thumbnail, and I just know it’s going to make readers so, so happy.
Dec 09, 2013 @ 20:14:58
I have to admit that I was unfamiliar with your work, thanks to the shrinking inventory of books at stores. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Asian-themed romance at any of my local B&N’s. It actually sounds interesting to me as someone who loves Asia in general and has devoured Laura Joh Rowland’s medieval Japan-set mysteries. Luckily for me, Ilona Andrews linked to your blog. I’ll certainly check your work out now! 🙂
Dec 09, 2013 @ 20:32:17
I just wanted to say thank you for sharing this! And also that I bought all your books as Christmas presents for romance-reading friends. Please keep up doing what you do!
Dec 09, 2013 @ 20:50:31
I’ve only just stumbled upon your books a few months ago, but I must say that I love them. You are a very talented writer. Keep writing! I’ll keep reading!
Dec 09, 2013 @ 21:10:09
I hope you know I love your stories, too. Keep writing from the heart!!
Dec 09, 2013 @ 22:07:44
I just don’t get it at all. I’ve read all your books and you are an amazing writer and I learn things when I read you. The Lotus Palace was wonderful and the next one? I loved it even more.
I know how it feels to sell dismally at something you love (my Tudor Vampires tanked too) so I’ve been there. I hope that whatever you decide to do, you keep going because you write beautifully.
Dec 09, 2013 @ 22:21:38
You have touched a lot of aspiring writers who love times and places ‘outside the box’ including me. Keep writing what you love and readers will always find you.
Dec 10, 2013 @ 02:27:40
I’m disappointed for you Jeannie, but this post has also pushed me to keep swinging and to swing harder. I’ve wanted to give up many times this year, and indulged in my cynicism that almost tipped into bitterness, but it’s not about what it looks like on the outside. Allowing external forces to dictate my internal outlook means what “They” buy/sell/read is the truth…when it isn’t. You have wonderful books and a wonderful audience whether or not you’re selling Julia Quinn-type numbers. Swinging harder means you believe in yourself at all costs, and I’m going to hold onto that hope and that truth.
Dec 10, 2013 @ 05:59:39
Your post was so inspiring!
I know they say that when God closes a door, he opens a window somewhere else but this makes it Hell in the hallways of life. May this hallway be very short.
Dec 10, 2013 @ 07:21:05
What an inspirational and touching blog, Jeannie. You’ve made me cry.
Dec 10, 2013 @ 10:25:51
Off to Amazon to buy some Jeannie Lin books!
Please keep writing your beautiful stories.
Dec 10, 2013 @ 11:35:40
What a lovely and inspiring blog post! Thank you for sharing your most recent struggles. I love your books for the exact reason you write them–that they convey the spirit and nuance of the period and your richly-drawn characters. I have a few authors that I hold dear because their work encourages me to continue to write from my heart instead of to market (which I can’t and don’t know how to do anyway :)), and to remind me that there is a reader out there somewhere who might love the tale I have to tell. Just like I love the tales you tell.
Please keep on writing from your heart. I’ll buy your books no matter the format.
P.S. Kudos to Harlequin for their support. It’s nice to see a big publishing house working hard to let the financials catch up to the creativeness and talent.
Dec 10, 2013 @ 11:51:05
Thank you all for the encouragement & support. I promise to make more specific replies — but dang it! Holidays and deadlines. I’m packing up petit fours off to a lunch today with friends. I do feel better letting everyone know and it is my hope that this book will still find its way into libraries through Overdrive and to new readers who might enjoy The Jade Temptress. Warmest wishes and sugary thoughts to all.