Judith Arnold on Publishers, Readers, and Making it as an Author

Judith Arnold is a best-selling author with a flare for crime fiction and romance (she has written more than 85 romance novels alone!). With over 30 years of experience as an author, Judith knows a thing or two about establishing a sustainable career within the field.

Below you will discover the reasoning behind Judith's choice to use pseudonyms, tales from Judith's experiences with publishers, the manner in which Judith's interaction with readers influences her work, and the major changes Judith has noticed in the writing world over the past three decades, along with the prolific author's top tips for fledgling authors.

Why have you chosen to write under pseudonyms?

Judith Arnold at a Book SigningWhen I first started writing romance novels, publishers demanded exclusive rights to an author's name. Since at one point I was writing for three different publishers (Silhouette, Harlequin, Berkley), I needed to have three different names. I stopped writing for Berkley after one book, and eventually stopped writing for Silhouette, as well. Judith Arnold became the name under which I was best known, and I've continued to use it now with other publishers. The publishers no longer demand those exclusive rights, so the pen name is mine to use as I wish.

I also had personal reasons for using a pseudonym. I wanted to keep my private life separate from my life as a famous author. I like the privacy the pseudonym affords me.

What factors do you think led your first book, Silent Beginnings, to get picked up by a publisher? Was the manuscript rejected many times before anyone expressed interest?

I sold Silent Beginnings very quickly. I had written several literary novels that I couldn't sell, and I decided to try my hand writing commercial fiction- specifically, romance fiction. I wrote a couple of novels with very little idea of what the publishers were looking for, and I submitted them. They were promptly rejected. However, an editor at Silhouette thought I had talent, and she thought I'd be a good fit for the brand-new Silhouette Desire imprint. She sent me the first four Silhouette Desires to read and analyze. After doing that, I wrote Silent Beginnings and sent it to her. She bought it right away.

Given your experiences with Harlequin and Silhouette Books would you say that revenue splits and marketing help vary significantly from publisher to publisher, or will an author have generally the same experience regardless of what publishing house he or she works with?

Harlequin, Silhouette and M&B are all one company, so their contracts and royalty payouts are pretty much identical when it comes to series romances. I've also written for Mira, which is a single-title imprint owned by Harlequin. Their contract has a higher royalty rate, commensurate with the higher royalty rates offered by other mainstream publishers. I'm currently writing for Bell Bridge Books, a mid-size independent publisher. Their royalties are in line with other publishers, although their approach to publishing differs in other ways. Because they're small, they're much more nimble. They emphasize their e-book publishing, which is where huge growth in the industry is taking place right now, and publish trade-paperback editions of books pretty much as print-on-demand, keeping their inventory very low. The mainstream publishers tend to have been a bit slow to recognize the importance of ebooks. They're playing catch-up now, while publishers like Bell Bridge Books are zooming ahead.

To what extent did you factor in readers' opinions and responses into your work? How much have your novels been influenced by readers' comments, suggestions, and requests?

I write not just for myself but to communicate with others. In that sense, I always have my readers in mind when I'm writing. I want my books to mean something to them, to matter to them. To make them glad they took the time to read what I've written.

I think readers have certain expectations when they pick up a Judith Arnold book, and I try to live up to those expectations. That said, my current release, The April Tree, is different from anything I've ever written before. It's very dark and it's not a romance. But it has my voice and my sensibility, and I think readers will respond strongly to it.

As for specific suggestions, well, if they're good, of course I'll listen to them! After my novel Love in Bloom's came out, I got a lot of requests for a sequel, so I wrote Blooming All Over. I've received more requests for yet another Bloom's book, and if I ever clear out a space on my schedule, I'll write one. Right now, though, I've got too many other projects demanding my attention.

In what ways is the career of an author today different from the career of an author when you first got started in the early 1980s? What starting points would you give to a fledgling author who would like to follow in your professional footsteps?

I don't think anyone could follow in my professional footsteps right now. They're like footprints in the sand- after a strong wind has blown them away. The entire publishing business is so different from when I sold my first book 30 years ago. Today, e-publishing has transformed everything.

When I started out, survival in publishing relied on huge sales, big numbers, mass marketing. Today an author can survive quite nicely as a niche author, narrow-casting her books. If an author doesn't want to contort herself to fit the parameters a publisher has established, she can independently publish her own books. She can hire an editor, hire a cover artist, learn how to market her books and set up shop as an indie author.

While my new front-list books- women's fiction and, starting next year, mysteries- are being published by Bell Bridge Books, I'm also operating a bustling business indie-publishing many of my old out-of-print books (after I've regained the rights to them and re-edited them.) The Book Store page of my website lists the books I've indie-published, with links to the ebook retailers where they're available for sale. I can price them lower than a mainstream publisher would, and still make good money on them because no publisher is pocketing 90% of the earnings. I have more indie books in the pipeline, including some of my older books and also a new romance novella I wrote for a special project which will be released in a few months.

Back when I first started publishing, a writer couldn't really be an entrepreneur. We wrote our books and sent them to the publisher, and from that point on everything was out of our hands. We often got covers we didn't like, editing might be imposed on our books to accommodate some marketing need of the publisher's, distribution depended on the physical books' being shipped and shelved in brick-and-mortar stores... If a book didn't sell out by a certain date (usually about a month from its release), it was stripped and pulped and the author never saw another dime in earnings from it. With ebooks, there is no physical book, no need for shelf space, and no time limit. An ebook can remain on sale forever. If it doesn't sell quickly from the moment of its release, it doesn't vanish. It remains a viable book, available to readers.

Of course, authors who indie-publish their own books have to have talent. They have to offer a book readers will want to read. Just because it's easier to publish a book now doesn't mean it's easier to write a book. Writing is still the most important aspect of being a novelist. You have to write something people will want to read. You have to know your craft. You have to tell a compelling story. That part hasn't changed.

So I guess authors can follow my footsteps in that one area: Learn your craft. Work hard. Sweat over every word. Don't be lazy, don't be sloppy, don't disrespect your readers. Give them a beautiful, well-written, moving story, something that will make them laugh or make them cry or make them sigh. Something that will haunt them after they reach the end. I spent years honing my craft. I earned a master's degree in creative writing. Before I ever submitted a book, I made sure I knew how to write.

Wanting to be a writer is never enough. Any writer who wants to succeed as a published author must do the hard work of writing. That will never change.