This is the one-year anniversary of publishing my novella, The Callaways: Melody of Love. I took it upon myself to sneak into someone's toy chest and start playing with their fictional characters because this novella was based on The Callaways series by Baraba Freethy. I was able to do this through Kindle Worlds, a pretty fantastic place (though not really well known) where authors of popular series offer up their worlds and their characters for some of us to experiment with. I did this because I was in the middle of reading the series when I found out that it was available on Kindle Worlds. And when life smacks you in the face with a sign like that, you've got to take your chance.
Diving Right InI think the reason I didn't find this project as daunting as I should have was because I wanted to be immersed in the world, not necessarily with the lives of the specific characters. One of my favorite novels in the series was the one about Sean Callaway--the black sheep of the family because he was into playing music and not being a firefighter, doctor or other public servant like the rest of the big Callaway brood. His novel led to finding his love, Jessica, and helped her reignite a desire to dance like she used to before she was widowed. The novel ends with Sean and Jessica opening a recording/dance studio in San Francisco. And that's where I found the perfect place to create a love story of my own.
I used original characters to create Melody of Love, but without Sean and Jessica in the picture, the story couldn't have taken place. This was my first attempt at romance, so I had to navigate the waters of what type of romance it would be. There's a huge sliding scale in this genre where from one end the goal is the story ending with the couple holding hands for the first time all the way to full-on smut that you only read on an e-reader so no one can see the cover. I decided to stick with a more middle-of-the-road approach because that's where this series falls, and it can be hard to please romance fans, especially when they are coming from an established romantic world.
Publishing Through Kindle WorldsOnce the story was written, the work had to go through more steps than I had before with previous independently published work. The formatting had to be correct, sticking to a few specific rules like not including a photo on the author bio page, which I happened to forget when I first submitted it. After all of the little things were taken care of, I submitted it and still got it rejected. I was totally and completely disheartened. What could I have done wrong when I spent weeks getting it just right? Turns out, it was something very simple and something I should have been aware of before submitting my work.
The problem was in my book's description. I can't believe I would overlook it, but I didn't mention a Callaway family member. Not once. And because the book is based on a specific series, something needed to be mentioned, not just the two original characters I created. After taking care of that problem, it was smooth sailing. This probably gave me a better idea of how traditional publishing could go--lots of back and forth, getting everything just right before it's finally published.
I must also address this point to any authors looking to publish something through Kindle Worlds: just like any other major publisher, there is a lot of fine print and not a lot you have control over once you submit your work (heads-up for authors: you don't get to set your own prices). Be sure to read all of the fine print before you publish so that you are aware of what rights you hold and what rights the original author or the publisher holds.
A Built-In AudienceWriting a book doesn't guarantee you'll find an audience. Writing a book based on someone else's popular romance series doesn't guarantee you'll find an audience either. This discovery surprised me. I thought that super fans of this series would be all over my novella, even if it did veer off to another, non-Callaway couple.
Like anything you create, you have to get the word out about it yourself. I know I have a few fans out there (okay, maybe just two), but nothing like the the fan base of the original series. I was banking on bringing a few of them over to read my work, but as of writing this post, none of the readers who read and reviewed Melody of Love were actually readers of The Callaways series. I can't tell you whether that's a good or a bad thing. Maybe it doesn't matter at all since I put a lot of effort into making it a standalone story while still honoring the atmosphere of The Callaways.
My biggest setback in the marketing game is that I'm reluctant to use the original author's name in the way I advertise the book. For some reason, it feels wrong to bring up her name just to make a sale, even though she clearly gave permission for authors to come in and write. (Just to be clear, I also feel the same way about books advertised as Stephen King-meets-Judy Blume or whatever big-name authors they choose to compare themselves with.) I've also purposely not approached Facebook fans of hers or posting about my work on her fan group pages (of which I am, of course, a fellow fan) because it seems like it would be in bad taste. So I haven't yet found out what her fans think of my work--and readers coming in as non-fans all have the same issue: it's too short.
That is a problem I can remedy. I wouldn't mess with Melody of Love to make it longer, but I would provide more novellas featuring my original characters. In fact, the novella I was working on last fall was a continuation of this story. So this October I'm going to be releasing a second novella called Haunting Melody (you heard it here first, folks). There is also a third novella in the very early planning stages, which would take my Kindle Worlds experiment from a good little story to a mini-trilogy within the world of The Callaways.
It was a thrill to work with someone else's characters with permission, especially since I spent some of my high school years honing my writing skills on unpublished fan fiction. It was also a great learning experience to publish work through Kindle Worlds. Even though Amazon is a giant in the world of all things written and published, it's nice to see that they have programs to help provide the space for independent authors to grow.