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Controlling the words

Established author turns to self-publishing

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Davidson author AlTonya Washington is sensitive about her ... well, you know what Erykah Badu said before she told her man to call Tyrone.

Washington, a multi-published and award-winning author with Harlequin, BET Books, Kensington and Genesis Press, has decided that she wants more control over her Ramsey Family series. And it helps that Harlequin has declined to publish the other books in the seven-part saga.

"It was not my intention to do that," says Washington about going the self-published route. "When I submitted my work, my editor informed me that the line was not going with stories that were overly suspenseful. They wanted work that was more focused on the characters, the main characters -- their relationships for the most part."

The title that Washington had submitted to the publisher was A Lover's Regret, the fourth in a series about a Seattle family. The three previous books are fan favorites.

Washington has a Web group of nearly 300 members who gather online to discuss her books and the Ramsey family. It's because of these fans that Washington says she couldn't let her series die.

"I couldn't do that because I'm getting e-mails, like every week at least, from readers saying, 'AlTonya, when's the next book coming out?' or 'I really love this series.' So, what am I supposed to say? My editor said no and we're not going to go with it? Sorry?"

That's something she wouldn't have been able to do. Washington's A Lover's Mask, the last Ramsey book to be published by Harlequin, left readers hanging over a sharp cliff.

"I could not do that to my readers," she says. "There's a good number of people out there who have latched on to this series and I wanted them to know how it all turned out."

After hearing no, Washington checked with her editor and agent to make sure that she could do what she wanted with the rest of the series. At first, she thought about submitting the work to another house and even was given consideration by a large New York publisher. But as she thought about it, Washington decided she didn't want to go through another round of changes with yet another editor who may not share her vision.

That's when she decided that she'd publish her seven-book series on her own. And this is while she has books scheduled to be released by Harlequin and Genesis Press this year.

"One thing I'm finding out as I write this series is it's not falling into any kind of label. I can't say that it's just romance. It's romance, it's suspense, it's mystery and there's a criminal element in there. It's just all different kinds of things going on. You could just sit it under romance and that's fine, people will find that. But how is that going to play when the editor is helping me edit this book?"

Washington isn't the first established author to self-publish, but she is taking the route in reverse. Authors like Mark Twain, Graham Taylor and Charlotte's Omar Tyree self-published their works at some point. The payoff was this:

Twain is lauded as one of the best authors in American history for his book about a boy named Huck Finn.

Taylor, who paid nearly $7,000 to publish Shadowmancer, sold the film rights to Universal for $4.5 million, according to published reports.

And Tyree is a New York Times bestselling author with a contract with publishing giant Simon and Schuster.

In the name of full disclosure, I should state that I've been a self-published author. The same company Washington is using now published my first novel, Searching For Paradise. The difference between Washington and me is that I tried to establish myself by going the self-publishing route, while she's already established. And the proof of that could be found on Amazon.com, where her book debuted on January 21 and was listed among the bestsellers.

"If it's meant to be, it will work out," she says. "My book debuted in the 2,000s on Amazon, and I've never had a book debut that high."

Incidentally, the editor who initially declined Washington's novel is no longer with the company.

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