My entire life, I’ve created stories. When I was too young to know how to write, I told the stories to my stuffed animals and dolls, or to any adults who would listen. Once someone showed me how to make those funny little squiggles on paper, I started writing down my stories.
In 1999, I started writing phonics-based stories and worksheets to use to help my special education students learn to read. The stories and worksheets helped my students so much I sought publication for them. Stories from Somerville and the Say, Read, Spell worksheets were published in early 2002. Until early 2020, those books consistently brought me income.
I kept writing other stories. I joined writers’ groups and websites. I learned to improve my writing skills. In 2009, my first ebook was published by a new digital publisher.
From 2009 until 2017, I had over eighty novels, novellas, and short stories published by various digital publishers and small presses. I self-published two or three things, but most of my work was put out by publishing companies. They paid me for my work; I didn’t pay them. (That’s a misconception a lot of people have about publishing. An author does not have to pay to have their work published. Publishing companies pay the author, usually in royalties, which are a percentage of the cost of each book sold.) Some of my books were erotic romance published under a pen name; some, published under something approximating my real name, were fiction for teenagers.
Beginning in 2012 or so, some of my publishers started going out of business. Others started playing sketchy games with royalty calculations. Many more authors started showing up on the market, and more publishers, along with authors who self-published, started putting out work. Promoting and marketing myself had always been difficult, and now my sales started to show it.
Thanks to a couple of crises in my personal life in 2014 and 2016, I reached a point where just attempting to write anything brought me to panic attacks, especially if I was trying to write any erotic romance. More of my publishers went out of business, until by 2016 only two were left, and I chose to stop working with one of them for various reasons.
I hung in there until 2017, but finally reached a point where my sales were too poor, and I had completely burned out by writing too much too fast at the peak of my career. I stopped writing. By that point, only 11 of my books, along with a couple of short stories, remained on the market.
Last weekend, I received a letter from the Stories from Somerville publisher informing me they were closing, and returning to me the rights for the books. I sat with that for a while and mulled things over, and decided it was time to pull my remaining romance and teen fiction as well. I contacted my remaining fiction publisher yesterday and asked them to return the rights to me.
None of this was easy. I’ve loved having the phonics books out there. My two author names, Karenna Colcroft and Jo Ramsey, had become part of my identity, as had “author” in general. But the reality is, while I’ve written things here and there (mostly blogs and short nonfiction articles) since 2017, I haven’t really *been* Karenna Colcroft or Jo Ramsey. I’ve been afraid to be. I’ve been tangled up in the panic and the “I’m a failure” thoughts associated with those names and that career. I’ve tried a few times to get back to writing under those names, and have yet to succeed.
Sometimes destruction is necessary to make way for new creations. In Hinduism, Shiva is the god of destruction, but that isn’t seen as a bad thing. It isn’t destruction as in “let’s get rid of it all,” it’s destruction as in, “Let’s make way for something better.” Like tearing down a dilapidated old house to build a new, sound one.
My past writing career had become a dilapidated old house, full of holes and structurally unsound. And so even though it’s a sad thing, and I admit I’ve been crying about it off and on, it was past time to tear it down and see if I can create anything new once it’s gone.