The Fire Flower by Edith Layton, originally published in 1989, was recently re-released as an ebook for the first time. This is the story of bringing it back to life—the research for the Restoration setting, the efforts to retain the original painting for the ebook, and much more, told by Layton's daughter, a very occasional Wench guest.
First, many thanks again to the Wenches for having me back as a guest poster. By way of introduction, I'm Susie Felber, the daughter of Edith Layton, who wrote and published over 30 historical novels and many more short stories. Her start was the Regency, but later she branched out into new time periods and locations. Since her death in 2009, I've been working to bring her much-loved books back into the world in ebook format. The first one came back in 2014, and I wrote about the big Edith Layton book party I threw for it, and that link explains why it took me nearly 5 years to do it. There's another Wenches post I wrote which tells you more about my mom, and there's two that tell what it was like growing up as a romance author's daughter: Daughter of Romance Part 1, and Part II.
Let's talk turning out-of-print books into ebooks
Thing is, some of my mother's books were already ebooks. All her later novels with Avon, and the earlier "C series", for example: The Cad, The Choice, The Chance, The Challenge and The Conquest — those titles all live with Harper Collins and had no need for resurrection.
But the majority of my mom's catalog is with publishers who never went to ebooks, at least not with the backlist. And of those books, many have stellar reviews, and many people have happy memories of them. But finding the paperback is really hard. For example, a beautiful "like new" copy of THE FIRE FLOWER goes for $267-$400. Not sure why the price bounces so much, but the point is, this is not the way to find new readers. Also, many long-time fans have the book on their keeper shelves, but the print is small and they crave the ability to read them again on their typeface-size flexible Kindles and e-readers.
As I've rolled out re-releases with the help of the good people at Untreed Reads, mom's fans ask me all the time when certain favorite Layton titles are returning. They are often impatient for their faves. I really appreciate that. It means they care. It means they are readers… and without readers? Well, without readers, writers are kinda up the creek, no?
But bringing books back is hard. From contracts to scanning to proofreading to cover and beyond… it's way hard.
For example, three awesome books we recently brought back that included Bound By Love, were published by Pocket. Originally published in the late 90's, they were out of print, but I had no idea of the rights. My mother wasn't super organized. She had a filing system, but she'd file dried flowers and amusing cartoons as soon as she'd file contracts. I say she liked to create more than curate, and I loved her for that. Sure, her leaving a clearer trail would've been nice, but I'd rather have a fun mom than an organized one. And she was fun.
Anyway, for these three books, I worked a connection via a celebrity from my Nokia health day job. This celeb (OK it's Penn Jillette, why be coy?) had a new sure-to-be best-selling book at Simon & Schuster. Working with them to promo his excellent book (<–and you should read it, it's so fun) got me far enough into S&S to get a kind person who'd dive in and give me the docs that showed the rights had indeed reverted to the estate. Now if you've ever tried to just cold call a publishing company and find out about rights—well good luck. It's crazy hard. In fact, most agents/publishers told me that was why I should sign with them and why they deserved 10-15% of the re-release sales for eternity… because only they had the pull to dig to get the rights.
The unique story of the cover art
I could go on about the book. But all you need to know is it's a restoration romance. It takes place in 1666, and yes, the Great Fire of London is a big part of the setting. It is the favorite of my brother Adam, who is a novelist and TV writer—and he's even a celeb if you're an NPR fan (I am).
I was a teen when dragged to research this book, and I remember visiting the fire monument in London, which is very cool, but also situated in a very boring bit of the financial district. Yeah, research trips were fun, and I was lucky to go, but this was before the internet, so even if mom had every book ever (she did) there was so much she needed to see and experience. She saw her Fire Flower hero and heroine on that trip—together. Mom often picked pop stars for heroes, and pretty waitresses she met to base the heroines on. This was the only time, with us waiting for a ferry, she saw a dude on a motorcycle lean over and kiss the girl on the back of the motorcycle and BLAM! She told us, "LOOK! LOOK! THEY ARE MY NEW BOOK!" So if in the late 80's, you looked like the people on the cover you see above, were snogging, and rode a motorbike onto a ferry in England… yeah, that might be you.
After this book came out, the artist, Robert Maguire, sent mom the painting. Also known as R.A. Maguire, he's a BFD. He's amazing, the coolest of the cool. And in this painting, you see Fabio as a redhead. Say what you want about Fabio, he's an icon… and this might be the only red-headed Fabio cover ever. Editors don't like redheaded heroes, so mom getting that pass (and they fought her) was also a BFD. I love this painting. It hangs in my house now, and it will hang in Adam's house if he ever takes it back with him to Los Angeles.
Even though I have the physical painting, that doesn't mean it is mine to use as a book cover. I contacted Maguire's site… and his daughter answered. She is like me—trying to preserve her father's legacy. It's a lot of work and not a lot of money. I asked for and paid for the rights to use it, because though we could use a stock romance photo, this seemed important. I also photographed it so you actually see the paint. I love seeing the brushstrokes. I also like how the whole of the scene is seen on the ebook, where on the original paperback it focused only on the people and left the lovely flowers and burning bits of London on the spine and on back of the book. I have a close friend who is an illustrator and still does painted covers, mostly for Kensington. Stephen Gardner is his name, and you should check that link—it's his Instagram and it's amazing because he shares sketches and covers in progress.
I hope I've persuaded you to pick up The Fire Flower as an ebook… or get two, one for each eye, as my mom would say. That link goes to Amazon, but it truly is available in all formats, wherever ebooks are sold, which is something I appreciate about Untreed Reads.
I'll leave you with a pic of the original painting for the book, which is hanging proudly above (but safely far away from) my wood burning stove. It's far prettier in person, so please come by sometime for tea to admire it.
Supporting illustrators is as important as supporting writers… because they also create, and I'm so proud to be able to help curate. More books are on the way, including new titles, and I'll just be here at Edith Layton HQ trying to keep the home fires burning.