I first began my writing journey back in 2006.
It was a wonderful time, and here’s why. There were zero expectations. I wrote for one person and one person alone: Me. It was a way to release some steam at the end of my work day. It became a sort of therapy for me, a place to escape. The reason I began writing was simple. I couldn’t find the book I was looking for. Sounds arrogant, doesn’t it?
Let me explain. Back when I was thirteen I read Phantom by Susan Kay. It had love, passion, betrayal, murder, culture, history and the words poured off the page. I was hooked. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve read that book. I lost count. I own it in paperback, hardcover and digital. It’s the book I always recommend because it has everything for everyone.
That book ruined me for other books.
The closest I came to feeling that type of satisfaction during a read was Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice, but even that wasn’t my beloved Phantom.
I became a book junkie. A total addict. My library card was swiped so many times it cracked in half. I took a job at Barnes and Noble just for the discount. And all the time I searched for a book that would give me what Phantom gave me.
Some came close. I loved The Red Tent and was so happy to see it was made into a Lifetime special last week. Memoirs of a Geisha was another favorite. And we won’t even open up the Pandora’s box that is Harry Potter. All I’m going to say is when the movie props toured in NYC and I got to put that sorting hat on my head, my cries of pure joy echoed throughout Times Square as the hat proclaimed me a true Slytherin.
Back to books…
When Twilight emerged I was equally thrilled and disappointed. It was fantastic to have vampires back in the spotlight, but when you shone that spotlight on them– they sparkled. Enough said. *sigh*
So that’s when I began to realize that maybe it was time I created what I couldn’t find. I looked to these amazing writers who filled my bookshelves as my inspiration and hope. If I could create a tenth of what they have accomplished, I’d consider myself blessed.
When I first began writing, I was under the illusion that you write the book, clean it up, query an agent, get a deal, see your book on the shelf. Sure it will take some time, but I believed that this would happen for me.
Yes, that does happen for some people, and for those brand new authors that land that deal… my hat is off to you.
But it didn’t work that way for me. And there are a few reasons it didn’t. The first being, my book simply wasn’t ready. I’ve learned some valuable lessons on my journey, here let me share a few.
1. Having your friend the high school English teacher check your grammar does not strengthen your writing.
No offense to high school English teachers… I ADORE high school English teachers. But, a book needs to be professionally edited. This not only includes sentence structure, but searching for consistency, plot holes and time lapse. If your character is wearing a red sweater on page 11, why did he take off his blue sweater on page 13? An editor is also valuable to teach you the difference between SHOWING and TELLING. Anyone can give a play by play of the scene, but having the scene unfold without the reader realizing they are absorbing precious information, details, and foreshadowing.. that is an art form.
2. Having friends and family read your work is not going to get you an honest critique.
Only recently have I discovered the value of an honest critique and a red pen. Your work needs to bleed on the page before it can be classified as ready. I used to hate revisions– because I didn’t understand them. Now when I get honest critiques back and I see the notes and comments, I no longer cringe, I celebrate. Here’s why: My critique partner didn’t sugar coat anything. They poured hours of their personal time into making my book shine. They thought about how it could be better. They told me what works and what doesn’t. Anyone can say “it’s good”. It takes a professional to say, “let’s make this better”.
3. People will say no.
The first rejection I received made me cry. As did many others, but then you get over it. It’s not personal. It’s business. Yes, as a writer I am an artist, but the publishing world isn’t looking at my work as art. They are looking at it as “Can this be sold?” I took on the literary impossible. I queried paranormal books in an oversaturated market. Did I know the market was saturated when I wrote them? Of course not. I wrote what I wanted to read, in the hopes that others would want to read as well. Rejections come in all forms. Some make you feel invisible. Those usually start out with, “Dear Author…” that’s when you feel like a statistic and not a person. Some are to the point. “Sorry, not for me.” Then there are the rare gems that make you smile. The rejections that restore your faith in the publishing world. The rejection that talks about your submission and CLEARLY shows it was read by that agent or press. The rejection that points out your strengths and weaknesses and says although this was not the ideal fit, they still encourage you to submit other works to them in the future. When you get one of those, hold on to it. It means the big guy is rooting for you.
4. People will say yes.
The first time I got an offer it was an out of body experience. I stared at my email in disbelief of its contents. I printed out my contract and peeked at it often. It was the foreign object in my house. For those of you that follow my blog you know that my experience of publishing with a small press was not all sunshine and rainbows. It resulted in my getting my rights back and pursuing a career in indie publishing. But it wasn’t a total loss. I made strong connections along the way and valuable friendships. Prior to that contract I was very alone in my writing journey, now I’m surrounded by brilliant people who have similar visions.
That contract was not the only contract I was offered. I had other offers as well, from agents and small presses. I thought long and hard about what I wanted and I decided, that independent publishing was the best fit for me. This was MY choice. I had to come to it on my own terms. The purpose of me mentioning it here is to show you that sometimes even when people say yes, you need to look at the offer from all angles and ask yourself, “Is this the offer I wanted?” If it’s not, take a step back. The last time I jumped on an offer it resulted in the press taking my money– the money I had earned from book sales. They stole from me and they stole from the readers that supported me. So now I proceed with caution.
Does that make the agents or presses that I rejected bad? NO. It makes them not a good fit for me. We always hear the people on the other side of publishing telling us that we are not a good fit for them. It’s okay to say the same thing to them. I’ve learned that forcing a square peg into a round hole will only result in aggravation and resentment.
4. Self publishing is an option– and it’s a good option– for ME.
Going indie was something I struggled with. After the fall out with my press, I self published Taming Darkness to ensure that it wouldn’t die. I took that book to New Orleans, had my first signing and handed out business cards to strangers on Bourbon street. (Just to clarify, when you’re in NOLA, shame goes out the window, so it was relatively easy to hand someone my paperback and ask, “Do you like sexy shifters and a villain with no moral compass who seduces a nun?”) As much fun as I had, there was a dark side to my trip. I was surrounded by “successful” authors. It was a reminder of how everything had fallen apart so quickly. My contract no longer existed. My book hadn’t even sold 100 copies. I had self published. To me it meant, I gave up.
So I pitched my other book. And I waited. (I’m STILL waiting on someone who has had my full MS for seven months.) Although I had miraculously broken even with Taming Darkness, it was dying. I had given up my full time job of being a teacher to make my dreams come true, and I felt like a failure.
It took the realization that I wanted the career more than I wanted the dream to get things going for me. I know it’s taboo to talk numbers, but I’ll let you in on a little secret. During August and September, I sold 3 copies of Taming Darkness. I had to really pimp that book to get those sales, and hence my depression. But then things changed. During the last seven weeks, I sold 300 copies of my books. How did I go from 3 to 300? Simple. I wrote more books. That’s all. I released two novellas and a novel between October 22 and December 5. I took my career into my own hands. I invested in editors, formatters and cover art. I rounded up beta readers and critique partners. I stopped waiting for someone to say yes to me. I said yes to myself.
Now some people might see that number and think it’s pathetic. Everyone has a different yard stick to measure their own success. To be honest, I see this as the foundation that I am laying the bricks of my career on. I have another novella being released in January that will complete my vampire series and a New Adult Contemporary Romance that will release in February. My only problem is, what do I write next? I have so many plot bunnies multiplying in my brain, how do I choose? See with indie publishing you don’t have to worry about what will agents want. You only worry, what will readers want?
Thank the gods for George R.R. Martin. It makes me sad that I discovered Game of Thrones only after it was televised. Not only is he a brilliant writer, but he inspired me to write what I was always drawn to– a world where happily ever after doesn’t necessarily happen. Back when I was querying, I was limited to who I could sub to, because most places required HEA, especially if you are a romance writer. Yes, HEA is a lovely escape, but I can’t relate to it.
One of the conditions when I signed with my press was that I change the ending of Taming Darkness. They wanted HEA. The thought made me sick. We negotiated and compromised, I gave them HFN. When it came to Killing Darkness I had to write the story I wanted to tell. I took a HUGE risk. Based on my readers response, and the questions of… when will we have book 3? I’d say that risk paid off.
5. No two writing paths are ever alike.
I wish there was a magic formula that I could give you. A way to say, if you do this you will be successful as an author. But I can’t. Everyone has to find their own path. As you can see, I’m still learning. This was my journey. What’s yours?