MY PUBLISHING JOURNEY (SO FAR)
Welcome, friends! This is my first post on this blog, and I’m sorry for taking so long to get to it. It’s been a blank document in draft form for some time, and I finally feel like I’m ready to write and publish it. Ironic, I know.
Unsurprisingly, I was a bit busy in 2019. I started a new job and self-published a book, and it hasn’t been easy being the only person behind my published book without a team of professionals in the business supporting me (which I’ll get to below) with a myriad of other things going on. But I wanted to share my publishing journey (so far) with everyone. I’m sure I’ll look back on this and think how silly I was (this is my hope, at least; I freely admit I can be a ridiculous and silly person), however I think it’ll keep things in perspective for me. So I’m going to go in chronological order of published works, and talk a bit about them. I would also like to preemptively note that I use a lot of parentheticals throughout this post, which I do not do in my fictional writing… I guess this is a sign that I should never attempt non-fiction.
Of Scales and Sorrow – a short story submitted and posted on Jolene Haley’s website
One of my work friends told me about this site, and while I wasn’t very good at writing short stories (I always wanted to write more, to complete the story in its entirety), I knew that this would be a great opportunity to challenge myself. Much of what I pen is based on something else, and what I mean by that is usually my ideas come from fragments of a myth or a legend or a fairytale. It’s not always obvious, but in this case, if you know Norse mythology, it might be. So I wrote it, gave it to a reader friend as well as a fellow writer friend at work to look at, incorporated their small bits of feedback, and then submitted it. This was in October of 2018, so about a year ago. I have since ordered copies of it with a cover by the same artist who designed the one for my self-published book, and offered it as an incentive for buying it at the event I had, or inside giveaway prizes. I’m actually really proud of this story, even though it doesn’t get much visibility.
I don’t think my writing would be where it is today, though, without Of Scales and Sorrow. This story really helped me realize which words were necessary, and which words can be thrown down by the wayside. When I write, I see scenes in my head like they’re playing on a movie screen, and I want to describe every moment in vivid detail so that the reader can see it how I see it. But I know that I need to leave some room for the imagination to take hold, and being given a word cap made that possible, and ended up shaping my writing in my other works. More than anything, though, I had fun writing it. There were no obligations besides staying under the word count and vaguely sticking to the prompt, and it allowed me to create these fun, unique characters that I could come back to if I chose to make something out of it.
A Curse of Thorns – my first novel, a self-published YA (Young Adult) Beauty and the Beast retelling
Before publishing Of Scales and Sorrow, my plan was simple: write book, find agent, get published, make big moneys. Right. That’s totally how it works. Not that it hasn’t worked that way for some people, but my journey needed to be different, and it took me a while to figure that out. I realized that it’s just like when you apply for a job: they want experience (even if it’s an entry-level job that should require no experience; where my millennials at?). Publishing can be a bit of the same; if they see that you’re somewhat established, they may give you a second glance. At least, that’s my thinking.
I’d been working on A Curse of Thorns (which, I’d like to note, it had always been called, even before A Court of Thorns and Roses & A Curse So Dark and Lonely came out) here and there when I got frustrated with my other WIP or just felt like getting back into my love letter to this fairytale. Beauty and the Beast is my favorite Disney movie and one of my favorite fairytales (since it doesn’t end terribly, like most of them do), so it was something I’d always wanted to write and eventually get published. I actually submitted this to the SwoonReads site when it first came into existence, where people read your novel and vote on it with the chance for it to get published, which was where I got a lot of my early praise that you see inside the front cover. And that was an early draft! But it wasn’t doing well on there, so I asked them to take it down once I was close to self-publishing.
When I finally decided that my plan was to be established before reaching out to agents for my other manuscripts, I knew that this was the book I could put out into the world. It wasn’t easy: my husband can attest to the fact that I spent A LOT of time editing it in the weeks before publishing it, though that was because I’d given myself a sudden deadline of the day before (*cough* actually the morning of *cough*) the Ontario Teen Book Fest, where I was moderating a panel. It was the perfect place to get some early advertising, and while I knew even then that I was pushing myself too much and that what I was going to publish wasn’t going to be perfect, getting it out there at that moment was too important for me. I’ve since made minor edits to it, and now it feels finished, and I’m okay with that.
But what I did do before publishing it on Amazon was get on social media and create an Instagram, Facebook, Blog, and Twitter just for my author stuff. I could’ve done it from my book account(s), but, honestly, I wanted to earn the followers for the author/writer part of myself, not the book lover/blogger/photographer part of myself. I didn’t create too much early buzz for it, again due to that looming, self-imposed release date; I revealed the cover on my own before it was published and tried to take some decent pictures of the cover for the bookstagram community. It was slow-going, absolutely. But I actually have a pretty solid understanding of the online bookish community, and have for a long time, and that knowledge has been key for me. What I needed was a giveaway (where I enlisted the help of wonderful, amazing friends), and some sort of book tour (which I found through a new service on an Instagram account).
The other thing that I didn’t realize I needed to research so much was how to format a book for Amazon publishing. I’m so lucky to be writing in a time where publishing a novel is as easy as clicking a few buttons, but, in truth, it’s not as easy as I thought it would be. Doing that research is super important, and I highly recommend doing all the research you can before self-publishing. Please reach out to me if you have questions about it. I may create an entire post on this process, but I honestly don’t have the time right now.
I’m also EXTREMELY lucky to have made friends with the right people in the book community out here in Los Angeles, as well as being friends with a few amazing artists. My friend Heather Croissant created the cover and the chapter art for A Curse of Thorns, with the help of some vague sketches from me of what I was looking for. I got really lucky, honestly, because I couldn’t have asked for a better cover. I also got to have a launch event, which most self-published authors don’t get to have. My wonderful friend Jenny and her family own a bookstore not too far from me, and I had a joint event with her as moderator and her husband, an adult fantasy writer who also self-published his first book. It was so wonderful having friends and family there to support our first event together. I was so nervous being on the other side of the table as an author and not a moderator, but I loved every second of it.
So why self-publish, you ask? Fairytale retellings (especially B + B) are really IN right now, so it likely wouldn’t have been too hard to sell to an agent and get some real, professional editing done to it. But the truth is that, while self-publishing this was a part of my plan, the story was being told exactly how I wanted to tell it. I didn’t want some editor or publisher or agent telling me to change it; it truly is my love letter to a story that shaped my childhood, and I didn’t want anyone messing with that. So I published it how I wanted the story to be, and I had the means to do that. I have a fellow-author friend who published through a very small publisher, and long-story-short, got shafted when they decided to keep on certain authors and she wasn’t one of them. Then, when she queried other publishers, they wanted her to remove a core piece of her story. She obviously turned them down, but it’s terrible that they thought the story would be better without that key element. It would’ve literally changed the entire scope of the novel and the series, and I didn’t want that happening to me.
A Curse of Thorns was published in March of 2019, which feels like not too long ago and way too long ago at the same time. It’s been a wild ride, and has made me a little more anxious and self-deprecating than I used to be, but that comes with the territory (not for everyone, obviously, but putting yourself out there is SCARY guys!).
Beastie Tales: Brother of the Monster – a short story chosen by Megan Shepherd, a well-established YA author, to be included in a downloadable ebook
It was in early June 2019 when something wonderful happened, and I felt like things were really starting to happen for me. A Curse of Thorns had been out for a few months, and sales were okay. You really can’t expect too much of a self-published book unless you’re an already-established-published-with-a-well-known-publishing-house author. But then, I saw something from an author I’d been following since her first series came out, from when YA was just getting traction: Megan Shepherd was hosting a short story contest. Sure, it wasn’t affiliated with the publishing company for her newest series, Grim Lovelies and Midnight Beauties, but this was a huge opportunity. All we had to do was pick as many prompts as we wanted that she provided, and complete the story. Literally, this is what I do. This is my thing. So I jumped at the opportunity, and wrote 3 strong short stories. Though I knew which one was my favorite, I sent them all off in the hopes that one would get chosen. Then, on June 5th, I got an email from Megan’s assistant that my story Brother of the Monster had been chosen.
I mean, okay, not really, obviously. But I couldn’t contain my excitement. I was at work and could legitimately not concentrate for the rest of the day. I told my beta reader, who I work with, about it and we eventually went out and celebrated. I honestly couldn’t believe it! Like most writers, I think my work is crap more than half the time, so to have an author I respect select MY story to be featured: it was a dream come true. And it fit so nicely into my plan. This was it. This was the secondary recognition I needed. Because it’s all well and good to publish your own stuff, or have your story featured on an author’s website just because you were quick on hitting the sign-up button, but to have your story chosen by a well-established author is something else entirely. And I just knew that this moment was the beginning of something special; I could (and can still) feel it in my bones.
The Darkling Sea – my YA fantasy WIP (work in progress) that’s been a WIP for 8 years
I already knew I wanted to be a writer early on (cueangsty teenage poetry posted online, and a novel I started when I was like 8 and finished when I was about 11-12 that will NEVER see the light of day). In community college (high-fives for saving my parents money and not going into debt for something as ridiculous as student loans), though, I finally took the time to plot something real out. Mind you, this was during the time that Twilight and Fallen (Lauren Kate) and Hush, Hush (Becca Fitzpatrick) and Vampire Academy were super popular, so it was all about those gothic urban fantasies where the hot paranormal dudes were hiding in plain sight until they found THE ONE.
Anyway, that was the kind of book I wanted to write. But not angels or demons or vampires, and not Greek mythology, because while I wanted to use mythology, I was so tired of the Greek myths getting all the attention. I remember buying this huge, heavy mythology book from the clearance section of my local Barnes & Noble, and the one mythology that really caught my eye was Norse. I didn’t know ANYONE that was using Norse Mythology (obviously, that’s changed now, though not by much despite the way it’s been featured in the Thor movies), and I knew nothing about it myself. So I did research. Then I wrote the manuscript, which I did NOT plot out, and planned on a trilogy, because, again, trilogies were big then. I had no one read it because I was young and naive, and immediately tried to query it with only a crappy second draft. Unsurprisingly, I got zero bites, and while it was disheartening, it also made me realize that I was writing the wrong story. So I scrapped everything but some of the names, some of the very basic plot points (eg, who lives, who dies, who gets together), all the research I’d done, and started over. That was one of the hardest I had to do, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
I’ve tried here and there to query select agents over the last few years, but I knew it wasn’t ready yet. Then, this year, I found a beta reader (the one I’ve mentioned above multiple times), who reads YA and who I knew would read through the manuscript quickly. She isn’t a copyeditor or a copywriter, but I knew she would point out any inconsistencies with my story, especially if I asked her to look for something specific. I’ve had her read it a couple times since then and she thinks it’s ready; it wouldn’t be where it is now without her. Seriously. I also asked another friend from my work (who is a copyeditor) to edit the first 50 pages, since that’s usually the highest page requirement for an agent query letter. And those first 50 pages were actually the roughest, since I’d had to cut out a lot; they wouldn’t be where they are today without her.
And now, The Darkling Sea is finally ready. Which is weird, because it’s been 8 years of second-guessing myself, and watching so many wonderful books that aren’t mine get published (and even not-so-wonderful books, where I was correcting the writing of even as I was reading it and wondering how it could’ve possibly gotten published, which is a bad habit, I know). It feels like I’m a mamma bird, pushing my baby bird out of the nest and hoping it’ll learn how to fly after I’ve taught it everything I know. And the thing is: I don’t know if my “plan” is going to work. I don’t know if getting early recognition is going to work for me or against me. But I had to try. And that’s all we can do when we’re chasing our dreams: TRY. Don’t give up.