I was recently told that I’ve never actually shared a lot of my history as a writer. Which is funny and now seems obvious. With this in mind, I thought it might be fun to share my path to publication.
The INITIUM series, the series getting published, is actually the second series I’ve written (well, third, if you count daily micro-stories following the same character for a year and a half I stared when I was 12). I finished the first book in this first series, a story about an orphan dragon, the summer I was 14. I ripped apart and put back together that manuscript so many times… and talk about using every bad-writing trope in existence. Black and white villains, endless passages explaining everything, narrative that went on forever, preaching about this issue or that issue.
Anyway. The INITIUM series started as a concept in my head a little after I finished that first book in the dragon series.
It took me until I was 19 to actually get that first book in the INITIUM series down, and it was so much better because of it. This is mostly because I was in college and had no time, but it allowed me to really process the lessons I learned from writing the dragon story and try out what I’d learned. For example, the explaining everything overmuch problem I had with the dragon story? Yeah, no. I drag out questions for DAYS in the INITIUM series. I thought about and re-wrote the beginning of Fairian’s first story so many times, the original concepts are the same only in name and vague direction.
I started querying for agents with my dragon series around 18. I really only got form rejections or silence as a response, a frustration I’m sure you’ve all experienced. As I was finishing up INITIUM, and learning a lot more about what was marketable, I realized that it was probably a fruitless adventure to try to launch my author career with my dragon story. It had too many common tropes and similarities. While it may be publishable eventually, it wasn’t something I could start with.
Again, though, I learned a lot from starting querying with my dragon story, from how to write a query letter to researching agents. It set me up in a much better place to start querying for Fairian’s story.
The queries began. The form rejections and silences followed. A few agents did answer, rejecting it based off of those personal things you can’t predict — not connecting with the world, not sure the plot fit into the other authors she represented, etc. Disheartening for sure, but all the comments I did receive complimented me on my voice, my style, and my characters. That helped a lot.
I went to the Willamette Writer’s Conference in 2015, where I learned a TON, and got to pitch my story directly to agents and editors. With help, I managed to hone my pitch into something reasonably good. I also switched my pitch last minute to a woman who seemed to be looking for something a lot closer to what I was writing — though, it turned out she was an editor to a small publisher based in Portland, not an agent.
Despite being nervous as hell, my pitch went well. Way better than I expected. I could tell she was tired listening to all the authors pelting her with information all day (I was in the afternoon, and with 15 minutes a pitch, switched out like clockwork, for 8 hours — you do the math), but I was respectful and she seemed to perk up at the story. She said my novel sounded interesting, and like it would fit into their repertoire. Excited, I sent off three chapters the following week (after getting it reviewed a few more times by the friends I’d just met at the conference).
Commence… waiting. Meanwhile, I make my eyes bleed doing research on the publisher, small publishers in general, the dangers to look out for, how an author becomes successful with small publishing, etc. There were a few things that bugged me — this particular publisher’s website was non-professional, and held a few of the ‘warning’ signs that articles like this talk about (fantastic article, you should read it).
Three months later with no word, I gently nudged and asked about my submission. She profusely apologized and said they’d been having a few technical issues, that she didn’t think she got my email, and to submit through their new submitting service. Starting a feel a little weird about it, I did it anyway.
Meanwhile, I started entering Twitter contests, like #PitMad and #P2P. Similar response as querying before. Mostly form rejections, a few compliments here and there. I opened my horizons to small publishers, since I was getting more comfortable with the idea. Got a few strange rejections from that process.
In one of these contests, another editor at the same publishing house as before asked for a submission. I mentioned it was already in their queue, and gave the title and details when she asked.
Then, via another Twitter contest, I heard from Carrie from Glass House Press. She was really interested in my pitch, and wanted pages. Within 24 hours, she wanted the whole manuscript, along with all my social media information, and my plans for marketing.
This publisher checked out a lot better than the other one. Much more professional website and online presence, no big problems in Writers Beware, and I got a good feeling from the emails with the editor.
Commence… more waiting.
I’m pretty sure I started the third INITIUM book during this time, entered more contests, met awesome writer friends all striving for the same goal. I wrote blog posts, tried to ignore the excitement/dread feeling in my gut, stared at my manuscript and agonized over it’s faults.
I kind of forgot I’d submitted to that first publisher — it had been around 6 months at that point, and I was pretty sure I was going to reject an offer if they gave it anyway. I received a note through their submission website to go ahead and submit the full manuscript. They mentioned in the notes that it would take at least a year to get back to me. I didn’t go forward with that — between my funny feelings and the YEAR response for a small publisher, it just didn’t sound like a good fit for me.
It was shortly after that I entered a mentoring contest, where I met a ton of really neat people. I had a ton of fun interacting, guessing which tweets were about my own, finding a new friends. Then, shockingly — I was chosen as one of the mentees.
An hour later, Glass House Press sent an email saying they’d like to offer me a contract.
Nothing, for years, and then two great surprises at once. I talked it over with the editor, explaining that I’d been selected for the mentorship and I’d hate to miss out (not just because of the agents at the end, but because of the networking, lessons, general fun) and she said she had no problem with waiting for me. So, I accepted the mentorship, had a blast, didn’t get really any bites from the agents who signed on to look at the finished project of the contests, and then contacted the publisher back.
She reviewed the manuscript again in it’s changed form — taking a few months — and then offered me a contract.
I was very nervous about this part. I didn’t have an agent to back me up, there are many horror stories on the internet about the whole thing, etc. I reviewed it carefully — reading up on every publishing clause in existence, religiously reading any articles from experts in the field — read it over with my father who works with contracts (of another kind) all the time, with one of his business friends who works with sports-publishing contracts. Not the same, obviously, but I had a few intelligent minds look it over who weren’t in omg-a-publisher-wants-me euphoria. I requested a few clarification sentences, changed a few words, and…
Violà. I signed a contract with Glass House Press.
You’d expect what followed would be furious conversation, edits, and a game plan moving forward. It was a bit anti-climatic, to be honest. With developmental edits, she wanted to start working with a thorough outline. So after I sent that to her, while she worked through it, I collaborated with the social media manager, building a game plan, focusing certain aspects (my Instagram is not longer just about goats!), and building a few up from scratch (actually starting a FaceBook author page…).
After a while, developmental edits began… which is a whole new subject. I’ve started chronicling the whole behind-the-scenes-in-being-published thing, which starts with this blog post here. (Feel free to check it out if you’re interested!)
And that, writer-friends, is the first leg in my publishing journey.
I’m pretty excited about the next steps. I really feel like I can move forward now as an author, carving out a path for myself with books and everything else. Despite being noticed, being published traditioning, the hungry, notice-me feeling isn’t gone. Neither is the fear of failure or not being good or not knowing enough. There are so many other steps going forward, so many other mileposts. But I like that there’s always the next goal post. I like that ‘getting published’ isn’t the end, or some gate that once you walk through it’s all smooth going. It’s a challenge, an on-going opportunity.
It’s all an adventure, and I’m exhilarated to make it happen.
P.S. Oh yeah, that first small publisher that was interested in my manuscript? I’ve since learned they’re legit, and not trying to scam anyone. But I still don’t think it’d be a good fit for me. The benefit of a small publisher is that you get more attention and more say on your book, at the cost of the power and prestige of a big publisher. For me personally I didn’t like how they treated authors, their public image, and I got the feeling I wouldn’t get the attention that’s kinda the point of a small publisher.