My Path to Publication

My path to publication.png

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.

About R. K. Brainerd

I've been writing since my pre-teens, mostly in the realm of fantasy and sci-fi. Taking interesting concepts and dropping complex characters into fantastical worlds is my jam. I also raise dairy goats and herd cats, the evidence of which can be found on my Instagram. Welcome to the adventure. View all posts by R. K. Brainerd

14 responses to “My Path to Publication

  • Nicole Evans

    This: “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.”

    Such a freeing thing to realize. Just because a story doesn’t work now doesn’t mean it can’t work later. Or that you can’t edit the hell of out it ten years from now and make it work. Or that you can’t self-publish it for free for those who want some nostalgia on saturated tropes. Or that your first book must be your debut. Or, or, or…

    It took me a long time to realize this and it has been so freeing. But reading your realization of it was a needed reminder.

    It was awesome to read about your journey (and especially fun as I remembered fondly our Twitter messages through the latter half of it). I am absolutely JAZZED for INITIUM.

    Liked by 1 person

    • R. K. Brainerd

      RIGHT? Once I came to that realization… once I accepted that my first (or third!) novel didn’t need to be THE ONE, it was incredibly freeing — your words exactly. For a minute it was sad, but I was surprised how quickly I just accepted that my first story-baby would just need to sit. It helped that I had INITIUM to work and focused upon, so maybe that’s the advice here: have the next story to work on, to help clear your head to see the problems with other stories, to make sure you don’t feel like you put all this time and effort into something and then are just abandoning it! 🙂

      I MISS OUR TWITTER CONVERSATIONS. Lol. Why does adulting have to make us so busy…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Nicole Evans

        Ooohh, I like that advice you gave, there. Just keeping writing and keep working, stop focusing on which story will be THE ONE, and instead, that hard work will get you there instead.

        I DO, TOO. I’ve recently started doing email chains to stay in touch with people (especially because I’m shite at keeping up with Twitter nowadays). Interested in starting one? ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      • R. K. Brainerd

        That one. ❤

        And YES I totally would!


  • Sue, the YA Author

    Thanks for sharing your story! It seems like the publishing world is like a yo yo- and moves sooooo slowly. You did good diligence in checking out both the editors and the contract- kudos to you!
    Did you write posts on “developmental editing?” Cause I didn’t see it. I’d be interested in learning how it worked for you. Probably my weakest area- editing! Gack!

    Congrats thought- sounds like you are on your way!

    Liked by 1 person

    • R. K. Brainerd

      It does move so slowly. Holy cow does it move slowly and I’m only in the first steps!

      Yes, I did write posts on developmental editing! I will have more to come, but I wrote about my first experience with it here:
      It is so STRANGE. I feel like I’m pulling my head into odd shapes throughout the whole thing. I am definitely not good at it either…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sue, the YA Author

        I’m such a panster but then I’ve ended up with a mess I don’t know how to fix. So I’m trying to learn how to plot- which works to a point and then I just have to write and see where the dang thing takes me. I submitted a ya fantasy a while back and the editor suggested a ton of developmental stuff. What’s a person to do!!
        Anyhoo, I’m Looking forward to reading your posts!

        Liked by 1 person

      • R. K. Brainerd

        ME. TOO. I do that constantly. Pants my life away. I’m SLOWLY learning to plot more… or at least know how I’m going to end.

        The understanding I’m gleaning about developmental editing… is that it isn’t even about the first draft. So PANTS YOUR LIFE AWAY. Make your glorious, wobbling novel. And THEN — edit. Rip apart the manuscript and put it together in a new shape. I don’t have a clue how to really do this… which is why I have an editor. 😀

        I will definitely share all the skills/lessons I glean! Hopefully I can help give tools to help with this kind of editing… because at least for me it’s scary and frustrating to not know how.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sue, the YA Author

        I walk a tightrope- trying to make my first draft good enough to not suck. You know, one you don’t open and think “what in the world was I thinking writing that?!!”
        But then it makes me hold on too tight and I can’t write. The words don’t flow.
        James bell did a podcast – he said “write hot, edit cold” Which is great but how? How do you edit when you’re done and you have an 80,000 word monster???
        I’m looking forward to reading your posts and I most definitely wish you all the best with your publishing journey.!

        Liked by 1 person

      • R. K. Brainerd

        Yep. So much agreed. On all you said!

        Thank you 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  • Published: Behind the Scenes (April 2017) | Awake Dragon

    […] into developmental editing, which was eye-opening to say the least. I also wrote a post about my Path to Publication, which highlights how I even got my publishing contract that I still can’t quite wrap my […]


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