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How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
Welcome back to another edition of the Open Book Blog Hop! The authors included in this ongoing series wish to thank you for your reads. We appreciate, even more so, when you share our writings with your friends. If you’re new to the series, welcome aboard. The authors engage and impress weekly. Prepare to become a regular reader.
This question is excellent. Answering it, I can help a lot of developing authors help themselves. Publishing is no easy task. Every author has their own journey; their own process for dealing with the events of writing and publishing. We are prepared to only hear advice when it serves us in the moment. If we’re not ready to receive information, then it won’t make a difference, either rejected or misunderstood, or both.
The year was 2007, two years prior to the publication of Blue Honor. I worked at The University at Albany as the English Graduate Secretary, a promotion I had taken from being clerical staff at the University’s purchasing office. I had been writing, officially, since 1997, the year I had graduated with my Bachelor’s. In that year, I spoke with a student who had published her work, and she told me why and how she did it. Our stories were sort of similar, just like any other authors. She was so proud. I really wanted to know how that felt. This student told me, you need to publish that book, to get it out from under you, because it’s stopping you from writing other things. Until you do that, you’re going to suffer.
The student was so right. I should call her the teacher. The teacher who dropped into my life just long enough to reroute my ship, and light the fire again. A messenger (who in the shadow of Trailokya may be so much more).
Let’s talk about Blue’s history and how that novel came into being…
Blue had manifested in the form of a novella, written as a final project/independent study for my Bachelor’s degree. The project had gained the attention of an agent by January of 1998. I spent a couple years under her tutelage, coming close to publishing with Penguin Books in that time. Penguin wanted her to keep an eye on me. They said: she’s the real deal. Prolific. I love this story. Please, keep an eye on her. I have too much on my plate right now, however, to take on this work. I wish you had gotten to me sooner. But, the agent drifted out of my life, no longer responding to my messages. Prior to her disappearance, she got me two paid gigs writing travel articles. Well, she said they were paid. She wrote me a check out of her own pocket to make good on it when I pressed her on that matter. She also included a query letter about Blue in her book about pitching agents.
Pushing her to pay on the articles may have been the beginning of the end. I wasn’t going to just sit and let things go. First of all, I needed money. Second, I questioned her honesty. She should have dealt me a better hand with Penguin, too. Why not ask them if they were interested after we went to an outside editor to clear up the pimples and comeback? But, she didn’t. There was zero push on that unlocked door to publishing at Penguin. The agent’s continued failure to place my manuscript bothered me, especially after that editor’s feedback. I contacted other agents, because things were starting to feel shifty. Maybe they contacted her about my reaching out to them, even though I did not mention her (and it is common practice). Either way, she left me without representation and regaining a partner in the publishing game was next to impossible. Blue simply was not ready for publication, and I didn’t have sufficient feedback to fix it. I spun my wheels.
At that point, I grew increasingly despondent about writing. It ceased to be a joy, always with the dark specter of failing to publish hanging over my head. I sought feedback to help improve, but obtaining an honest critique was hard to pin down. Either the person was too close to me and didn’t want to hurt my feelings, or they blew me off. There were also those who saw nothing wrong with my skills at this time. None of this helped, and finding those who could help was seemingly just as impossible as finding an agent.
I tried a websites that promised peer help, like Lulu and Trigger Street (the script pipeline started by Kevin Spacey started in the aughts—is that even a thing anymore since he was outed a predator?). I tried NaNoWriMo. None of it brought me closer to those who could or wanted to help. Everyone was far more concerned with their own projects, and they did not want to inadvertently lift someone up past themselves. The ideology of competition was strong on these sites, but for the cliques that seemed to develop. Getting into any group was just as impossible as finding an agent. If you didn’t get into the closed groups, you weren’t going to get anywhere. No one was open to meeting anyone or open to helping others.
Every place I went, I found myself shut out. The idea I was a hack and could not become skilled took root. Depression took root, too. Contacts that said they wanted to help would fade out just as quick as they faded in. What is the point of telling someone you want to help them, only to turn around and not do a damn thing? That lie is the worst, especially for the hopeful. It’s soul crushing. I cannot say why people do this, except maybe to blow themselves up as more than they are, then they bail to save face.
The internet had plenty of articles on the topic, but almost none of them were worth reading. There is one, however, that still sticks out in my mind. The piece was by a man who formerly worked in the publishing industry. I wish I could remember his name, to share this with you. I can barely remember the website with it’s white and orange page, or his smiling face. Was he a ginger? I don’t even know at this point. What matters is the advice he gave: to publish, you need to have your manuscript edited by a good editor. This is before you even go to an agent, most especially well-before reaching out to a publishing house. Your copy has to be clean.
That was the main key I was missing. I thought publishing houses paid their editors to do this work once they found an interesting manuscript. F— my confusion about the purpose of their positions. I’d love to have that job, though. Imagine that you are paid a cool $100k+ a year to barely proof read awesome books, that are already vetted by agents, and then oversee them into print with covers you pick. But, nevermind that pile of you-know-what. That article’s direct and solid advice is what I want to focus on. Thank the fates for this guy!
Having learned that I needed to pay an editor out of my own pocket, I also learned that the big publishing houses are wholly unnecessary. And, technology has progressed to the point that they are irrelevant. Seriously, why would you let them take over 90% of the profit when they’re not giving you anything in exchange to earn that percentage? Thus, agents, too, are extraneous. They’ll cost you 10-15%, sometimes more. An author is often left with 5% of profits from traditional publishing. Indie publishing sees at least 30% in the hands of the author, and you have to do all the same things you would with a traditional publisher. It just does not make good business sense. Having pocketed the advice, I moved forward with my book and the search for an editor worth their salt. I went through a few who were merely glorified proofreaders. It’s what I could afford, and who I could reach.
While I continued the search for an editor, the years passed and I eventually found myself a graduate school secretary. I was still mighty depressed, but I was working on my recovery. This part was still hard, especially without a peer group. I thought I had found one on deviantArt, and for a while it really was a great place to be. I met amazing people, some I still talk with today. I’m thankful for their friendship. They helped me so much. I hope my support of them was helpful to their lives (I know I helped a few of them to find the loves of their lives, and that makes these memories very special, even if we no longer talk today). Photography and friendship rebuilt my foundations.
This is not to say there were not those sniping parasites that always hang out, drawing blood from those of which they come into contact. Sociopathic Narcissist are unavoidable; found in every group. One artist, quite a talented painter, needed to undermine others to feel good about themselves due to some unspoken self-doubts. This individual declared that I did not love my writing, because I should not care if anyone else wanted to read my stories. I should do it just for myself. You see, she did her painting just for herself and was incapable of seeing the difference between painting and writing. Let me tell you, also, that this person enjoyed free access to galleries through her family and their connections. She had no idea what a struggle for visibility meant. Van Gogh could teach her a great deal about that, if she had empathy which is doubtful in light of the way she treated others in the group. I understand from where she came, the need to reaffirm her selfish foci, and how she enjoyed causing misery in others. Her words remained with me, but not in the ways she hoped they would. She was dead wrong about how I felt about my work, and the depression I experienced was proof of it.
First of all, there is zero point to writing books if there are no readers to read them. No author needs to write down the ideas in their head just to tuck them away for themselves. The written word cannot come close to the amazing visions in a writer’s head. Writers need to get their stories out of their heads for more than the reason of telling themselves stories. Telling others stories is part and parcel of writing a book. Storytelling is the point. Telling. You can’t tell a story to an empty space or just yourself. It isn’t told if no one hears it. Storytelling is human exercise requiring teller and audience. You can paint for yourself and find satisfaction because the physical thing is the point. A written story only has a physical aspect as a means of conveyance; a record that acts as vehicle. To be complete, it requires a reader. Writing and publishing are two steps in the trinity of storytelling.
This said, I am sure there are painters who feel that painting unseen are only partially complete, as well. Remember, the words said came from a person of privilege with easy access to a gallery, not someone who had fought to earn a space from which to deliver their art to the masses. The gatekeepers were her family and friends. A person of such privilege does not understand the desire to be seen. They only know visibility.
Thus, I bother to write down my stories and put them in print. Thanks to the student turned teacher, the support through deviantArt, and that wonderful article, I turned my attention to figuring out how to publish on my own. As I mentioned before, technology has caught up. After taking a job at another university, having more money in my pocket, and support from my colleagues, I grew even further. That was when I stumbled upon a truly viable means of publishing my work myself. The cost was reasonable, and they weren’t vampires preying on artists who had been beaten by a nepotistic system. They were totally on the up. So I jumped.
Then, like kismet, a US Civil War Reenactment was scheduled in my area. I attended and took a photograph, which graced the first cover of the first edition. I have a print on my wall in my living room. Things fell into place, one after the other, until Blue was at last in print.
That wasn’t the end of the journey, however. Blue still needed a lot of work, but I could only do so much without a talented editor to whip it into shape; someone to teach me how to fix what I needed to fix. By the time I prepared my second novel, having raised enough from the sales of the first, I met the editor that I needed. She worked on OP-DEC, and then I asked her to help me with Blue. Kara Storti is an amazing writer and author. She streamlined the work at my request, culling a couple hundred pages. In this process, I was able to apply important details to Emily and thus the story. Blue now stands as it should have all along, but it took a long, winding road to get there.
These experiences in publishing my first book very much changed my process. The painter made me want it harder than ever, the article I found gave me a path to follow to get there, and the student told me how to complete the project. There is still more to learn, like how to market effectively. Once I have that under my belt, then I will find a lot more audience members for my work and rise up—seen. Read.
If you’d like to learn more about how Blue Honor came to be, click here.
Click on any of the links below to read how the other authors in this hop experienced their first publication, and find out how it changed them…
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