What It’s Like Going Unpublished for Five Years

25 Jul

My last published novel – Bad Bloods: July Lightning – released on July 24, 2017. Five years ago. 

That fact can feel pretty staggering some days. Obviously, more so when the anniversary comes up than other times of the year. But alas, here we are, standing at a time of reflection. 

Back in 2017, I really enjoyed July Lightning’s book release, but it felt like it was time for a change. After a little research and some time off, I decided I wanted to pursue traditional publication. First step, get an agent. (Okay, so actually, the first step was to write a book I could query, but you know what I mean.) 

I set off with high hopes. I queried a young adult fantasy in 2018, resulting in 15 fulls but no offers of rep, and then I queried a young adult sci-fi/fantasy mashup in 2019, resulting in representation. I worked with that agent for two years, before she left the industry. Now I’m searching for representation again. And just like that, five years have passed me by. 

Some days, I don’t know how I feel about that. 

I’ve had my days where I wonder if I made a huge mistake. Maybe I should’ve continued to indie publish or pursue self-publishing instead. But I remind myself of the successes I’ve had, too. 

Since my last book release, I was invited to be a featured author at three different Barnes & Nobles for the Teen Book Fest. I spoke at Wizard World Comic Com and the first-ever LitUP Festival in Kansas City. I was later featured in a Local Author Fair for Mid-Continent Public Library. I had two audiobooks that released in 2018. I was invited to speak at Johnson County Library, the MLA conference, Ray County Public Library, Dearborn Library, Northern Hills Christian Academy, and Kearney High School. I was interviewed for Space and Time Magazine and SIMPLYkc Magazine. I also taught numerous classes. (I now teach Starting a Writing Project for The Story Center twice a year.) I also had the utmost joy of teaching How to Write a Series for the SCBWI KS/MO Middle of the Map Conference and at the Midwest Romance Writers’ meetup. I blogged for Jane Friedman.

Somehow, over time, I went from applying as a mentee in Pitch Wars to becoming a mentor twice in a row–one of our mentees got a six-figure book deal and the other just signed with an agent. I am currently mentoring for SCBWI KS/MO. I was also lucky enough to score a mentorship myself, with Parker Peevyhouse through Science Fiction Writers of America.

I’ve learned a lot over these past five years, and though I didn’t get a book deal out of the hard work I put in, I learned invaluable lessons that I’ve taken with me into the future. 

When I look at my writing today, I see growth. I’ve tried new age categories and genres that I never thought I’d pursue, and I love the work that came out of it. Most importantly, I’ve made friends. (I even went on a writing retreat, where we picked apples!) With all my new connections and friendships, I’ve beta read and edited numerous books that have now gone on to get traditionally published. A few of my indie clients have won amazing awards. I love to celebrate their success. 

Somewhere in all of that, I learned the most important truth about publishing: 

Not everything is about getting an agent or landing a book deal. 

Sometimes, the journey is about joy. That was one of the reasons I released the Tomo trilogy on Wattpad for fun. I hated to see it just sitting on my laptop doing nothing since it lost its publisher. Now it’s fun to hear from old readers catching up and new readers just now discovering it. 

More than ever, I truly enjoy writing my next pieces and sharing them with my beta readers (and sometimes my newsletter subscribers)! It’s very encouraging that I’m still asked when my next novel will come out. I wish I could tell everyone that date. But I don’t know. 

Five years is a long time. That said, I often forget the fact that 2 years of this has been in the midst of a pandemic. I also put a lot more energy into my day job, and worked my way up through three different positions in the library. Now I work in storytelling all day and have a consistent, steady paycheck that allowed me to get out of student loan debt, buy a safer car and a house, get married, and, most recently, begin a family with my husband. 

My life has flourished in many ways. 

But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t depressing when I see folks talk about how long they had to query before they got a book deal (and it was only 2-3 years). I’ve been out here writing seriously for over a decade. My first novel came out in 2007, but my first modern book released in 2013. I’m coming up on the ten-year anniversary of Minutes Before Sunset, and that hurts some days. 

I still love that sword-yielding, Midwest paranormal romance more than I can say. 

Sometimes I pick it up just to remind myself of what I’m capable of producing.   

The truth is, though, I may never get another agent, let alone a book deal. 

But what else would I be doing with my freetime? 

I love writing. I (mostly) enjoy the pursuit of publication, and when I don’t, I put it down for a few days, weeks, or even months. And that’s okay, too. 

I could give up. Or I could keep trying and enjoy the ride. 

Right now, I currently have a few fulls of my middle grade verse novel out with agents who are giving me a shot, I am *this* close to querying my historical fantasy–the same novel that won the Authoress’s Secret Agent contest–and I have two other novels completely written that I’ve never queried either. Not to mention a handful of outlines and half-written projects that I could tackle any day. 

If I decide to self-publish or indie publish one day, those manuscripts will be there. But I’m not ready to give up. 

I want to keep trying, so I will–even if it takes another five (or more) years.

~SAT

11 Responses to “What It’s Like Going Unpublished for Five Years”

  1. FairytaleFeminista July 25, 2022 at 10:27 am #

    I think it’s important that writers are honest about the process of publishing. Thank you for sharing that sometimes writers don’t write all the time and it’s fine. There are days I feel guilty about not writing for a few days or a few weeks, but I know forcing it just results in bad writing for me. It’s good to know I’m not the only one who sometimes puts it aside.

    • Shannon A Thompson July 25, 2022 at 3:50 pm #

      Taking breaks can be a good thing! Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts.
      ~SAT

  2. Sarah Angleton July 25, 2022 at 12:12 pm #

    Oh boy do I feel this. I have had to accept that I will be indie until I’m not, and probably even still after I do finally get that contract that doesn’t then fall through. It’s a rough ride, but it’s good I think to realize there are a lot of us on it.

    • Shannon A Thompson July 25, 2022 at 3:51 pm #

      So true! There’s so many of us out here trying. We’re definitely not alone.
      ~SAT

  3. Jo Danilo July 25, 2022 at 4:29 pm #

    Thank you for sharing your experience and for finding the positives in it. I have books 3 and 4 signed to an agent and out with editors, but no bites. I keep thinking the next book will be the one that breaks through, but have made a tentative peace with the fact that it may never happen. Life goes on. All you can do is keep writing when you’re able to, I guess, and see where it takes you.

    • Shannon A Thompson July 25, 2022 at 8:01 pm #

      Exactly! I know I may never “make” it, but I also know I definitely won’t if I don’t try. I love that your shared your story. Thank you for doing that. I hope an editor falls in love with one of your books soon. ❤
      ~SAT

      • Jo Danilo July 25, 2022 at 11:42 pm #

        Thank you so much – I wish you every success too! Yes, you have to be in it to win it, so let’s keep trying 🙂 x

  4. Ken Powell July 26, 2022 at 4:43 am #

    Honest comments and much appreciated. Being in the writing game too and knowing writers who are new at it all as well as some old hands who have been published for decades, I know that this is a sometimes cruel world where we can spend long times unpublished. None of us know what’s going to work and what isn’t or whether we’ll be in vogue out well and truly out of it. I’m lucky, I’m on a roll at the moment – but I’m under no illusions that it will go on forever.

    The main thing is to keep writing the book you’d want to read and, sooner or later, someone will read it too and be glad you did.

    • Shannon A Thompson July 26, 2022 at 10:53 am #

      I’m so glad it’s working well for you! It’s always a joy to watch your journey unfold. Love your last paragraph in particular. So encouraging. ❤
      ~SAT

  5. DebyFredericks July 26, 2022 at 10:50 am #

    The journey isn’t always (or maybe ever) a straight upward trajectory. What matters is to keep moving!

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