Tag Archives: self-publishing

What It’s Like Going Unpublished for Five Years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

Publishing Questions I Ask Myself Before I Start Writing a Book

21 Mar

Publishing is hard. We all know that. What makes it harder is bad timing and unclear focus. It’s easy to get lost in the art of writing long before you consider the business of writing, but at the end of the day, publishing is a business. You should have your business plan in mind before you set off on your writing journey. By doing so, you’ll be a lot more prepared for pitching and revisions.

That said, I want to add a caveat before I start sharing the publishing questions I ask myself before I start writing a novel. I’m pursuing traditional publication. That requires different techniques than self-publishing. Putting the publishing method aside, though, if you want to write a book that brings you joy and that’s it, then go for it! I am not here to stop you. It’s important to write and be happy. I have learned that lesson the hard way before. However, I am here to discuss how to hone your skills and focus that joy into a project that stands a higher chance at success. 

By being purposeful in our writing decisions, I believe we increase our chances of success. That doesn’t mean it will absolutely work. But there is something to be said about timing (and a little bit of luck). If you can put the odds in your favor, why wouldn’t you? To do that, I’ve learned to ask myself some pretty hard questions before I start writing. 

Here’s that list:

What does this novel add to the market? 

Maybe it goes without saying, but I think this is probably the most important question you must ask yourself. How does your book stand out from what’s currently out there? How is it relevant but also fresh? Do you have a twist on an old trope that hasn’t been done before? Are you writing it from a perspective not often seen? My advice is always to lean into your most unique aspects as hard as you can without breaking the story. This will help it stand out. 

Are there unique elements that need to be pushed or scaled back?

Once I have a list of my unique elements, I have to take a hard look at the plot/characters. I don’t want to push my unique elements too hard. By doing so, you can break a story. It’s important to understand your limitations as a writer. If you are trying to push yourself to try something way outside your norm, make sure you’re enlisting help from experienced writers or beta readers who avidly read your genre. (You should also be reading avidly within the genre/age category that you’re writing.) Remember: unique is great, but readers also love an old trusted trope. Having some familiar expectations can be a fantastic selling point, too. 

Is the pitch succinct and commercial? 

You certainly have time to figure out your pitching materials, but personally, I start working on a pitch and query letter before I start writing the actual book. Why? Because it quickly shows me if I truly understand the novel I am about to write. Who wants to get 80k into a piece only to realize they aren’t positive about the main themes or twists? Have you attempted to write a query letter to get a better idea of the main theme/plot/character? I stand by attempting your query letter (and maybe even your synopsis) before you start writing. It will reveal the glaring flaws you already have, before going in and finding out the hard way. I will also add that it’s important to recognize that this query isn’t truly your query. I’ve literally never used my starter query as a draft query for when I start to query agents. It’s more like a tool to get me started on the best writing path possible. I often still discover many new (and fun) elements in my work once the writing begins, but having the bare bones of a strong plot keeps me on track and confident that the work won’t fizzle out due to confusion or roadblocks. 

Why would someone pick up this book compared to a comparative title? 

Pretend you’re at a bookstore and your novel is nestled between its comparative titles. Cover aside, why do you want to pick up this book the most? This might go back to the earlier question about what makes your book stand out, but it’s a worthwhile exercise to try out from a reader’s fresh perspective instead of a writer’s. 

Why would you choose to work on this book compared to your other WIPs?

If you’re anything like most of the writers I know, then you probably have a dozen or so ideas bouncing around your noggin that you are dying to write. So why this one? What makes this WIP better than the other ones you are currently playing around with? Not just better to you, but also better to the market? I will caution you not to pick out the idea you have the most fleshed out. Just because you’ve spent more time with it, does not mean it is the best one to pursue right now (or ever). I, myself, recently put my historical fantasy aside to pursue my middle grade novel-in-verse. Why? I’d already written three drafts of my historical fantasy. I had a great revision plan and betas lined up ready to read again. I even had an agent who already requested the full from a writing contest I won before I decided to revise. (They said they were happy to wait until I was done.) By all means, I should’ve concentrated on the historical, right? Wrong. The more I looked at where I stood with that project, the more I realized now was not the right time to pursue it. While I wasn’t confident I could revise the historical and secure representation with it (mostly due to where the market is at with this particular kind of story), I was ready for my middle grade book. Plus, novels-in-verse are finally picking up steam. I wanted to ride that wave before it became a hurricane and mine got lost in the flood. So, I took that leap of faith. I put everything aside to start a brand-new project that I was truly passionate about. I’m now querying and have more fulls than I did with my historical. Sometimes, it’s about reading the water and following your gut when you decide which river to take. (Okay, I’ll stop with the bad water metaphors.) 

Can you spend 3-5 years on this project and be happy? This includes revisions, rejections, more revisions, etc. 

Maybe you thought I was a kill-joy, but I promise, I’m not. I know how important your mental health is when pursuing publication. Writing can be a long, lonely adventure, and those feelings can only get worse if your current WIP is dragging you down. When folks tell me they’re writing a novel (and planning to pursue traditional publication), one of the first chats I have with them is how long it can take. Writing the first draft is typically the fastest part. Beyond that is beta readers, revisions, querying, rejections, more revisions, signing with an agent, going on sub, more rejections, hopefully a book deal! Yay! But 3-5 years between writing your first draft and the actual book release date is pretty common if not expected. Granted, that doesn’t mean you have to be happy every single day for 5 years. That’s unrealistic. But, realistically, will you enjoy working on this book for a long time? The reasons for saying yes, or no, will vary from writer to writer. Some writers can write purely from a business angle, no problem, but others require a little bit more excitement in order to pursue an idea for a long time. 

All of the answers to these questions will be unique to you. They may not even be the best questions to ask yourself. These are just the ones I ask myself before I start writing, and they help me make decisions every time. Maybe they’ll help you, too. 

If you have additional questions, I’d love to read about them in the comments below! 

~SAT

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