A year and a half ago I was sitting on my couch with my best friend (AKA husband) passionately displaying my dissatisfaction about a book series I just finished reading. The ending was, in my opinion, poorly executed and didn’t give the characters justice.
“I could write a better ending than that!” I proclaimed, tossing my wine glass up to the sky.
“Then do it,” Ryan replied.
I laughed at the suggestion and we playfully brainstormed book ideas, most of which were horrible. One stuck with me though, and this character wouldn’t quiet. I opened my laptop at 2 am and wrote this strange, dark character’s story, entitled The Cleanser. It was the first chapter of what would become my debut novel, The Mercy Killers.
I can honestly say I had no idea what a life changing night that was for me.
I wrote like a madwoman for 5 months, then my husband came home from deployment and I put the half finished manuscript away. I wasn’t sure what I was doing, was this only for fun? Was this something I wanted to pursue? I wasn’t under any delusions of what being an author truly means. There is always a chance an author can make it “big” but being an author more than likely means pouring your soul into a manuscript which may never see the light of day, and if it does it can take years of crawling through the trenches to get it picked up. I have two small children and a husband who is often absent because of his job. I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to something that draining for the possibility of no pay off.
But the story wouldn’t go away.
It was always in my head, building, creating this giant world, and as time passed I realized I needed to write this. Even if nothing came of it I wanted to write it because it brought me joy. So I pulled out the book and finished it.
When I typed that last sentence, it became clear writing was my passion. In some ways it always had been. I have stacks of journals and songs to prove it. But this book was somehow different. This made me excited and brought me peace (you can read more about my reaction to my finished manuscript here.)
I didn’t know what to do next, so I blindly entered contests because I was told they could provide valuable feedback. I entered a few and received some excellent advice. I learned how to hone my skills, and I completed my edits using the lessons I gleaned from the contests. I placed well in them, which helped my confidence.
So now I possessed a completed manuscript! What next? I knew I needed a Query letter, so I signed up for a Query Class. I also tried my hand at a pitch contest, #Pitchmas (read about my experience here, it was eye opening.) The pitch contest went well. I ended up with quite a bit of interest.
That was a shock.
I prepared myself for the trenches. I was ready for tons of rejections and piles of agent queries that went nowhere. I ended up with solid choices. I did receive a few rejections, but even the rejections didn’t have the horrible bluntness I heard about. Most were incredibly positive.
“Sorry, I can’t take YA. Could this story be for an adult audience?” ( No, it is NA/YA) .
“I love the first chapter, if the majority of the narrative is from that POV I am interested” (It wasn’t, so we didn’t pursue a relationship.)
“Love your voice! Do you have anything set in the current time period? I am looking for Urban fantasy.” ( I have a voice!?!?!)
I was shocked.
I was overwhelmed.
This was not what I expected.
I did my research, read through my options, and took the advice I was kindly given by the experts who offered it. I settled on an offer that seemed clean to me. I sent it to my lawyer, who promptly agreed the contract was clean, didn’t have hidden clauses and the royalty agreement was fair.
However, this contract was through a small start up publisher which hadn’t even released a book yet. Signing with a new company was a risk, so I didn’t sign right away.
Instead, I did more research. I spoke to the owner, who was honest and helpful. I read success stories and stories of failure, some through small pubs and some through the big five. I sat down and tried to figure out what I wanted. I researched pros and cons of the big five versus a small pub and I seriously considered signing with the new publisher. After all, contracts are hard to get, and getting looked at by the big five or an established independent publisher can be tough. It wasn’t like a big agent was going to randomly knock on my door!
I entered a contest called the YA! 2015 Authors.me competition on a whim. I had no idea how much exposure I would receive, nor did I have a real grasp on who would be reading it. I did well, in fact I won the whole shebang ( WHAT!?!?!) and a few weeks later I had two different individuals within the literary community approach me with some great advice and interesting proposals.
It was a little overwhelming.
The small publishing house contract was still on my desk, carefully arranged and protected in an envelope, postmarked and addressed. It was ready to go, but I hadn’t been able to actually sign it. I don’t know why. I had every intention. But every time I picked up the pen this quiet voice would whisper, “Not yet.” I was certain the voice was insane, because book deals are hard to come by and I was lucky to have a publisher who was as devoted to what I wanted as this company was.
You see, I’ve never been a very brave person. I’ve always taken the safest, surest route. This small publisher was safe, and I liked who ran it. I liked the authors. I liked everyone. But all of the feedback from different sources was forcing me to look at what I really wanted out of writing as a career, and my goals became clear.
I wanted to be a hybrid author. I wanted to try to shoot for the stars even when the deck is stacked against me. If I failed, fine, but at least I tried. So, I did a very terrifying thing.
I walked away from a sure thing.
Was that the best decision for me?
Only time will tell, and probably quite a bit of time. The publishing industry tends to move slow. I will likely experience some rough moments. I may end up with a small publisher, after all many of them are very good at selling a certain genre. If we are a good fit I will be over the moon. Now, I understand what I am looking for.
Was I scared?
Absolutely. I still feel a little sick thinking about it. It was a hard decision for me to come to, and it hurt because I had come to genuinely care about the people who ran the small publishing company. I was also working on a second book which was perfect for them and needed the type of platform they could provide. Severing our relationship didn’t just mean pulling The Mercy Killers, but it also meant pulling a chance for The Seductress too.
Still, I walked away.
My big, terrifying journey starts here. A journey I could have finished already, and maybe I should have. I know I’ll likely receive rejections before I find what I am looking for. But I think intuition is important, and a famous quote echoes in my head whenever I start to doubt myself.
Gone with the Wind is one of my favorite books. It was rejected 38 times.
Stephanie Meyer struggled to get an agent, she was snubbed 18 times, and then went on to get rejected by over a dozen publishers.
The Help got rejected 61 times. Stephen King had a spike of rejections on his wall. Meg Cabot had an entire bag full of them.
I don’t know if I will ever be as great as the people I’ve mentioned. I understand it’s not likely. I do have passion. They obviously have talent, and mine remains to be seen. I think it’s there, I just need to hone it.
If I receive 300 rejections? I’ll submit 301 times.
Until then, I’ll keep writing.