Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A publishing journey: How I failed my first novel.

A story of being up Crap's Creek. 

This isn’t an easy thing to write. Admitting your own shortcomings, much less putting them into words, is not something that comes easy to most. However, it needs to be said. As I submit the paperwork for my sequel, I have to take time to assess my first publishing adventure. What went right, what went wrong, and what can I do to make the next go-around any better?

There’s a simple answer for that: I have to start from scratch.

Aside from the small hype that Lucid generated, and this is very small indeed when I don’t include my supportive family and friends, I didn’t make any waves in the publishing/literary world with my debut novel. This is sadly typical for many first-time novels, especially small pub and indie ones, but I the thing that really eats at me are the mistakes I almost knowingly made before, during, and after my novel hit the e-shelves. I want to touch upon the main ones just as a reminder to myself for this second time around and for anyone with a finished manuscript looking for the next step.

I published too early:

Despite having this novel in the works for 6 years prior to its publication, this is the biggest problem I had. It wasn’t that it was sloppy or unfinished (in fact, I doubled its word count in the 6 months before signing my contract) it was that I felt rushed to do something. I had just graduated college with no job prospects and a bleak look on my young adult life.

Hey, I thought, I have this nearly finished novel, and everyone knows I write, so maybe this can be my J. K. Rowling moment!

Oh, how youthful naivety and too many feel-good stories ruined my expectations!

At first, I did it by the book. One of my author idols, Rick Riordan, has this amazing blog post for writers who are considering publishing. While his main audience is about a decade younger than myself, it provided some sage advice.

I skipped the stuff about second-guessing my preparedness to publish. I mean, I did the revisions countless times and thought about my story from many different angles. What more was there to do on that end?

Instead, I got to the part about buying the Writers Market for 2012 and made a list of potential agents and publishers who’d consider my work. Surely, one of the hundreds mentioned in this book, despite my lack of writing/publishing experience or even a degree in English, would take me on! And if not, well Uncle Rick said that maybe rejected manuscripts just weren’t ready. Pfft, like that applied to me!

And so, the 40+ rejection letters didn’t deter me. I knew the publishing world was much like the acting one. A lot of people weren’t gonna like you, but the one that took notice was worth all the time spent searching. I got a few initial bites, people who were interested in my thoughtfully constructed (see: cookie cutter fill-in-the-blank) query letter. And lo and behold, a small publisher liked my work!

Do I regret signing on with my small publisher? No. In fact, I’d sign with Clean Reads again and again if presented the same course of action for Lucid.

I’ll get to my fabulous publisher and all the lessons learned in the next bit. The plain fact of the matter was that if I’d have quit at rejection #42, then maybe I would have revisited the novel I wrote and made it a stronger presentation for the agents and publishers. Still, the excitement that landing one “yes” out of a sea of “no” prompted me to sign my first book contract, without any experience in the writing world or research about what I was getting myself into, and play the publishing process by ear. No matter how tone deaf I proved to be when it came to the publishing industry.

I should have done more prep prior to publication.

Let me start this bit with a disclaimer: I love Clean Reads Press. You’d be hard pressed to find a better publishing company where the family of authors, even owner herself, helps you every step of the way. Like I said, I’d publish with them again, and am doing so for my sequel, in a heartbeat. The lack of preparation before Lucid launched is all my ignorance, laziness, and shortcomings.

You can do a quick search for “how to market your first book” and hit a million results. Some of them will be better than others, but the fact is that they’re out there, and I did nothing to help myself prepare for my book’s release in the 6 months between signing my contract and the due date.

That’s not to say I didn’t have help along the way. Like I said, Clean Reads is an awesome publishing company, especially for a first-timer. Along with my contract, my publisher sent me a slew of helpful documents to start my blurbs, author bio, and little fill-in-the-blanks for setting up my social media sites. Fellow authors also provided advice, such as how to prep my media kit and suggested cheap e-books to read that would give me guides on how to prepare. However, the fact that I had to do more edits (after all that hard work I already did?! Ugh! …said my stupid, lazy former self.) deterred me from doing anything but the bare minimum.

Bare minimum I reaped, and bare minimum I sowed.

The only person I have to blame is myself, and the main thing suffering for it is my story. Like so many other writers, I don’t write for myself. I wanted my story to reach the masses of middle and high schoolers who thought reading was for losers. I wanted to give them a cool story with relatable characters that would do for them what Harry Potter did for me. The fact that I struggled to keep Lucid afloat from the very beginning is my fault and my fault alone.

I published at a bad time for me.

This is probably the biggest thing to blame. Two months after Lucid came out, I moved to Japan. To rural Japan.

What’s wrong with this? You ask. Surely it provided countless hours to promote Lucid and write any other stories that may come your way! Your author blog should have been poppin’!

Should have. But it did not.

For the first few months in Japan I was without Internet. That greatly put a damper on the things that I could do whilst borrowing my neighbors wifi for short periods of time. After Skyping parents and catching up with friends, I didn’t have much time set aside for adapting to living in another country on my own (for the first time) and easing into my new, full-time job. Top it off with an extreme case of home sickness and culture shock, and you have a pretty rough outlook on life.

The fact that I still tracked my book’s rankings did not help my situation. Despite encouraging words of wisdom from seasoned authors, I watched that ranking spiral into the millions and fell into a slump about my writing. I was ready to call Lucid a failed experiment and give up on writing anything for publishing purposes again.

But write I did. I’m still not sure how I managed to eke out Reverie during my creative slump of a time abroad, but in the dark depths of winter, I resorted to writing about my own fantasy world to stay sane. Before I knew it, I had a working draft for Reverie, and if I played my cards right, I could publish the sequel in a decent timeframe to keep those who had read and liked Lucid happy. And there were some of my former middle school students who really liked my story!

So, this time, I’m going into publishing for a small reader base. I’d say that’s a better reason than my original intentions with publishing. I’m going with the same publisher as well, which makes the paperwork and pre-edits bit a lot smoother of a process. I also have working social media pages, a decent –yet very humble—presence in the YA indie author world, and a shiny new website to flaunt my growing number of works.

But the most important thing I learned during my first go-around is to never stop believing that I can write something better. Uncle Rick was right: don’t submit a manuscript until it’s absolutely ready. Sometimes you know it, and sometimes you don’t, but your writing can always get better. Whether that be the 10th draft of a novel, a blurb, or even an outline to a brand new series, writers have untapped potential that can create something beautiful. The biggest obstacle to this plethora of storytelling is the writers themselves.

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