There is no single formula and, certainly in my case, it hasn’t been an easy road even after getting published.
The Boy from Willow Bend had been completed for at least a couple of years before I landed a publisher. Granted, I wasn’t submitting it continuously but when I did or sought advice on submitting, I hit dead ends. Eventually it was through a lead at a local bookstore, who let me know that Macmillan was in the market for books for a new series, that I found myself submitting again. I checked Macmillan’s website, found the commissioning editor’s email and took a shot – I believe I sent an advance letter and then, after a sure let’s see it from him, the full manuscript. There are a lot of steps I’m probably missing in-between there, including getting the book edited before submitting (which I did), finding a lawyer to review my contract in a country where this type of contract wasn’t exactly something commonly dealt with, the long road between signing the contract and the book actually hitting the shelves, the reality that publishing doesn’t mean you’ve arrived etc. but, in the spirit of that bookstore employee who pointed me in the right direction, I post opportunities on this site so that you too can take your shot.
Dancing Nude in the Moonlight had been completed before I ever started shopping Willow Bend, I think; in any case when the publisher asked, I believe, as they do, got anything else, I did. You’ll note that though among the first in Macmillan’s teen/young adult series, these books were not written specifically with that or any market in mind, they were just written, which is how I feel it should be. The goal was always to tell the story, the stories were presented to publisher and slotted in to their marketing holes, not written to fit those holes.
I was hyper happy at this breakthrough but in time, notably when both books went out of print, I had to dig myself out of the valley of failed publishing efforts – I should add here that with the benefit of hindsight I know now that these books – lucky to find a publisher in the first place and lovingly embraced by the readers who did find them, weren’t failures, but I was feeling like a failure then. It took me a while and a lot of research (re reclaiming rights, re pitching, re what an author needs to do to sell books in this new world – no you’re not going to sit back and be sent on book tours by your publisher) to find my legs again. And again it was a bookstore employee (gotta love em) who hipped me to a publisher who might be in the market for a re-issue of one or both of my books. By this time, I was submitting again and had put together a new pitch package re the books and their marketability and was in good position to make a pitch (yes, it was a face to face pitch) and before long Willow Bend, at least, was en route to republication. I would find myself doing the same thing for Dancing (via email this time) a few years down the road , once I’d figured out a marketable angle to pitch.
With Oh Gad! my goal was to find an agent to work with me on finding a publisher and helping me navigate the world of publishing. The thing I quickly discovered was it’s just as hard to find an agent as it is to find a publisher. Just as hard and disheartening. It took me about the same time, I think, to get a bite there as it did to write and redraft the book. By the time I landed the agent I landed, I’d been through live pitches, made a few contacts through a literary workshop (one of which was interested on recommendation from my workshop leader), and landed with (read: chose) one who had been recommended to me by a bestselling author I’d met through another literary conference. It then took her another year maybe to sell the book and then when she did another year before it was actually published. This race is not to the swift.
The publication of my first children’s book came about as a result of a call for submissions, and similarly publication of my first book written specifically for the teen/young adult market, Musical Youth – in the latter case a contest submission.
My forthcoming children’s book caught the interest of a publisher I’d met in my literary travels who’d presumably read my blog about it being named honourable mention for a story prize – he asked to see it and then offered to publish it. And lest you think I’ve arrived to the point where offers are now automatically coming to me, my agent is shopping another children’s book which has yet to find a home.
Bottom line for some the journey seems charmed but, one, it may not be as charmed as it seems, and even if they are that talented and/or lucky, for the rest of us, it is a get up every day and hustle hustle, a pick yourself up from the rejections hustle, a work your contacts hustle, a write and re-write hustle, a get in to your research grind and understand the marketplace and how publishing works hustle, a humble yourself and figure out what to do next hustle, a how to position yourself in this publishing world hustle, a mistake after mistake communication breakdown disappointment after disappointment hustle, a keep your ear to the ground for every potential opportunity hustle, and so it goes. As a sidebar (shameless plug alert), part of my hustle is working with other writers through workshops, coaching, manuscript critiquing, and editing to help them realize their publishing goals.
Publishing at this time is in a great period of transition – a transition from strictly hard cover and paperback to e-books, a transition from strictly big name publishers barring the gate to all but a few to a world where self-publishing is becoming increasingly accessible and legitimized, the entire template is being re-written. I continue to learn. On that point, here are some links you might find of interest:
Here, founder of hybrid imprint, She Press, Brooke Warner, breaks down traditional publishing, self-publishing and everything else in-between
Here’s BVI writer, Eugenia O’Neal, a self-published author on how to get it done if self-publishing’s your deal
And if you want to try e-publishing Kimolisa Mings tells you how
My path to publishing has been traditional (as far as the publishing template goes) and yet (as I come from and am situated far below the radar of the publishing world) not – lots of years, lots of investment, lots of research, lots of taking my shot and being shut down, lots of selling, lots and lots of writing. There are no short cuts so whatever route you choose make sure you put your best effort out there as that’s the only way to open the door to other opportunities – whether it be that next reader, that next publishing opportunity, or a legacy of putting out into the world words that take root and flourish.