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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Is There a Place for Me in Traditional Publishing?

So.... It's been an interesting couple of months. I've had some highs and some major lows--I'm talking curl-up-in-a-ball-and-cry lows.

And all of it has made me ask a very hard question:


I'm honestly not sure. Yeah, I know publishing is vast and there's room for everyone. And that I shouldn't write for market trends. And that I need to stay true to myself and write what I want to write. That if one book doesn't sell, move on to the next. Publishing is so subjective. It's not you or your writing--it's the market. I've heard it all. Heck, I've said it all. So, what happened to make me ask this question?

Well, it all started about 8 years ago. (You'd better get comfy. This is going to be a long story.)

I started my writing journey out of boredom. Yeah, I know how that sounds. LOL. Bear with me. I'd always wanted to write a book, and I'd had a lot of false starts, but this time I'd found a story I was excited about and characters I instantly loved. I was determined to finish! And I did. In fact, I wrote the sequel, too. Then I was once again lost...What did I do with it now that it was finished?

I joined a local critique group and realized just how bad it was and how much I didn't know about writing. So, I began the lengthy process of revising. While doing so, I tried my hand at some shorter works--novellas.

And I had some success!!!!

On September 15, 2012, I had my first ever story published. It was an erotic romance novella published by a small press. For the most part, my experience was great! Working with my editor was a good experience. I loved my cover art. My reviews were awesome! My sales could have been better, but I think the pricing was a big factor here (something I had no control over.) I went on to publish two more novellas with this publisher. Those books released December 2012 and January 2013.

While I was working with the above publisher, I was also publishing a couple erotic romance novellas with a different publisher. The first one released in October 2012 with the second releasing in January 2013. Again, good experience, positive reviews, slightly better sales. I went ahead and published a full-length book with this press that released September 2013. Sadly, things went sour shortly after--but that's a different story for a different day.

During this time, I'd finished revising the book of my heart (or I thought it was at the time). It wasn't exactly YA (characters were in college) but it wasn't adult, either. New Adult wasn't even a thing yet. I queried agents, pitching it as an adult romance, and got nowhere with it. Looking back, I know now it should never have been queried. LOL. Live and learn, right? Having had some success and decent experiences with small presses, I began to research those options for this series, too. And guess what?

I had an offer from a small publisher. I signed on the dotted line and was well on my way. The experience with this press wasn't as great as the other two places, but it was okay. Editing was sub-par and sales are almost non-existent. This book released in June 2013. To this day, I have never revised or published the sequel. Partly because I don't want to work with this publisher anymore, but also because I've lost interest in it.

Throughout the process of getting that book published, I was busy working on a new project--a contemporary YA romance. I was so in love with this book and the characters (still am). I eagerly queried agents. Again, I got nowhere! By this point, I was starting to wonder what the heck was going on? How / why could I get published with a small press and have wonderful reader reviews but not be able to get an agent to show any interest? Again, I went back to my the place I knew I could excel--the small press! And again, I got an offer.

My book released in June 2013. I loved everything about this publisher--my editor, my cover art, the staff, the other authors. For the first time since I'd embarked on this journey, I'd truly felt like I'd found my home.

I had big plans, too. I was going to publish everything with this press! This is also where I got my start in editing. Some of my closest writer friends I have today, I met at this publisher. But then things went bad. Horribly bad! You can read about what happened HERE. This experience left me broken and very leery of small presses, and I knew I didn't want to go through anything like that again.

During my time there, I was working on a new project--an adult romantic suspense. When the publisher closed, I vowed to try my hardest to get an agent. I mean, I'd learned so much and was a much better writer. Surely now was my time, right?

And then I got the email -- An agent wanted to have "The Call." I promptly signed with my first agent. I was on top of the world! Together, we edited my book and got it ready to go out on submission. Then we waited and waited and waited some more. I think it was a little over a year before I had to face the fact that my book wasn't going to sell. Talk about soul-crushing!

But I didn't waste all that time just waiting--I had accepted my position with Anaiah Press, and I was busy editing. I also sought a co-author and together, we wrote and published two Christian romantic suspense books. They released April 2015 and February 2016. It was such a wonderful experience that I wouldn't ever change.

Somewhere in all of that, I had a call with my agent where we discussed my career and where to go next. We decided I'd write a contemporary New Adult romance--NA was hot at the time, and I had a fun idea for a series. So, I dove in. By the time I was finished and it went out on submission, we got a lot of "NA isn't selling anymore" rejections. Because, of course. (I'm one of those people that if it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all.)

But then! Then we got an offer from a very reputable mid-sized publisher! I was back in the game!!! I published two NA books with this press (under a pen name). They released May 2017 and October 2017. I wish I could say everything was roses and sunshine and rainbows--I really wish I could say that. But I can't :-( You can read about why HERE.

Throughout the years and all the ups-and-downs, I've been working on other things. I haven't finished many of them, but I've been working on different things.

Recently, I finished a project that has taken me 4 years to complete--and it's a book that I love more than anything I've ever written. It's a young adult paranormal romance (very Twilight-esque). I revised and edited and revised some more. I sent it to critique partners and beta readers. I even worked one-on-one with a mentor. I did everything right. I eagerly jumped into the query trenches, knowing this was the best thing I've ever written.

As of today, these are my query stats:

54 total queries sent.
22 rejections
1 full request (ultimately rejected)
1 partial request (ultimately rejected)
32 queries still awaiting a response. (Most of these are due to expire next week and fall under the "no response means no" category.)

Now, a note on the full and partial requests.... Getting those amidst all the rejections was a HUGE boost. Anyone in this business knows how it feels. Sadly, both of those came back as rejections. I was fortunate enough to get feedback as to why, and it boils down to this:

My premise isn't unique enough to stand out in the current market. 

Let that sink in.

My premise isn't unique enough to stand out in the current market. 

It's not my writing. It's not my query letter. It's not my characters. It's not a lack of connection between my book and the agent.

It's. My. Premise! 

The entire concept of my book isn't good enough. Now, tell me, how do I fix that? Short of rewriting the book or shelving it, how do I make my idea--my premise--stand out?

Needless to say, I was gutted. I didn't write or edit or do anything but read and watch TV. Thank God for my awesome writer friends who pulled me out of the dumps. Once I wallowed in it for awhile, I took a deep breath and re-evaluated. I still have queries out, but honestly, I have no hope that any of them will result in a request or an offer.

BUT! Not all is lost. I'd sent it to my editor at my pen-name publisher, and I (naively) put a lot of my hopes into that single query. I prayed that she would love it and want to acquire it. Then I could rest easy knowing it would be published, and I could work with someone who I admire and trust.

Then, a few days ago, I get an email.... My editor has left the publisher.

She assured me my submission would be passed on to a new editor, but...

I'm tired, y'all.

I don't know how much more I can take. I've tried my hand at adult romance, romantic suspense, Christian fiction, young adult, new adult....and I'm not any further ahead in my career than I was way back when I started. In fact, I've gone backward!

And so, I've been pondering the question I posed at the start of this very long post. Is there really a place for me in traditional publishing? Do I even want one anymore? Should I keep trying? If I do, what do I focus on--adult? YA? Romance? Something else entirely? What if I never get another offer? What if I do and it turns out to be another horrible experience? Should I just throw all my efforts into self-publishing? Or should I stick to what I'm good at--editing--and throw in the towel on writing?

I don't have any answers right now. I'm not sure if I will anytime soon, either, but I know I need to do something because I'm taking an emotional beating, and I'm ready to crack.