Back in 2010, I had just moved to Tampa. I didn’t have any friends in this new city, but I did have a manuscript for my first novel that was 80% complete. I finished it a few months later and began querying. I did it all wrong. To be honest, there was probably a lot of information out there about how to query, but I certainly didn’t find it. I found the agents for the biggest books I could think of, not even in the genre I had written, and printed out my first ten pages with a cover letter and a self-addressed stamped envelope. I knew each rejection, each non-response, was paying my dues. I kept querying and in the meantime, I started writing my second book. Finished that one and started the process again.
By 2013 I had two completed books and nothing to show from any of the agents I had queried. I began what would become Nailbiters and my energy was flagging. I saw the library near my home was going to have a talk from a local author. I was so excited to hear about the process she went through. And, I was also looking for a friend. Again, I’m a bad millennial. There were communities online, I just didn’t think to look for them. So when I saw this event I was excited to chat with this local author, hear her tips, and hopefully make a friend.
I went to her event, I listened, and I took notes. I went up to her after the event to introduce myself and say I was an aspiring author.
She looked at me and said “you’re what 23? What could you possibly have to say?”
I’ve told this story many times because this was the pivotal moment where my self-publishing journey began. That dismissal crushed me. More than any of the non-responses from agents, this person-to-person put-down stopped me in my tracks. It was my husband who noticed I stopped working on my books and challenged me to try self-publishing and the rest is history.
But this was the moment I gave up on traditional publishing. Not the gatekeeping agents. Not the process. It was the mean author. I didn’t want to work with people who were dismissive like that. And that’s a real shame. Because in the past few years as I’ve helped a major podcast start an independent publishing arm, I’ve worked with agents who are so helpful and thorough and encouraging and nice.
I’ve learned a lot about self-publishing and a bit more about the traditional side of things. But, I have my process now. I have 100 ISBNs in Bowker. I have a team I’ve built. And in some ways, I can keep doing this on my own.
Until I started working on my current book project. It’s speculative women’s fiction, and it’s slightly upmarket. In that it has a strong focus on character and theme. And that kind of book doesn’t historically do best with self-publishing. The person who wants to read this book gets her recommendations from traditional media, the traditional publishing pipeline.
Combining this knowledge, this lingering “what if” – what if I hadn’t met that snarky author? What if I hadn’t given up (I won’t say easily, but given up on the traditional route)? What if? And what more could I accomplish?
I know what I can do for my books. I know what I’ve tried. But what else is out there that I don’t even know that I don’t know?
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