My Top Five Surprises about Signing with a Publisher

Trade publication.

It’s the Holy Grail of career advancement for many writers. I’ve personally dreamed of it for as long as I can remember. While most little girls around me where playing out their future princess wedding, I imagined my published masterpieces in bookstores, libraries, and homes all over the world. I chased that dream through elementary, middle school, high school, marriage, motherhood, college, divorce, remarriage, and graduate school.

And now — after more than three decades — my lifelong passion has finally come true.

When you dream of something your entire life, you generally bounce back and forth between two highly conflicting thought processes. On one hand, my hopes could soar higher than the moon. I imagined myself as a super-star author, my books beloved my millions, spending the rest of my life cozy with my royalties, free to do nothing but write forever. On the other hand, I tried to keep myself grounded. I researched formal manuscript format, query packages, publishers, agents, and the publishing industry as a whole. I knew from a very young age that trade publication would not happen fast or easily — and that it most likely wouldn’t be lucrative enough for a full-time career — but I was persistent. Even if it didn’t happen today, it would someday. That was enough.

When someday finally came on April 16th, 2014, the reality was somewhere in-between my fantasies and my logic… and all of it was a surprise. For example I learned that…

5)  Publication isn’t Scripted

I knew exactly how it would go. My careful research had told me the steps:

  • Query an agent
  • Get a full manuscript request
  • Send the full manuscript
  • Get a contract
  • Get a publisher
  • Become a rockstar writer

Not so much.

This may still very well be how many writers step into trade publication. Not me. My steps turned out to be a bit more… wobbly:

  • Query
  • Get a rejection
  • Query
  • Get a rejection
  • Repeat for a few dozen years
  • Query
  • Get a partial request
  • Get a rejection
  • Query
  • Get a full request
  • Wait with baited breath for six months
  • Get a rejection
  • Query
  • Get a rejection
  • Query
  • Get a rejection
  • Rant on Facebook about how frustrating it all is
  • Get a PM from a mysterious fellow writer, suggesting you query their publisher
  • Shrug
  • Query
  • Get a full request
  • Sent the full manuscript
  • Get a contract offer back, along with a confession of headhunting all along on Facebook

A publisher. Headhunting. Me? I’d never even considered that! Of course, when something like that happens, the first sane response is cynicism. I didn’t enter into my contracts lightly. I did my research. Predators and Editors said they were legit. AbsoluteWrite said they were legit. Their current authors (with whom they got me in contact just for this purpose), said they were legit. I was floored!

This was not how I expected to make my dream come true, but it didn’t dim my joy in the least when I signed those contracts and sent them back. Finally, all my hard work was paying off! Little did I know that…

4) It Doesn’t Get any Easier

I didn’t expect that I would be rolling in money; I’ve been in the biz — albeit the far side — for too long to be that silly. However, I DID think that at least most of the work was behind me. Like most modern writers, my first publication was self-wrought. With self-publishing comes the arduous task of marketing your own books. At least, it’s arduous to me. I love speaking and signing at cons, but travel is often very difficult for various reasons. As for blogging, Tweeting, Facebooking, etc., I would honestly much rather just be writing my fiction than promoting it. But I did it, because my work is important to me. Now, with a publisher to do that for me, I was sure I’d finally be free.

Not so much.

Don’t get me wrong, my publisher certainly promotes my work. Every time I Google Dr. Fixit’s Malicious Machine I find new websites where Second Wind has placed it, much to my delight. (I’ll admit sometimes I even squeal like a little girl.) But in this day and age of e-books, blogs, and author websites, the author is expected to do more self-promotion than ever before. My job isn’t finished when I send my manuscript off, it just changes from one who creates to one who promotes that creation.

I’m still not too great at that end of things but I think I’m getting better. Time will tell. For now, I’m still chugging along because my writing is still one of the most important things in my life. Well, when I say chugging along I really mean trudging. You see…

3) It Feels Even Longer than it Takes

Everyone who has studied the publishing industry even a little bit knows that for us, a minute is more like a day, an hour is like a month, and a month can be years. I’ve known this for a very long time, first by way of research then with querying experience. I know that publishing a book can take more than a year from manuscript to shelf. I wasn’t expecting overnight success. Still, I did think I’d be in regular contact with my publisher in order to know what was going on while I waited.

Not so much.

As a professional, it’s expected that I can keep a schedule and make deadlines without someone holding my hand. Can I email or text my publisher if I have questions? Of course. Does he email and text me every day to keep me updated on my own progress even while handling the careers of all my fellow Second Winders?

No.

Months can go by when I hear nothing, then one day an email might come discussing a million details that have come up during that time, then nothing again for another long stretch. This can make a long wait feel even longer. But that’s really okay in the end, because…

2) It’s Never About the Present

I’m thrilled that Dr. Fixit is officially published for the first time ever. I’m ecstatic that Zombies is undergoing its own transformation as I type. I’m chugging away to complete Numbots and finally finish the trilogy as my very first truly published work.

Still, as far as I’m concerned, the “Guts and Glory” books are all but complete.

When you work in a slow industry like publishing (even self-publishing and e-books are slow; if they’re not, you’re doing it wrong), you have to learn to live in the future. Living in the past is never a good idea for anyone, as various memes, sage advice, and mothers everywhere have told us over and over again. It stunts growth, steals hope, blah, blah, blah. I’m sure you’ve heard it all, as I have. But living in the present isn’t much better when you’re a writer. It can seriously  make you go mad waiting and wondering and hoping, not to mention the fact that if you’re worrying about a present manuscript, you’re not writing the next one.

And that’s what I’m doing now; writing the next one.

Blight is my new YA book which I am very excited about. I’ll tell you much more about it as time goes by, I’m sure. Writing it helps me not think so much about the progress of “Guts and Glory” but it won’t be ready for querying for at least a few months, let alone publication. I’m looking at the future with my new story, just as my publisher is with “Guts and Glory”. This is a very good thing, because…

1) It’s Not a Single Great Leap into Dreamland

Okay, I’ll admit, I’ve dreamed of it often.

THE moment.

That shining beacon of victory, when everything comes together, when my rockstar agent signs me with a major publisher from the Big Six, and my work becomes a New York Times Bestseller. Then, and only then, will I be a real boy — I mean writer — at last.

I still dream of it. It’s the winning lottery numbers, the Holy Grail, the moment of release.

And it’s probably never going to happen.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m far from a defeatist. In fact, my sisters will tell you I can be unrealistically optimistic at times. (Okay. pretty much all the time.) But I have learned in my three decades of writing that it’s a series of baby steps, not one great leap, that will take me to the success I dream of. I took those baby steps up to this point — reading, writing, studying, querying and self-publishing — and I have only taken one more now with my small press publication.

Who knows what the next baby step will be? Might there come a moment when I can’t breathe from the amazement of what has happened in my career? Maybe. For now, though, I’m looking to the future, waiting on the present, working very hard, and expecting the unexpected.

Because in the end, all that really matters is my stories themselves. Everything else will come in its own time.

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