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My road to publishing…and how it made me crazier than normal
Tracey Jane Jackson
Publishing has changed. The writing’s been on the wall for a while now, but I didn’t put on my reading glasses until I started the process a year or so ago.
A little back-story. I have been surrounded by writers most of my life. My grandmother wrote for the local newspaper, my mother runs a magazine, and the woman I call, Mama, is a multi-million selling author in the Christian market.
Mama has been bugging me for years to write a book, and I’ve resisted. I’ve written articles, and even had some of my photography published, but the thought of writing a novel was daunting and I procrastinated…in a big way.
Until June 2008. I read a bad romance novel. This was the second one in a row, and I thought, “I can do better than this.” I had a little story in my head that I’d had for a while, so decided to write it down.
I opened up my laptop, stared at the screen…and then stared at the screen some more. Finally, I started to write. After several stops and starts, I called Mama and asked her how many words should I shoot for and what do I do about editing.
She laughed the laugh that sounds like a bird singing…and then gave me the best advice I’ve had to date. “Just write. Vomit onto the page. Don’t think about it, just put the words down. Don’t edit until you’re done. Oh, and 80,000 words is the average for a novel.”
80,000 words?? What? That’s a lot! The most I’d ever written before was 250. I pushed away the voice that told me I’ll never make it, and began to write. Long story short, I wrote six novels in eight months and a time-travel series was born. I wrote my little heart out, joined critique groups and RWA National, entered contests, and started to research agents and publishers. Several agents I contacted said thanks, but no thanks…oh, and by the way, you need to add 10,000 words to your ms. 90,000 is the standard in your genre.
While 80,000 words is standard in CBA, I didn’t want to write for the Christian market, because I’m not writing books that have a heavy spiritual theme to them. I’m writing clean, time-travel romance, which CBA won’t touch, so I had to work within the parameters of ABA and the mainstream market.
I began the process of editing Book #1 in 2009 (after I added 10,000 words). Mama hooked me up with Susan May Warren, also an amazing, award-winning author. She does something called “Book Therapy,” (www.mybooktherapy.com) working with authors on story arc and ripping it to shreds (in a good way) to get you moving in the right direction. Needless to say, Book #1’s entire premise changed, which meant, I had to essentially rewrite it. I dove in headfirst, utilizing the skills I’d picked up from some of my wonderful critique partners and everything Susie suggested.
Once The Bride Price (Book #1) was done, I sent a chapter to Mama and she called me with another great suggestion. “Get thee to an editor.”
Wait. Are you saying it’s not ready? After all the work I’ve done, the rewrites, the hours spent staring at a computer screen, the money I’ve spent learning how to do this?
The answer was no…and, yes.
Mama set me up with several agents, who all came back (over the course of late 2009 and early 2010), and the same theme trickled in…your writing is really good, even better than a lot of the authors who I currently represent, your voice is excellent, however, I have no place to sell you. You see, CBA isn’t accepting unknown authors, and ABA requires something really mind-blowing. They want the next Twilight or Harry Potter, YA is big at the moment.
I’m writing historical romance with a time travel theme, not YA, so I had a hurdle to jump there.
In further talks with Mama, she stressed the need for a good content editor and line editor (yes, they are different—who knew—not me). She emailed a couple of people for me and the waiting began. In the meantime, I reached out to Susie again and she hooked me up with her editor. Guess what? She does both content and line editing, and she loved my book! My confidence was bolstered and a relationship was formed.
So, that brings me to today. I have made the decision to self-publish. Crazy, I know, and not without some stigmas attached, but the alternative is to write and toil for years waiting for an agent or a publisher to pick me up. In this day and age of Amazon, it’s not necessary. For me, it’s about getting my stories out there. I believe in them, and the people reading them are enjoying them. I’m writing what I have always wanted to read (time travel to the Civil War – not a lot of it out there), and it seems to be resonating. I’m not able to live off my art yet, but I can see the potential.
I do have a few things going for me in my favor that other authors may not. For example, I am a photographer and I have thousands of images at my disposal that I can use for covers. My husband is a graphic artist, so I have access to free cover art. We also own a recording studio (we are musicians), so next year, I’m putting my books on CD – for free.
These are huge expenses that I would imagine make authors pause on the journey to self-publishing. But do it anyway! Just make sure your books shine with excellence. I’m not saying everyone has to love them (art is subjective), and I’m not talking perfection, but make sure your grammar is correct, your content flows and your spelling is impeccable. This is where I need the biggest help, so I’m spending my money on an editor who knows a lot and isn’t afraid to tell me if something is…well…just awful.
I also have someone read them (before they go off to editing) who is not a romance reader. I have a gentleman who is retired, living in New Zealand, and a tech geek. He brings up questions that both frustrate me and make me think. Some I can dismiss, because, let’s be honest, I’m not writing sci-fi, but others make me go back and take a look at the story from a different angle. My critique partners help me with the historical pacing (Susan Barr shout out here www.whereromancelies.com – she kicks my butt if it’s not working). My strength is my dialogue, so that’s easy for me. My editor catches everything else.
Self-Publishing – is it for you?
Over the last year, I’ve had two publishing offers and I turned them down. I guess I could compare the experience to being asked to the prom by the A/V geek and then by the really nice young man your mom met at the grocery store. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with either of them, and what a wonderful feeling to be asked, but I’m holding out for the lead guitarist in that cool high school band…you know, the one with the long hair and crooked smile?
The publishing offers were genuine, and very complimentary, but they cannot offer me shelf space, so I declined. People might say that’s a bad move, but let me tell you why it’s not. CreateSpace (the POD company partnering with Amazon) will put your titles (for a small fee $39) in all of their distribution channels (including libraries), and Amazon sells approximately 88% of all books sold in the mainstream industry, so they make it really easy for you. Publishing to Kindle is a breeze (for the most part) through Amazon, and you get 70% of the profits. With a traditional publisher, it’s about 20% (if you’re lucky…usually less), plus you have to give up your rights. With Amazon, you give up nothing.
Smashwords is a site getting more and more popular. Through them you can get onto Barnes & Noble, Apple, Sony, etc. They offer the ability for consumers to download in multiple formats, and they remember that you bought the book, so if you lose it, or your computer crashes, Smashwords will still have it for you. You don’t have to repurchase.
Self-publishing also guarantees your royalties are paid EVERY month. With a traditional publisher, you may get royalties twice a year. Amazon and CreateSpace have reports you can run to see how many books you’ve sold, and when. Smashwords offers the option to email you every time you sell a book. It’s a little boon to see a note in your email that you’ve sold another one.
What I need is shelf space, but apparently, unless you’re with Simon & Schuster—or your name is Danielle Steel—Walmart, Target and other large booksellers aren’t buying. Even the larger publishers are going electronic, just to see if you’ll sell before they’ll even put your book in print. But what if your readers are like me? I won’t buy an e-copy of a book. I want to touch the paper, smell the ink, and stare at the cover to feel transported into the story. If you go with a publisher who doesn’t offer that, then you have given your rights up and can’t even self-print it.
Authors are having to do more and more for themselves as the climate changes, so if we are out there pumping out books, partnering with other authors, why would a publisher benefit from my hard work, unless they can offer me something more than I can do for myself.
Is the dream still alive?
Yes! I want a publishing deal with a big NYC house and the potential to be on the NY Times Best Selling list. We all do. In the meantime, however, I’m going to keep plugging away and work, work, work to get my books out there.
So, buckle up…the change of the publishing world is gassing up…and I’m holding on for dear life.
Tracey’s third book in her Civil War Brides Series, The Bride Spy, releases today (December 1, 2010). Visit her website – www.traceyjanejackson.com for details on how to order, excerpts, and special pricing just in time for Christmas.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact Tracey at firstname.lastname@example.org.