books, Uncategorized, Writing

The Dreaded Red Pen – A Publishing Update

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I haven’t posted in a few months, but I wanted to update those of you who are following my publishing journey. I said back in July that I planned to self-publish Stoker’s Mill, my first novel. Since then, however, I’ve really felt God leading me to publish my second novel, Subversive. Subversive is the first book in a dystopian trilogy that I’ve been working on for a few years. I’ll be honest–this was a difficult book to write, and I’m much more nervous about publishing it than Stoker’s Mill for a variety of reasons. But I’m moving forward with it because I feel God leading me in that direction. I’m working on the sequel now (and dreaming up ideas for the third–and final–book).

I just started working with a professional editor. Yes, that’s right. I have an editor! She’s going to do a comprehensive edit of my manuscript and power it up as much as possible. A few days ago, she sent me her corrections of the first three pages (see the picture above). Look how marked up it is! It’s like AP English all over again. But I was amazed (and thrilled!) at how much stronger her changes made the opening scene. And she doesn’t just edit–she teaches her writers as she edits. My degree is in Criminal Justice, not English. I’m entirely self-taught as a writer, so I need all the help I can get. With my editor’s help, I’m learning about subjective clauses and dangling modifiers and all sorts of fun things! I really am enjoying the process and can’t wait to show you the finished product.

I plan on posting more regularly and keeping you updated throughout the entire process. Not only because I hope you’ll find it interesting, but because I’m going to need you along the way. There will be decisions to make (which cover do you prefer? which font looks the best?), and I’ll be asking for your help!

Since we’re talking about Subversive, here is the “back cover blurb.” Some version of this will end up on the back cover of the published book. I’m including it here so you can get an idea of what it’s about:

In an abandoned coal mine, a group of fugitives huddle four-hundred feet beneath the surface of the earth. To the world, and to the Federal Task Force who have been commissioned to hunt them down, they are known as subversives. Dangerous religious zealots who must be captured and imprisoned before their extremism can infect anyone else. Since the night of her parent’s arrest, Gemma Alcott has been in hiding as a subversive. She’s found a home—and someone to love—but she’s never forgotten the love she left behind. 

Taylor, a young Task Force officer, believes wholeheartedly in his mission and in the danger posed by subversives. He believes in the mission so much that he detained and imprisoned his own father. But when his first love, Gemma, is captured by a rogue Task Force unit, his loyalties are put to the test. Facing interrogation and possible death, Gemma must summon the strength—and faith—to protect her friends at all costs. And Taylor must decide if he’s fighting against evil . . . or for it. 

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Has anyone ever been to the Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine in Ashland, Pennsylvania? We go there every summer (the boys LOVE it) and that was the inspiration for my fugitive group’s hideout in this book. I took notes each time we went (how deep it is, the average temperature, the gross orange stuff clinging to the walls) and included those details in the book.

I’m hoping to publish Subversive next spring or early summer. It all depends on how quickly I can find a cover designer. The really good designers–the ones used by the major publishing houses–are expensive. Like . . . very expensive. And they have long waiting lists. But the cover is the reader’s first impression of a book. Think about it. When you are looking at books, the cover is the first thing you notice. If it grabs your attention, you flip the book over and read the back cover. Then, if you’re still interested, you might peruse the first few pages to see if you like the writer’s style. The cover is so important. I have a dream designer in mind but I have no idea if I could afford her or if this is even a project she would agree to take on. But I’ve emailed her and I’m waiting to hear back. If you would, please pray that I find the right cover designer for these books.

If you took the time to read this far, thank you for joining me on my long journey down this yellow brick road. The hardest part of being a writer is putting your work into the world for others to read (And judge. And criticize). Especially for an introvert like me! But having my work edited by a professional in the industry is a good first step. When I’m anxious about it, I think of the writers I love and admire. I think about the characters they created in their minds and brought to life on paper. What if they had kept those stories for themselves? I know that God will give me the strength to endure anything the world throws at me. And maybe–just maybe–my stories and characters will have an impact on someone’s life. Maybe my work will be a blessing to someone else, as so many stories and characters have been a blessing to me over the years.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. –Proverbs 3: 5-6

 

books, reading, Uncategorized, Writing

God Knocked Me Off My High Horse: My Long (and Rocky) Publishing Journey

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When I finished my first novel in 2012, I sent the manuscript to a professional editor who also coordinated a yearly writer’s conference that I planned on attending. After she completed her initial read-through of the book, she emailed me back and said, “Wow! You’ve kept me up turning pages (well, scrolling through pages on my laptop). Honestly, you are an AMAZING writer. This is going to be a best-seller, and I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone that. I think any of the agents coming to the conference would snatch this right up.”

As you can imagine, I spent the next few days walking on air, imagining book tours and evenings spent sipping whiskey with fellow authors, and pondering which actors would star in the movie version of my novel. Sidenote: At the time, I imagined Chris Pine as Nick and Claire Danes as Kate. Now, I see Colin O’Donoghue as Nick (without the Irish accent, of course) and Jennifer Morrison as Kate, but that could have something to do with my obsession with the television show, Once Upon a Time.

Anyway, back to my big break. A star is born . . . and all that.

So, a month after receiving the glowing email from my editor, I attended the above-mentioned writer’s conference. On the first day, I walked onto the building with my nose in the air, feeling very much above the fray. I mean, did these people even realize how lucky they were to have a chance with me? The only question in my mind was which agent would most effectively woo me with promises of large advances, royalties, and movie deals. I literally thought, “Which agent’s life am I about to change?”

Fast-forward to my first pitch appointment. These appointments are when you sit down with an agent or an acquisitions editor for a publishing house and “pitch” your project. It’s your opportunity to sell your manuscript (but mostly yourself) to them. So, I sauntered into the room, pushing past other lesser authors, and took my seat across the table from the first agent I’d ever met, hereafter referred to as The Meanest Agent who Ever Lived.

After introducing myself, I launched into my well-rehearsed pitch, practically giddy with excitement as I wowed her with my description of the next great American novel, Pleasant Mills. 

So, what did The Meanest Agent who Ever Lived think of my pitch?

(Yawning) “So, what’s the deal with the title? Pleasant Mills? It sounds like a happy book about a happy town. I thought you said this was scary. You really need to change the title.”

“Umm . . . (another yawn), so, I’m seeing a lot of passive voice on the first few pages. Like, a ridiculous amount. You really need to fix that.”

(Sliding my manuscript back to me with the tips of her fingers, as if afraid she might catch something from it) “So, do you have any other books? Or are you just another one-hit wonder? You really need to write more books before pitching anything at a conference.”

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Ugh.

Thankfully, these appointments only last fifteen minutes. I took my beating from The Meanest Agent who Ever Lived with my eyes on the clock. As soon as she finished shredding me with her claws, I slid my manuscript back into my bag, tucked my tail firmly between my legs, and ran to the ladies room where I literally sobbed in a bathroom stall until it was time to redo my makeup for my next appointment.

For the record, she was by far the meanest agent I’ve ever pitched to. I’ve pitched to dozens of industry professionals since that day, and none of them acted like her. The rest were all very nice people. Most of them listened politely and made a few suggestions. Then they either explained that the project wasn’t right for them, or they handed me their business card and said they would be interested in taking another look at it after I changed X, Y, and Z.

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that my very first appointment at my very first writer’s conference went so horribly. I believe God saw me sitting atop my high horse, and He used The Meanest Agent who Ever Lived to knock me back into the mud where I belonged.

And, because of her, I changed the title from Pleasant Mills to Stoker’s Mill, which I think we can all agree is a much creepier title.

I’ve grown personally and spiritually since that day. My writing has evolved. I’ve become a voracious reader (which has made me a much better writer) and I’ve devoted myself to mastering the craft. In an effort to build my online “platform,” I’ve established social media pages and Bookstagram accounts. And, yes, I’ll admit that my intent initially was to gain followers who might eventually purchase my book. But this is another way God has opened my eyes and changed me. These “followers” I’ve worked so hard for aren’t just numbers and potential customers. They are real people–and they have become my friends. God used my own selfishness to introduce me to wonderful community of fellow bookish people who love to read and help authors succeed.  And through these amazing people, I’ve discovered tools that will enable me to better market my book in the future.

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So, where do I go from here? Well, back in January, I sent a fiction proposal for my new manuscript, Subversive, to a wonderful agent who has been so helpful to me over the past six years. He passed on Stoker’s Mill back in 2013 but told me my writing was strong and that I should keep him in mind for future projects. Back in June, he passed on Subversive, explaining that he’s having more success right now in the nonfiction market. He suggested that I run it past one of the other agents in his office, because she focuses more on edgy fiction. However, she passed because it’s a dystopian novel, and she doesn’t represent dystopian fiction. Yet another rejection to add to my ever-growing pile. On the same day I got her rejection, I sent my proposal to a publishing house that focuses on speculative fiction, but I haven’t heard back from them yet.

So, as I await the fate of Subversive, I decided to pull Stoker’s Mill out of my drawer, dust it off, and move forward with self-publishing. Why? Well, initially, it felt like self-publishing was admitting defeat. After all, if I can’t land an agent or a publisher, doesn’t that mean I suck as a writer? Shouldn’t that be a clue that it’s time to throw in the towel? But I don’t have it in me to do anything else. Writing was my first love. Aside from reading, it’s the only thing I’ve done consistently since I was a child. So, I’m going to self-publish but I’m going to do it the right way. I’m hiring a content editor to make sure it’s perfect. I’m sending it out to beta readers prior to publication (ANY VOLUNTEERS?). I’m working with a graphic designer on the cover. It will be another long process but I’m going to make sure the finished product looks professional.

This book will be as successful–or unsuccessful–as God wants it to be. And I’m okay with that. Because this is a journey, and I’m a lot closer to the finish line than I was seven years ago. 

There’s a scene in the movie, Walk the Line, where a then-unknown Johnny Cash and his band are pitching their songs to a record producer. After they finish playing their first (unoriginal) song, the bored-looking producer says the following:

“If you was hit by a truck and you was lying out there in that gutter dying, and you had one time to sing one song. Huh? One song that people would remember before you’re dirt. One song that would let God know how you felt about your time here on Earth. One song that would sum you up. You tellin’ me that’s the song you’d sing? That same Jimmy Davis tune we hear on the radio all day, about your peace within, and how it’s real, and how you’re gonna shout it? Or… would you sing somethin’ different. Somethin’ real. Somethin’ you felt. Cause I’m telling you right now, that’s the kind of song that truly saves people.”

That scene really spoke to me, because that’s exactly what I hope to do.

Write the kind of book that truly saves people.