Warning: This is a long post.
When I first decided to write novels, I read every author’s blog about the journey. They were all so different. Tales of first-time success—from first novel to agent to seven-figure offer. Stories about struggling for years before success came. Stories of writers still hoping. Accounts of horrid agents, lost deals, and many ‘almosts.’ I gobbled up each and every story. Wondered if I would get a break. Would get the phone call. Would be pulled from a slush pile.
This is what happened.
Five years ago, I decided to write a book. It took a year. I rewrote it many times. I went to conferences. I never found a mentor or a critique group. It wasn’t for lack of trying either. I attended a writing conference, where I signed up for a 5-page critique from an agent. Everyone said he was mean and rude. “He’s horrible,” they said. “He made me cry. Said I couldn’t write at all. Said my story was boring.” “Good,” I said. “I want someone to tell me what’s wrong so I can fix it.” ( I teach in a rigorous high school program, so this time it would be me on the receiving end of the critique.)
He wasn’t mean. He was very nice, said it was obvious I could write, but that the manuscript needed polish. Said he didn’t represent paranormal otherwise he would work with me. I came back from that conference feeling pretty good.
I went to several more conferences. Pitched my novel. Learned a lot of stupid inaccurate things.
Blog once a week. No. Write your novel. An agent doesn’t care if you blog, except if you have 100,000 fans on your blog then you’re in like Flynn.
You must have X amount of Twitter followers. I call BS. Also not true, I wasted more precious writing time trying to figure out what to write on Twitter.
You must have a critique group. I never found one. If you’re lucky enough to have formed a group near you where you’re all in the same place skill-wise, great, otherwise don’t stress about it.
I queried again and again. Got a few nibbles but no bites. Agents claimed only dark paranormal fiction sold. Mine was drama-comedy. I wrote another in the series. And another. Queried each one. Never had any luck.
I decided to self-publish. I knew nothing! Less than nothing. And back then, there wasn’t the glut of information there is now. I worked fulltime. It was all I could do to write, let alone spend hours trying to figure out all the complexities of self-publishing and marketing. But I did, with the help of a tech-savvy son. I didn’t advertise. Didn’t know how. I did a few promos, followed all the advice I read about in blogs. Some of the same debates still rage. Give one book away. Don’t give any books away. 99 cents vs 1.99 vs 2.99 vs 3.99. I went on some book blog tours.
Then I decided to write historical fiction. Wrote one. Queried it to many many agents. Snagged one! I was floating on air. As the agent sent out the book to publishers, I wrote the next historical fiction. One year later, I was done with the second book but had no bites on the first.
My agent sent out the second book. A few nibbles, got a revise and resubmit, but no bites. During that year I wrote a third. My agent said she didn’t like the voice. We parted ways.
I found Agent Two. She sent out the first historical fiction. Not so much as a nibble. During this time, she asked me if I was interested in submitting samples to a publisher who was looking for someone to write a particular collection of short stories. I sent samples. And got a book deal!! I was over the moon! I. Am. Author. Hear me roar! BUT, because of the genre and my career I had to create a second pen name. My job pays very well and I’m not going to give it up, not to mention my state is expensive to live in.
A quick note on why I even have a first pen name. My maiden name is very ethnic and difficult to pronounce and spell. (Kiss of death for an author.) My married name is very ethnic as well—as in, this author must be ____ race and therefore her novels must be about the ____ experience. I thought it best to find a more generic name.
Agent Number Two refused to take out the second historical fiction unless I made a major change. One that would have altered the genre and everything I was trying to accomplish with that novel. She refused to even look at the third novel—said I was the wrong ethnicity to write it. Whatever…
We parted ways.
I wrote a second book for the publisher and sold the book without an agent. More happiness! The problem was, the advance was as small as the first one. But it did one thing, my book is in book stores and it gave me official author cred.
I thought that the traditionally published books would open doors or at least crack it open. Wrong! I queried 200 agents with two different historical fiction. That’s right 200 agents—with 2 trad books under my belt—and only got a handful of nibbles. Below is a short list of reasons they rejected the book and in some cases me.
You write X genre, readers would be confused by a slightly different genre.
The first half of the story is too slow.
The second half of the story is too slow. (These rejections came in one hour a part!!! I laughed until I cried and that was my Straw That Broke The Camel’s Back moment.)
Love it, but I rep another client who wrote a similar story and she would be pissed if I sold yours and not hers.
Doesn’t fit into our niche.
Too ( and I’m not making this up) real. I couldn’t figure out the fact from the fiction. It was too upsetting. Our readers like nice books about nice people.
Too historical, our readers only like historical fiction about fictional people
At this time, finding an agent was no longer the holy grail for me. I knew a six-figure advance was not going to happen and that I had a better shot at making some money from self-publishing.
I knew my stuff now. Knew the mind of an editor, what they looked for in terms of pacing, sentence structure, verb forms, and similes. I joined Facebook self-pub groups. Read everything I could. Immersed myself with info. It made my head spin, was often confusing and beyond me. Like trying to understand Calculus when you haven’t learned Algebra 2. I realized there was only so much time in my day. Four hours to be exact. From the time I get home until my brain shuts down.
I found a great formatter (through an author when we shared the same agent) and revised and edited yet again. In the first month, my first historical fiction earned more money than the publisher’s advance of my traditionally published book. The second month netted more than both trad books. I have rave reviews. Was featured in an editorial review magazine. I put out the second and third historical fiction. Sales are good. I sold over 1000 ebooks of my first historical fiction. ( A milestone, I’m told ) I have a couple fans. I’m featured on blogs and bookstagrams. I earn more in a month than my trad publishing advance.
My second traditionally published book comes out March 2020.
I decided I had to finish my Merkabah series. I went back and OMG!!! I had to rewrite them! And by rewrite, I mean it took over a month for each one. Almost every sentence needed to be changed. I understood now what the agent who gave me a critique meant. It needed to be tightened and sharpened. Put more there there. LOL. I cut over 2 thousand words a book.
I revamped the covers and re-uploaded them to KDP. They had languished for the past three years while I wrote 5 historical fiction and did editorial revisions. I had let the LZ Marie pen name, blog, and social media accounts wither on the vine. But I did not get down on myself. Balancing life, career, and writing is a daily challenge. I had made a plan and stuck to it. But now I want to get them Out There again. I LOVE the series and the characters, and I had to finish their story. They demanded it!
So here I am 5 years later.
I have 2 pen names. I’m both traditionally and indie published. I have written 8 books. I work full-time. I have 1/3 of a first draft written for a fourth historical fiction. I’m writing the fourth and final book in the Merkabah series. I have plans for another paranormal romance series.
Life is good. Two pen names are tricky. My learning curve was long and steep and had many road blocks along the way. But I kept chugging along…
I love to write, so I’ll keep chugging along. I’ll probably merge the two pen names together in the next few years. I’ll keep writing historical fiction and paranormal romance.
And that’s the lesson of my story. Keep chugging along. You’ll get somewhere…