If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you’re probably already aware that my first novel is being released this summer by Harper Voyager Digital. There’s more information about Darkhaven elsewhere on this website, but in brief, it’s … well, a murder mystery. Except I'm a fantasy writer, so this is a murder mystery that includes shapeshifters, swordfights, carriage chases and a rampaging Wyvern. Be warned.
I was in two minds over whether to write this post, because it does feel a little self-indulgent. OK, a lot self-indulgent. OK, like standing in the street with a megaphone and shouting “Yay, me!” But there are a few pieces of advice I've extracted from my journey up to this point that are probably worth sharing. And I think they’re relevant whatever your publishing dreams and whatever stage of your own journey you’re at. So here goes.
1. Everything takes time …
From the day I submitted Darkhaven to Harper Voyager, during their open call in October 2012, to the day I heard back from them was just over 16 months. And that’s fine. That’s how long it takes. When you’re dealing with a large publisher, it’s what you’d expect.
But sometimes it’s easy to forget that the same principle applies to other aspects of writing too. It takes time to write a book. It takes time to edit it. It takes time to learn how to improve your craft, and write another book, and this time do it better. When you reach the stage when you’re ready to share your work with other people, it takes time to seek feedback and receive feedback and implement that feedback and go through the whole process again. And all that is even before you’ve thought about actually publishing the thing. Then you have copyediting, and proofreading, and formatting, and cover design, and promotion, and …
Sometimes we can lose our patience. Sometimes we can look around at where we’ve got to in our publishing journey and realise it’s pretty much where we were this time last year. And it’s not surprising we can feel discouraged by that. But that’s how writing is. That’s how life is. And in reality, we’re never in exactly the same place we were last year, because we can’t help but learn stuff in the meantime. Even if it’s simply that everything takes time.
2. … and people travel at different speeds.
When I started sharing my writing with other authors, several years ago now, it felt like we were all in the same boat. We were all taking that first terrifying step from I write for fun and my own amusement to I’m serious enough about this writing malarkey that I’m willing to let other people see what I’ve been doing. And we gave each other encouragement, and constructive criticism, and learned how to grow a thicker skin so that when someone ripped apart our best scene we only wanted to cry instead of, you know, actually crying.
After a couple of years, many of those authors began to move on. They found publishers, large or small. They found agents. They decided to go it alone and self-publish. And I increasingly felt as if I’d been left behind. I hadn’t even finished a book I was happy with, yet, and here were my fellow writers putting themselves out there, gaining successes, making themselves known. I started to suspect that I was stuck in the infinite loop of never good enough. That I would never have the confidence in my work that would allow me to embark on the process of submitting in earnest, or make the decision to self-publish; that every time one of my tentative steps forward was met with a rejection, however minor, it would knock me right back to square one. Sometimes we are our own worst critics.
What I should have remembered, of course, is that people travel at different speeds. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to be ready to move on to the next stage of your journey. Someone who’s reached their goal much faster than you hasn’t reached it any better, only differently. It’s your journey. Travel at the speed you find most comfortable.
3. You only need a single open door.
While I was waiting to hear back from my Voyager submission, I didn’t submit Darkhaven to any other publishers; though they’d only asked for a few months’ exclusivity, it didn’t feel right. But I did enter a few pitching contests – the kind where you’re competing with other authors for agents’ attention. I figured that whatever happened with Voyager, finding the right agent in the meantime could only be a good thing.
I didn’t get very far.
Maybe I suck at pitching. Maybe what I had to offer just wasn’t what the agents or the contest organisers were looking for that day. Or maybe, more to the point, every person you approach is only that. One person. And unless you want to get stuck in that never good enough loop, it’s not wise to believe that a single rejection means you don’t have what it takes. Some authors are accepted by the very first agent or publisher they approach. Some authors make fifty attempts before they get their yes. It doesn’t matter. Of all the doors you try in your quest for publication, only one of them has to be unlocked. Because you only need a single open door to make the doors that didn't open irrelevant.
4. You just need to decide what works for you.
After I’d been contacted by Voyager, but before I signed the contract and announced the news, it seemed as if all I saw online were articles about why traditional publishing is dead and self-publishing is the only way to go. Or why ebooks aren’t real books and paper books will always be better. Which wasn’t the most encouraging set of messages for someone about to sign a digital-first deal with one of the Big 5. And so, as always, I began to doubt myself and my choices.
But in the end, I knew this was the right thing for me. I’ve always planned to seek placement with a traditional publisher, if possible. I’ve weighed up the various pros and cons, but I’ve come down each time on the side of experience and support and, yes, validation from the people who publish some of my favourite fantasy authors. Their approval gets me out of the infinite loop, and that's what I need. As for digital first … well, given that I buy 90% of my books as ebooks these days, I can’t claim to be so attached to print that only print will do. I believe that ebooks are the future, and though I’d love to see my work in print, I’d be a hypocrite if I clung to that in the face of my own changed reading habits.
So, you know, this works. For me. And that’s the point. Everyone is different. You just need to decide what works for you, because there’s still room for more than one model out there in the publishing world.
5. Sometimes the universe gives you a gift.
I got the email from Voyager the day before my birthday. In preview I could only see the first line, the one that said “Thank you for sending your submission …” Well, I thought, here it is. After all these months, here comes the rejection.
I opened it. They’d really enjoyed the book and they wanted to talk to me. And so that’s how it was that I ended up having The Talk with a Harper Voyager editor on my birthday.
Sometimes you’re unlucky. Sometimes you work hard and do everything right, and it doesn’t work out. Sometimes things won’t fall into place no matter how hard you try. But sometimes the universe gives you a gift. And when that happens, all you can do is be thankful for it.