Originally published 9.8.14
I promise this won't become a blog on writing and the business of writing but I've had several people ask (and promised Nick I would post this today) so I wanted to share my journey.
First of all thanks to everyone who has asked, I'm honored, but I don't know much; I encourage you to check out the following links if you're serious about writing or self-publishing because these people know what they're doing. Fair warning, the guys at the “Self Publishing Podcast” are crass so if you don't want to hear the f-bomb dropped each show and innuendos about male appendages... don't go there. With that said, they have a respectable marketing and publishing strategy and several shows that may be well worth the listen.
http://www.thecreativepenn.com/ → This is Joanna Penn's site, LOTS of great info here for self-publishing.
http://www.norulesjustwrite.com/ → CJ Lyons is awesome (haven't personally explored this site like Joanna's but I've heard her interviews and she's pretty inspirational)
http://selfpublishingpodcast.com/podcasts/ → Johnny, Sean and Dave (like I know them well enough to call them by first names, but that's what they go by on the show)
http://rockingselfpublishing.com/ → Simon's interviews are probably my favorite because he's good at keeping on task and for ADD me that's just what I need.
Follow those links to great tips on, not only, how to write but how to self-publish.
Another fair warning... this will be long, if you don't want to read all the little bits about me... skip to the very bottom of this post and that's where the part about how I got my publisher, Booktrope, is. The top and bottom of this post are all you need to read if you're looking for writing/publishing information. If you want to know more about my journey read the whole thing. I'll try to keep it entertaining and witty so you don't fall asleep. Here's my story ... :)
It begins with a love of reading. I don't think I would care about writing if I didn't love to read. My parents divorced when I was very young and I had a tough life as a kid. Books were my rescue. My parents made plenty of mistakes but they both modeled one thing exceptionally well; they LOVED to read. I would consider both of my parents voracious readers to this day. Whether I was visiting my mom or being tucked in by my dad I can go back as far into my mind as possible and remember each of them reading to me. I learned about magical worlds like Narnia, thanks to C.S. Lewis and my mom's reading of them. My dad read strange and comical stories, like “The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy” series from Douglas Adams and Eoin Colfer and tried not to die laughing in the process. Reading was fun, it was special, it was safe, and safety for me was much needed back then. Books were safe, so I learned to love them.
The first book I remember reading by myself was a Little Golden Book about firefighters. I can't remember the name of it but I asked my dad and step-mom to read it to me over and over until I had it memorized. They pointed to the words and I learned to associate words with their letter combinations. I don't know if you can call it “reading” but I recognized basic words from that book in other books well before I started school. The best thing about books was that they took me away. When a book was being read the world stood still and a new one came into existence. Books were magic!
I noticed something else; when people read they didn't talk, they didn't get distracted, they focused on the words, the stories, the information. And there were words for everything and they had purpose and were respected and made things happen. I learned that best when I attempted a letter about a very serious subject. I'm not sure how old I was but I was dissatisfied with my home life and wanted to run away. I figured it would be rude to leave without notice so I put it in words. I suspect that I wasn't even in second grade at the time and there was a word I needed help spelling, so, I took it to my dad. Of course you can imagine that a letter about wanting to run away didn't go over too well. My dad helped me spell the word but then also talked to me about why I wanted to run away. We worked things out and I decided to stay but I learned something that day… Words were powerful!
I grew a little and started making up my own stories. They weren't for school work, nor to convey important information like running away, they were simply for pleasure and escape and entertainment. The first story was about an army brat in Vietnam who became a POW. I was in sixth or seventh grade and somehow a boy named Jason found out about it. He was my first real audience, maybe my first real muse. All of a sudden I didn't write just because there was a story in my head but because there was someone waiting to know what happened next. There was never anything between us but that story. I wrote pages or chapters feverishly and passed them off during class for him to read. He returned the spiral notebook to me when he was done reading and I wrote him more. I loved pulling the ideas out of my head and putting them on paper but even more than that... I loved having an audience. Someone cared about something I did. He was interested, not in me, but in the world I invented and that was good enough. Every time he returned it to me it was like affirmation that I was listened to and I was wanted for something. And every time he gave it back, I wanted to entertain him with more. Eventually, I wrote myself into a corner... it was my first book, what did I know about pacing and plotting and planning? Sadly, the magic faded and it was over but I loved him for reading. Thinking back I don't know why he read the story, or if he read it. I can't remember him praising or critiquing it either. All I remember is Jason willing to take my words and make them a part of himself. Words gave me purpose.
And then life got in the way. High school, addictions, boyfriends, parties, babies, special needs, getting saved, straightening up, growing up, becoming an adult, a wife, a mom a woman. I got stupid and forgot to care about anything but getting high. Then I found Jesus and got busy trying to redeem my past, prove I was better, and be everything everyone wanted me to be. I forgot how to dream big. Years passed between the story I wrote for Jason and the next time inspiration hit me. During the interim I still wrote: journal entries, prayers, letters of encouragement... and discouragement that got me into quite a lot of trouble but I still wrote. It was part of me I was just too busy to realize how much a part.
Then one day inspiration struck again. My hubs rented a chick flick to score points... boy did it work! It was “PS I Love You” with Hilary Swank, Gerard Butler and Kathy Bates and it moved me. It stirred up feelings inside me and it thrilled me and, as any good storyteller might do, I tried to work out the kinks in the story, not that there were many. It was such a emotional story that I didn't want to let it go. The only way I knew how to keep it alive was reinvent it. And so “Letting Go” was born. It was the first novel idea I ever really had. It is good, with a twist at the end that grabs you unexpectedly and shakes you up the way “The Sixth Sense” did. It is about 1/3 of the way written, I need an experience I have yet to achieve before I can finish it.
Around that time I shared my life story and excitement about writing with my friend Joy, who will always be precious to me because she encouraged me to write my own story. She wanted to know how I had arrived at the place I was in life. Since I was stuck on “Letting Go” I decided to give her the story of my life. Again, I had an audience. I fictionalized it and worked on it for nine months before the first, and only draft, was finished. During that time some of the worst experiences that have ever happened to me and to our family occurred. We lost beloved pets due to unforeseen events, one dog died in my arms. We lost foster children, one of which we've never seen again. We questioned the very fabric of our marriage, our family and our faith. Through it all I kept writing until, at last, the fictional story of my life was in words. Then I was ready to pass it off the way I had with Jason before.
It was horrible. My words, my story, my very being was held to the fire and I was burned up. Apparently who I was in my past, what I did, and how I was saved is something the world never needs to know. For reasons I can't share those words, those 200+ pages that I wrote through some of the most tragic times of my life, were destroyed. My story will never see light of day but the work was done and I will always love Joy for her encouragement to write it out. In the end I did what so many want to do but never get around to, I wrote a book. It was a story I knew well but it was out of my head and on paper from start to finish. I was a writer and I had written!
The very act of disciplining myself to write the story for her, day in and day out no matter what I was facing, no matter how early I had to get up to make the time to write, no matter what... the act of making myself write until it was finished made me a writer. The fact that the words are gone is of little consequence, doing it made me believe I could do it again. I could tell stories that were capable of getting highly charged emotional responses. I was a writer, a storyteller and a dreamer once again.
Suddenly my mind flooded with ideas and stories that I had to get out. What I realized is others in my family dreamed lofty dreams of writing too but they had never done what I had done, they never finished. I finished! That is the trick, that's the best and only advice I have. Write until the story is finished. I never finished the POW book, I never finished “Letting Go.” I finished my book (which I named Eggshells before I destroyed it) and it was the one that changed everything. Words have power but finished stories change the world (or at least they changed my world).
From that moment on I spent my free time dreaming up story ideas. I have dozens of ideas but for me the trick is not to write them all but to write one well and only one until it is finished. Wouldn't you know it, the first book I decided to write is one of the most complicated stories ideas I have. It is a series based off of my obsession with the number eleven, dejavu, sex and religion. I wrote it until the first book was done and then things changed for me again.
I was prepared to continue on the series but I started working with high-risk youth at the Wenatchee Valley Tech Center and November was coming up. I'm pretty sure almost every writer knows what's so special about November... it's NANOWRIMO, National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to tell a story of 50,000 words in the 30 days of the month. For me the added challenge is to tell a complete story. I had done a half NANOWRIMO the year before. That book, “Scandalous Affair” is one of the steamiest stories I have written. I knew I could do it but I wanted to use the challenge to show the students how to collaborate and recruited them to give me ideas for the story. I wanted to show them how to plan and plot for writing assignments. I wanted to teach them to press on even when things seem so big they're as much as impossible. Most of all I wanted to give them a voice, I wanted to change the world for them, to let them know people would hear of struggles like the kinds they face. You can't imagine the pain and abuse some of those kids dealt with on a daily basis. I knew I couldn't use their unique stories, or mine, but I could create a world where the struggles would be similar. I wanted them to have power, I used my words to give them a voice. They inspired me and I wrote for them and together we created “Waiting on Justin.” I had an idea to try and publish it but wanted to get back to my “Eleven” series first so I sort of left the story alone, like “Letting Go” only at least “Waiting on Justin” was finished.
A few months later I had an opportunity to take a job making a considerable amount of money more than my job with the students. It broke my heart to leave them, but I did it. I felt terrible, it felt wrong and I still carry so much guilt about leaving them for more money. I am blessed that many of them still love me and visit me or at least stay in touch via FaceBook and InstaGram. I am honored to call a select few friends, and quite a few “adopted” children. There is one that I will love forever because, like Jason and Joy, he encouraged me, inspired me and asked me the question that changed the entire direction of my life. You see I loved working with the kids, I loved making a difference in their lives, letting them know they mattered and they were loved. I loved being irreplaceable in their minds, because I know many of them will always remember me... but it wasn't enough. My family needed the money we had bills we couldn't cover and things slipping through the cracks and the new job was an opportunity of a lifetime for my family. I was torn between the love and responsibility I felt for my own and the love I had for the students. My family won out, money won out, but the students knew I felt guilty. I apologized for leaving and this blue-eyed kid looked me straight in the eye and asked me what I wanted to do... not what my family wanted, not what the students wanted... what did I want to do? As any person with ADD would do I said the first thing that popped into my head. I said what I was “supposed” to say, I told him I wanted to stay but I had to leave to help support my family. But the question haunted me, “What do you want to do?” I couldn't shake it because I lied to him. I lied to everyone. I didn't want to be with the kids, I didn't want the money either. I wanted to write. I was a writer ... I needed to write.
If you're looking for the end here it is:
Once I answered the question truthfully everything changed. I still dreamed big dreams and made comments about “someday” being a published author but I also put a plan in action. I did things to make the dream come true. I researched querying for agents, figuring out what slush piles were and why I never wanted my MS (manuscript) to land at the bottom of one. I wrote query letters for “The Eleven Lives of Evelynne” and made a strategic decision after enough rejections to switch my focus to getting “Waiting on Justin” published. There were several reasons, the first being it can be a 'stand-alone' book meaning the reader can read it and be done with the story and feel satisfied. There are no cliff hangers but it can be serialized. I figured it would be easier to get one book picked up than a series (several of the rejection letters from agents helped me make that decision btw). I finished my first “edited” draft of “Waiting on Justin” earlier this year and prepared to write the query letter for it. About that time the “Write on the River” Conference was being held in Wenatchee (http://writeontheriver.org/). (I HIGHLY recommend anyone interested in becoming a writer attend conferences they are awesome!) I had little hope of getting picked up by an agent and upon hearing about the profits coming out of the self-publishing market I figured I would try my hand at self-publishing so I signed up for as many classes on self-publishing as I could, but because they had agents and a publisher there I signed up for interviews as well.
It felt right in my heart and in my soul. I had focus, I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life and I felt certain God wanted me to use the talents He put in me. I live in constant fear of sounding or acting crazy so I was afraid to tell too many people that I “felt” like something was going to come from the conference, but I really, truly felt like something was going to happen. I told a co-worker that I felt pregnant with my idea to write for a long time but now it was like I was in labor. I looked at every “sign” every thing that happened that seemed like it could be a supernatural clue that something big was going to happen but I told myself to be realistic too. God helps those who are doing something so I determined to do something. I would go to the conference, learn what I needed to learn and self-publish. That was my focus the day of the conference. I was nervous about the interviews with the agent and Booktrope, the publisher but I didn't let it get to me too much. I did my interview with the agent and I could tell he was somewhat interested in my writing. Then came the interview with Booktrope. I shared the basic idea for “Waiting on Justin” and the story behind it. She liked it and gave me an email to contact. I did and followed the Booktrope steps and by the end of July was signed into a contract for both “Waiting on Justin” and “The Eleven Lives of Evelynne” with the idea that they would be happy to entertain my other work in the future as well.
That's it... that's all I got. I can't tell you how it is to work with an old school publisher or agent because I have no agent and Booktrope is a hybrid publisher which means they allow authors to have a significantly larger amount of say in the publishing of their work than the bigger legend publishing houses. I can't even speak much to what it's like to work with a hybrid publisher like Booktrope (http://booktrope.com) because I'm at the beginning of the process with my first book and “Waiting on Justin” is still in its editing phase while the graphic artist, Shari Ryan, (http://www.authorneeds.com or http://sharijryan.com) is working on the cover design. What I can say is my book manager, Heather Huffman, is awesome, she is a writer herself so she understands the process from both the business and writing side, and keeps me on a good schedule, which I need. Check her out if you're so inclined: http://www.heatherhuffman.net
Hope that helped you out or at least pointed you in the direction you want to go. I'll end with this... it's my favorite writer quote even though I don't know who it came from...
A writer writes
If you want to be a writer,