Thursday, May 19, 2016

Things I Didn't Know on My Way to Publication

I wrote my very first book in the year 2000. I had never written anything before other than ad copy for fashion layouts. My spring chicken days had already sprung, and I was a few years away from the age when many people retire. I wrote the book because I read one I thought was terrible. I challenged myself to do a better job almost as a lark, never expecting I’d complete a novel or that writing would become my fourth career.

I thought my story was good, but I knew enough to realize that my technical knowledge, the nuts and bolts of writing, was severely lacking. I sent the book to an editor I found online. His credentials said he’d written forty-two books, and he had, as a ghostwriter for some famous people. His wife was his editor, and she also edited my pages. I got two for the price of one, and they were great. His first email to me after reading the first forty-nine pages of my manuscript was: The story is fantastic; the writing needs work. I was filled with mixed emotions.

So I have the beginnings of a good story, but I can’t write worth … well, you know. The edit they sent me was a primer on not only how to write a novel but how to write. Comments on sentence structure, passive voice, repetition, telling not showing, and backstory filled the margins. They edited that book three times, all for the quoted price. I hired them for three books in total and learned more each time.

Meanwhile, I kept writing my stories, getting older.

After the third edit, I felt like that first book was as good as it could be, so I did what all writers do with dreams of publication: I searched for an agent. And searched. And wrote query letters. Collected rejections, which for some reason I still have.

Back then, a lot of querying was done by post with a self-addressed stamped envelope for their response. Then it changed to email. That made it a lot easier for writers, but it also made it easier for agents to send an automated rejection form or for them to ignore you completely. This went on for six or seven years.

Meanwhile, I kept writing my stories, getting older.

Then a friend called me and told me a writing group called Sisters in Crime was meeting in a city about twenty-five miles from my home.

I went, sat, and listened. Can’t remember if I said anything, but knowing me I probably did. I went again the next month, and two writers, Ellis Vidler and Linda Lovely, asked me if I wanted to critique with them. I was beside myself thrilled. They were real pros and taught me so much, especially the one thing that my editor didn't know because he wrote non-fiction: point of view. In other words, head hopping. I remember Ellis and Linda explaining point of view to me at one of our many lunches. It took me a while to comprehend it. I’m surprised they didn’t give up on me.

I finally got an agent who loved everything I wrote. She sent my manuscripts out to publishers, received more rejections. And more. This went on for a couple of years.

Meanwhile, I kept writing my stories, getting older.

In hindsight, one thing I would do differently is write and pitch a series first. (Who knew?) Mind Games, the first book in my Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, was my third or fourth book. Until that time, I was querying stand-alones, which I believe are harder to sell because there's no follow-up to keep a reader reading or gain author loyalty. Maybe if I were Gillian Flynn or Megan Abbott the story would be different, but of course I’m not.

Impatient, I thought the best way to get published was to write an erotic romance for an ebook publisher. Guess what? It worked.

I wrote three, got all three published writing under a pseudonym, and now have the rights back to all of them. During that time, I saw some writer friends signing contracts, some with small presses, some with the big five—at that time six. Publication date, two years in the future.

Two years is a long time. Have I mentioned that by this time I was old?

So I said the hell with it. If no one wants to publish my books, I’ll do it myself. So that’s what I did. I had learned how to use Photoshop during my third career creating brochures for my business, and my first career was as an illustrator. Surely I could create my own covers. Another learning curve, but I managed to do it. Then with the help of one of my Sisters in Crime mentors, Ellis Vidler, who’s also a dynamite editor, I learned how to format my novels for both ebooks and print. The beauty of that is once you’re ready, Amazon is ready for you. No two-year wait.

Eight suspense novels and three erotic romances later, I’m still here and still writing my stories. I wonder if I’d have been as prolific if I'd gotten a traditional publishing contract. I do know that deadlines and the constant requirement to produce would have made me a nervous wreck. Writing at my own pace, answering only to myself, works for me. By the way, the first book I wrote was one of the last books I published, thirteen years later.

I wrote and rewrote Threads, never feeling it was good enough, until I did.

What other profession lets you to work in your pajamas if you want, without makeup, without the perfect hairdo, and have your dog or cat on your lap? It’s been and still is a great ride.


Polly Iyer is the author of seven novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and three books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, and Backlash. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

46 comments :

  1. Hey, Polly. We've all learned from each other. That's the pleasure of critiquing with friends who aren't afraid to tell you when you're heading off the reservation but also give you the encouragement to keep going. I'm old, too, and still writing.

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    1. We just keep going, don't we? But I'll never forget the help I got from you in the beginning of my journey. Thank you.

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  2. This is my third try to comment. Google doesn't admit to knowing me today.
    I learned from you all too. Good for you, sticking to it. Keep it up! Ellis

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    1. We keep on keeping on, Ellis. I'm eternally grateful. Glad you finally got through with a post.

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  3. Keeping your rejections? You're braver than I am. Congrats on the successes...just keep 'em coming.

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    1. Not sure it's bravery as much as laziness. It would mean cleaning out my office, and I don't have the energy, because, you know, I'm too old. :-)

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  4. Good for you!! There is something freeing about being "mature" and not being as concerned about whether people will think self-publishing means less than working with a publisher. I'm thankful every day. Thanks for sharing your story. Keep writing!! And thank goodness for Sisters in Crime.

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    1. Until the big organizations give equal consideration to self-published writers, not only in awards but on conference panels, we are still step-sisters and brothers. Unfortunately. But it's changing now as many trad published writers are trying their hands in the self-publishing market. Thanks for the comment, Sister.

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  5. Oh, I loved Threads -- and kept it on my bookshelf after reading so I can enjoy it again sometime. Thanks for your sharing your inspiring story, Polly. I look forward to seeing what comes next in the journey!

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    1. Thanks, Christine. That book will always hold a special place for me. It was a continuous learning experience. I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

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  6. Wonderful post, Polly. There are so many things about the mercurial world of publishing that can’t be taught in a classroom and can only be learned by jumping into the fray. Possibly because the landscape is constantly changing. One over-the-top bestseller like Fifty Shades or Gone Girl, and publishers who were looking for A on Wednesday are looking for B on Thursday. You ARE brave. Not so much because of those letters but because you’ve never put blinders on. If one path didn’t work, you stepped back and tried another. I’ve never had the courage to do that.

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    1. I always wondered what I had to lose, VR. I'm basically a realist. I could wait for that magic moment that never comes or I can put my work out there in the hopes that some people might enjoy what I write. I think some people have.

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  7. I am not as patient as you. I gave up trying for an agent after just 3 rejections, and quickly learned to self-pub. I also learned a lot about writing from my editor. I love that guy...

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    1. My efforts go back before self-publishing became a viable way to publish. It was considered what people did who weren't good enough to get a contract. I don't think it's that way anymore. The attitudes toward self-pubbing have changed. Hybrid publishing is getting to be the norm. If I started now, I'd probably do exactly what you did. Well, maybe I'd give it ten rejections. :-)

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  8. I thoroughly enjoyed your post, Polly, and can TOTALLY relate. Having had a NY agent, then a small press, I am very happy now being Independent and, as you said, moving at MY OWN pace! Much thanks for sharing your detailed experience about this. It's important to read for all authors! Oh, and did I mention, time was ticking for me as well? :)

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    1. Thanks, Sarah. I really do wish indies were taken more seriously though. It still stings that I couldn't be on a panel at a conference when I had seven books to my credit, all well-received with lots of reviews, and a newbie could. The difference: indie vs traditional publishing. I'm in it for the long haul, and I'm glad it's changing. Maybe too late for me.

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  9. It takes a lot of courage to persevere, and I'm glad you did! Your stories have an emotional depth that I find gripping. Read this woman's work, everyone!

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    1. Thanks, Maggie. Full exposure: Maggie is one of my critique partners, and she makes every book I write better.

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  10. Great blog, Polly, and knowing your path to writing your tremendous books is wonderful! There's so much to be said for taking control over your own career.
    P.S. You're not ticking away!

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    1. Thanks, Michele. You've done much the same thing with your work, and you've been successful in two genres. Brava.

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  11. Yes, I know what you mean! I'm not willing to wait for a traditional publisher to get any of my books published. I'm too old and too impatient!

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    1. And you've done very well, Morgan. You've carved out your niche and stuck to it. Patience is not a virtue when it comes to publishing. Thanks for commenting.

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  12. You're a wonderful example of perseverance, Polly. This post really hit home because our roads to publication have been similarly fraught with learning curves. I self-published my first novel at age 64 (almost 65) after a run-in with a publisher who sent me a glowing acceptance letter (even with my lack of experience, I knew the story wasn't that good) and a request for $1500 to start down the road of sure success. A second publisher I contacted wanted a like amount to publish my book; marketing would cost more. Fortunately, I didn't have any loose change lying around. (The publisher who sent the glowing letter was later prosecuted for bilking writers out of big bucks with her fraudulent promises of publication and marketing. The second was a vanity publisher.) After those experiences, I searched for organizations that supported writers and found the Colorado Independent Publishers Association and its capable founder, Judith Briles. This lady knows so much about writing and publishing, has published more than thirty of her own books, sold over a million copies of them, and works with some of the biggest names in the industry. She now heads up Author U in the Denver area. Other organizations cater to romance writers, crime writers, and so forth. (Check the Internet.) Bottom line: I learned I couldn't do it alone. It almost always takes mentors, professionals -- a community -- to write and publish a book. With myriads of volumes hitting the cyber shelves annually, it pays in the long run to find the publishing community that works for you. Mentors. Beta readers. Writers groups. Seminars. Freelance editors. Agents. Organizations that guide writers down the road to publication and marketing. That's how it works. Great post, Polly! Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. It's always encouraging to hear from someone who kept at it until it all came together.

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    1. Linda, I remember looking at those vanity publishers. What could go wrong? The money stopped me, of course, so I'm glad I didn't get suckered in. Glad you didn't either. You're right about the learning curve. We try different things to find what works. Along the way, we educate ourselves with the help of others. Yay for you. We'll keep on keeping on.

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  13. Just a stunning journey on the path to success, Polly. A must read for aspiring and indie author alike. Since I'm in the autumn of my life, your story resonates so much with me.

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    1. Jackie, you are one of the savviest writers I know. I wish I had your perseverance when it comes to marketing. You're so good you wear me out just seeing how hard you work. Maybe some of us do get better as we get older. Thanks for allowing me into your group.

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  14. Great post, Polly. You're never too old, or too young, to keep moving forward.

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    1. Thanks, Lynn. You're right. I keep moving forward even if it's a little slower than it used to be.

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  15. Since I have a small blue suitcase full of my rejection letters I must be old too. And lazy. But what we have over the chickens is experience, and patience. Well done, Polly!

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    1. Ha, Susan. That made me smile. Glad to hear someone else keeps the rejections. Keeps me humble. Thanks for stopping by.

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  16. Great post, Polly. Congratulations on all you accomplished. And how great you look doing it! (Not a sexist commment because I'm a fellow femme. ;-) )BTW, I admire your ability to write erotic fiction. I'm so squeamish about it that my couple is going to consummate their relationship BETWEEN books!

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    1. Oh, Ellen, that's funny. I've heard of between the sheets but not between books. I wrote the three erotic romances without having read one. When I judged a contest, I realized I probably didn't write them well. They actually had a story and a plot. :-)

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  17. I couldn't do it without my critique group. It really can make all the difference in the world. You are never to old to do what you dream and if you put the effort in, you can make it happen.

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    1. I agree, Diana. And beta readers. They both leave me wondering how I didn't catch this or that. Good critique partners are bsolutely a must for writers.

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  18. Thanks for the inspiring post, Polly. Skill is certainly a requirement for success, but I think perseverance is even more important. Brava!

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    1. Thanks, Micki. After 200-300 rejections, a writer better have perseverance. Many of them were positive learning experiences. Starting out, we don't know what we don't know. It really is a kick in the head to find out.

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  19. Well done, Polly ... it's nice to hear of an indie author achieving success ... envy, perhaps that too ... but heartfelt huzzah!

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    1. Thanks, Christopher. Success is relative. Just writing a book is a measure of success for anyone. Then there's finding readers. Lots harder.

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  20. Great post Polly! Publishing, writing and story telling is not for the faint of heart :) Congratulations on finding your path to happiness!

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    1. Thanks, Traci. In some ways it's getting easier, some ways harder. But we keep chugging along.

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  21. Fab post, Polly. And congrats on sticking it to...um, sorry, sticking to it :-)

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  22. Fantastic post, Polly. While you know I've enjoyed your books, I'm especially intrigued with your writing space. I even clicked on it to blow it up. You are indeed and interesting woman. xoxo

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  23. What a great post. Until I got to your profile picture - perfect hairdo by the way - this could have been my story. But you don't look nearly as old as I am. LOL

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    1. Thanks, Maryann. All writers have a story. I just started lots later. And with a knee replacement coming up in a month, I feel the years big time.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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