The Road to Publication: A bit about Small Press

On the heels of the 2018 Writer's Digest conference in New York City, I returned home rejuvenated, riding that post-conference high. I had networked, conversed with talented writers (shout out to #5amwritersclub on Twitter!), participated in informative and motivational sessions, and listened to inspiring keynote speakers. Writer's Digest offered a commendable conference and it was 100% worth going [plus a few days in NYC with no kids, yup!]. At this stage in my publishing career I chose to attend mostly business and motivational sessions rather than craft  (though we could always hone craft and I swapped notes with other writers).

I left also feeling a bit meh. Why meh? Because not one session in the dozens offered addressed small press publishing. There was plenty of information on the agent to big publisher route (the dream of many an author) and the indie/self-pub route. But the hybrid in between the two? Nope. Shaking off my self-doubt and negative self-talk (hey, there was a session on that!), I decided why not share a bit more about the small press experience. I've had a wonderful journey with The Wild Rose Press and I've learned in life to turn struggles into opportunities. If I was feeling a bit down, I guarantee there may be others who felt the same way OR don't know that small press is an amazing route for publication.  So here's my take on it! (Keep reading, it's good)

A rainy, gray day in the lowlands of Scotland. A sheep and its buddy. Eventually we'll find our herd if we keep walking.   Fun fact that makes me smile: My first books are historical romances, and my editor at The Wild Rose Press hails from Scotland...and her surname is the descendent of my heroine's name. Ponder that interesting coincidence for a moment!

A rainy, gray day in the lowlands of Scotland. A sheep and its buddy. Eventually we'll find our herd if we keep walking. 

Fun fact that makes me smile: My first books are historical romances, and my editor at The Wild Rose Press hails from Scotland...and her surname is the descendent of my heroine's name. Ponder that interesting coincidence for a moment!

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...oh, wait. Not that. Leave that to Chuck Wendig, one of our keynote speakers. Okay, a long time ago, in years far, far away (circa when I was ahem, 20, uh like twenty years ago)...

I had just written my first two manuscripts. Not knowing much on the biz, I researched and jumped into the querying trenches. Back then, it was mostly by snail mail with a SASE (anyone remember those?). I dabbled in querying agents and directly to editors at publishers (at a time when that was a more common method). Got some rejections, feedback, and a few requests. Ultimately, it went nowhere. Enter my blooming science career, parenting, and on and off writing for a decade. I finished a third manuscript. Did the same, but this time, email was the way to go. I even met with agents at conferences. I honed my craft, took in feedback from agents/critique partners, and filed away more research on the biz. Despite more queries and more requests, that book was still not "there" yet.

On to manuscript #4. Rinse and repeat the above, but at a more intense level. I was wearing my game hat by now. I had skills, was refining my craft, learning, growing. I got so close I could taste the offer! Still after close to 40 rejections (a small number, I know), I grew frustrated. The traditional route of agent to big publisher was not in my stars (yet...there is always a yet, for we don't know our future). I'd gleaned knowledge through the rejections/feedback but was still not capturing the eyes of agents. Yet, in the words of my always-first-to-read beta, "this manuscript was IT!" Yes, she texted that after reading my polished, revised version number 100 (or it felt like it). 

I took a leap and queried two small press publishers. The Wild Rose Press, a publisher with a very good reputation and who has been around for over a decade, said yes! That book, A Hundred Kisses, is now out in print, e-book, and audible/audio book.

What is a small press and what do you get working with one?

I will tell you because I did a lot of web-searching on indie vs. self vs. small press. Even Google searches lead to conflicting definitions.

Small Press highlights:

  1. Direct queries to editors, deleting the middle person (versus finding an agent).

  2. No agent fees/percentages (you get your full percentage of royalties).

  3. You earn royalties on sales, but with some you may receive advances, too. Royalties vary, and as a new author, don't expect a bestseller. Publication and developing readership is a marathon, not a sprint.

  4. Quicker turn-around time on all aspects of publication from query to release date. The Wild Rose Press prides itself on publication within a year from contract date.

  5. Niche markets -- many small presses specialize in and cater to one or a few genres. Those romance readers are dedicated and loyal (and I read a stat somewhere that romance is nearly 35% of the fiction market). The Wild Rose Press started as an e-book/print book publisher for romance, but has now branched out to other fiction genres, and audio book formats.

  6. You build a network of like-minded and cheerleader authors (I've established great relationships with many of the authors at The Wild Rose Press).

  7. Personalized support from the editors ( = TLC!). The Wild Rose Press has writer/promotion forums, weekly author chats (open to public), and makes efforts to meet with the authors at conferences or meetings. No question is too big or too small to your editor.

  8. Cover design, copy-edits, assistance with promotion.

  9. A team of editors and staff that are quick to respond and support you in your publication needs. Okay, this is like #7, but I just had to say it again.

  10. No-up front out of pocket expenses.

  11. Though supportive, be prepared to do a lot of your own marketing and promotion (this is even expected from big publishers, as I've been told). But also be prepared to have a team ready to support you in those efforts.

  12. Numbers of books published per year vary by publisher. The Wild Rose Press has published thousands of books by hundreds of authors in its 12-year span.

Enter manuscript #5. I had spent a year writing a contemporary Women's Fiction book, different from my usual historical romance. I queried the heck out of it with agents. By now, I knew my stuff (disclaimer: we are always learning and improving). I attended conferences and workshops, delved into the Twitter world, read books. I had my A-game. But over 70 rejections later, still nothing. And for the agents that did request it, the feedback was surprisingly vague. As painful as rejection is, getting specific, detailed agent feedback on a full request is gold in your hand! Though it's subjective, I find it to be the best information on what to do with my book: edit it more, change up the plot/characters, or follow my gut and leave it be? After another year of revision and input from countless beta readers and critique partners, I honed that baby the best I could. Feeling a bit defeated and hesitant, I sent it off to my editor at The Wild Rose Press. Though started as a romance publisher, they also publish other fiction genres, including Women's Fiction. I thought, "Why not?"

Guess what? My editor LOVED it. In fact, I need to go work on my first round of edits right now...

They are also publishing the prequel to A Hundred Kisses. So now I have one book published, and two more in contract. I have another manuscript pending decision. And you can guarantee that this fall, I am going to get working on the sequel to A Hundred Kisses, turning that series into a trilogy. My momentum is on...and it happened with a small press. Where do I go from here? I'm not sure. Can any author say where they will be in a few years? Just a few years ago I was in the query trenches. Now, I'm overwhelming satisfied and happy with the support and care I've gotten from my editor and fellow "rose" authors! Right now, I've found my publishing home.

I'd love to hear about your publishing experience.

Best,

Jean

Swept Away by Words: A Hundred Kisses on Audio Book!

It's here! I am ecstatic (yeah, okay that's a bit over the top, but hey I'm excited!) to announce that A Hundred Kisses is now released in audio book format through Amazon Audible and iTunes! Interested in a wee listen? Well, I have that for you: here.

It is my pleasure today to introduce Rosalind Ashford, Voice Actor and narrator of A Hundred Kisses audio book. It's been a surreal experience to have gone from listening to audio books in my car (while writing my own novels) to having my OWN audio book to listen to! It was a joy to delve into this process with Ms. Ashford, and admittedly, I squealed with glee each week when I received the latest chapter to review.

AHundredKisses_w11211_2400 AUDIO cover.jpg

I enjoyed the process and the final product to the production of A Hundred Kisses, so I knew I wanted to invite Ms. Ashford to my blog. She is a Voice Actor and an Audible-Approved narrator and producer, member of both Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) and SAG-AFTRA, the unions for professional performers. Having been my first experience with narration, I picked her brain a bit...

What drew you to this career choice?

I was born and raised in Worcestershire, England and trained in Dramatic Arts—dance, drama and film—in conservatory programs at Madeley College and Keele University, UK. I moved to NY in part to pursue a career in theater, in part to satisfy a strong wanderlust. Whilst I have, since then, performed onstage from Off-Broadway to regional theater and on film and TV, I also detoured into other fields over the years. 

Microphone training and a great deal of valuable voice experience was acquired as a radio presenter, and for a number of years I read Books for the Blind live on the air—great on-the-job training for audio book narration! I have also done many voice-overs and radio commercials for national and international markets.

Author note: How interesting that I live north of Worcester, MA...funny, these things. Also, that my editor at the Wild Rose Press is Scottish and from the Scottish isles and has the last name that was the descending clan name of my heroine, Deirdre. Small world indeed...I love life's little coincidences and overlaps.

Did you need special training to learn various accents?

I received a great grounding in elocution in high school and had training in college, but it really helps to have a good ear for accents and dialects. I listen to people’s speech all the time and file away interesting patterns and dialects in my mind for later use when I’m developing a written character’s “voice.” It’s a fascinating pastime.

What advice do you have for people interested in this type of career?

Audio book narration is so much more than just reading. Many of the best voice actors are also trained stage and/or film actors. It is acting with the voice and requires well-honed technical and performance skills and excellent cold-reading ability, as well as specialized equipment and the knowledge to use it.

I would recommend mastering the basics first: microphone technique, proper breathing, voice control (timbre, pacing, emotion, etc.), plus acting technique, character development and so forth. Narration is the long-distance marathon running of voiceover work so it also requires great breath control and voice stamina. Like an opera singer, a narrator’s voice is his/her instrument and it takes a lot of practice to play it well.

Then, to produce as well as narrate means also becoming proficient at the editing and mastering of computer sound files using proprietary software. In essence, becoming a sound engineer in addition to being a good voice actor! 

Finally, to record anywhere other than in a professional sound studio it is essential to invest in the best sound equipment you can afford. Being able to slowly upgrade to studio-quality equipment in order to record top-notch audio at home has been a game changer for my career.  A few years ago I had the amazing luck of finding an uber-expensive professional sound booth going for a song on Craig’s List (who knew?!) which improved the quality of my audio output a hundred-fold. And oh, what blissful working conditions compared to the hours I’d previously spent stuffed into a tiny, hot and airless foam-clad bedroom closet, affectionately known as my padded cell! 

Wow!

How many books have you narrated? 

I don’t know for sure but it must be scores! I started as an on-air reader and read many books live, so sadly they were not recorded for posterity.  I moved to digital recording in 2006 with a series of educational audio books. I was later hired by Disney to narrate an interactive version of “The Aristocats” and then a re-recording of the BBC classic, “Muzzy in Gondoland” which was heard by a NYC audio book producer who hired me as a studio narrator for online audio books. Now I narrate for Audible Studios, Harper Audio and Brilliance Audio as well as Indie publishers and authors such as you. I currently have 56 books available on Audible/Amazon/iTunes and a very full recording schedule. 

I feel grateful to be a busy, working actor in what is a VERY competitive and difficult business, and to have the ability to work from home—in my bedroom slippers, no less!

((as I also write this post from my desk while in pajamas and with coffee in hand...))

What are your hobbies and interests when you are not narrating?

I still perform onstage but when not learning lines I love to hunt for British antiques to buy and sell, and dabble in interior design. I enjoy gourmet cooking (and eating!) and entertain often. I play golf for exercise, although not very well, and rarely read for pleasure—a sad consequence of reading for a living!

Tell us something unique about you, an experience you've had, or a memorable place you've visited.

I’ve been fortunate in my life to have traveled all over the world, visiting every continent. I’ve listened to dozens of accents and dialects and wish I could master them all!

image1.jpeg

Speed Round!

Favorite book(s)? The one I’m recording on any given day. 

Coffee, tea, or wine? Wine. Definitely, wine!

If you could live anywhere, where would it be? Right where I currently am, which is on top of a mountain in the foothills of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of SC. 

Your work area, messy, tidy, or somewhere in between? Very messy, except inside my sound booth which is pristine.

You have a time travel machine, do you go to the past or future? And where? To a stately home like Downton Abbey (but upstairs not belowstairs) in early 19th century England. 

To learn more about Ms. Ashford, stop by her website or Amazon.

Where can you find A Hundred Kisses?

Amazon Audible

Also available on iTunes.

Amazon Paperback/e-book

Also available as e-book from The Wild Rose Press, Google Play, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo.

If you enjoyed A Hundred Kisses in audio, print, or e-book format, be on the lookout for its prequel, A Hundred Breaths, to be released in the upcoming months!

Looking Beyond the Red

When you are in the throes of querying or submission, rejection can play mind games with you, so I figured why not write a post about rejection this month?

Let’s talk about rejection.

It comes at many levels. 

  • Querying/Submitting manuscripts (short stories, novels/novellas, chapter/picture books, etc.), at agent or editor level,

  • Entering contests (many Twitter-related),

  • Applying for grants/fellowships/writing opportunities,

  • Providing your manuscript to a beta reader or critique partner and they annihilate it,

  • Submitting to jobs related to writing.

  • And many more!

Per Merriam-Webster (one of my favorite websites), the definition of REJECTION is: 

a.    an immune response in which foreign tissue (as of a skin graft or transplanted organ) is attacked by immune system components of the recipient organism

Okay, okay. As a trained immunologist, I was compelled to keep that definition above. But the one I sought is below.

b.   The action of rejecting : the state of being rejected, or something rejected

Digging deeper: reject = to refuse to accept, consider, submit to, take for some purpose, or use. Unwillingness to accept something asked for. And Merriam-Webster even lists the example: “To reject a manuscript.” Ah, there we are.

I do love a good thesaurus, be it a writer's help guide or the regular old kind. Let's check out some synonyms for "rejection." Ouch. How about we toss those words down into that bubbly hot spring, shall we? Even if that beauty is called Morning Glory Pool (Yellowstone National Park) and is an exquisite sight.

Let's toss those synonyms into the depths of Morning Glory hot spring!   Photo by Jean M. Grant

Let's toss those synonyms into the depths of Morning Glory hot spring!

Photo by Jean M. Grant

Moving on to antonyms. Those are a bit more uplifting so instead of letting them sizzle inside a geothermal hot bath, we’ll let them rise on the warm muddy surface of Grand Prismatic Spring (Yellowstone National Park).

Bring on those happier words! And the muddy surface of Grand Prismatic Springs, Yellowstone National Park.   Photo by Jean M. Grant

Bring on those happier words! And the muddy surface of Grand Prismatic Springs, Yellowstone National Park.

Photo by Jean M. Grant

There are some enlightening words in that antonym box. Validation. Acceptance. Approval. Isn't that what we seek as authors? Don't we wish for that magic seal of approval stamped on our shining manuscript after we send it off to an agent or editor/press? Yes, we love our work. Our best friends love our work. Yes, we do write for ourselves. But, we do also write to get published, and we write the reader's enjoyment, too.

Like those hot springs, the surface to publication success is delicate. One wrong step, and down into the hot bubbly abyss you go. But if you can hover on the top, the heat is turned up...and you're okay.

How do we pull ourselves out of the heat and rise up for a warm bath instead? How do we keep our cool?

The road to publication is paved with rejection. Some authors  print all their rejections and line their entire floor’s square footage with it. Stephen King used to tack his rejections to the wall. What do I do? I made a spreadsheet! I even color-coded it:

Yellow: pending response (due to volume of submissions, many agents provide a timeline [sometimes] and say a “no response equals a no”). So when I first query, that entry gets highlighted yellow.

Green: positive response! The agent or editor asked for a partial or full. (insert dances and nervous checking of gmail five times a day!)

Red: where most of the queries end up. Rejection.

A bit blurry, but you get the point. Agent names have been deleted. But here is one of my many spreadsheets I created for each project and the querying status. Agent name, their specifications, turn around/info, date of submission, and response (if any). 

A bit blurry, but you get the point. Agent names have been deleted. But here is one of my many spreadsheets I created for each project and the querying status. Agent name, their specifications, turn around/info, date of submission, and response (if any). 

 

40 rejections. 1 yes. It only took one.

With A Hundred Kisses, I began writing in 2012-2013. After 6 months of writing, 6 months of initial beta feedback and revision, I began the querying process. During this time, I added a lot of red to that spreadsheet. In addition to thickening my skin , I also revised, again and again. I met with agents at conferences. I focused on the feedback that came with some of those rejections. I re-sent to betas. Finally, it was more ready. But instead of sending to agents, I took a leap and submitted to two small romance presses. One said yes. And there is my happy-ever-after, folks! Granted, it was not the traditional agent-editor/publisher path, but I am very happy with it. From start (writing, 2012) to finish (contract, 2016), the process for that book took 4 years. Disclaimer: A Hundred Kisses was my fourth book written. The other 3 hang out in a closet somewhere and are learning experiences in writing and querying.

The red sometimes gets to be too much when you see rows of it glaring at you on the screen. So with my current work I'm querying, I changed it to a pretty lavender instead. That's a bit more soothing. My current work is women's fiction and I'm going the red route again - agent to editor. Given my happy experience with The Wild Rose Press, I'm also about ready to send my editor the prequel to A Hundred Kisses after a bit more revision and beta-reading. And if all goes well (and she says yes!), then I plan to work on a third book to turn those romance books into a trilogy.

So what do I do when rejection gets me down?

  1. Realize rejection is part of the journey

  2. Maybe take a day or two to be sad, eat more ice cream or binge watch The Price is Right or The Walking Dead (those characters can definitely make you feel better about your situation)

  3. If given feedback, glean from it. What did the agent/editor say about my story that is in my control to change? 

  4. Revise more

  5. Query more

  6. Take a break

  7. Write something else

  8. Keep at it

  9. Rinse and repeat the above steps

I'd love to hear from you. How do you organize and deal with rejection? 

Looking past the red,

Jean

The time has come!

18 years…

3 non-published novels (practice, I daresay?)…

Too many hours (thousands?) logged in…

But, I did it.

I love Dr. Seuss. It only seems fitting that I quote him in my first blog post. But it won’t be his coveted “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” …rather it is one of his lesser-known books: “Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now!” The time has come, and the time is now! This book, a favorite of my children when they were younger, is not the usual “you will go big places” book. Or is it? 

It’s a story about a kid that needs to go to bed (or at least leave the room). He needs to get going! I love the trademark Seussical rhythm in it and the hidden message I take from it…will you please go now? Get on with it! Go for it. Just go. No excuses. I don’t care how you get there. In fact, the time had come, so he [Marvin] went. Perhaps he needed a fire lit under his bottom to get moving. Be it by foot, cow, skates, Zumble-Zay, Bumble-Boat, or by a Ga-Zoom…he finally went, and he went with a smile. That’s how I feel about my writing journey. If you dream to write and publish, it doesn’t matter how you get there. Just go. And go now. Do what it takes to get there and it may not be the way you expected, or it could be the simplest of ways (Marvin went on foot).

I’ve been writing on and off for over 18 years. With three practice novels under my belt (each one improved over the previous), number four was the magic number for me. Not that I didn’t try with the others, but perhaps my writing has matured or it just wasn’t my time yet. While venturing through college and graduate school, a career, marriage, and having children…I have spent much of those years also honing my craft, attending writing conferences and groups, filling my bookshelf with writing and grammar books, researching my fictional worlds, sending queries and manuscripts off to agents and publishers…and never giving up. 

As a part-time working mom, full-time advocate for my children, and as a woman who takes on way too many tasks, how do I find time to write? If you love it, you can do it and make time for it. Like the mom who gets up at 4 a.m. so she can run daily to prepare for a big race before she has to go off to work, I carve out time in my day for writing. I definitely have days that I can spend focused, uninterrupted hours on the computer writing (and editing and researching and promoting). However, sometimes I can’t. I write at my dining room table, at the kitchen island, on the couch, at my desk…but I also write in the car, in the shower, and at the gym. In those later cases, if my time is short, I stop at the first moment (disclaimer: always wait until your car is parked at your destination!) and I jot down my ideas. I send an email to myself for later. You don’t want to lose that fleeting moment of ah-ha. You’ll be kicking yourself later. I’ve even toted some manuscript-in-progress pages on my hike up Mt. Washington so I had some reading material (with red pen in hand) while we camped in the Lakes of the Clouds hut at the top. Talk about an inspiring view! No showers and no technology, but I had my deck of cards, a notebook, and some pages to edit. If I know I’ll have some down time, I bring my work (or a book or research material) with me. Nooks and crannies are your friend as a writer. And when I am not writing, I am reading. Books on CD are my constant car companion.

My little story aside, what can you expect to read in this blog? It won’t be your straightforward author’s blog, although I will do plenty of sharing about writing and my works in progress. Plus, I'll chat about some of my favorite topics (be it Scotland, the romance genre, volcanoes [stay tuned on that one!], time travel, or autism). Just call me a Renaissance woman. It’s also not a mommy blog, but my children do inspire me, and this is a great platform to also share about certain challenges they face. The beautiful world around us arouses my daydreaming and serves well as my muse – I love to travel, hike, and take whatever mother nature (and human nature) has to offer, so you will certainly be reading about that. I welcome you to my blog! My hope is that I can share my experiences and expertise with you, so that you can get out the door as well (or just get out of bed). We can all be like Marvin and get on our way.

I never stop creating. Inspiration is everywhere. So don’t stop! Get on your way. Today could be your day.

One of my many bookshelves.

One of my many bookshelves.