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

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