by K. Maze
The alternate title for this post could have been "How I Found My Publisher Through Rejection."
In 2015 I wrote a YA Thriller focused around the kidnapping of teen characters involved in the theater. I researched thoroughly, interviewed detectives, and hired an editor who helped me through to the end. I queried and waited and heard…. Crickets.
Kind editors and agents responded with honest feedback or simply said it wasn’t for them. I analyzed and discovered ways to ‘fix’ the novel: rewrite the first five pages, fix weak plot holes, revise characters to enhance the premise and elevate the intrigue. But I couldn’t.
Completing the novel got me across the finish line, but it didn’t mean my novel was done. For over a year, I had spent my writing mojo in some very dark territory and I didn’t have the motivation to dig into it more. The only shelf that manuscript would sit on is in my closet.
But I couldn’t give up on writing, right?
1. Write the Book You Want to Read.. The market will be there when you write to your authentic self.
I wanted to take a break, but I feared I would slip out of my hard earned writing habits, so I paused and played with stories for a few weeks instead. I took the “What if…?” to extremes and created crazy characters I could toss into impossible missions.
My original novel had taken over a year to write. I wanted to learn how to craft compelling story structure and character arcs, and decided to use shorter works for these lessons.
2. Be Willing to Take Risks and Try Something Different. Short stories are good testing grounds for experimenting with genre and style.
My research on strong young heroines led me to Sex in the City. During some What-if story gymnastics, a character a lot like Carrie Bradshaw saved the world from imminent doom.
Apparently going from dark thriller to dystopian end-of-the-world was all the lightening up I needed to recapture my inspiration!
That What-if became the catalyst for IMPACT, where a young journalist in the near future grappled with an incoming asteroid that dared to interfere with her career. After writing and editing the novella, I discovered that sci-fi novellas have a very active market. In other words, this new story had a higher chance for publication.
3. Find the Market that Represents Your Work.
Rather than "writing to the market," find the market that fits your work’s strong points and sell to those unique strengths. My book passes the Bechdel Test, but is also a less common combination of sci-fi and light romance.
NOTE: The usual criteria of the Bechdel Test are (1) that at least two women are featured, (2) that these women talk to each other, and (3) that they discuss something other than a man.
I found nearly twenty avenues for my story, reviewed their guidelines and story samples and crafted query letters highlighting the aspects of my book that matched their request.
Over the next six months, rejections trickled in. But in the fall of 2018, I received a rejection that included an offer -- to forward my work to another editor. That editor was closed to submissions but she absolutely published speculative short fiction, including sci-fi, with strong character driven plots featuring strong female protagonists. (Similar to mine!)
In January of 2019, that editor made me an offer. Once the news sank in, I sent celebratory messages to my writer friends and got a lawyer to look over the contract.
Sometimes success looks completely different from your original plan. Perseverance and research helped me achieve this dream, but so did the following:
What encouragement would you send to your early writer self? What was your route into the publishing world? Are you still knocking on doors? Tell us your tips and advice below so we can build up our writing community!
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Kris Maze has worked in education for 25 years and writes for various publications including Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish and Writers in the Storm. Her first YA Science fiction book, IMPACT, arrives in June 2020 and is published through Aurelia Leo.
A recovering grammarian and hopeless wanderer, Kris enjoys reading, playing violin and piano, and spending time outdoors with her fur babies and family. She also ponders the wisdom of Bob Ross.
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Trapped underground with a mysterious scientist named Edison and his chess master AI, can Nala Nightingale find the will to live and to love in a dystopian future?
To find out more about IMPACT, click here.
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I love that you persevered and ended up exactly where you needed to be This is a great lesson for debut authors.
Thank you, Jenny. Having a great team of writers around is part of the support system too!
Thank you, Kris! Your story is inspiring. My current WIP is being edited as we speak so it came at a good time for me. Glad you stuck with it -- but what happened to the first story? Another blog essay?
Hi James, my first manuscript is resting. I'm continuing to focus on shorter works, but perhaps there will be a future post about how to revise a broken novel.
Congratulations on finishing and editing yours! Its quite a feat.
I wish youd write a little more about tips and tricks to Research the market to find the best fit for my work. I saw twitter feed on this the other day about selecting top ten books on amazon in your genre and seeing the trending title options but that person was talking about finding trends. Not sure if researching the market is equivalent to finding trends in your genre? I guess everything adds up. Great article.
That's a great suggestion and I can go into more of that process in a future post. My selection started with digging through contests and literary mags open for submissions.
I used mostly Submittable for my key research, but that site has a lot of markets for shorter fiction. Typing in specific key words like 'speculative' 'scifi' and 'novella' helped me find my market.
This may add to your marketing ideas, but check Submittable often as they update with new deadlines daily.
I think that's a great suggestion too, Jeanne! Figuring out where to send your manuscript is a huge part of the submission work.
Congrats on getting a publisher. Persistence pays!
I'm a big proponent of "Write what you want to read." All of my books and stories have grown out of that philosophy. It's why I started writing in the first place. If you try to force it and write what you think will sell instead of what you feel inspired to write, it will never be your best work.
Very true, Bob. As I wrote my story I pulled from past influences of O'Henry short stories and my childhood immersion into B-rate Friday night movies.
It was unexpected fun for me to write in a different genre and it energized my writing for sure.
Anything that energizes the writing is aces in my book. The reader notices when we're just going through the motions.
Know which advice to follow and which to not. (sometimes, people will give negative feedback based on jealously)
Write, write, write.
Learn to face the fear of rejection and see it as an opportunity elsewhere. (still working on this one)
Those are really good lessons, Denise. And most of them are wicked hard!
Your statement, 'Rather than "writing to the market," find the market that fits your work’s strong points and sell to those unique strengths.' really hit home for me. I recently had a discussion with a group of writers about writing to the market or writing what you love. Some are really insistent about writing to the market. I think you are headed in the best direction.
Thanks, Ellen. I can say that my writing easier (to write and for readers) when I write what is interesting to me.
Kris so proud of you. You forgot one point- Your tribe! Your group! We always believed in you. You have that weird writer's twinkle in your eye. (or could be a cataract- you might want to get that checked out). From the first time I met you, I knew you have this energy about you- even when it was just asking for me directions to a day of the dead celebration. I knew there was something different about you! Be Brilliant!