I started off today in a quandary about the next step in my writing and publishing journey. If I continue to throw myself into making a go of indie publishing, then I need to come out with another book soon. I have another book, Jordan’s Shadow, almost ready. Jordan’s Shadow is a creepy YA gothic suspense novel. (If you want to read the beginning of it, see the form over on the right side of the page.) The manuscript is in the hands of Beta readers and hopefully the changes I’ll need to make based on their reading won’t take long.
But…around the end of 2013, I submitted a proposal for Jordan’s Shadow to a small press that I thought would be the perfect fit for it. They liked the proposal and requested the full manuscript—a great sign. I sent them the full manuscript on January 2 and was warned that it could take them one to two years to make a decision. One to two years!
I had also sent a query letter to another small press about Jordan’s Shadow. Now, a query is the very first step in the publishing process—just a letter asking for permission to submit a proposal—and then you hope after that they will request the full manuscript. It took this press five months to respond to my query. It was a very nice response, expressing interest and asking for a proposal. But five months to respond to a letter! Based on that, I would assume it will take them eight or nine months to respond to a proposal. And if they ask for the manuscript? Good grief, probably another year or two.
Actually, none of this surprises me, since I’ve spent several decades playing this game. I thought I’d given it up. Still, it’s awfully hard to just say no to a traditional publisher that’s considering your work. I’ve been out there on my own for a few months now—footing the bill all by myself, marketing all by myself. The idea of having someone else take some of that burden off my shoulders is absolutely delicious.
As I’ve been racking my brain about which direction to go from here with my writing—throw myself completely into indie publishing and get to work on Jordan’s Shadow, or sit back and wait once again on my personal Holy Grail, the traditional publishing contract—I ended up reading two different articles in which writers talk about success and failure.
Balow maintained that your successes will ultimately determine your writing path, not the plans you make for yourself. Rowling seemed to be saying the opposite—that your failures can be the most important, and ultimately most beneficial, parts of your life.
I honestly think, though, that both authors are getting at the same thing. Rowling said, “Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged.” (Writing novels, fortunately for us!) Failure, she said, was important because it was a “stripping away of the inessential.” She was no longer wasting time on what didn’t matter, because she had failed at those things and had to leave them behind, anyway.
Balow says, “your future is determined more by your successes than by your plans…Across all of the arts, there are actors, authors, singers, comedians, painters and composers who at one point early in their lives had dreams that were much wider or at least different than what they are currently experiencing, but their success in a certain arena has determined their future.”
In agonizing over the next step in my writing career, I asked my online marketing group for advice. One of them told me to ask myself what I really want from my writing—which is funny, because when I spoke to a creative writing class recently, I told them the same thing. I still think it’s good advice. However, as Balow says, we need to “avoid over-thinking and over-planning. Especially for Christian authors, there is the underlying power of God who often makes no logical sense to us as to what He is doing, at least until we can see what His purpose really is.”
I can worry over a decision until my head aches—which it currently is—but ultimately, God will determine the outcome anyway.
The Author’s Writing Process and the Discovery of New Books
May 26, 2014 Stop
When Lorilyn Roberts asked if I’d be interested in following her on the World Book Blog Tour, I was intrigued. Here’s how it works. Writers all around the world are asked the same questions about their writing process–if they’re invited by one of the authors who have already posted. And then the next author invites authors to follow them, and so on, and so on.
Just think of this tour of writers snaking around the world, through so many different places, and involving so many different kinds of writers! I’m so honored to be a part of that.
I’m Robin Johns Grant. If I look tired and stressed when you see me (or my pictures!), it’s because I’m a little overwhelmed with a full-time job as a college librarian, marketing my first published novel (Summer’s Winter), trying to get the next one ready to publish and and write the sequel of Summer’s Winter. And trying to do all that and still give time to God, and take care of my elderly mom and my husband, and all the rescue animals…whew. Just thinking of all that, I may need to take a quick break before I can go on.
Okay, I’m back. Deep breath…here we go!
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON?
I recently completed a draft of a creepy YA supernatural suspense called Jordan’s Shadow. I, of course, think it’s perfect, but it’s in the hands of Beta readers right now and they will probably think a little bit differently. I’m also planning out the sequel to Summer’s Winter.
HOW DOES YOUR WRITING PROCESS WORK?
I hate to admit it, but my “process” is messy and disorganized, and it’s also changing and evolving.
I’ve been writing full-length novels since I was 16, and I started trying to land a publishing contract when I was 18. For decades, my process was to write for a few minutes here and there on whatever story interested me. If I stayed interested, I would have a novel manuscript–possibly years later! And of course, there are a few unfinished bad ideas in a drawer, or on my hard drive.
When I actually had a manuscript finished, I started trying to find a publisher–or an agent–who would love it. I often discovered that agents and editors liked my writing or my premise but thought the manuscript needed some sort of change to make it fit the market, so then I would start rewriting, trying to force my square peg into a round hole.
The only thing this accomplished was stressing me out, causing me not to enjoy my writing, and causing no one else to enjoy my writing–which had become a confused mess of other folks’ ideas.
So finally, I decided to go indie. For Summer’s Winter, I had a wonderful professional editor who truly helped me make the story what I wanted it to be. However, after discovering how much indie authors like myself make, I probably won’t be able to do this again. That’s why Jordan’s Shadow is with Beta readers.
So now, as an indie writer, I am writing for myself and for readers’ enjoyment, rather than for a specific market, or trying to hit what a publisher or an agent will like.
At the start, I usually have characters in mind, not a story. I sit down and just start playing pretend. What if this thing happened to this character? How would that affect the other character? What would they do? If the idea gives me a little shiver and sounds interesting to me (which usually means creepy, mysterious, weird, or sometimes romantic), I try to fit it into a linear plot. (If I zone out and sit at the traffic light a bit too long after it’s turned green, I’m probably plotting. In a good way.)
When I get stuck and am just sitting and staring at my notes, I start doing research. Or something even more informal–just reading nonfiction about something related. For example, for the Summer’s Winter sequel, I’m reading a book written by a skip tracer about how people can “disappear.” Yep, hiding in plain sight will be important for someone in the sequel, and as I read this kind of background info, it gives me ideas and fires my imagination so I can go back to my story outline.
When I have a rough outline, I start writing actual scenes. Even though I have to grab time where I can find it (still disorganized and messy), I try to write at least a few scenes a week, and I write quickly. If I can’t figure out what to do at some point, or I need more information, I switch to all caps and make notes about what I need to fill in or research.
Once I have a rough draft, I work on filling in those missing bits, and rewriting the parts that don’t work for me. Now–first time I’m trying this process–I’m giving that completed draft to several Beta readers for feedback. I’ve asked them to tell me whether they love or hate the characters, if the story drags in certain areas, if there are plot holes or inconsistencies, things like that.
I’ve found readers all kinds of places–librarian colleagues, friends, student assistants at my Library who enjoy weird, creepy stuff like my story, and members of an organization called Fans for Christ. I’m hoping this crowd of readers will actually provide better feedback than one professional editor. After all, once it’s published, professional editors and agents won’t be my target audience. I’ll be aiming for real readers like these.
Once I get the draft back, I’ll consider what the Beta readers said and rewrite accordingly.
HOW DOES MY WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS?
According to all the editors and agents I’ve approached, I have a nasty tendency to mix genres. Of course, I think this makes my writing fresh and surprising, but others may beg to differ. I define my first published novel, Summer’s Winter, as a Christian romantic suspense because that’s the closest I can come to a genre, but the language and approach are different from most romantic suspense novels. The writing has been described as “lush” and “lyrical.” Other editors said it had a “literary feel,” although another said it was “more than escapist romance, but not literary fiction.” I also tackle some themes that are different. John Granger, a literature professor and author of several books about the Harry Potter series, said Summer’s Winter “explores the important intersection of literature, spirituality, and imagination.”
And as for Jordan’s Shadow, I have once again been told that it mixes genres. A little science fiction, a little women’s fiction, YA. I once pitched it to an agent, and when I told him about the super secret plot twist, his mouth fell open and he said, “Well that’s just weird.”
Yep, that’s me.
WHY DO I WRITE WHAT I DO?
I started writing as a child–a child who loved stories, had a wild imagination, and was stuck out in the country with a mother who didn’t drive and not enough to do. So I started making up stories. Much of what I’m writing now comes out of those childhood pretend sessions. And as I’ve matured, I also use the stories to explore ideas that interest me. Summer’s Winter is partly a continuation of stories I made up as a kid, when I would become overly-fascinated with certain books or movies and dream about meeting the actors who played my favorite characters. Now, as an adult, I use the story to examine what that fandom fascination means. Why do we get so caught up in stories? Is there an eternal, spiritual dimension to our yearnings? (By the way, if all that sounds interesting to you, John Granger did a more in-depth interview with me about it.)
Marjorie B. Hill makes her home in Walterboro, the front porch of the lowcountry. She is blessed with four children and seven grandchildren. “My parents and grandparents were storytellers. The ‘never-ending story’ continued as chapters were added. I thought everyone created stories in their heads.”
She has been published in Moody Monthly, Pee Dee Magaziner, Mustard Seed Ministries and numerous newspapers. Xeno Oaks is her first novel. You can get better acquainted with her on her blog.