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How I First Published: Robin Johns Grant

First time holding a copy of my first book,  Summer's Winter.
First time holding a copy of my first book, Summer’s Winter.

This is the first in what I hope  to be a regular series of posts in which authors tell us about their first publication experience. I’m going first, experimenting on myself, as usual. If you’re a published author–indie, traditional, small press, whatever–and would like to be featured, use the Contact tab at the top of the page and let me know. You would be answering these same questions–and can plug  any current project you would like to, naturally! Your book(s) don’t have to be specifically Christian, but I won’t feature books that are offensive or contrary to a mainstream Christian worldview. Hey, it’s my blog, right?

HOW I FIRST PUBLISHED

What was your first published novel?

Summer’s Winter, which I published in January of this year. I just happen to have the tagline handy: When preacher’s daughter Jeanine meets her obsession, movie star Jamie, his dark secrets threaten her faith and her life.

I call it a love story wrapped in a mystery. When forced to choose a genre for it, I have to choose Christian romantic suspense. There is most definitely love and suspense!

Was it a traditional publishing contract or did you go indie?

After trying to land a traditional publishing contract for literally decades, I finally went indie, although I used Story Merchant Books to do the publishing work for me instead  of doing everything myself.

How did that come about?

It came at the end of an incredibly long and winding road. If you want to know more about that journey, click on the tab at the top of this page that says The Queen’s Archives. That’s my old blog, from the days I was trying so desperately to land a contract and dealing with frustration and particularly with learning to trust and wait on the Lord. This post is my announcement that I had finally decided to go Indie. I was afraid my writer friends would see me as a quitter, but they’ve been very supportive.

But I digress. As I reached one of those points in my life when I was ready to give up on the whole thing and take up knitting or quilting or almost anything other than writing, I went to a Nancy Grace book signing. Nancy is a well-known TV personality and has her own show on HLN, as well as having written two NYT best-selling suspense novels. She is also a childhood friend of mine. She asked about my writing and then, hallelujah!—she offered to help me.

Now, if I was telling any story other than my own life story, at this point Nancy would have gotten me a fat publishing contract and I, too, would be a best-selling author today. I would also have lived happily ever after. Possibly in a castle.

But this is my life story and if there’s one thing God wants to teach me, it’s patience. Nancy referred me to a man named Ken Atchity, who has worn many hats: writer, literary agent,  publicist, even film producer. He suggested major edits to the manuscript of Summer’s Winter, and then when we both thought it was in great shape, he gave me a choice. Choice one, he would represent me as a traditional literary agent. But he warned me that the traditional publishing model was getting harder and harder for a new writer to break into. I should be prepared to…guess what…WAIT. It might take a long time. Choice two, I could go ahead and get Summer’s Winter out there. Based on what he was seeing happen in the publishing world, he believed not only that indie authors can be successful these days, but also that traditional publishers get a lot of their new talent by scooping up successful indie authors. It sort of stinks, but it also makes sense from their point to sign authors who have already proved they can market their books—and write stories that people want to read.

So, I opted to go indie and see what would happen. I was just coming off an unsuccessful five-year stint with another agent and was ready to try something different.

How did this first publication make you feel? Has it been as good as you expected, or a letdown, or exhausting, for example?

All of the above! Plus just about every other emotion you can imagine. I have loved interacting with readers who enjoyed Summer’s  Winter.

 

It's a great book. Really. I swear.
It’s a great book. Really. I swear.

I’ve had really exciting times when I was receiving good reviews and selling well. Probably the most exciting thing to me was that John Granger, who writes books of literary analysis and is a Harry Potter expert, read my book, loved it, and interviewed me on his blog! What an honor that was! (I mean, hey, this man is an expert on REAL literature!)

And then there have been times like this past week, when sales and reviews have dried up and I’m incredibly frustrated again. I never would have dreamed how much time it takes to market a book. I have a full-time job as a librarian, and I feel like marketing is another full-timer. And oh yeah, I need to squeeze in family and writing more books somewhere!

When you self-publish, you can feel it’s all on your shoulders, that you’re bearing the burden alone. Fortunately I belong to a wonderful Christian marketing group called  the John 3:16 Marketing Network. Just today, they were reminding me that it’s NOT all in my hands, but in God’s. I should know that myself, but sometimes you need brothers and sisters around to remind you.

Tell us what’s happened with your writing journey since.

I finished writing my next book, Jordan’s Shadow, which is a creepy gothic young adult novel. It’s still in the hands of two traditional publishers who have shown interest, but the process is just so slow. I’m trying to decide whether to keep waiting on them or continue this indie path. It’s still up in the air right now. I also just started writing the sequel to Summer’s Winter.

 

 

 

 

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When planning our next steps: consider successes or failures?

29fll.jpg.w300h206I 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.

Funny how that happens, isn’t it?

One is a post by Dan Balow on The Steve Laube Agency’s blog. The other was assigned reading as part of a Mythgard class I’m taking on the Harry Potter series.—J.K. Rowling’s commencement address at Harvard University a few years ago.

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.

And that’s really a good thing, isn’t it?

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