Category Archives: The Indie Experiment

May Adventures

So this happened…

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Sometime around the end of April Amazon finally price-matched The Girl In Between and made it free on Amazon UK. Since then downloads have skyrocketed and sales for the other books in the series have steadily grown. Like…a lot.

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Amazon even put a cute little “Best Seller” flag next to the sequel!

The Girl In Between and The Boy In Her Dreams have both hit number 1 in several categories over the past week, which is the result of over 15,000 downloads and 1,000 copies sold.

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Looking at the rankings for The Boy In Her Dreams, I’ve concluded that you need to sell between 30-50 books a day in order to chart on one of Amazon’s bestsellers’ lists. I had a few days this week where my sales reached 100, which I have to credit for pushing the book into the number one spot on the lists below.

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Yes, that is THE Cassandra Clare stuck at number 4. And do you see who just so happens to be battling me for first under Teen & Young Adult Paranormal & Urban Fantasy in the screenshot below? Yes, that would be THE Veronica Roth. For approximately 24 hours I’ve actually been BEATING her in the Paranormal and Urban Fantasy category!!!!!

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As you can see May has been total insanity. In a good way. In the BEST WAY! Thank you UK readers!!! THANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOU!!!! You’ve made my dreams come true. It was just last year that I was barely managing to sell a few copies a month and for the past week I’ve been selling 50+ books each night in my sleep. It’s thrilling and wonderful and magical and I can’t believe this is actually happening. Thank you to everyone who has made this possible. Thank you for taking a chance on my books, for devouring them, for loving them, for sharing them with your friends. Thank you for supporting independent art and the daring individuals who choose to make it.

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The Tweak That Changed Everything

I can’t even remember how I stumbled across Nick Stephenson’s blog or newsletter but I’m so glad I did. The author of a successful thriller series, he’s recently been promoting a series of videos and workshop opportunities for other authors looking to increase their sales. I signed up for his newsletter on a whim, my curiosity piqued by all of the comments and feedback left by authors who’d already been helped by his advice. The first three videos were free so I had nothing to lose and after implementing the advice from just the first two videos alone, I’ve already experienced some amazing results.

In just one month I’ve gone from selling a couple of books a day (if I was lucky) to selling 10-40 books a day. And as far as free downloads go, I’ve gone from twenty or so copies a day to 300-800! My books are actually reaching readers and every day my audience is growing exponentially. I know some people might scoff at my results. Maybe it took them one book to achieve what I’m just now experiencing after publishing six novels, but as an indie author and as an artist, I know how detrimental comparison is. All that matters is my journey and I couldn’t be happier with the road I’m on and the results I’ve achieved.

When I first started self-publishing I knew absolutely nothing about the online retailers where my books were being sold. I was familiar with Amazon only because I was a frequent customer there but I’d never taken the time to understand how their search engine worked, especially when it came to keywords. But after watching Stephenson’s videos I’ve come to realize that keywords are KEY to an indie author’s success. Each online retailer is a little different in how they utilize keywords and allow customers to search but since Amazon is where I make 90% of my sales I decided to devote most of my time to making changes there.

Before making big changes to all of my books listed on Amazon I decided to experiment with just my paranormal series. Since it’s genre fiction I figured it would be easier to apply specific categories and keywords, not to mention the fact that those changes could be applied to all three books. It took me a few hours of digging up comparable titles, checking their rankings, and evaluating the competitiveness among each keyword–meaning how many books were categorized by that term (all these steps are explained more in-depth in Stephenson’s training)–but the changes I made were significant.

Prior to watching Stephenson’s videos I was using keywords that were way too specific. I thought narrowing down the keywords would place my book among less competitive search results, meaning it would be closer to the top of the list and much more visible. In fact, this was the very thing making my books invisible. For example, I might have used keywords such as “nightmares” or “dreams”. These mean nothing to Amazon customers. Think about the way you search for things on google or Amazon or any other search engine. Most people would search using broader terms first, especially if they’re just browsing. So instead of using keywords like “nightmares” or “dreams” I replaced them with keywords that were more genre specific like “paranormal romance for teens” or “free paranormal romance.”

Stephenson goes much more in-depth in his training videos and I highly recommend checking them out. I’ll be moving on to video three soon and if his suggested changes continue to provide me with stellar results I’m definitely going to consider paying for his other training as well. I’ve benefited so much from his generosity already so I encourage anyone who’s interested to please check out his videos for yourself or his Leopold Blake thriller series. Indies helping indies is a beautiful thing so if you’ve come across any life changing advice or resources please feel free to share in the comments below!

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Book Tour Insights

Technically it’s been four months since The Girl In Between book tour came to an end, but let’s just say I delayed this post in order to thoroughly examine the experience and let all of the resulting goodness seep in. And by goodness I mean actual sales and increased visibility. I’d post a snapshot of my sales prior to the tour, but since they were pretty much nonexistent, I won’t. Instead, here’s a snapshot of the first 90 days after the tour, which started on October 31st, the release day for The Girl In Between. Tour Sales Free downloads were steady and it’s been months since I’ve had a day where that number has been zero. As for paid sales, the red line barely moved throughout the three months following the tour, but because of the success I had in the weeks directly after, I definitely agree with the notion that it takes up to six months for something to climb up out of the bowels of Amazon. Here’s a snapshot of my sales and downloads since February: AfterTourSales Much more consistent. My sales didn’t necessarily skyrocket in March, but to go from selling 0 copies a day for the past two years to selling 1-4 copies a day felt like the equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest. It had been an uphill battle every step of the way, but for the first time since starting this journey with The Things They Didn’t Bury back in 2012, I actually achieved some financial success! So what do I attribute to March’s significant turnaround in sales? Besides the countless maddening hours I spent writing over the past five years, the importance of which can’t be overstated, I took some strategic steps before, during and after the book tour towards treating my writing more like a business and less like a hobby.

Step 1: Write A Series

A lot of successful indie authors encourage newbies to publish a series because it allows for the first novel to be perma-free, which has HUGE promotional benefits, and it can build and retain a readership much quicker than standalone novels can. As an artist I thrive on structure, so once I came up with the ideas for my first three novels there was really no veering from them. I’ve never tried to write in the direction of trends, so even though I could certainly understand the benefits of writing a series, I just wasn’t ready to go down that road. Not to mention the fact that I hadn’t yet come up with an idea that could sustain a series. Personally, I never want to get into the habit of trying to write to what’s popular, because no matter what I do, I’ll never be able to please everyone. I needed those first three novels in order to grow as a writer and I’m glad that I devoted that time to writing what I wanted write and to learning the valuable lesson of FINISHING.

When I made the decision to turn The Girl In Between into a series I felt one hundred percent certain that I could see it through. What I didn’t know was whether or not it would be any good or make any sense or keep people’s interest or just be a big waste of time. Because I’d never written a series before, I decided to write the first draft of each novel back to back, and because of the way I’d scheduled the edits, I was able to publish them fairly close together. The Girl In Between was released on October 31st and The Boy In Her Dreams was published a month later at the end of September. Because I knew The Girl In Between would be perma-free I wanted all of the early purchasers to be able to get their hands on the sequel immediately if they were interested. Since I didn’t have a huge readership anxiously anticipating the release of either novel, this strategy didn’t necessarily have the kind of effect I thought it would. I didn’t take into consideration how long it would actually take for the first novel to gain steam. But I do still think that it’s a good strategy for anyone who already has some sort of an established readership because it helps create momentum.

Step 2: Plan a Blog Tour

I’ve planned blog tours before for my standalone novels but they never gained the kind of traction I’d hoped for. Having a series to promote this time around really allowed me to be extremely generous with giveaways and experiment with different price points. After spending countless hours trolling the internet for every young adult book blog I could find (the master list I’ve shared here) I started sending out emails–hundreds of them. It’s an excruciatingly slow and time consuming process but introducing yourself to internet strangers and asking them for help really is the only way to get it.

How to Plan a Blog Tour in 5 Easy Steps:

1. Prepare a Media Packet in email or word doc form containing the following promotional necessities: Book Cover, Blurb, Purchase Links, Social Media Links, Excerpt or Teasers, Coupon Codes for Giveaways, Author Bio, Author Photo, Newsletter Sign-up Info, etc.

2. Scour the internet for every book review blog you can find (Or just click here : ) I’ve done all the work for you)

3. Carefully read through their review policy and make sure your book is something they’ll enjoy before submitting a request. Also take into consideration their most popular or most requested (via their review policy) posts. Lots of bloggers prefer to post some kind of actual content along with their giveaways or book spotlights so be prepared to participate in an interview (some bloggers appreciate when you have pre-made questions and answers readily available) or guest post.

4. Construct a brief personalized email for each blog admin you’ll be submitting to -Use the blogger’s name in the salutation -Attach or include all your media information -Refer to their review policy in your pitch so they know you actually took the time to read it -Offer something FREE and of VALUE to their readers in exchange for being spotlighted on their blog -Thank them for everything they do for authors!

5. Wait. This is definitely the worst part. Now that I have three blog tours under my belt I can say with depressing certainty that only about 10% of the emails I send out actually get a reply and only about half of those bloggers actually follow through with a post. These numbers aren’t meant to discourage anyone but everyone who takes on the responsibility of planning their own blog tour should go into it with realistic expectations.

A blog tour can certainly increase your sales and visibility but it won’t necessarily make you an overnight sensation. What it will do is provide you with new opportunities to introduce yourself to readers who just might fall in love with your stories. And then tell their friends. Who will tell their friends. And that’s how careers are made.

Of course, I could have paid for the services of a tour host and saved myself the time and heartache of being rejected over and over and over and–you get it–but I believe there’s a lot of value in interacting with people personally. Many of the bloggers I reached out to had participated in tours in the past and over the years I’ve developed relationships with some of them that really mean a lot to me. When you’re an indie author, you don’t cultivate a massive amount of readers overnight, but it happens one at a time through emails and blog comments and social media interactions. That’s what makes them so long-lasting. That’s what makes them special. And the first step to cultivating relationships that last? Generosity. It’s also the first step to planning an amazing book tour.

Step 3: Be Generous

People love free stuff. They love contests and giveaways and the excitement and exclusivity that goes along with winning a prize. When I was approaching bloggers with my very first book I hadn’t yet learned the value of free and was afraid of giving away too many copies of my novels. Now I know that there is no such thing as giving away too much stuff.

The Girl In Between became perma-free the moment the sequel was published and I also put it up on Wattpad. Since then I’ve gotten over 800 reads and 10,000 downloads. It’s true that some people will download anything that’s free and my book may have gotten lost in their TBR pile never to be seen again, but it’s also true that some of those people actually read the free books they download and then go on to buy the sequel. My point is that you should never underestimate the power of FREE. Writing isn’t about making money, it’s about being read. And if you want people to read your books then you have to make it as easy for them as possible.

Bloggers especially, will be much more open to the idea of hosting you on their site if you’re willing to offer something to their readers in exchange. Some bloggers might ask for an exclusive excerpt or teaser or some might ask that you write a guest post about a topic of their choice. Usually if a blogger asks you for something specific it’s best to deliver what they want but I would suggest offering free e-books for their readers every chance you can. The goal of a blog tour is to create maximum exposure and find readers. This means getting the actual book in front of them by any means necessary. The best way to do that is to give them the book for free! So whether you’re planning a tour for your first novel or the final book in a series don’t be afraid to be generous. Don’t be afraid to give. Do it despite the possibility of receiving nothing in return. Do it because your story deserves to be read.

Step 4: Use Promo Sites

I’ve experimented with different promo sites in the past (all free) and I definitely recommend submitting to as many as possible and timing the promotions at various points throughout the tour. A few at the beginning, middle and end should help increase your downloads and boost your rank. If you have other books for sale you should also see a an uptick in paid sales as well. Taking another look at my free downloads during the TGIB book tour you can see that there were two days when they really skyrocketed. Tour Sales This surge in free downloads corresponds with two promo days. I usually submit my book for promotion through Author Marketing Club, but unfortunately not all of the participating sites let you know if your novel’s been accepted. Because of this I have no idea which sites are responsible for the major increase but I do know the tripling of my downloads was no coincidence. I’m currently experimenting with promo sites again for this series, the results of which I’ll try to share in a later blog post, but what I have concluded is that there’s really no good reason not to submit to these sites. They’re free, some offering guaranteed promotions for as little as $5, which means that you can increase your visibility–sometimes significantly–for just the price of a coffee. Not only that, but making your book visible to multiple audiences via multiple platforms is an important part of building your author brand. If I come across an interesting sounding book on Goodreads I may make mental note of it, but the odds of me remembering by payday to actually go purchase it are slim. Unless I just so happen to stumble across that same book on a review blog I frequent or on a pinterest board I follow or in a weekly email from a discount e-book website I subscribe to. The more opportunities you create for people to stumble across your work, the more likely they’ll be to purchase it.

Step 5: Keep Writing

Leading up to and after a new release it can be incredibly difficult not to spend your entire life tracking sales. In the beginning stages of your planning there will be a lot of things to juggle, and you’ll likely end up devoting more time to promotion than you do to your actual writing. For a short period of time this will be acceptable but eventually you’ll have to refocus your efforts on what’s actually important, which is not cyberstalking potential readers. Eventually you will have to accept the fact that you’ve done all you can and get back to work!

Sure, you could continue to tweak and experiment until your brain turns to mush, but like I said, making money is not the point here. Self-publishing is not a get rich quick scheme. Even if you do experience some miracle results from your first promotional experiment, those sales will eventually trickle downward, regardless of how high they once were. Which is why you should never measure your success in numbers in the first place. Your first priority should always be your work. Sales don’t sustain a career. Readers do. So if you want to turn writing into a career then you have to give your readers what they want–more books.

You can adopt every trick you’ve heard from every self-published author who claims to have figured out the secret to life-long literary success, but I promise you nothing will be as beneficial as having a strong backlist. Nothing you can measure will be as satisfying or sustaining as an email from a reader whose life was changed by your words. We all want to make a name for ourselves but the truth is there are no shortcuts. Not in life. Not in art. So if you want to be a writer, do the work. Don’t shy away from what’s difficult, embrace it. Don’t count, create.

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The Indie Experiment-The Reality

My Indie Journey From Start to Finish:
The Indie Experiment:The Beginning
The Indie Experiment:The Decision
The Indie Experiment:The Teacher
The Indie Experiment: The Truth
The Indie Experiment: The Dream

The Indie Experiment: The Reality

Hitting publish on my first novel wasn’t just an act of defiance, it was a dream come true. My book was out there, drifting in the bowels of the internet, just waiting to be discovered and the freedom of that was more satisfying and more terrifying than anything I’d ever done. But even though the dream may have started small, the very act of self-publishing making it come true, somewhere along the way that dream grew exponentially. Like any other newbie I spent the majority of my time, not working on my second novel, but researching every self-publishing success story out there. I read about people like Amanda Hocking and Hugh Howey and Joe Konrath and with every new article and bit of data I manufactured this new dream. This bigger dream that was more than just making money from my books and more than even making a living. I actually let myself get lost in the possibility that I could win the indie lottery and become a millionaire.

I was twenty and I was naive and I was greedy. Most young people are, which is why when absolutely none of that happened I was crushed. Yes, I was actually crushed that my book hadn’t sold a million copies and that I was still living in my shoe box apartment with a poltergeist toilet and rabid raccoons that liked to sleep on my doorstep. I know a lot of writers out there, inexperienced writers in particular (who may or may not have stumbled upon this blog post in search of the very same self-publishing insight as I did three years ago) will find it really difficult not to indulge in the dream of huge world dominating success. Let’s face it, who doesn’t want to be rich doing what they love? It’s the ultimate dream and the more indie success stories that continue to crop up, the more attainable it seems. The more it seems less like a fantasy and more like an achievable goal.

Even when you enter into self-publishing with a clear head and realistic expectations it’s almost impossible not to hope. In fact, that unwavering (albeit at times, unrealistic) hope is actually necessary. Being successful in the arts or entertainment industry takes a certain amount of blissful ignorance or else we’d all give up at the first sign of failure–another necessary ingredient to success. But sometimes that hope can also hinder you because having unrealistic expectations has a tendency to turn normal setbacks into failures when in reality they’re just necessary growing pains. When I was binge-reading every indie success story I could find, second-hand sources had a tendency to make it sound like all of these people I admired had only toiled for mere months before hitting it big. There was nothing about the education that came before or the years of rejections via traditional publishing or the mental and emotional demons each writer had to slay before they were actually able to hit publish. Subconsciously I knew they’d put in the hard work because, as a writer myself, I knew all that it took to write a novel start to finish. But still, there was something distilled about these success stories, shallow and…too easy. When I self-published my own novel I certainly didn’t think that it would be easy to find readers but I also didn’t anticipate it being near impossible.

These days writers are a lot more forthcoming about how hard it really is to find indie success but that still doesn’t stop people from having unrealistic expectations. Everyone thinks that they are talented enough or deserving enough to be the exception to the rule but the truth is success isn’t guaranteed to anyone. The truth is, even after putting in the work, you still might not sell enough books to buy a pack of gum. But despite this fact people are still trying to discover some kind of secret formula. Some people claim that sales automatically pick up after you publish your second or third novel. Some people claim that the right price point is key. Some people swear by using certain promo sites. Some people suggest writing only series or connected novels that revisit the same characters/setting/etc. There are a lot of assumptions and opinions out there about what sells books and I can tell you from personal experience that I have yet to obtain the proof that supports any of them.

Despite having some pretty lofty expectations when it came to publishing my first novel, I also wasn’t the type to just sit around and wait for lightning to strike. Instead I wrote. Like crazy. It was all I did for the past two years, and literally it’s all I do now. I know no one wants to hear about the months I spent in my pajamas on the couch, never seeing the light of day but I imagine if you took a snapshot from the first few years of any successful indie author’s career you’d discover them doing the exact same thing. There is nothing I want more than to make a living as a writer and even as someone who doesn’t make very much money self-publishing, I still devote at least four hours a day to writing. Just writing. And it’s the reason I was able to publish three novels during my first year of self-publishing. Unfortunately, the reality of my situation was that that momentum just wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to just write three novels and put them online. It wasn’t enough to just wish that someone would discover them and share them with their friends.  So I took the plunge into marketing.

I’ve always been a fairly private person and even though I started dabbling in blogging around the release of my first book, marketing absolutely terrified me. I attempted putting together some kind of blog tour but after the past two years of soliciting reviews from book bloggers and sending out close to a thousand emails, I only have about thirty reviews to show for it. Thirty. That’s the reality of being an indie author. You will work your ass off and the profit will be minuscule or sometimes even nonexistent. Luckily though I never let these things get in my way and my main focus was always on writing. Seven months after I published my first novel, I published my second, the third draft of which was already complete by the time I published The Things They Didn’t Bury. This time around I did absolutely no marketing and didn’t solicit a single review. I guess I just had my fingers crossed that that myth about 2 being the magic number would hold true. It didn’t.

But I was still writing. Even though no one was actually reading my books I was still writing. One of the things I’m really proud of as I look back on my writing journey over these past couple of years is my ability to put the blinders on and just keep working. It’s a necessary trait of every good artist because staying focused on the present moment is really the only way to finish. And finishing is what separates the dreamers from the doers. I’ve always been a dreamer but I’ve also always been a doer, which is why my unrealistic expectations didn’t cripple me like they could have. Instead I looked at every month that went by where I didn’t sell a copy of my novels as just one month closer to the day I would.

In my first 2 years of self-publishing I have sold less than a hundred copies of my novels. And unless you are extremely lucky (as in win the lottery, get struck by lightning, survived a near death experience more than once lucky) your experience will probably be pretty similar. The good news is, after everything I’ve learned, I still believe that hard work and patience will always be rewarded. Maybe not in the way we want or expect but I believe that always doing your best is the quickest way to success. So what does all of this mean for anyone considering self-publishing? It means don’t be an ignorant fool. It means that for a while you are going to have to erase all of your expectations and find something else to motivate you every day other than financial freedom. And most importantly it means that we shouldn’t believe in things as insubstantial as luck, but instead we should choose to believe in one thing and one thing only–ourselves.

But don’t stop dreaming and don’t stop hoping. I still haven’t. After selling less than a hundred copies I still hope every day that things will take a turn for the better. But I also don’t rely on that hope. Instead I rely on myself, on my hard work, on my passion, on my drive. In 567 days I have yet to take over the world but despite my more realistic expectations these days, I hope and I know that that doesn’t mean I never will.

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The Indie Experiment-The Dream

My Indie Journey From Start to Finish:
The Indie Experiment:The Beginning
The Indie Experiment:The Decision
The Indie Experiment:The Teacher
The Indie Experiment: The Truth

The Indie Experiment: The Dream

It took me four years, a million drafts, two independent study courses, and time in another state to write and finally finish The Things They Didn’t Bury.The idea originated my senior year in high school and I nurtured it and explored it through my entire college experience and after each personal evolution, the story experienced a new evolution as well. I wrote every week and then every day, getting words down in a fury through my father’s illness and then picking them apart after every new creative writing course each semester. In the beginning there was no end goal, not even to finish, but as an end finally started to reveal itself I couldn’t type a word or take a step without doubting it. And this was when I realized that I did have a dream for this story and it was more than just to create or to finish, it was to write something good.

In the beginning this story was not good. It was muddled and shallow and all over the place but something inside me just wouldn’t give up on it. A lot of writers  have abandoned their first book, so many that some people even consider it a right of passage. I used to think that I’d managed to skip that step of my artist initiation but when I look back at the story I ended up with versus the story I started with, I realize that I didn’t skip a thing. The Things They Didn’t Bury is not the same story I began writing my senior year in high school. Everything from the location to the plot changed completely with the exception of just the characters names. By the time I actually finished the novel it had had several other identities, all scrapped, and all for good reason. But the point isn’t how many novels I abandoned in the process, the point is that I kept writing no matter what. When I realized that even after I finished this novel that I wouldn’t be able to stop writing I knew that it was time to come up with a plan.

Sometimes we steal dreams and sometimes we stumble across them but when a desire that big takes hold of you there’s really nothing you can do except follow it. By the time I finished my first novel I’d already declared my major and had already made the decision to pursue writing professionally. What I hadn’t decided on was how. I’d taken journalism courses, news writing courses, short story writing, poetry workshops, fiction and non-fiction writing, writing for feature films, and script writing courses, and while each method and medium spoke to me I couldn’t deny the connection I felt to the challenge of fiction writing. There was something so romantic about it and the process itself allowed for the kind of spiritual exploration I was desperately craving. I knew that I wanted to write novels and after sharing one of the earlier versions of The Things They Didn’t Bury with one of my professors he gave me some advice on querying–something I had no idea I even needed to do.

I put it off, letting the story experience a few more evolutions before I finally started to do some research. I looked into agents, trying to find a good fit, something that proved ridiculously difficult as I’d written my entire novel without a definite genre in mind. In a lot of ways, letting the novel grow as it needed to without trying to fit it into some kind of box left me with something really unique. But on the other hand it made it really difficult to pitch. I went into querying totally blind, seeking out agents who had even a smidgen of interest in multi-cultural fiction that wasn’t easily categorized. I don’t really remember how many emails I originally sent out but I do know how many personal responses I got. Zero. Every response I received was automated and could be summed up in two words: “No thanks.”

I was deflated but not necessarily devastated. The entire process was pretty exhausting but I also considered it more of an experiment rather than a genuine attempt. Part of me had always thought that the story wasn’t ready but that was mostly because I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t grown enough as a writer yet but luckily since I was only nineteen, I still had plenty of time for that. Other writers might have chosen to abandon the story at that point or at least to start something new and try to move on but I just couldn’t see myself letting it go for good. I worked on it sporadically, picking at it mostly, but not ready to do another round of re-writes. In the meantime I shifted my focus to short stories and after randomly deciding to enter a contest hosted by a small press, something pretty crazy happened. I actually won. And so began my first and only experience as an almost “traditionally” published author.

After I won the short story contest and collected my prize money, which wasn’t even enough to cover the cost of one of my textbooks, the acquisitions director asked me if I had any other short stories that I might be willing to let them include in one of their upcoming anthologies. I was totally naive and so over the moon about someone actually thinking that I was good that I sent them over two more stories to include in their collection. After they read the other stories they asked me if there was anything else I was working on and I told them about my novel in progress, the one I was still nursing a sore heart over having been rejected by all of my dream agents. Obviously I was in a somewhat vulnerable place so when they offered me a contract I was elated. Long story short, after taking the contract to my professor for his opinion, I realized that this small press was one step above a vanity press and that they were basically trying to rob me blind.

I decided to stop querying at that point or even entertaining the idea of being published until I was finished with school and had a little bit more experience. But even in the midst of attempting to take a break I still couldn’t move on from the story completely. Not yet. So I decided to give it another go, one more round of extensive re-writes to try to turn the story into what I’d always hoped it would be. After graduation I moved to Florida for about a year and a half and during that first year all I did was work on this story. It was the perfect timing and without things like school or friends or money I could focus completely on my work. I also found my very first critique partners online, whose help was so invaluable, especially since no one had read any incarnation of the story except for my professor. Working with other writers and setting deadlines for myself to query again by the Spring made me feel not just like a writer but like a grown-up. I learned so much about the importance of being self-disciplined and holding myself accountable for making my dreams come true. Because this was my dream. Somehow it had evolved from just being a passion to being a commitment, something I woke up every day with the intention of working towards. I had expectations and I had goals, and not just word counts or meeting deadlines. I wanted to be published. I wanted to write full time. All of these things were what pushed me to not only re-write the story, basically from scratch, for the hundredth time but they also pushed me to query again even after failing the first time.

When I queried the second time I was confident. I knew the story was good and that I’d reached a new level creatively. I knew that it had potential, that I had potential, and I knew that if someone would just give me a chance I could prove to them that I was in this for the long haul and that I was capable of building something even greater than just this novel, but an entire career. Unfortunately no one gave me that opportunity. Again I’d put my heart and soul on the line and again all I’d gotten in return was a bunch of automated messages from agents who didn’t see the same potential in this story that I did. And this time it actually hurt. Not a lot but a little bit. I felt the sting of rejection but even worse than that was coming to terms with the fact that this story I’d spent the past four years of my life working on may never be read.

That was the hardest part of all of it, the fact that this piece of me, this thing that had dragged me out of so much darkness, wasn’t considered worthy enough to be shared with the world. But I knew it was worthy. I knew it was important. I’ve written about some authors referring to special projects as “the book of your heart” or about having to shelve novels that mean more to them than anything they’ve ever written. Some artists might be capable of that, of abandoning things for no other reason than the fact that someone else doesn’t think any money can  be made from it. But I just don’t work that way. I think when something speaks to you or through you in a way that changes your entire life, that thing is no accident. Me writing this novel was no accident and if the experience of writing it was so revelatory, how much greater are the odds that reading it will be just as powerful? So I couldn’t abandon this story. In fact I downright refused. And even though some people might think that I made a mistake by striking out on my own or that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing and/or talking about, I have come away from the entire experience having learned a very important lesson about defiance. That sometimes defiance is good. That sometimes it is brave and right and true. Sometimes a little defiance makes all the difference.

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