In the first part of a new series focusing on bringing to light some of the lesser-known things about the world of being a professional writer, we talked to those who have been there and done that. If you’re trying your hand at a new creative career or just want to clear up some of the details, check out what they had to say – they have all had vastly different experiences, proving that not every story is the same.
Was it always a big goal for you to get published?
CORBIN NEWCOMB: As a life long writer, I have always written a wide variety of content, because it’s something I absolutely love to do. I knew one day my words could touch others, and my main goal in writing “The Pieces of Life” was to help others in their lives. Of course, I knew that to get the book in the hands of others, I needed to have it published.
VALARIE KINNEY: In high school, it was my goal. Then that goal was sort of lost in the shuffle that adulthood brings, with marriage and kids and a mortgage. I came back to this goal about five years ago, as life has slowed down a bit.
DAVE EISENSTARK: I guess so, but you wouldn’t know it from my lack of effort over the years. Just writing was more fun and rewarding than endless query letters, most of which never got answered anyway.
A.L. MENGEL: That’s hard to say. I read the big names when I was growing up, and into my twenties, but didn’t dream of being a published author until I was in my late twenties. Back then, I had no clue as to how to make it happen. But that’s a good thing. Because my writing, at that time, still needed some years to mature and grow. I can say this: once I finished my first novel, at 29, I knew that I wanted to publish it. It became my opus. That was Ashes. The moment I wrote the words “the end” I knew I had to, one day, hold the book in my hands.
GABRIEL RICARD: Oh yeah. When I was twelve, when I made the decision to write for a living, the dream was to write and have a book published. I grew up surrounded by books. I grew up with a deep appreciation for the feel and smell of them. It was inevitable that I was going to decide that I wanted to be a writer. It was also inevitable that I was going to want to have a book of my own.
CODY WILLIAMS: No. I thought that maybe someday down the road I would put a collection of short fiction out, but I had no timeline or master plan for it. I just sit down and write the stories to entertain myself. That is my first priority. Getting published has been nice, but it was never really a goal.
WESLEY THOMAS: Absolutely. I have been writing stories from childhood, always having a passion to create and tell tales mainly of horror. My passion for horror was spawned from Goosebumps and various horror movies, which propelled me into reading any and all horror fiction I could get my hands on. When I decided I wanted to write a book, I fooled myself into thinking that I didn’t care if I published or not. But deep down I wanted to be published, whether traditionally, or self-published. Now I have self-published multiple books, three of which have become bestsellers. One has been a bestseller for 38 weeks straight, the same one that beat out the one and only Stephen King on the ‘British Horror Fiction’ chart on Amazon.
KEVIN R. DOYLE: Depends on what you mean. I started out doing short stories and for a couple of decades that’s all I wrote. To date, I’m somewhere around fifty published (far fewer than actually written). In the beginning, all I wanted was to get one story in print, no matter how small the venue, and I figured that would count me as a short story writer, even if nothing else ever saw print.
KAYTI NIKA RAET: Yes! Since I was 14. Right now I’m self-published but eventually I would like to look into signing with a publisher.
C. L. HERNANDEZ: Not at all. I started writing many years ago, but it was more of a hobby than anything else. I never thought my work was “good enough” to be published.
RUSSELL PROCTOR: I’ve always wanted to be a writer, ever since I could write, and being published was always seen as part of that. But I confess I didn’t do anything about it for a long time. I’m not proud of that fact. I wrote lots of books and stories when I was young. Most of them were really bad. But even when I wrote good ones I was too shy to send them to a publisher. Literally, too shy. When I eventually did send stuff off it got published. It could have happened years ago, but my own sense of “I’m not worthy” held me back.
LYNN MARIE HOUSTON: When I first started writing, publishing wasn’t even on my radar. My big goal then was to write something similar to the works I loved to read, to be able to contribute to a discussion, add my voice to the other voices I admired. As I gained greater confidence in my abilities, the desire to publish surfaced. After all, how could I legitimately contribute to a discussion if no one was reading my work? Later, that desire to contribute to a continuum of thinking, a body of voices, led me to start a small publishing company, Five Oaks Press, where I help to bring other voices onto the scene.
How hard would you say the experience was overall?
CORBIN NEWCOMB: I can’t say the experience was without some difficulties and a lot of effort, but the publishing process was actually quite simple for me once I felt the content was complete.
VALARIE KINNEY: I’ve had a couple different experiences. My first book, Just Hold On, was indie published. I had to find and barter (because I was broke) with someone to do things for me such as editing, formatting, and cover art. My second book was with a publisher, and they did all those things for me, so that felt much easier.
DAVE EISENSTARK:The Video Killer was originally written 25-30 years ago and fiddled with in the decades since, so yeah, it’s been a long, hard haul. I have countless rejection letters, but it’s more a matter of being ignored than being disliked. That’s a little painful when you just don’t hear anything. Fortunately, I’ve had a long and slightly successfully career writing screenplays, so novels aren’t my only outlet. I’ve had my share of disappointments and heartaches in the film business as well, which makes publishing seem like child’s play.
A.L. MENGEL: Degrees of challenge can be different for different people. It’s similar to ones tolerance of pain – there are some who could have a bout of appendicitis and have to be forced to go to the hospital – and others who will initiate an E.R. visit for a run of the mill stomachache. Writers really are not all that different. There are some who essentially breeze through the process. And there are those like me, who spend years toiling over every word, every syllable. I don’t know if the latter guarantees a better book, but at least I know I got it finished.
GABRIEL RICARD: Fairly hellish. I probably fucked around way too much when I was younger. I just wrote and wrote, and I didn’t spend nearly as much time as I should have on learning how to get stuff actually published. That might be one of the biggest reasons why it took me eighteen years to get a book out.
CODY WILLIAMS: I had a fine experience with the publication of On A Midnight Stroll. I really got a long with my publisher and he seemed to really enjoy my work. The hardest part was narrowing the list of available fiction down to twenty-two stories. I had 200 short stories written before I even decided to do a collection. It took about seven months to narrow down the list. It didn’t help that I kept cranking out new stories worthy of the collection. But it was fun. I had a great time with it.
LAURA LEE: I’ll answer your first question and this one together by saying that I actually fell into writing. My father was a writer and he always thought I was a born writer. I wanted to follow in my grandmother’s footsteps and be an actress, although it turns out I don’t have a lot of talent for that. When I was a theater student at Oakland University I wrote a comic play about my frustrations with not getting cast in any productions and it got tremendous feedback. After college, I decided I didn’t want to starve as an actress so I went into radio. When I wrote commercials people would tell me how wonderful they were but I didn’t know what I had done that was so special. Little by little I found that I had a skill in that area that not everyone had. When I burned out on radio, I started submitting some articles and getting published and eventually I was hired as a reporter at the Times Union in Albany, NY on the strength of my clips. I had no journalism training. In fact, I only took one writing class at the university level– a playwriting class. I mentioned to my father an idea I had for a book and he encouraged me to write a proposal and I sold it within my first year working at the newspaper. So getting in the door actually went quite smoothly for me. It is maintaining a career and making a living that has proven to be difficult.
WESLEY THOMAS: Self-publishing my first book was very hard. I had no idea about the publishing industry, and truth be told, my writing has developed so much more since then. I look back at my earlier writing and cringe, but also love to witness how my prose has developed and my inner voice has been actualized. I had very little knowledge about manuscript editing, formatting, cover design, marketing, promotion, advertising, blogging etc. But I published the book regardless. I learned from my mistakes due to honest feedback and great advice from fellow authors, for which I will be eternally grateful. Because it takes a good friend to tell you it is good, but it takes a great friend to be honest. So I did my research, put in the hours and grew as a writer and became quite knowledgeable about marketing, social networking, and using services that were required. Which was what made me start my own business to help promote fellow writers. A business that is thriving, and has been since the first month. With multiple author clients coming every month and purchasing from a wide variety of services and packages to suit all author budgets. But yes, the experience was difficult, but with time comes experience, and with experience comes familiarity and knowledge. Practice makes perfect, as they say.
KEVIN R. DOYLE: I wrote four novels that went nowhere, although one was read by two different agents. Since then, one novelette and two novels have seen print. So it took me five attempts to get it right, which I understand is fairly average.
KAYTI NIKA RAET: Writing a book is the easy part! Afterwards as a self published author you have to really take the time to learn what sort of marketing works for you and how much of your time it’s going to take, because any moment spent not writing means you’re that much further away from putting out your next book.
C. L. HERNANDEZ: It wasn’t that hard at all. I hope I don’t get any hate for this, but my first real novel was accepted by the first publisher I sent it to. (The Curious Case of the Tuscan Plague Doctor, Barking Rain Press, to be released in early 2016) It was an amazing stroke of luck! The editing process was a little bewildering at first, but I quickly got the hang of it. I thought of it as a learning experience.
RUSSELL PROCTOR: The actual process of getting my books out there was great. And not that hard. I self-published a couple of books first, to get a feel for things. Self-publishing was good. But the process of actually submitting my work to a publisher and having them approve it was far more satisfying. Once I started to work with an editor and cover designer it was a process of creation that felt enormously fulfilling. Getting the manuscript back from the editor hurts, but all you can do is have a little cry and then do what they say. Always, do what your editor says. Even when they are wrong, they are right. Editors and beta readers are the most useful people on earth.
LYNN MARIE HOUSTON: I’m not going to lie. It was difficult to start getting publishing. It felt like there was some sort of barrier, some recipe others had that eluded me. When I finally started systematically pursuing publication (you should see the spreadsheets I was keeping then!), I survived 48 rejections in a row before I got an acceptance. And then I thought long and hard about why that particular piece was accepted by that particular journal. I made sure that the next piece I sent out contained the elements that I thought made the published poem good and also made sure to similarly match its aesthetic to the publication venue.
What was the very first step you took (apart from writing it, of course)?
CORBIN NEWCOMB: After I had finished writing and editing, I started formatting the book to the size I wanted it, and designing the way I wanted it to look, both on the inside and the covers.
VALARIE KINNEY: My very first step was finding an editor. I’d had the book written and tweaked to the best of my ability and it had been sitting for some time on my lime green flash drive. It was a frightening thing, sending it off to an editor, but also exhilarating.
DAVE EISENSTARK: After writing The Video Killer, I sent letters out, trying to get somebody to publish it…for 30 years. I also spiffed up the screenplay version a number of times, hoping to sell it that way. And at some point I gave all the characters cell-phones and access to the internet.
A.L. MENGEL: The first step, and I had no idea I was taking it at the time, was to step away from the story. I had to get my mind out of the story to read it properly down the road. Quite a few authors these days are quick to bask in the sunshine of finishing a draft…and then rushing to publication too soon. Amazon is filled with horrendous Kindle 99 cent reads. But I believe those authors were elated with their works. I can certainly relate to the feeling when your book’s first draft is complete! It’s exhilarating! But what I am afraid may have happened with some authors – is first drafts became final drafts far too soon, without the proper editing, or at least, resting time. When I went back to Ashes after it rested, and I forgot about the story, when I reread it, I was like…”what the heck??!?! I can’t publish this!”
GABRIEL RICARD: I guess the first step I really took towards publishing was putting it all together. I didn’t actively go out and look for publishers. Again, I’m not good at that, or I’m at least too lazy to try as hard as a lot of writers do. I had a novel coming out through Kleft Jaw Press, which is still slated to come out next year, and Frankie Met, the guy who runs the show, expressed an interest in putting out a collection of my poetry first. I suppose the first step was to say “Yeah, that sounds good.”
CODY WILLIAMS: I had a few short stories published in anthologies and literary magazines that were printed through my publisher, Show-Me Doctrine Publishing. That is how I got in contact with them. After a while I suggested possibly doing a collection for them and the head of the house jumped on board. The first step for that book was probably deciding on what went in and what was left out. That was a hard process. When I say I have 200 short stories it is more like I have 200 children and have to choose only 22 of them to make the collection. It was a hard process.
LAURA LEE: I started out selling non-fiction. I had the advantage of growing up in the home of a professional writer who viewed writing as a business and who helped me to focus right away on the practical things. With non-fiction books you generally start with a concept and write a proposal and you don’t write the full book unless it sells. One of the biggest mistake writers who are just starting out tend to make is not thinking about their proposal as a marketing tool. Publishers are businesses and they don’t really want to know how brilliant your idea is– they want to know if it will make them money. So to sell your concept you need to present your idea in those terms.
WESLEY THOMAS: After writing my first book I did research on self-publishing and traditional publishing. As I had no idea if readers would even like or enjoy my work, I thought self-publishing would be a good way to get feedback and see if I had what it takes. And thankfully I have some amazing super-readers that support me. The next step was looking more into Amazon’s terms and conditions for self-publishing. And the rest, as they say, is history.
KEVIN R. DOYLE: Checking the publisher listings in Writer’s Market and Duotrope.
KAYTI NIKA RAET: Research! I did a lot of research trying to figure out which publishing platform would work best for me. As well as the things I could do to help get the word out about NIKO.
C. L. HERNANDEZ: I asked an online friend if he knew of any publishers that were accepting manuscripts, and he sent me a link to Barking Rain Press. I followed the submission instructions—it took me two days because I was so nervous—and sent off the first four chapters.
RUSSELL PROCTOR: I was (still am) a member of a writers group in Australia. I got an email from a member one day saying that a certain publisher was looking for manuscripts. I was then working on a novella that I thought I might self-publish and I wrote a pitch to this publisher and sent it off. I got an email back offering me a contract for a novel series based on the idea. That’s it. Not really hard at all. The series was sold before I’d written it, or even considered it might be a series. Or even a full length novel. I guess it comes down to having a good idea to start with, something original, not done before. There are thousands – millions – of books out there basically saying the same thing. A writer has to come up with their own spin on it, make something new.
LYNN MARIE HOUSTON: The first step in my publishing process was reading a lot of what was being published in the journals I was considering submitting to.
Did you encounter any roadblocks or difficulties?
CORBIN NEWCOMB: After I felt the book was finished, I received a “tester” copy, to make sure I was satisfied with the way it looked in person. Although I was very impressed and proud, there were a lot more mistakes found than I was expecting. I feel this step is very important, because sometimes you don’t realize these small mistakes when you are creating it on a screen.
VALARIE KINNEY: There were some minor formatting issues because the first person who edited my manuscript used a different version of Word than the content editor, and it caused some weird spaces and em dash issues. Took some time to work those kinks out.
DAVE EISENSTARK: Getting people to read the book, of course, is a monumental task. The book is different enough that it doesn’t fit into a niche nicely (black comedy/horror/thriller/pulp fiction/all of the above), so that was a challenge. And then there was that decade of “we’ll read anything except horror (or anything that looks like horror)”.
A.L. MENGEL: I sure did. I initially shopped Ashes to agents, but they swiftly rejected it, again and again, thinking it was just another vampire story. I knew that it wasn’t. I just had to learn how to project it. And in the publication process, the biggest challenge was bringing passages I wrote a decade ago up to the standard of my writing when it was published. I spent a year editing the story. When I finished Ashes, I didn’t really know…I mean really know…what it was about. And I am talking between the lines. So I got a PhD to analyze the story. And I found that my writing was much deeper than what I thought, and I started to promote it that way. So now, I am regarded as a very deep, very spiritual writer. And in the beginning, I had thought I was just a slash ’em up horror writer.
GABRIEL RICARD: The tedium of putting it together. The tedium of editing and assembling things gets to me very quickly. I’m a lot happier when I’m just writing. The novel that’s coming out next year, Bondage Night, is currently in something along the lines of developmental hell. It’s finished. I just have to go through it one last time, fixing up a couple of things. I’ve been stalling on doing that for ages. I dread it. I just want to write another novel instead.
CODY WILLIAMS: No, not really. Once the story list was chosen, I just edited the collection and sent it off.
LAURA LEE: One of the things that becomes painfully clear over time is that one book’s success does not necessarily lead to another. That is to say, every time you go to sell a book idea it is just as difficult as the time before. It helps, certainly, if you have a big seller or if you have published multiple times. That gets people to take you seriously, but each and every time you need to go through the same process of convincing an agent or a publisher that this is a project that will be a success for them. It is not the kind of a career where you get a promotion and now you’re at the next level. You’re always starting over again. One of the things that my father taught me, which I am just now beginning to appreciate is the importance of having many projects and potential projects going at one time. If you want to have a career, you need to keep working and looking for work.
WESLEY THOMAS: Of course. I think every writer when they start out has difficulties, even if they aren’t aware of it at the time. Whether it is in honing their craft, to becoming better at marketing, to utilizing services. I at first struggled with marketing, wasting far too much on services that didn’t work (again why I started my own author promotional service). I put in countless hours of marketing research, listened to interviews, podcasts, read self-fiction books on publishing and writing; I just absorbed as much information as I could. And I still spend hours every week looking at the new marketing trends. I created a trial and error method for my marketing tactics, exploring what worked and what didn’t work. Making note of what did and didn’t. Don’t be fooled into just noting what worked, you need to know what didn’t benefit you and why, as that will help you just as much. I urge any author/writer to face their struggles head on. There is always a plan B.
KEVIN R. DOYLE: No more than the average. The worst thing is sending an entire manuscript off and not even getting a form letter rejection. But I was fairly lucky due to all those years of writing and submitting short stories. Although the markets are vastly different between the two forms, the basics of submission are the same, and I had those pretty much down pat. But it was still an uphill climb.
KAYTI NIKA RAET: Yes. It’s slower going than I expected and I’m still kicking myself in the butt for not having NIKO as well edited as it could have been.
C. L. HERNANDEZ: The most difficult thing for me was—and always has been—obsessing over the quality of my writing. I second-guessed myself for days after I sent off the manuscript. Was it good enough? Did I overlook any grammatical errors? Then came the editing part. I admit, it was hard to see my work chopped and slashed, but I got over it. I just had to remind myself that this was supposed to happen, and my work would be all the better for it. I guess you could say I had to put my ego in check.
RUSSELL PROCTOR: My own self-confidence was a huge obstacle. Once I adopted the idea of “what the hell, it can’t hurt” things got a lot better.
LYNN MARIE HOUSTON: I encountered a lot of rejection, but I wouldn’t call that a roadblock or a difficulty. That experience of rejection helped me better my writing and my understanding of the field. I think perhaps the biggest roadblock to publishing is that sending your stuff out there costs quite a bit of money. It’s just the economics of our times. Journals and presses no longer receive funding from the sources they used to; therefore, some of those costs have been transferred to the writer. If you plan on trying to publish, make sure you save up a couple hundred dollars. When those rejections start coming in, you will still have money in your budget to keep sending out your stuff. Otherwise, the experience of rejection can feel worse if you also run out of money for submission fees.
Sum up the experience in three words?
CORBIN NEWCOMB: Enlightening, frightening, and pleasing.
CORBIN NEWCOMB: “I am a young woman who has an intense passion for writing. I’ve self-published my first book about a year ago, and am working on my second. I also enjoy blogging about a wide variety of topics.” Read her book here.
VALARIE KINNEY: A writer, fiber artist and Renaissance Festival junkie with a wicked caffeine addiction. She is the author of Slither and Just Hold On. Narrator for Dragons of Faith. Pick up her book here
DAVE EISENSTARK: Dave Eisenstark is a professional screenwriter who has recently turned to novels: The Video Killer from Spanking Pulp Press, and Bleeding Kansas from World Castle Publishing. Read his work here.
A.L. MENGEL: He has created a “sub-brand” to connect with his readers called The Writing Studio. There, everyone is a Beloved Friend, and writing, music, art and inspiration are shared and discussed, as well as trending topics. Join it here
GABRIEL RICARD: An accomplished poet, writer and spoken word performer, Ricard is a long-time collaborator with CV and the author of Clouds of Hungry Dogs. Pick it up here
CODY WILLIAMS: Cody Williams is the author of over 200 short stories, a novelist, and the author of a few poems. During the summer of 2013, Cody founded TRUE TERROR PUBLICATIONS, an indie printing press dedicated to publishing ebooks. Visit his website.
WESLEY THOMAS: “I am a multi-published bestselling horror author of 6 books, with three more on the way.” Buy his work here.
KEVIN R. DOYLE: Kevin R. Doyle is a high school teacher and fiction writer from the Midwest. His newest book, The Litter, is a horror novel released this year by Night to Dawn Magazine and Books. Like him on Facebook.
KAYTI NIKA RAET: She is the author of the Outsider Chronicles, a five book series starting with NIKO and set in a world where the rain burns like acid and flesh eating monsters roam. Catch her work on Amazon.
LAURA LEE: The author of 15 books, both fiction and non-fiction. Visit her website.
C. L. HERNANDEZ: C. L. Hernandez is a writer of horror, dark fiction, urban fantasy, and occasional poetry. She is the author of the series The Complicated Life of Deegie Tibbs (Winlock Press), and the novel The Curious Case of the Tuscan Plague Doctor (Barking Rain Press) which will be released in 2016. Visit her Amazon page.
RUSSELL PROCTOR: “I am a published author of a horror series “The Jabberwocky Book”. Volume 1 is out and the next is due in December. I also have written science-fiction.”
LYNN MARIE HOUSTON: Lynn Marie Houston has a Ph.D. in literature from Arizona State University. Her first poetry book, The Clever Dream of Man, came out from Aldrich Press in August 2015. Visit her website.