Friday, July 22, 2016

My Publishing Journey

My publishing journey started back in 2012. Actually, if I'm honest, the process of it began more than a year before that when I decided to stop sitting on the unfinished manuscript I had for what was then titled Shades of Gray and asked Xlibris Publishing for their help in making it a published novel. 

I began writing this book long before my daughter, Maya, was born. It came from a small seed of an idea I pulled from a dream I had one night, and it grew and grew until it was a stack of printed sheets more than 900 pages high. I wrote and sent at least a hundred query letters to publishing houses both large and small, and to some literary agents as well. I heard back from a great deal of them ... all in the form of rejection letters.

Just a few of the responses I received.
What I learned was that big publishing houses were not accepting submissions from writers who were not represented by literary agents, and that a great number of literary agents were not accepting new writers as clients if they hadn't already been published. It was a catch-22, and I wasn't sure what to do from there.

One of the responses I got was from Mark Sullivan, a literary agent in NYC. 

June, 1999
I found an incredible amount of encouragement in this, and began the task of paring the book down. Unfortunately, I didn't finish what I started ... at least not back then. Instead, my husband and I focused on our young family and motherhood took over. I knew I wanted to finish writing the book. I knew I wanted to get it published ... but all that became "someday", and my writing got pushed to the back burner.

In 2011, my husband was told he'd need to prepare for a ninety day TDY in Stuttgart, Germany. He isn't military, but does IT for a government contract company. I was busy homeschooling our two children; Maya, who was nearly twelve, and Scott who was eight. They were involved in numerous extra curricular activities. We lived in North Carolina, and I knew my mom would be visiting while Steven was over seas ... I was busy, had a lot of things planned, but I still thought it would be great to have something more to keep me occupied while he was gone. I signed up for an American History class online, and that was great ... but I needed something else. That's when I decided to pull Shades of Gray out again in the hopes of finishing it once and for all.

Steven was all for this plan ... so much so that he decided I needed to know for sure that it would be published. I had no knowledge about how to self-publish. I didn't know about CreateSpace or KDP ... I had no understanding at all about how I might go about doing this on my own ... or that I even could. I jumped into the big vat of vanity presses ... requesting information from a number of them, and started doing a whole lot of comparison shopping. All of it was expensive. It was still a huge unknown, but I finally picked one, (mostly because they were promoting a special they were doing for half off one of their publishing packages) and I jumped in. Now all I had to do was finish the manuscript.

I hadn't looked at it in years. When I re-read it, I realized it didn't even have an ending ... and, while I still absolutely loved the whole idea behind the story, I wasn't connecting with many of the character. I set about editing what was already written. I gave it to Steven who read pages and pages ... until he finally said, "This isn't working." I was not the writer I had been more than twelve years before when I'd started the book. I'd grown, gotten better. He said it was obvious which parts I'd changed and which parts I'd left alone. The solution? Start all over again. Take the same ideas but make it an entirely new book.

This was going to take some time.

The first thing I did to give myself a new start was to change the name. 2011 was the same year that E.L. James published her hugely successful book Fifty Shades of Gray. Not only were her story and mine complete and polar opposites, but I wanted an original title. I chose The Color of Thunder. You really have to read the book to understand why it's significant, but it really is. I'm glad I changed it. I like it even better than the original. 

My father in law, a very talented artist, accepted my request of creating some cover art for me. 

I was very excited about this, but I thought Jacob (aka "Daddy") turned out to be a bit too portly. I really wanted my father-in-law to keep working on it. He told me he would, but life got in the way and the project was dropped.

I focused on the writing. I gave the book an ending and revamped everything from cover to cover. I also made the characters ones I fell in love with. Oh, how I love these characters. I poured every ounce of my heart and soul into this story ... and came up with something I am still incredibly proud of.

Before I was finished and ready to hand it off to Xlibris, though, Steven went off on a second three-month long TDY - this time in Heidelberg, Germany - and then he accepted a job offer at Ramstein Air Force Base before returning home. Before Thanksgiving of that year, we were all packing up and getting ready to move abroad. Suddenly, I had a tremendous amount of things to get done piling up on my plate, and, although I still had some work to do before my manuscript was complete, I had other pressing matters to tend to.

It wasn't until a year later that I was finally ready. Between the time of our departure from North Carolina and the following Christmas, we had suffered through the death of my mother-in-law and the logistics of Steven's flight to the states and back. It also took a lot for us to settle into a foreign way of life, get our homeschooling back on track, and learn the ways of a military base. I also found myself short of a cover.

The Color of Thunder takes place in Jackson, Mississippi. I had it in my head that I wanted a picture of the sky ... but I wanted it to be a southern sky, and I was determined that it would be a photograph that I took myself. (I'm kind of stubborn that way.) I've never actually been to Mississippi, but I remembered a picture I'd snapped of a stormy sky we traveled beneath in South Carolina when we were on our way to Florida the summer before. I played around with it; changing the colors. (The purple is significant, but again, you'll have to read it to figure out why.) It turned out exactly as I'd hoped it would. I was finally ready to jump into the publishing pool.

It was the first week of December when I submitted everything to Xlibris. Everything flowed like a swiftly moving river. I'd approved both the inside and outside layouts and it was live on the Xlibris site, Barnes & Nobel and Amazon by December 18th.

It was real! Finally ... a published novel!
I really liked working with Xlibris. I thought they had done well for me, and I was incredibly pleased with the final result. I got quite a bit of press at first, too, which was wonderful. 

There was this article done on the Xlibris Author Blog on January 30, 2013, and here's the official press release for the book. 

When it came to publishing my second novel, Alabama Skye, I didn't hesitate. I went right back to Xlibris. I was so very disappointed. This second experience put a very bad taste in my mouth for the company ... and there were many, many times I wished I had done things differently. The book was beautifully done; the layout perfect, and the cover one that I absolutely loved ... but it was a torturous, frustrating and many times enraging process.

It was after I published Alabama Skye that I became acquainted with a lot of self-published authors. I began to gather information, began to dug into my options when it came to publishing on my own. I decided I was going to publish my next book completely by myself. No more of this Xlibris craziness. This book was going to be mine. And it was.

With my latest book, Dead Beat Dates & Deities, I ran full steam ahead. There is something amazing to me about self-publishing; the cover design and layout all the way I want them to be. 

I've even started my own imprint ... Black Cat Press. Right now I have one author interested in hopping aboard. I'm not sure I'm quite ready to take that on ... at least not yet, but who knows where that idea might lead?

As for The Color of Thunder ... I own all the rights to both that book and Alabama Skye. I have been busy figuring out the legal process of getting them out from underneath Xlbris and under Black Cat Press. (It's more the loss of reviews I've worked so hard to collect that I fear than anything else at this point.) I have new cover designs for them ... and have decided to take The Color of Thunder through another round of edits. I've learned a lot since that book came out, and that's the beauty of self-publishing; I can do with it any damn thing I please.

I'm not sorry I went with Xlibris. The whole experience taught me a lot about what I want to do in the future ... as well as what I don't want to do. I am happily self-published. Will I be looking for another agent and/or publishing house in the future? That I don't know for sure. No one's knocking down my door as of yet, and I haven't gone fishing. I do know that I have a lot more books to get out there, though, and that my publishing journey has only just begun.