From Self-Published to a Traditional Deal: It Only Takes One Yes

I’ve been fantasizing a long time about writing this post…years, eleven to be exact. That’s how long I’ve had publishing on my brain.

I began working on my first book when I was 27 and pregnant with my first child. She just turned sixteen…so there’s some more time reference for you.

To say I’m still processing recent events with regards to my writing career is simply an understatement. As I was trying to explain to my husband last night, sometimes you want something so much, and for so long, that when it finally happens you’re not exactly sure what to make of it. How does a person process elation?

Last month, two days after my 44th birthday, I received an email from my agent who was 30,000 miles up in the air on a return flight from New York.

Subject: Offer/Her Perfect Life

I glanced at those words then quickly looked away. My entire body, in a flood of adrenaline, responded to what they meant before I even clicked the email open.

Before writing Her Perfect Life (my first work of women’s fiction) I wrote six other novels. One mainstream adult and five young adults books.

I had previously been represented by a very good agent at a prestigious NY literary agency. I had been on submission before, with my first young adult novel, and even gone to acquisitions with two publishers. All this is to say, I had been close. So very close to a traditional publishing deal before. For reference, 2010 is when I signed with my first agent, and 2011 is when I first went out on submission. I was 35-36.

But an offer from a big publisher never came in for that book (Ascendant).

When my first agent and I decided it was time to let the dream of Ascendant finding a home with a traditional publisher go–it was hard. I really had believed it was going to happen. And I still had faith. So much faith. So I sent the book out, myself, to several mico-publishers.

I received an offer within 48 hours. This house was tiny. There would be no advance, and the contract looked printed off the internet…honestly, I DIDN’T CARE ABOUT ANY OF THAT.

Someone had read my book and wanted to publish it. I couldn’t sign that questionable contract fast enough.

I won’t go into it here, but that experience occupied about two years of my writing life. It wasn’t all bad (ASCENDANT won the Colorado Book Award under that publisher) but it also taught me a ton about micro and very small presses. Enough to know that, with this particular press anyway, there wasn’t any value they were bringing to the table that I couldn’t achieve myself through thoughtful self-publishing.

So when that publisher went belly up in 2015, and my then agent had lukewarm responses to both the second and third YA books I sent to her, I decided to put away my dream of finding a traditional publisher altogether and self publish all my work.

And I did. The entire Ascendant Trilogy, plus two stand alone YA novels, one of which was a finalist for the RWA RITA award in 2017. Just like I didn’t go into all I learned about determining the value-add of a micro-press, I also won’t go into all I learned about self-publishing. Because honestly, I could go on and on for days about everything that is amazing and everything that is really, really hard about doing all of this completely on your own. For the purpose of this post let’s just say: I will never regret everything I learned about publishing by doing it myself; I will always cherish all the amazing connections and friends I made while working to self-publish my work; and I feel grateful to know that, should I ever have to again, I already know how to publish my work well.

But, all that profound experience led me back to a hope I had long ago abandoned.

I wanted to partner with a traditional publisher.

And I was very afraid to want that again.

One of the really great things about self-publishing, of course, is that you have all the control with regards to getting your work out there. The only person that has to say, “yes” is you. And then, once you tell yourself yes, you get to work. A. Lot. Of. Work. A lot of learning. A lot of everything. And that is really great because you have all the agency over that process. It feels good, productive…empowering.

With traditional publishing, you have to wait. You have to be very patient. And you have to realize that maybe they won’t tell you, “yes, we want to publish your book.” And honestly, that can be really hard to take. You will have to learn to take it, obviously. You should also learn, like I did the hard way, to not take it personally. Because this is the straight up business end of your creative process and you are trying to involve other entities who, while also liking and/or loving your work, also need to make money. Period.

So by 2017, armed with very realistic expectations, I realized I was ready to try again. I found a new agent, pitched her a new book, and got to work writing, revising, and getting ready for her to take Her Perfect Life out on submission by the end of 2018.

And on February 26th, two days after my 44th birthday, the offer did come.

Her Perfect Life will be published in the Spring of 2020 by Sourcebooks Landmark. They have also contracted for a second untitled work of women’s fiction.

Am I happy? That word doesn’t even begin to brush the surface of how I feel. I imagine it’s like finishing a marathon. All those hours, weeks, months (for me years) of training in order to cross that line, throw your arms in the air, and finally declare, “I did it!”

I wasn’t the fastest, sometimes I walked, and I was nowhere near the podium of writers who won their first race. But the elation of getting here? That emotion is just as sweet.

This Lonely, Lonely Business of Writing

“A writer out of loneliness is trying to communicate like a distant star sending signals. He isn’t telling, or teaching, or ordering. Rather, he seeks to establish a relationship with meaning, of feeling, of observing. We are lonesome animals. We spend all our lives trying to be less lonesome. And one of our ancient methods is to tell a story, begging the listener to say, and to feel, “Yes, that’s the way it is, or at least that’s the way I feel it. You’re not as alone as you thought.” To finish is sadness to a writer, a little death. He puts the last word down and it is done. But it isn’t really done. The story goes on and leaves the writer behind, for no story is ever done.”

–John Steinbeck

From My Inbox: How Do You Find Time to Write?

“Hi Rebecca, I’m a father of three, all in elementary school, and I work full time (often more than that) in the IT world. I have a book idea that’s been with me for years, but I just don’t ever seem to be able to find the time to get started. I know you work full time as well and also have kids. So what’s your secret?” Sincerely—————

Billy and Bella, not helping or being especially motivational

Dear ——–, This is such a great question, and one that also gets asked a lot because it is a real concern for MOST writers. And I’m not talking about most NEW writers here, or even UPCOMING writers. Almost ALL writers work either full or part time and many are also juggling family responsibilities as well.

Very, very few writers earn enough money from their books or freelance work to sustain life–never mind three young kids. If you’d like to get really depressed, pop on over to John Scalzi’s blog and read his recent post, Author Incomes: Not So Great, Now or Then Which naturally leads us to a whole other question: WHY do I find time to write? But that is another blog post altogether, so I’ll stick to your actual question.

How? How when we are raising children we love, and working jobs, and paying bills, and doing laundry, and buying groceries, and making doctors and vet appointments, and getting our cars fixed, and driving our parents to the airport and our kids to practice, and not being a completely shittastic friend by forgetting our BF’s birthday…how on EARTH do we find time to sit in one place long enough with our fragmented focus to create a book?

*Takes giant cleansing breath* Excuse me…but that last paragraph really stressed me out. Anyway…I’m going to try and give the most honest answer I can here.

Sometimes, maybe most times, you don’t.

And that really is the truth. Sometimes, when you don’t have the ability to make a sustainable wage off your current writing career, you simply don’t find the time the write. The truth is, you’re too busy running from one hectic must do to the next. And when you do find half a moment for yourself, often you’re too exhausted to manage much more than flinging your ragged body into the nearest couch where either Netflix, X-Box, or various social media accounts promise to not make you think too hard for the next three, or four, or six hours before bed.

Wait…did I forget to mention those items in my very-busy-lady-list? Because, if we’re being honest, and I said I would try to give the most honest answer I could, we both know that both of us spend quite a sizable chunk of time on leisurely mind-numbing entertainment. Including me! For sure.

Also, time is spent on not mind-numbing and important to my writing activities–like reading other people’s books! But worthy or not, reading still takes time…right?

So, back to your question: How do I find the time to write when I work full time and raise kids?

I don’t FIND it, I MAKE it. And I make it out of those hours I would otherwise have been watching movies, scrolling through the internet, or even, as sad as it is when I have to push pause for my own work, reading other people’s books. I make choices everyday. Some days, probably most days honestly, I’m choosing to read, watch, chill. BUT, in any given year there have also been enough days where I’m choosing to sit down in front of my book and write; on average one book every eighteen months.

Some people write much more than this! Even with jobs and kids and life! They are much more disciplined than I have been up to this point, and their results are in their output. They can crank out 2, 3, 8 books a year! Maybe more.

But this is, again, another post for another day. What you should know is this: you already have the time to write. Probably plenty of it. You just need to be really, truly, painfully honest with yourself about how you spend it. Then, make the choice to spend it on something else…like that book you’ve been thinking about for years.

Do you have a question you’d like me to answer on my blog? Email it to me at: rebecca (@) rrtaylor (dot) com

Goodbye 2018

My house is quiet. Which, after the last several days of cooking, eating, drinking, indulging, and general merry-making, feels like a decadent, meditative indulgence.

With my husband back at work, my daughter back to her swim practices, my son outside testing his new electric longboard, and the dogs crashed out on the couch in the front room, there is only the soft rush of the furnace and silence all around me.

It is nothing short of a heavenly relief for my introverted little soul.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoying hosting Christmas at my house, because I do. If I didn’t, well then, I would never offer in the first place. But when it’s done, I also love when the last guest leaves, and the ornaments are packed, and my grocery list can go back to the basics.

You may have already guessed that, even though it’s only the 28th, my house is completely back to the everyday business in normal dress. There isn’t even an evergreen scented candle left. I have friends and family who don’t pack up right away, they like to let Christmas hang well into the new year. I think for many of them they are truly sorry to see the season go. Personally, I love the fresh start feel of a new year and I like to start it off with a clean, Christmas clutter free house. Somehow it makes me feel more ready for whatever new experiences may be heading my way.

Psychology of Creativity

As I am a writer and a psychologist, one subject that continues to fascinate me is individual creativity. We are all creative in one aspect or another but like all abilities creativity is expressed in a multitude of fashions and degrees. One person’s most creative act is using a spoon for a shovel while another’s is using a Coke can to fix their engine; degrees of creativity.

What is creativity? J.P. Guilford (1967, 1988) proposed creativity involves divergent rather than convergent thinking. Divergent thinking requires coming up with a variety of ideas or solutions to a problem when there is no one right answer and convergent thinking is “converging” on the best answer to a problem and is, interestingly enough, exactly what IQ tests measure.  Consequently correlations between creativity scores and IQ are low to moderate and really only relate in that highly creative people rarely have blow average IQs suggesting that a minimum of intelligence is necessary for creativity (Runco, 1992; Simonton, 1999).

Interestingly, creativity in the arts seems to peak, on average, for people in their late 30s and early 40s. There are of course exceptions; Michelangelo was in his 80s when he worked on St. Peter’s Cathedral. But in general, creative work is thought to require two things, experience and enthusiasm (Beard, 1874), people in their 30s and 40s have both of these. Dean Simonton (1984, 1990, 1991) suggests that each creator may have a certain potential to create that is realized over their adult years; like a well of novel ideas that slowly runs dry as they are used up regardless of when the tapping into them began; this may explain eminent works actualized later in life. By my mind then, can there be any more horrifying event for a creator than the completion of their opus? The Pulitzer darkening their door? “What now?” I hear them cry.

We’ve all read those books, “How did they come up with this?” Something so unique while still able to suspend disbelief, like witnessing magic, it’s the way I felt after reading the first Harry Potter book. This author had somehow transported me back to childhood (along with everyone else) and I clamored for more (along with everyone else) unique and yet still tapping into our ancient archetypes, our universal truths that ring our bells. Creativity.

Motivation to Write

I recently had a phone conversation with an old friend with whom I’d been out of touch. During the course of the conversation she asked me about writing, not really about mine specifically, more how does one go about it in general?

I had to think about it. Well let’s see, since I do it early before the kids break the silence, some sort of caffeinated beverage is required, preferably hot. Pajamas. Pajamas and warm feet, so socks or slippers are helpful. It’s nice if my desk is tidy, less distraction, but since this is a rarity I can’t really depend on it. It’s more of an ideal than a reality. Other than that, a blank or half-filled screen, (although the half-filled is easier) and oh, one more thing, motivation.

If you want to completely demystify the process, consider the act of writing as nothing more than a behavior, or series of behaviors, and behavior needs a motivation. It can be intrinsic or extrinsic but motivation to carry out the behavior is required. Funny thing about behavior, we don’t usually engage in anything without some sort of reward, carrot if you will, dangling out in front of our noses. So with writing, it helps a great deal, in fact I would say it’s almost essential, to be intrinsically motivated to write. The act itself is the reward regardless of the presence or absence of tangibles (money, publication, life-style of the rich and famous).

A few weeks ago some people were bantering around the question as to whether or not writing was hard. Some said yes, some said no, some said they loved having written. The looking back at what was accomplished with the satisfaction of it being done. I imagine you could determine from these answers how some people force themselves to their desks, glare out down the stretch of a stick so long the carrot is barely visible out on the horizon. I’ve done work this way, so have you; it is very hard. Believe me when I say how grateful I am for those days when I have carrots pop up just by pushing my keys.