An announcement, a story, and some well-learned lessons on making connections.
It's SO GOOD to finally get to tell you that I've signed with Uncommon Universes Press to re-launch my first book! The entire team and list of authors are incredible, and this book and I could not be in better hands! But that’s not the only reason I’m here.
If you knew the book in its former life, don't worry, the story isn't changing but some other details (including the title!) will be. I'll keep you posted on the whole process as things unfold. In the meantime, what follows is the story of how my relationship with UUP came about. It's a twisty tale with God's fingerprints all over it!
The story is long, but it’s here for the curious. Beyond the story itself, I’ve pinpointed some realities I dearly wish I’d considered before beginning the journey into the wide, professional world.
There’s no saying the outcome would have be different had I utilized them. But, frothing fountainpens, the process would have been so much more pleasant! Because, bottom line, it’s not just about finding an avenue to publishing. It’s about partnering with God FIRST and surrendering to the process that is BEST. Spoilers, that path may not always be most direct or free of potholes.
If you want to glean the lessons leaned rather than wading through how I learned them, just skim the bolded sections. Otherwise, buckled up, Buttercup. This was NOT a smooth ride.
It’s a cruel reality that so many writers are introverts. For some of us, the world is dark and scary outside of our fictional landscapes. But if we want those landscapes to ever be tread by others, we must do the most unnatural of things. Whether traditional or independently publishing, writers have to do that titular act of communing with THE PUBLIC. More importantly, to give our work the best chance of being seen, we have to make connections, contacts, and dare I say, network!
When I thought I was done writing the book, I did what “they say to do.” I bought author guides, did my research, and sent query letters. Lots and lots of query letters. I knew what I wanted and thought I knew how to get there. For a year, I sent the letters, met with publishers, practiced my pitch, and ran myself down with desperation.
However, THE path to success was not MY path to success. There was nothing “by the book” about my publishing journey, and I seriously hope there never will be. What God was doing, and had planned from the start, was RIGHT rather than EXPECTED.
The process really started in May 2017, about a dozen query letters in. I was on my first wave of real self-doubt. In a turn of events involving a stomach bug, a moving truck, and formerly reserved babysitting, I found myself at a young adult author panel at my library. There, I received some much-needed advice and encouragement from other authors who had run the gauntlet.
Armed with a little confidence, I got the idea to ask my (personal and tiny) Facebook community if any of them had connections in publishing and/or could lend some extra advice. That was when a friend suggested Real Makers, the community and annual conference for Christian authors of sci-fi and fantasy. I approached my Mother-in-law for sage advice and financial support. Her response, “Well, you’re going, we just have to find out how. Also, are you going to be the only one there?” (As a matter of fact, we spec-fic Christians are in the hundreds and growing.)
Here, I find the first rule of connection. It’s not always going to come from doing things the “right” way, but it also doesn’t come from nothing. Get out there. Start conversations. See what happens.
With a suitcase stuffed with crippling impostor syndrome, I won the first battle of the weekend by getting on the plane! I also made the earth-shattering decision of who to pitch to. After reading all of the bios and descriptions and considering my (tiny) perspective on agents vs small-press editors, I made my pitching appointments. One of which was with Janeen Ippolito of Uncommon Universes Press. The other, I honestly don’t remember.
Through my first sessions at the conference, a knot began to grow in my stomach, as the Impostor Syndrome monster eked its way out of my suitcase. How could my book possibly be good enough? How was I supposed to compete with all these other authors wanting the exact same thing? God then tapped me on the head, as he does, and told me to settle down and sell the book he told me to write. He had a plan. All right then.
Here’s the second rule of connection. Trust. And Try. Fear will push you where you don’t need to go and hold you back from where you need to be. God does the opposite. He leads, nudges, and stops us when we let him. Whatever the decision, nothing is irredeemable.
The first publisher I met with said the writing wasn’t SO bad. Great. He also gave extensive criticism to the opening (chapters which would spend the following two years being chopped down, rearranged and ultimately replaced). While Ms. Ippolito declared the story to have “good bones” and asked to see more after some changes. However, these pitches did not immediately lead to the outcome I’d desperately prayed for. That came later. In an inadvertent and ultimately HUMILIATING way.
Third rule of connection, God sometimes allows things that you would see as the end of days to get you exactly where you need to be. Trust that he knows you, wants great things for you, and that you don’t always work in your best interest on your own.
It was one of those conversations where you know you’re in the right place at the right time. The Holy Spirit flowed, and I knew everything we said came from him. Two people with similar callings and passions, encouraging each other on the difficult path. My new friend left saying, “I know why I sat here today.” And I left feeling overwhelmed with calling, purpose, and comradery.
So, when I saw this new friend in the vender hall behind a publisher’s booth, I was flabbergasted. This guy who said he hardly had time to write owned a small press? I marched forward, stoked to check out the books and hear more about the company. In a HIGHLY uncharacteristic show of confidence and bravado I half-joked “Well, you already know me, and that I’m awesome, so of course you’ll want to publish my book!”
Only problem: this wasn’t the gentleman I’d sat with at lunch.
This was a highly confused doppelganger who didn’t recognize my references to the conversations we didn’t have. (I hold to this day that they were identical. But that’s beside the point.)
Already dead inside, I had a decision to make. Backpedal into the introvert’s purgatory, or keep a smile on my face and see what happened. Somehow, I managed the latter, laughed it off as well as I could, and did, in fact, pitch to The Crossover Alliance who later signed me.
The months that followed were dark. Uncommon Universes’ acquisitions team requested some revisions but ended the conversation with a polite, “No thank you.” None of my query letters were receiving more than the occasion form rejection. What was the point? Uselessness and having wasted time were not things I could accept. When I did receive one acceptance from another small press, one I realized I didn’t really want to work with, who raised more than one red flag, I wondered if I’d ever get another offer. I’d reached that magic 50-query-letters marker I’d created in my head, and the already loose ground was crumbling.
Fourth rule of connection, don’t be afraid to say, “no thank you.” You can’t be so afraid of failure that you set yourself up for it. Even if one more “no” makes you want to jump out a window, not every “yes” will be the right one.
By January, everything from health disruptions to a failed NaNoWriMo attempt had me sucked into a dark cloud of, “I’ve wasted time, I’m not good enough, and quitting is my only option.” But quitting would also confirm my efforts had been pointless. Really, I wished I’d never started.
But also during this storm, I was surrounded by love and support. They weren’t easy to focus on within the rejection, but they were there. And I needed them.
Rule five, the people who truly know you mean a lot more than the ones who don’t. Rejection happens. But it doesn’t define you.
After a series of intense and mysterious migraines, I’d lost my ability to read screens, (or anything for any length of time). So, a friend read and recorded my whole book, ALL 10 HOURS, onto a thumb drive so I could make notes for later changes. (He would have been in the running for official audiobook narrator if it hadn’t been for the first-person female perspective. That detail did however make his rendition all the more enjoyable.) Because of that reading, I was able to make changes I wouldn’t have made otherwise, hearing things in ways I hadn’t read them before. And when TCA had settled down after some changes of their own, they were finally ready to read my book with an updated submission.
We signed in May 2018.
Rule of connection number six. Time is relative. A year may not seem like a long time, and especially for publishing, it isn’t. But it certainly felt long to me. That’s mainly because I couldn’t see all the pieces aligning.
Though this STILL wasn’t the end.
The contract led to the two-year process of actually getting the book published, with many peaks and valleys. While I’m thankful for all the hard work others put in, the relationships I built, and the progress I made, there were many late nights and anxious days wondering HOW and WHY things were going so not according to plan. I questioned if I’d missed something or if God had really been directing in the first place.
EVEN AFTER the book came out—it was there, in my hands, REAL—there were some elements of disappointment which again led me to wish I’d never started. This wasn’t what I dreamed. This wasn’t everything it could have been. After only a couple weeks of being published, I was already burnt out. This doesn’t mean there weren’t moments of genuine excitement and gratitude that I shared with the world. But publication brought twists and turns I hadn’t expected—and sometimes, marketing means putting on a brave face no matter what.
Seventh rule. Pitfalls and hardship don’t always mean you’re in the wrong place or working with the wrong people. People’s choices can affect you, but that doesn’t mean it’s over. Keep asking if it’s right to stick around or walk away, and wait to see what God can do. Sometimes it’s not about you. Be patient with the processes he’s working in others.
After five months, I emailed that publisher asking for an update relating to some fixes for the hardcover as well an audiobook that had been completed for a while but not yet available for purchase. The next day, the reply I received announced that the press would be closing. The process (or lack thereof) of taking in that news was catalogued here. But I’ll skip ahead to what I haven’t yet been able to share.
The first reasonable thing I did was contact Janeen Ippolito who had become a friend and advisor since Realm Makers in 2017. I’d had several conversations with her and knew she had the sound reason I needed to pick up these pieces. I made an appointment for some career coaching later in the week. But, even while she mercifully squeezed me in ASAP, a few days seemed a terribly long time to wait.
After a rough night involving a 2005 Augustan album, I got an email from the editor I worked with at TCA. He had always been extremely helpful and supportive, and I greatly appreciated his reaching out to see how I was holding up. He also mentioned that he was in the early stages of starting up his own press and asked if I would be open to re-launching there.
Now, to this point, I was personally convinced that no press would want the leftovers of a shut-down release. Apparently, I was wrong. I contacted Janeen with this news, asking for her professional opinion on what, to me, seemed too good to be true. She raised some points and some questions to ask but then followed with saying she has been considering my book for Uncommon Universes, but that it would have to go through review according to their internal procedures. Later that night, she let me know it was in serious discussion and the review was being fast-tracked. By mid-morning the next day, I had an offer of publication.
In short, the FIRST CHOICE PUBLISHER I had selected almost FOUR YEARS ago has signed my book. We signed in the middle of March, and UUP made the official announcement in early April.
I can’t say the process could or SHOULD have happened without any piece of the story, no mater how rough it was. Looking back, I can see every little thing that pointed toward this ending. And I can’t say there’s a single regret. Now, I’m looking forward with a lot more trust for the bigger picture.
So here is the final rule. Number eight. Always be ready for a twist. It may not look good at first, but God works in twists. Humans are messy, and we always will be. But God likes a good surprise ending, and I’m so thankful.
So what’s next? I’m in the process of finding a safe harbor for my second book, and books three and four are in the works. This time, I’m doing all the things I did right before, only I’m not panicking every step of the way.
I’m letting things fall together. And I’m looking forward to the outcome, whatever that is. Because I know there’s a plan. And I know I (and my stories) will be just fine on the other end. Here, I wrap up this ridiculously long blog post by saying with the upmost sincerity that I hope you find the beauty in your journey and peace along the way.
Thanks for being here!