Mate. There are no decent maps to show the path you’ll take to your debut and beyond!*
My middle-grade fantasy adventure ‘The Lost Stone of SkyCity’ came out this month. As my debut, it’s been a whirlwind of preparation and editing and excitement and <eeep> stressing about the unknowns. Which there were a lot of.
Still are, actually.
My book was originally scheduled for publishing Q1 2020, until one sunny day in February I got a phone call from my publisher. A spot had opened up for October. Could I get everything done in time?
To which I replied, ‘I have no idea what “everything” is, but yes.’
(Note to self: awesome on-the-spot thinking! This was totally the correct answer!)
I’m still learning at this game, but for what it’s worth here are five lessons I’ve learnt on my way to getting published:
*Note: this post probably isn’t a good map either!!! If you feel like you’re stuck in a forest, and my path sounds like I was up a mountain, relax … I think that’s how most of us feel! 🙂
Lesson 1. Find the writing process that works for you (a.k.a. NaNoWriMo rocks)
I love NaNo. It’s what got me back into writing. I decided on a whim to throw myself straight into the deep end back in NaNo 2014 (mental convo went like this: ‘Hmmm, I haven’t written in years, why not sign up for 50K in a month that starts in, like, two days time?’ ‘Hey, great idea, Self!’). I did actually make my target, but that first attempt was TERRIBLE and SHALL NEVER SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY.
2015 NaNo was much better. And 2016 NaNo? Well, that’s what became ‘The Lost Stone of SkyCity’!
Writing like this means I don’t waste time rereading. I don’t lose that all-important voice. I love this writing process so much I even invent other writing months and call them things like JanoWriMo or FeboWriMo and stretch the fun across the year. I know this way of writing doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for me.
So find what suits you and embrace it.
Lesson 2. Find writing buddies
Without buddies, where would I be? Not writing this, I’m sure. The support and buzz and inspiration you get from hanging out with a like-minded group of creatives is awesome. Join a critique group, grab onto your local SCBWI, find NaNo buddies, connect with writing twitter, sell your soul for a good beta reader (actually, you don’t need to go that far, just offer to reciprocate!).
You can share rejections, celebrate acceptances, and pick each other’s brains when you’re not sure what the heck is going on, or can’t figure out how to fix a plot hole. You can share pots of tea and great big hunks of hope.
Writing buddies are The Best.
Lesson 3. Read the sort of books you want to write (as well as the sort you don’t so you know what to avoid)
I write children’s books. So I read children’s books. Lots of them. I read them for fun, and I read them with my writerly hat on, too.
I don’t usually read when I’m writing (who would have the time in a WriMo anyway?) but after I’ve finished I reward myself with Lots Of Books.
(My local librarians were so happy when I announced I was finally getting published after four years of devouring their kidlit collection …)
Lesson 4. Submit your WIP, fall down, get back up again, repeat
Ha! Surprisingly, no one can publish your novel if it’s just saved in a folder on your computer titled WIPfinaldraft4actualfinal2. Go to conferences, meet with publishers and agents, make connections and send your baby out there.
Yes, you will get rejections. Some of these will pass by almost unnoticed (oh, is it more than 12 weeks since I submitted to XX? I never heard back), and some will break your spirit into tiny ragged pieces stained with the sweat and spilt tea of too many hours at a keyboard writing something that no one will ever publish why do I even do this to myself.
My 2015 NaNo did this to me. It was out there, publishers were loving it. I was half-allowing myself to hope that this could finally be it.
It wasn’t. (Sorry to break that so bluntly, though you were probably expecting it.)
Wisely, I gave myself a break. I read lots of books (see Lesson 3 above!). I wrote a heartfelt blog post about needing to rediscover my love of writing.
And basically the next day I got the email that changed everything. I’d submitted my 2016 NaNo to publisher Fremantle Press a few months before. It was the first time it had ever been out of my computer. Turns out, it enjoyed being out in the world. Turns out, they really liked it, too. Would I like to come in to discuss it? Would I ever …!
That 2016 NaNo manuscript became ‘The Lost Stone of SkyCity’.
Lesson 5. Don’t be afraid to ask questions (but expect to realise there were a lot more questions you should have asked but didn’t because you simply didn’t know enough to know you needed to know more)
There was a lot to do between my MS being accepted, and actually seeing the book in bookshops. I wasn’t expecting half of it. And at first it had surprisingly little to do with editing. The first phase was all forms to fill out, that rusty old bio needed a serious spruce up, and my goodness I needed some professional headshots done, stat! The contract needed signing and mailing, and then there was the wait until I was sure I could share the happy news.
I swear, I asked questions. But I knew so little about what was going to happen that my questions were, to put it kindly, seriously deficient. This is where buddies are great (ref. Lesson 2 above!).
Then there were rounds of editing. Interspersed between editing, was the process for deciding the front cover. Mind-blowing. Before you know it, you’re getting the final we’re-about-to-send-to-the-printer version for checking. Sending that back was excruciating. I couldn’t sleep. What if something was wrong? (If anyone finds a typo in the book, break it gently to me!)
BUT IT WASN’T OVER! Enter Phase 3. Interviews, social media peptalks, nightmares where I’d forgotten to do something really important, and OMG the first reviews rolling in.
Now the book is out, I suppose it’s Phase 4 and the game is changing again. The launch is in a week (Thursday 24th, people! <yay> Book here). There are podcasts, book signings, more reviews, and my book jumping out and surprising me on Instagram because other people have posted shots of it (!!WOW!!) and I feel so lucky.
And validated. Go 2016 Me – you were doing the right thing!
6 thoughts on “Five lessons I’ve learnt on the path to my debut: ‘The Lost Stone of SkyCity’”
I love this! I am self-publishing because I want to do it that way, but all publishing experiences are interesting to me right now. As for Nano, I did the last camp, dipped my toe in the water. I’m too busy this November, but am seriously considering it for next year, to draft the third book in my series. For the same reason as you – consistency in voice, no rewriting until the end.
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Heavens! If you’re self publishing there must be so much you need to know beforehand, rather than having the luxury of discovering it on the way when you publisher brings it up. Hats off to you! Good luck with it, you’re writing is fab so I’m sure it’ll be great!
Wonderful! Fabulous post!! Thank you for these steps. You’re so brave. I’m loving “The Lost Stone of SkyCity” – that VOICE – from the very first sentence. Brava!! XO
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Thanks Pierr!! That means so much to hear 🙂
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Haha! Best post! So you! Some great tips here Heather, Im so glad you kept going on your journey and can’t wait to get my very own signed copy at Booktoberfest!
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Thanks Bec, will be wonderful to see you there – thanks for the support!