Today we’re taking a break from the Oracle series because Rita Webb, who recently published Tears, a YA novel that my daughter is absolutely in love with, is hanging out with me and Clive. So, while I sit back and enjoy that massage Clive’s been begging to give me, Rita is going to share her journey to publication. Thank you, Rita. The Edge is yours.
My Road to Publishing
Five years ago, a dear friend of mine sent me these words by Mark Twain:
Who was it who said, “Blessed is the man who has found his work”? Whoever it was he had the right idea in his mind. Mark you, he says his work—not somebody else’s work. The work that is really a man’s own work is play and not work at all. Cursed is the man who has found some other man’s work and cannot lose it.
My two favorite figures in history were both writers and publishers: Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain In fact, it is Mark Twain’s words about work and play that led me to becoming a writer and setting up my own publishing business.
A publisher, like any investor, has a vision of what a story can become. They see the potential and take the monetary risk to bring that potential into fruition. They invest time, money, resources, and experience into a writer.
As a writer, I had a vision of what my stories could become, but I lacked the money, resources, and experience. How do you make a cover? How much does it cost? How do you write the copyright page? Where do you get a printer? How do you market? Those were just a few questions, but the scary side of becoming my own publisher was the questions I didn’t know how to ask. You can’t ask your guide how to get around the snow giant blocking the mountain pass if you don’t even know the monster is there.
My road to becoming a published writer and an entrepreneur publisher alongside my husband TJ started when my job laid me off after 10 years of service. I had to ask myself, “Who do I really want to be? What do I want to do with my life?”
I dabbled in writing since I was 12 years old, and in high school and college, I handed in my first drafts and always got an A+ whether the assignment was creative writing, business writing, or research reports. I thought I could waltz right into my first novel and be a bestseller—except I really had no clue what I was getting myself into.
Maybe if I had known how much work went into polishing a manuscript, I never would have jumped into the fire, but once my fingers started clicking away at the keyboard and the words marched across my screen, I couldn’t stop. In fact, I tried to give up many times. My family needed me, and I wasted my time on a foolish dream… But the next day, I was back at it—thanks to my husband who was always there: believing in me, encouraging me, pushing me to try harder, supporting me, reading my stories again and again to catch my mistakes. I never would have made it without him. Even now, I still couldn’t get by without him; he has an intuitive sense that keeps me grounded.
150K words and 2 novels later, I faced the criticisms of my beta readers: my characters were flat (I call them “Yes Men” because without motivations, they said “Yes, whatever you want, master”); my world was empty; my prose was weak. My writing just sucked.
Devastated, I cried—not because of the criticism but because I didn’t know how to fix the problems. I thought I had failed, my dreams crashing and burning in a hopeless mess. Again, I tried to give up, but my mind started working on solutions the moment I resolved to put my writing away for good.
I checked out every book about writing from the library. Working at my new job by day, helping my husband homeschool my kids in the evening, studying and writing by night, I practiced on short stories. By trading editing favors with other writers I met online, I learned from my mistakes. They taught me how to add description, vary sentence structures, find active verbs, cut out repetitive phrases, plan a plotline…
This is when Tears was conceived. It started as a short story series as a sequel to my crash-and-burn novels I had written the previous year. What would happen to my world if my character fails to save it from her enemy? We would have an apocalypse with the destruction of magic. Technology would take over and a military state would form. Maybe one cyborg girl could save her people, restore magic, and bring dragons back.
It took me a year to write and a year to polish. Round after round of editing, I wanted to say, “Good enough.” But my husband insisted I keep working on it. Another round and then another. Then beta-readers. Then more polishing. Again. And again. Until my mind was numb.
But everything worthwhile takes time and elbow-grease.
When Carlos J. Cortes called for submissions for an anthology Ménage à 20, I submitted two stories. My first publication. I watched the process carefully: from the planning to the editing to the contracts to the blurbs. I saw the frustration and joys that went into this process.
Six months later, my writer friend Wendy and I decided to put together our own not-for-profit anthology. We collected 10 stories, edited, typeset the interior, created a cover, wrote blurbs, and planned the marketing. Months of work later, we published Unlocked in August of 2010.
I loved the whole process and realized I would hate not having my fingers in the pie if I went with a traditional publisher. I wanted to make my own schedule, plan my own covers, and organize my own book interior. Just writing wouldn’t be enough anymore. I did some half-hearted querying for Tears, got a few nibbles, and then started plotting my next adventure.
Being the go-get-’em girl that I am, I plunged into studying again: business, publishing, marketing, and accounting. I don’t do anything by halves. I spent six months alone just writing my business model and marketing plan.
July 4, 2011, Robot Playground Inc was born, and a month later, I released Tears. Four long years after the company I worked for first announced the impending layoffs, I finally see the fruits of my labor.
It feels good and right to be responsible for my own dreams and to be the Queen of my own Destiny, but the work has just begun. Writing and self-publishing is no get-rich-quick scheme. It’s a work-your-ass-off-until-you-drag-yourself-to-the-top-of-a-treacherous-mountain path.
My advice to any would-be self-publisher: Mountain climbing doesn’t include helicopters, and there are no shortcuts to publishing.
Well said, Rita. Thanks so much for stopping by. I seldom have guests here because people annoy me. But I like you. You can come back any time.
And here’s a big pat on the back as well. You have worked your ass off to see Tears published, so be proud of what you’ve achieved through that time and effort. As one of your beta readers, I was able to see this story evolve and the difference between the first draft I read and the final product is phenomenal. This should be the reality for self-published authors. It shouldn’t ever be a matter of write a draft and send it out.
Writing a book should never be easy. If it is, you’re doing it wrong.
Here, take the soapbox. I use it far too much. So, how would you all like a shot at winning a copy of Rita’s novel?
Of course you would! Entering is easy. Just share a link to The Edge on either Twitter or Facebook and then share with us (in the comments) your favorite quote about books, writing or writers, and provide an email address so I can contact you. It’s that easy. I’ll announce the winner on Friday. And don’t forget to come back tomorrow to read the Oracle’s next prediction.