Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Writing Wednesday: Talking about my "Writer Journey"

Last week, I spoke on an author panel at the Cape Cod Writers Center's annual Conference. The moderator sent out questions beforehand, which I diligently typed out answers for. Of course, when we actually started speaking, the conversations didn't quite follow the flow the moderator had anticipated. Don't get me wrong, it was a good talk, and we've all gotten good feedback from the audience, but you know how it goes - questions get asked and answered that take the conversation in new directions.

Besides, I truly never anticipated just being able to read my written remarks straight off the page. Writing it all out in narrative form did help me gather my thoughts in a way that an outline never seems to do. I totally need to remember that trick for the next time I need to present.

Anyway. Since I went to the effort of writing out the Q&A, thought I'd share. My writing journey is not unique, and is probably similar to lots of other writers, But I've been through ups and downs over the last 10 years of this journey...

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The title of the talk is “The Writers Journey.” They have someone else who’s talking about writing that first novel and the angst and effort that goes into it… So I thought we could share what we’ve gone through as authors.

Short intros as to who we are, what we write and who we write for (publishers)

I’m Katie O’Sullivan, and I’ve live here on Cape Cod year round for the last 10 years. I have 3 sons, the oldest is a junior-year cadet at the Air Force Academy out in Colorado, the middle boy is headed off in September to attend the University of Chicago, and the youngest is a rising junior at Nauset Regional High School in Eastham, down by the National Seashore. The last 10 years have been a whirlwind of soccer games, track meets, band concerts and stage performances. My youngest son is currently in Selkie which opens next Thursday at Cape Cod Theatre Company in Harwich.  I’ve worked as the editor in chief of an online magazine, and currently have a full-time technical writing position for a California-based company.

And, oh yeah, I’ve been published 10 times in the last 7 years with 5 different publishers. Well, one of those is a novella, so 9 and a half times?

I write young adult urban fantasy and romantic suspense, most of it set here on Cape Cod.

The Wild Rose Press out of New York publishes my romantic and psychic suspense novels, and I can’t say enough good things about the quality of their editing and the great group of supportive authors. When the publisher of my YA mermaid series went out of business early last year, I was fortunate enough to hook up with Kate Conway, another Cape author who also writes YA urban fantasy, and she took me on at her start-up imprint, so I get the best of both worlds with the rerelease of my series – the flexibility of “self-publishing” with help from a knowledgeable publishing expert.

How did we get to be published authors? How long did it take? What were the frustrations and war stories? Did you ever think of giving up?

I’ve wanted to be an author since middle school, but there was always something else I needed to do. Go to college. Get a “real” job. Get married. Have kids. You know, have a life.

After earning a degree in English literature from Colgate University, I moved to Boston and worked a series of jobs in advertising, public relations and journalism. I started writing a novel on the side, and then another, but never finished any of the manuscripts.

My serious author journey didn’t begin until we moved to the Cape full time and I discovered this wonderful invention called full-day Kindergarten. A friend dragged me to his writing class, and I decided to finally pursue that dream. At the time, moving into our summer home was only supposed to be temporary, so my husband encouraged me to write, saying I could wait to get a real job when we bought a new house off-Cape. Along the way, that plan changed obviously, but he still encouraged me to keep writing.

The class morphed into a weekly writing group, and I read tons of blogs about writing and publishing. When I finished my first manuscript and started submitting it, I started right in on Book number 2 so I could stay involved with the group and have something to read out loud other than the many rejection letters from agents and publishers.

I reminded myself that Agatha Christie went through 5 years of rejection letters. Gone with the Wind was rejected 38 times before someone took a chance. J.K. Rowling’s first book was rejected 12 times before an editor’s daughter demanded to read the rest and her father gave Rowling her first contract.

I’m not saying I’ve got the next Harry Potter up my sleeve. I’m just saying don’t give up. My second book was the first one that sold.


Once the magic of getting that first contract in hand wears off what were the realities of being paid to write… surprises, demands, disappointments, pleasant surprises.

When I started writing, I thought reaching the end of the manuscript was the hard part. Nope. The real work starts after typing “the end” – writing your queries, writing a synopsis, researching agents and publishers…

Write these down:
QueryTracker.com
AgentQuery.com
Writer Beware blog
Preditors and Editors blog
Query Shark blog (hosted by the wonderful Janet Reid)

…and then after the contract there’s even more work, several rounds of edits and setting up promotional tours and coming up with marketing plans. With a small press or if you self-publish, getting your book in front of reviewers and readers is all up to you.

Unless you hire someone as your publicist, you are the one doing the promotion. Writing press releases, calling libraries, stopping in at bookstores. It’s time consuming.

And social media is important too, especially for ebooks. Having a website, a blog, a twitter presence, a Facebook page, maybe an Instagram account, if you’re writing for a teen audience. All these are small things, but they take time. And you can’t beat yourself up for not doing everything. Decide what you have time for in your life, that still leaves you with time to do the most important part – writing the next story.

Now that we’ve all made it to become multi-published authors what does that mean? How do we spend our days and nights?

Really, things haven’t changed too much. Except that after several years now, I finally feel like I know what I’m doing. And I finally have a publisher I trust and feel comfortable with. I can’t stress enough, research is important before you sign any contracts.

I currently blog 3 days a week and help promote other authors all the time. I still read voraciously, and post weekly reviews of my favorite books. I try not to post negative reviews, but if an author makes me smile I feel like I’m giving him or her something back in return. As a published author, you realize how good it feels to know someone read and liked your words.

I try to write every day – whether it’s one of the books I currently have in progress or blogging or writing an article for another venue. But I also do a lot of writing for my day job, so some days I’m too tired to be creative.

And in two years, I’ll send the last son off to college and everything will change again. It’ll be like full-day Kindergarten on steroids.

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How about you? What's your writer journey been like so far? What advice would you give at a writers conference?

 


19 comments:

  1. My journey is similar Katie. I always had the urge to write but lacked discipline. I wrote for my day job and always made excuses. Getting older is what whipped my butt into gear. Now nearly three years later my first book is coming out shortly...just saw the cover for the first time and I love it!

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    1. Congrats on your debut release, Amanda! Make sure to keep up the momentum with promotion and getting your book's cover and title out there in front of the world.

      Enjoy every step of the journey!

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  2. You give great advice and insight, Katie. If there's one thing I'd like to add to my own process it would be connecting with other writers. After putting feelers out in my area I find I'm alone. I can't afford to travel to conferences and workshops. There are no writing groups within a reasonable distance. I do have my social media friends, but I'd love to do a little face-to-face networking and brainstorming.

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    1. When we were actually in the room giving the talk, we all spoke a lot about connecting, joining classes, finding online communities - one of the authors claimed he thought of writing as a community building thing, but the other author and I disagreed. Writing is a very solitary endeavor - you have to work at the community building part and actively seek it out.

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    2. Hey, Sandra! Send me your email address - I just remembered that you won a copy of GHOSTS DON'T LIE in my weekend giveaway!

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    3. I have found an RWA chapter about 70 miles from my house. Now I just have to find someone willing to watch my mother once a month. I sent you an email.

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  3. I really enjoyed your post, Katie. And happy birthday! You've condensed a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears and hard-won knowledge into your talk

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    1. Thanks, Charlotte! Appreciate the good wishes!

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  4. Wonderful post and advice, Katie. I've found that my reading has slacked off, which bothers me tremendously. I've only been a published author for two years, yet, I'm able to find a balance between the marketing and promoting. The writing is my "center"--a focal point and I work everything around this precious time. Thanks so much for sharing. :)

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    1. You're so lucky to have struck a balance -- and yet, I really find that reading helps me so much, especially when I'm in a slow writing phase. Or maybe it's just me procrastinating. I truly believe reading widely in and around your genres helps an author better understand what's current and what's good and bad within their genre.

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  5. Great blog, your writing journey is somewhat similar to mine when I started back in the early 1990's but things were so different then with traditional publishing, and I dropped out for 12 years because of NY traditional publishers. I had loads of rejections, and my second book was the first one I sold, too. I've since redone most of my old books (still lacking my first and third books--both long historicals), as well as writing new stuff and rewriting a couple of things under my bed, one of which was my first sale to TWRP and is now an Amazon Encore. So, it's been a long road, and you're completely and utterly right about the promotional stuff. I still don't have that worked out. Everything is so different now. And I wish I had your balance, but being basically OC, I guess that might never happen. Loved your blog and think it would be great for all readers and writers to see. Am going to share.

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    1. It's so cool hearing everyone's journey stories. This is not an easy business, and no one has a straight path to success it seems. I enjoy your books, Hebby, and wish you many years of success!

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  6. Great post. I actually started in writing for radio and television and began my fiction writing with short stories, earning some awards to encourage me to write a novel. However, it was my "second novel" that sold, too. I still like the first manuscript--but it needs a LOT of rewriting so it sits in its lonely spot on a flash drive. I agree that there so much work involved with marketing that sometimes I just have to get up from the computer and walk away. It was so great to read about others and their experiences.

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    1. I think lots and lots of authors have that first book baby hidden under the bed, so to speak. I've tried a few times to revise and resubmit my first manuscript... Finally gave up since starting fresh is so much easier!

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  7. Great post - while I was there with you, I didn't get to hear the full story since as you said, questions were asked and the conversation took different turns! I love the idea of writing it up and turning it into a blog post, especially since we have more events coming up :) Was great seeing you last week!

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    1. Kathryn, I'm so glad you live so close and we can plan these types of events together. I'm so much more likely to get out there in a group than fly solo. Hey, speaking of which, there's another event I've been invited to that I plan to forward when I get the details, see if you're free to join us. Happy Writing and Happy Summer!

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  8. It is hard not to feel guilty about not spending enough time on each platform to promote. I barely handle twitter, and that's just to post others' tweets. My author facebook page gets a visit from me every other day, and not in depth, either. And I only have time to blog once a week. It's hard, that whole promotion part, and I feel like I am a miserable failure. I know that I need to get that second book written, but that's not any closer to a reality than selling more of my books! It's hard when you have a J.O.B. in addition to wanting to write. It's awesome that you can keep up with it all!

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    1. Susabelle, don't beat yourself up about any of it. We all do what we can when we can. I remember blogging about my frustrations with time early on and older writers giving encouragement. You know, like who cares about dusting anyway, lol. It's taken me ten years to get a rhythm going - and I only just went back to work full-time (i.e. paying real money) last June. The magazine editing job was probably just as time consuming for the years I did that, but paid sh*t so it didn't ever bother me to walk away from my desk if I needed to, or work on my own writing. A "real" J.O.B. feels different, I know. As for the promotion, we all do what we can. I believe in my heart my books would sell more copies if I spent more time getting the word out, but I know my kids need that time right now. They won't need me much longer so I choose to give them my time. My book babies can wait. Life is about choices - make choices that make you happy and don't look back. Or at least don't beat yourself up :-)

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    2. Lots of your post and the comments resonated with me. Got published in the early 90's with my first book. Writing was pretty much all you had to do then. Good thing, since I had a job and young children. Now I still have the job (in a library, so who can complain) and my kids are well into adulthood. But the promotion/social media part sucks up as much or more time than the kids used to. I'm not kidding either. So most of the time I suck at it because if you don't get another book written there really is no point. But I am old enough that I realize I write because I love it and have stories to tell and know that life is too short to obsess about what you're not doing. Congrats on finding a balance, and may we all do so. Cheers!

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