I came to know Lisa Alber when she was a participant in my online *I Should Be Writing!* Boot Camp, and later as a private coaching client. She is the author of Kilmoon, an atmospheric mystery set in Ireland, which was a Rosebud Award finalist for best debut novel. About a year after publishing Kilmoon with a hybrid publisher, she landed a two-book deal with Midnight Ink Books for new mysteries in the series slated for August 2016 and August 2017. Before all that, Lisa took workshops with New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth George and received an Elizabeth George Foundation writing grant. She is also a Walden Fellowship recipient and Pushcart Prize nominee. She lives in the Pacific Northwest.
Please welcome Lisa Alber.
Anyone can become an author these days. It’s as simple as signing up for Kindle Direct Publishing or any other self-publishing service. That said, most of us dream of “getting published," and by that I mean landing a literary agent and then a traditional publisher that pays an advance, and produces and markets your book at its expense, not yours.
To all you aspiring novelists who despair of getting published: I’m here to tell you that there’s hope after rejection from literary agents and traditional publishers. Most of all, I’m here to tell you that no matter where you start, you can progress—move up the publishing ladder, so to speak.
I spent many years holding out for The Agent and The Deal. When I finally landed The Agent, I was still rejected everywhere she submitted my novel manuscript. How could that be? Was the agent not a great salesperson? Was my manuscript not as polished as I’d (we’d!) thought?
The answer is probably a combination of the two, plus a third factor: the fickleness of the business. Alas, unsurprisingly, that agent relationship didn’t work out and neither did the next two agents.
I grew horribly depressed. I gave up on the mystery manuscript many times during this ten-year period. I tried my hand at writing thrillers and women’s fiction with sucky results. The rejections continued to rack up and with them arrived the insidious self-doubts.
There came a point in my journey when I needed to shite (how’s that for being polite?) or get off the pot. I could no longer wait for the powers that be to deem my story acceptable. Who gets published and who doesn’t seemed like a crapshoot.
In fact, given that you have a publishable novel, it is a crapshoot. Assuming that you’ve intensively studied your craft, gathered outside feedback to further improve your storytelling, and revised and polished to within an inch of your life, your novel is probably as good as any debut novel out there. All you need is for your manuscript to land on the perfect agent’s desk at the perfect time and for about a million other random things to line up perfectly too. Easy peasy. (Not.)
Also, keep in mind that you can’t predict what publishers are looking for or what types of novels they already have on their lists.
When I distanced myself from the rollercoaster that is querying and pitching and pining, I saw what was in my heart. The heart knows things that the mind doesn’t. Mine told me that my writing, my story, had merit. It took awhile for me to shake off the rejections, but I’m so glad I did.
All we can control is ourselves. So I decided to leap, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The trick these days is to get our feet in the publishing door. From there, who knows what may happen?
So how did I poke my feet in? An acquaintance asked me to join her fledgling publishing enterprise, and I said yes. Muskrat Press is a hybrid/self-publishing LLC. A cooperative, I guess you’d call it. (There are many of these around nowadays.) Three of us debut authors supported each other on the way to publication. Professional editing, professional cover art—the whole deal.
The whole deal also included plenty of marketing and publicity. Goodreads giveaways, Twitter and Facebook virtual book parties, guest blogging, you name it. I was even a blogger on The Debutante Ball, a well-established blog for debut authors. I worked my fanny off to give my debut novel Kilmoon the best entrée into the world that I could. I organized a fantastic launch party at an Irish pub complete with a signature cocktail called the Kilmoon Sour (yum!). I landed a coveted guest post spot on the premiere mystery writers blog, Jungle Red Writers. I went to conferences such as Left Coast Crime and participated in debut author breakfasts and panels. It was all quite exhausting but so worth it.
Here’s one of the biggest and best things I learned from that experience: Most readers don’t care where their books come from. It’s mainly your fellow writers who care. I have a friend who also began with self-publishing. She told me that the most dismissive people were—hold on to your hats here—aspiring novelists! Yes, those who only had their eyes on The Agent and The Deal.
Another friend started off as a novelist-for-hire. (Sometimes in-house editors come up with ideas and hire novelists to write them.) All readers see are the authors’ names on the covers. Like I said, They don’t care. Now this friend has a thriving career writing books based on her own ideas.
The long and short of it is that if I were still holding out for The Agent and The Deal, I probably wouldn’t be published yet. Now, a year after publication—guess what?—I do have a traditional two-book deal and a fabulous agent!
And that, my friends, is how it can start. And it’s a perfectly fine way to start.
Once upon a time, I had a writing teacher who used to say that the people who get (traditionally) published are the people who don’t give up. In this new era of Amazon and ebooks and indies, I’d say that the people who get (traditionally) published are the ones who don’t give up and who keep their options open about how to get a foot in the door.
Start somewhere. You’ll see. Because if it can happen for me, it can happen for you.
Note from Lisa R.: Lisa Alber will check back to answer any questions and converse, via comments. What does your writing journey look like right now? How do you keep your hopes up in the face of rejection?