I was almost published once before...
and buddy, was it a wild ride. Before I dive into this short story, I want to mention that lately I've been listening to a podcast called The Angry Therapist. A licensed therapist named John Kim talks on a particular self-betterment topic for no more than ten to twelve minutes, unrehearsed. He calls it "therapy in a shot glass," and I love it. He's not polished. He doesn't agonize over what he's going to say. Often his episodes are uploaded after one take. And the result is refreshingly real, honest, and uncomplicated.
I say all this to say: I think that's the way I'm going to start running this blog.
Of course, there will still be some production value, and I will definitely edit myself more than Mr. Kim does (because this is still a writing blog, and I have to show potential agents/publishers that I can, you know, write), but I won't agonize over everything so much. Since my previous plans fell through and I'm now frantically editing Way Down Low, months earlier than I expected to, the mindset to put a lot of pressure on myself to achieve perfection has bled into every project I try to put out, causing writer's block in this blog. I'm taking a cue from the angry therapist and "finding my flow state." Hopefully the words will flow too.
All right, I'm unfolding myself from the padmasana pose and getting this post moving.
Padmasana, or Lotus, pose. Very calming. Perfect for practicing mindfulness.
So, the story behind my almost being published. Get ready to chuckle.
Picture it: I'm in my junior year of college, and I've just finished my first novel. It's the first time I've ever finished anything, let alone something that was 110,000 words!
(We won't mention the unspoken truth that you never, ever, cold query a literary agent with a first novel of over 90,000 words unless someone already knows who you are... if we did, the truth would no longer be unspoken.)
I'd edited it, had a few people read certain chapters, and, most importantly, I'd imagined how it would look as a blockbuster movie. Surely, this was the next great and most popular young adult paranormal romance novel, and people would be clamoring to print it. I would be paid a six-figure advance, as this was the first book in a trilogy, and I would come out of college rich and never having to work a real job again for the rest of my life.
I'll pause here so you can wipe the tears of laughter from your eyes and keep reading.
Anyway. After a long five minutes of searching the internet, I chose the first result Google spat at me: a vanity publisher. I didn't know it was a vanity publisher, of course, because I hadn't done a lick of actual research. I just saw a company that would publish basically anything and said, "That was easy!"
I sent them my entire manuscript, and I was ecstatic a few weeks later to receive a large envelope containing a letter of acceptance, a professionally crafted synopsis of my story, and a contract! The contract explained the royalties I would be paid and the $4,000 fee I would have to pay them to print my bo--
Four THOUSAND dollars?
I thought they were going to pay me? Wasn't that how it worked?
I was so confused. I was also so desperate to get published that I called my bank a couple days later and tried to apply for a loan. If this was what it took, I was going to do it.
After a few days of feeling conflicted and embarrassed, I finally talked to one of the professors in the department where I was doing student work. He was a doctor of anthropology, but even he said what I was already thinking, what you're thinking, what anyone with a bit of sense would be thinking:
"This sounds fishy."
So I had to make one of the most difficult decisions I'd had to make in my twenty years of life. With a literal publishing contract in my hands, I had to think of the future of my beloved manuscript and any work I planned to produce going forward. I had to call the publisher back and say, "Actually... never mind."
It hurt. Man, did it hurt. It was some consolation to find out later -- after thoroughly researching the world of publishing -- that while this particular vanity publisher was indeed a little "fishy" (the reviews were all over the place, dubious, and, per my research from a few days ago, the company went under soon after I turned the offer down), what they were doing is technically a legitimate practice. I just didn't know the difference between self-publishing -- and all its iterations -- and traditional publishing. I didn't know literary agents existed. I didn't know that going the traditional route was how you got that very rare "six-figure advance" I assumed just fell into your lap. I didn't know about queries, appealing to people whose job it is to represent you, building a platform -- none of that. I had to learn the long way, the hard way, but ultimately the best way for me.
As I've stated in a previous post, when I want something, I want it now. I've always been that way and probably always will be. But if I hadn't said no back then, I don't think I would have sought to gain the knowledge I now have about publishing. I would have put a book out into the world that wasn't yet strong enough or polished enough to be seen. I would have gone into debt with the bank and never gotten my money back.
A lot of good can come out of saying no, even -- or especially -- if you're young with a dream. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well.
I'm glad my younger self slowed her roll enough to figure that out.