How I Got Published

Everyone’s journey to getting their lovely words printed and bound for the whole world to read is different. That’s the exciting part. Mine began with this, I said “Yes”. Please see my story below for some inspiration and a bit of advice on how to get published.

Harlems Awakening at Shakespeare and Sons Berlin
Shakespeare & Sons, Berlin

 

How I Got Published:

Getting your book published, and the process there in, can be daunting. In fact, the process can be downright hard and incredibly defeating. From submitting to agents, editors and even crazy contests found in the back of Reader’s Digest, there’s a heck of a lotta “No’s” that come through your email in-box before that golden, “YES!” ever materializes.

To me, getting your book published is like anything else: it is a journey. Every author has a different publishing story and that’s what I find encouraging because it solidifies for me that there is no one way to find success as a writer.

Let me tell you how my success came. Some of you will read this and feel a little skeptical about what I’m about to share, and others of you will hear the message and notice that the one important step that I took toward getting published is potentially the same step you can take and you’ll realize this is the one thing that might be holding you back from getting published.

Ready? Here we go:

How Going To A Party Got Me Published

Before I share my story of how my book got published, I want to share with you how I was published the very first time and how it prepared me for getting my book published.

When I was around 29, I had moved to New York from Chicago and was a bright-eyed, follow-your-heart dreamer. A huge go-getter. Back then, I was in the pursuit of being a loungy jazz singer. Like Lena Horne.  I was writing a lotta songs and trying to find gigs. I can tell you that whole process was NOT going very well. At all. I looked like a lounge singer, but I was afraid to sing (hello, D.O.U.B.T). You can’t go around doubting yourself in New York City or anywhere, for that matter, when you’re trying to make it. So after a few major disappointments, I unplugged my electric keyboard, packed up my three-ring binder of songs I wrote and called it quits. I decided to shift my dreamy efforts and lounge looks to acting. Natural progression, right? Well, it actually was; however, it took almost 10 years for that decision to really show how good it was! Keep reading and I’ll tell you why.

So, I was at a party in Manhattan. This was now around 2003, four years after moving to NY. From what I recollect, I was invited to the party via my Brooklyn DJ friend, Hard Hittin’ Harry. I was waiting for him to arrive or maybe he was setting up; either way, I was alone. I found myself seated next to this guy at the bar; he was alone, too. He seemed a little down or a little stressed or a little New Yorked. I prodded. He professed he was in the throes of putting together the first issue of a new magazine he was going to publish. He needed writers. I raised my hand.

I ended up writing a story called THREE-WAY, about the first time my parents spoke on the phone together in a three-way call after years of intense radio silence post-divorce.  I initiated a three-way phone call from my college dorm phone, the first phone that was my very own; we were “reunited” … and it felt so good.

The guy liked the story, printed it and there I was, published in TellSpin, a brand new literary magazine. The writer, bell hooks, was on the cover and it felt so good. I still have a copy of the mag in my hope chest. In my parent’s home. In Wisconsin.

At the release party for that magazine, I met a lovely woman named Ava Chin. She had this calm, New York, mellow swag about her that I found very cool and sent a telegram to my psyche that I should find a way to be just like her. (Because, coming from Chicago and still trying to find my way in the very Big Apple was proving to be pretty tough and incredibly eczema inducing. Even after several years. I needed soothing.) At the time, I think Ava was writing for Vibe magazine and she was in the throes of putting together her (first?) book which was to include stories from children of divorce. I was like, “Hey! I have a story about divorce and here it is!” I showed her the piece in the magazine; she said she liked it and told me she would run it past her editors. They liked it! After some much-needed editing work, we came away with a printable piece. My essay was included in her book, SPLIT: Stories from a Generation Raised on Divorce. It is still available on Amazon and I’m pretty darn proud of it.

Why Getting Published Is Easy; What You Need To Get There Is Hard

When my book was published, I have to admit, the story is similar. I was in the write time at the write place. I had written a play called, The Build UP. It was now 2013 and I was living in LA. I was online looking for events and outlets where I could promote the show and my cast. I came across a cool event at The Last Bookstore where I thought maybe my super talented actors could attend and we could do an excerpt from the play, and you know, promote the show (and my writing). I sent an email to the organizers of the event and I got a response that read something like, “We aren’t an event programmer, but we are publishers of novellas. I clicked on the links in your email and read your blog; do you have anything to submit?”

Now. You KNOW my heart like flipped out of my chest and landed on my head like the goldfish in Dr Seuss’ Cat in the Hat when I read that email, right?

I’d been in LA almost ten years at that point. During those long years, I had been acting, directing, writing and producing shows. One of which was a 1940s burlesque dinner-theater mini musical called “Harlem’s Night: A Cabaret Story” which, surprisingly, inspired me to dust off my old songs I’d written and use them in the show, quite successfully at that! During that time, I was also writing the accompanying novel, “Harlem’s Awakening.” I was on about year six of writing when I got that fish-flopping, heart-stopping email asking if I had anything to submit.

I knew the book wasn’t done. I knew it wasn’t great. I don’t even know if I had shared it with anyone at that point (except my mom). But what I did next is what got me published.

I said, “Yes.”

And that, was the hard part.

Get Rid of Doubt; Get Published?

Doubt is a mudderfudder, right?

Doubt pretty much delayed my singing career by about 15 years. I believe I doubted myself as a vocalist. Therefore, I did not become a vocalist. I didn’t doubt myself as a performer.

Therefore, for me, the singing still came; but it wasn’t in the form I imagined. I wasn’t Paula Abdul or Brittany or even Lena. Apparently, it wasn’t the plan of the universe for me to be any of those women. Because, clearly, I was supposed to be me. I was supposed to learn how to act first so that I could write a show that not only showcased my talents in a grand-slam home run sort of way, but also allowed me to do what I loved all along, which was dinner theater in an intimate 1940s setting…not touring huge stadiums dancing in latex. (By the way, I did finally become a solo torch singer, sorta like Lena, but that didn’t come until I lived in Prague, in 2017.)

Now, think about this with your writing. Do you doubt yourself? How and why?

Here’s more t think about:

My publisher specialized in Novella’s. Was I writing a novella? No. Did I have something that could be adapted? Heck yeah. Did I know how to do that? Not exactly!

Imagine if I had let doubt rear its ugly head like it had when I was disasterously trying to get it right in the music recording studio? Imagine if I had responded to that fateful golden email, that I’d waited to receive all my life, with something like, “Hi! I have about 200 pages of a book that is sort of finished. It totally needs work and it is actually a work in progress, but I’d love to send it and see what you think and hope that you find a way to like it. Heart emoji, heart emoji, heart emoji, exclamation point”??? I’d still be sitting on my back porch on Ben Avenue in North Hollywood had I let doubt speak for me. Because, you know what else? That book is what got me to Prague, friends. See my article, How Wrting….

What I’m saying is, unless a publisher is your mom or dad or aunt or high-school best friend, said publisher ain’t got time to wait for you to know if your work is good enough or not – especially if they’ve opened the door wide, like mine did. You’ve got to give ‘em something and that something begins with your confidence that your work is good – finished or not! (And it had better be good!)

So the number one tip to getting your book published? Be a Doubt Dodger.

I want you all to know that I’m still not the best Doubt Dodger. I really did start to compose a dodgy email, guys. But then, I stopped myself. I deleted those doubt-filled words; cut ‘em out like the cancer they wanted to become and simply typed, “Yes!”. And that was enough.

I doubted that my book was in good form; I didn’t doubt that my words were fab.

I still had to wait through the agonizing process of the publisher finding an editor that resonated with my work (thank you, Liliam Rivera) and then go through a few rounds of edits where kick-ass Liliam, a famously published author herself, guided me along like a baby lamb, and got me to be an even bettah writer. (So, you see my form did need work; but luckily, I was able to get help with that, rather than not have gotten to that stage at all due to me getting in my own way, royally.) Additionally, having gone through the experience with Ava and her editors prepared me for what this process might be like.

And then publishing day came. And then the book came. And, not until that book was warm and swaddled in my neophyte arms did I truly believe that it was all happening; that I was actually published. Because over the roughly six-month period, my doubt kept creeping in and making me think something was going to happen and that they’d choose someone over me to be published. Luckily, that didn’t happen.

And Now, A Reality Check.

In case you’re feeling like, “Yeah, she’s just one of the lucky ones,” there’s more. Yes, I am lucky, I know this. However, I also put myself out there to be seen and heard, I kept writing in a bunch of styles that still made me happy while I dreamt of being published, and I remained persistent with my pursuit. Those things work and they’ll work for you too if you remain diligent.

Alas, luck and hard work only go so far, so  I’m here to share some disappointment, too.

I mentioned how my book got me to Prague. My producing partner and I turned the book into a one-woman show starring me, directed by her. We submitted the show to the Prague Fringe Festival and after some hard work and fundraising, we found ourselves walking the cobblestones of Prague and producing an international show! With that greatness, we continued to maximize our time overseas and jaunted to Paris and London. Well, I noticed that a friend, who had a grand-slam smash hit with his novel, had an agent in London. I asked him if he would introduce me. He was kind enough to take a risk and do so, and suddenly I had a meeting. With an agent. IN LONDON!! You know my heart was fish-flopping, heart-stopping again at this opportunity. But there I was, in London and feeling like an incredibly sassy, scared bad ass walking along the streets of SoHo in my leopard-print heels and trying to appear as though and believe I was confident for my general meeting. I did pretty well. The agent said they’d read me, which I know now to be huge. They read my novella Harlem’s Awakening and I expressed that I was writing part two to the story. The agent strongly offered that I send my manuscript when I was ready. She said not to panic about how long it might take and left me with an example of how one client circled back years later with a book and they published it. That was in 2014. In 2016, I moved to Prague. I told myself living there was time to escape from LA and all the other stuff I was involved in like producing, directing and acting and I was to teach English and work, work, work on my book. After nearly three years of writing and rewriting, I finally finished on New Year’s Eve 2016 and shortly thereafter, sent the manuscript off. I received an email reply, quite prompt actually, which I truly wasn’t expecting. “Thanks, but no thanks.” NOT what I was expecting.

I believed my words were good. I believed I was good. I believed I’d get lucky and finally land an agent and my life would finally be golden.

That “No Thanks” spiraled me into a depression and drowned me in feelings that constantly shouted at me that I was not a good writer. (This is a common thing, no?) I didn’t touch the manuscript for over six months, I think. I just couldn’t. And then, I got my head out of my crack (as my friend says) and asked a writer friend for help. Her first response after reading it was, “You didn’t send this to anyone, right?”

Gulp.

Her notes were endless. She found the manuscript confusing and over-written and nowhere near as good as the first one and simply stopped taking notes at one point because there were too many things to write down.

Ugh.

So I got a second opinion.

This editor friend gave notes on where the story was lacking, what exactly was tripping me up with story and also said it was over-written and a bit preachy.

Oy.

You can imagine my embarrassment. When I submitted, I thought I was ready. I wasn’t. Writing this even here to you puts a nauseous knot in my stomach; I still haven’t recovered from this entire experience and I’m literally now going on the bottom of the 5th year of writing this follow up to a book that came out in 2013.

But.

I’m competitive; even with myself. I really don’t like the answer no. I really don’t like to fail. So, each month, (not even each day, yet) I get back to writing my manuscript and I try again. I don’t know what I’m going to do next to get this book published because my publisher no longer publishes novellas like they used to. They’ve changed their business model completely, so that option is out. I have to start from scratch. And we all know what that requires: Doubt Dodging. I have to stop doubting the notion that another publisher out there will want the book; stop doubting the idea that another agent out there wants to represent me. Stop doubting that I even have a reason to keep writing the book.

So.

I know how you feel. I really do. This is why I wrote this article so that we both have something to go back to when we ask, “Why am I not published?”

We must take action. For some, that means getting to a place where you believe in yourself. For others, those who have diligently submitted and gotten countless “no’s”, that means continuing to believe in yourself but also looking at other avenues and methods — maybe getting published won’t look like you thought. And still for others, it simply means to keep writing. Either way, you’re on a publishing journey and once published you’ll have your own story to tell. Why? Because I believe you can do it. I believe in you and that should be a step to believing in yourself.

I wish you the best!

Pen _ Peppur 1.jpg

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