Thursday, June 8, 2017
My Publishing Journey by Riley Hart
Posted by: Riley Hart
I asked in my Facebook group if they'd be interested in my publishing journey, and they said they would so...here we go. This will be long folks. LOL.
I've always loved writing. I won my first writing contest in...I believe it was the third grade. The theme was, "Tomorrow's Leaders on the Move." I won second place out of my whole school. In the fourth grade, I won third place in a writing contest that included my entire school district.
Becoming an author felt like wanting to be a famous musician or a movie star—one of those things that would never happen. So, I was "responsible" and went other directions. I had bills to pay, ya'll :)
When our first daughter was eight months old, we made a move from Southern Oregon, where I knew everyone, to Southern California, where I knew no one. I was a stay at home mom for the first time, and my husband was working six days a week, 10-12 hours a day, just to make ends meet. To say I was lonely is an understatement.
That's when I picked up my first romance novel (I'd wanted to write kid’s books before). I immediately fell in love. It reignited that old dream I’d told myself would never be possible. I had this want and this fire inside me for something like I'd never felt before. The thing was, I had NO idea where to start. You have to remember, this was about eleven years ago. Self-publishing wasn't a real alternative then. I hadn't even heard of it when I first started.
So I sat at my computer and did some research. I looked up small press e-publishers. I wrote a short story that was crap...but I didn't know it was crap at the time. LOL. I managed to get a small press publisher to publish it. I made about fifty bucks (likely all from family), and the publisher closed.
This wasn't going as I'd planned.
I started to do more research, and I started writing again. I discovered RWA (Romance Writers of America). We were broke, but I saved the money to join. I found my local chapter. They were like, “You head-hop,” and I was like, “WTF is head-hopping?” LOL. So we critiqued each other, and I learned a lot.
I wrote another book. This time I queried agents. They were like, “Um...nope. You're not ready.” And they were right. I saved more money and took a romance writing class. It was once a week and taught by a multi-published author. I had a young baby and no one to babysit, so hubby had to work hard to get off early once a week so I could go. We made it work because it was important to me. I NEEDED it. I also researched writer’s groups, and I found an online message board where I met a writer, Kelley York (her books are awesome), who is one of my very best friends to this day.
I learned a ton from Kelley and the class. I tried my hand and writing erotic romance, and I sold one to a small press publisher. Then I sold another one. And another one. Now, I wasn't making much money. I brought home about 200 bucks every three months, and it went down from there, but that felt GOOD.
I had my second baby, and I had a few novellas published and then...then I found Twilight. I read it and fell in love. People can say what they want about the books, but they were a lot of things to a lot of people, myself included. I tried my hand at writing a YA and really loved it. I sent it to my beta reader friends. I submitted it to agents knowing THIS WAS THE ONE.
And it wasn't...they told me I needed more work, and they were right.
I wrote an adult romance. I submitted it to agents...and they all said no.
At that time HarperCollins started a site called Inkpop. People could upload their work, get it critiqued and revise it and earn votes. The three books that earned the most votes (I can't remember if it was monthly or what) were sent to editors at HarperCollins. I was in the top three one month along with another author, Wendy Higgins, who went on to sell to HarperCollins and is also one of my best friends to this day (Her books are awesome too).
I didn't sell. I was crushed. Broken hearted...but I was determined.
I sold a couple more books to small press publishers. I worked closely with Wendy and Kelley. I was writing adult romance for the small press, writing YA to try to get an agent...and exhausted. We were still broke, and I hardly saw my husband because he worked so much. There were times I thought it would never happen. That it was a dream. But I kept going. I started writing interracial romance for a small press African-American publishing house, but that fizzled out too. This whole time, this was years and I was never making more than a few hundred dollars here and there, but I still has PASSION and LOVE for what I was doing, on my side.
I wrote a YA that multiple agents told me they loved...but there was no market for it. Boy point of view in YA didn't sell in YA, and I was told my MC wasn’t likable. I wrote another YA that didn't get an agent either. Then finally...FINALLY, I got my first agent.
THIS WAS IT. I thought I had finally made it!!! She put a book on submission to NY (big five, was big six publishing houses at the time), and it didn't sell. Again, that pesky YA boy point of view thing.
Things didn't work out with her. She left agenting, and I got my second agent. He was a very big name agent in the romance publishing world. I wrote another book. He loved it. He put it on submission...it didn't sell. I wrote another book. I sent it to him...and he thought it was too much of an issues book.
I lost my second agent.
I can honestly say that is the moment I almost gave up. More than any other time in my journey, I thought it was worthless. It would never happen. It wasn't meant to be.
But god, I still loved it. The fire still consumed me.
It was 2012. I'd been at this for years. Self-publishing was starting to become more popular. I was scared to death to try it...but I did. I self-published my first book in like...March 2012, I believe. It was the YA that didn't sell to NY. And...it did pretty well. Not great, but I was bringing home a few hundred dollars a month at my writing for the first time! People loved my lead, which I have to admit, felt really good.
I self-published a few other YAs. I made a small name for myself in the genre. There is somethinge special about the age. I still love writing YA to this day. It will always be a part of my heart.
October 2012 is when everything changed. I self-published CHARADE (New Adult, when it had just really become a big thing). It went down to #28 on Amazon. Twenty. Eight. (this was pre-Kindle Unlimited days and at full price!) I almost died from shock. People loved it. They wanted more!! I got my third and current agent. People were asking about the second book. I was doing it! I'd made my dream come true!! Not that writing in general didn’t mean I’d already made my dream come true. What mattered to me was I was writing, but now I was writing AND making a living. I was helping my husband for the first time in years.
I finished the second book...and I got an offer from a big five New York publishing house for books two and three in the series. Yes, yes, yes!!! This was what I'd always wanted!!! We accepted the offer. Book two was slated for release in July 2013, which felt like an eternity (turns out it was). I also sold a three-book series to another publishing house to launch their sweet romance line. I sold a YA that I'd co-written with a friend to another publishing house. I sold another book to my big five publisher. It was a whirlwind of excitement and tears and happiness. All my work was paying off AND I was doing what I LOVED.
But it wouldn't last. LOL. Does it ever? You see, when a sub-genre is new or suddenly starts to sell well (as NA did at the time), a funny thing happens. Lots of people start writing in that genre. And I get it. I'm NOT talking bad about anyone who writes anything. We ALL have a right to write what we want, but it was a combination of a mass number of people going into a new sub-genre AND self-publishing getting its legs that made things begin to tumble (not just for me). In between the time Charade came out and before the next book was released, the market got saturated. To stand out, everyone began selling their books at 99 cents. You can't make a living off that, and it begins to make people expect books to be priced that low. It's a cycle. The market gets more and more saturated and prices go lower and there are other variables, of course but then…good things don’t typically happen from there. They sort of implode.
I had no other books I could release, so as months separated books one and two, I saw interested get less and less. By the time book two came out, things were on the downward slope. Let's just say it wasn't the same kind of release as book one.
I was...depressed. Heartbroken. I'd worked so hard, and I loved what I did so much. I’d tried for YEARS, and it felt like it was all slipping away just as I was finally getting somewhere.
Now, let me backtrack just a little. It was also in 2011/2012 that I started reading m/m and fell in love. I've always felt more comfortable writing from the male point of view. I've always been a passionate supporter of love and equality. It just felt right.
So before book two released in the series I’d sold, I'd started writing my first m/m, and the way it made me feel was everything. Every. Thing.
You all know how that all went down. Because I wrote YA and my other stuff wasn't explicit. I did the pen name thing. What you don't know is I felt at home writing m/m romance. I felt comfortable in my skin. I fell in love in new and exciting ways I’d never before experienced.
I wanted nothing more than to continue writing m/m romance. Things were going crazy under my other name. Things that I can't get into detail about. I sold one more YA to a publishing house, and while I LOVE, YA, I truly do, I found my heart and soul in m/m romance. If I could have it my way, I'd do both.
The industry and the market were changing, as they always does, but I managed to stay afloat. My soul was being fed by words and characters. Love and happily ever after.
You know most of it from there. I've mostly been self-publishing the past few years. I've sold two YA novels to another small press publisher. I'm settled in my skin. I'm doing what I want to love. What I HOPE with all my heart to be able to do for the rest of my life.
This industry is always changing. It keeps us on our toes.
There's more—of course there's more—but we can't get into all of that. It was a long, long, long, painful road for me, but I'm thankful for it. I learned a lot. My skin got thicker. I had to FIGHT for what I wanted which made it all the sweeter when something wonderful happened. If there was ever any doubt that I was following my heart, (there wasn’t) it was proven by the fact that I kept going. That I didn’t stop because it was hard. Because I failed (over and over and over). I was writing because it’s my heart. I truly believe there is something to be said for paying your dues. For failing and picking yourself up and dusting yourself off and continuing to fight and hope and dream.
And that's what I'm doing now. Loving and fighting and hoping and dreaming.
I'd do it all over again.
PS…I just realized I forgot a few things. I wrote for two other small presses in there, which also both closed. One for adult romance and one for YA.