|Author Rori Shay|
The Perseverance of Potter (no, not Harry Potter. Beatrix Potter!)
Below is my story of perseverance from the start of querying all the way to publication. It isn’t pretty. It’s messy and embarrassing, and if you didn’t love writing as much as all you SCBWI’ers did, it would surely scare you away from beginning the endeavor of publishing. You’ve been forewarned.
I’ll tell you my story of perseverance, and before you get to the end and think…well, sure she slaved away to get her book published, but it’s not like this Rori Shay is a household name or anything…then I’ll tell you about another author who you’ll be amazed spent WAY more time and brain cells trying to get their book published than I did. And perhaps their story may convince you that half of publishing a book is the perseverance you put into getting it out there into the world.
Alright, where was I? I started querying my mulan-inspired dystopian sci-fi trilogy at the beginning of 2012. I didn’t know the publishing industry. I just knew that I’d spent a good two years toiling over the first novel in the trilogy, and I wanted it read, gosh dang it. I didn’t know how to write a good query letter either…and that was apparent as I started contacting agents, telling them “if you loved the Hunger Games, you’ll love my book!” (Big mistake!)
Halfway through my year of querying, I joined SCBWI and got more professional about my approach. Within that first year, I queried 82 agents. I was told by others that I should query 300 agents! If my book wasn’t picked up by any of those agents, then I should shelve the book and work on something else. So when the 82nd agent said yes, I felt pretty good about it. I’m also one of those people who wrote a first book, queried it, didn’t get any interest after 100 rejections, put it aside, and wrote a second (the one I queried in this story.) Most of the authors I know have a book or two stashed somewhere that didn’t get published. Can you imagine? There are a whole breed of people who spend years writing a novel, and have to deal with knowing that it sits, untouched, unread, in a file folder somewhere.
So, anyway, I got a yes response from the 82nd agent! She was new to the industry, but so was I. I figured if she could take a chance on a new author, I could take a chance on her. She turned out to be a fantastic editor. She suggested things for my book and spent more time editing it with me than all of my future professional editors combined! But when it came time to querying, my new agent didn’t have the connections I’d expected. When the first offer came through for an e-book only with no advance, to a place I hadn’t know she was querying and that I’d never heard of, she recommended I take the offer. And unfortunately…unwisely…so stupidly…I did.
The authors and editors I met at that first publisher were great. I learned so much about promotion and the industry through them. Unfortunately, none of them…nope, not a one…it turned out, were getting paid by the publisher. When the editors and cover artists began realizing the promises of a payment weren’t coming to fruition, one-by-one, they left. It was still one month before my release date, and I didn’t see anything moving forward, but my agent said I had to stay with the publisher until they actually failed to complete the terms of my contract. So I waited. And a week before my release date, when I’d already had the plans for a book launch party underway and had told all my friends about the upcoming release of ELECTED, my publisher folded. Not only did it fold, but no one ever got paid, and fraud was discussed. The authors who were left all told me they’d stayed with the publisher for so long only because I had. Because I was the one with an agent, and if someone like me had stayed, they should, too. I had to laugh, because in all of this, we were all so confused and scared to talk to each other in fear of offending the publisher. Once the pub folded, information flowed through us author-colleagues like butter, and I ended up learning much more about the industry.
My ideas for a release of my book that year started to dwindle, but I kept my head up and discussed it with my agent. We would put out twenty more queries. If those didn’t work, I’d self-publish. I was ok with this idea, actually, and I had high hopes that in the last year my agent had gained much more knowledge about the industry that she could use to sell my book.
But then, a week later, as if my luck with my book couldn’t get worse, my agent called and told me she was leaving the industry. My book would still be repped by the parent agency, though. So I waited expectantly for the owner of the agency to contact me, and when she didn’t, I messaged her. We agreed to talk. My ears were pricked at this point, listening for any falsehoods. I was that scalded by my publishing experience so far. So when I finally got the agency head on the phone and she didn’t sound enthusiastic about my book, not even remembering who I was, I decided to sever that tie.
So here I was. No agent. No agency. No publisher. A blog tour with 150 people who I had to now give my regrets to. And a restaurant where I’d already put down the payment for a release party.
At any moment there, I bet you’re waiting for me to say I put the book aside. That I wrote a new book entirely. That I shelved this one on top of the first. Or maybe even stopped writing. It would have been easy to do any of those things. It looked like a hundred doors were slamming in my face, all at the same disturbing time.
But it’s the little things in life that sometimes make the most difference. Things you don’t even realize you’re doing are cogs in a greater wheel, and they can turn out to be the big turning points.
I’d arranged for four author friends to blurb my book, back when I had an agent and publisher. I called them after my publisher folded, saying I wouldn’t get to use their blurbs just yet. I tried not to sound pitiful. To hold back my tears and be professional. It was on one of these calls that one of the authors said, “I know a publisher who might want your already-edited, blog-tour ready book…”
And that was history. I spoke with the heads of that publisher the same week, and now The ELECTED Series has been released through the boutique sci-fi publisher Silence in the Library. So my sci-fi dystopian, ELECTED, is out there in the world, in hardback and paperback, in ebook, and with a book trailer. All out of nowhere. When I was least expecting it. ELECTED became an Amazon bestseller, for a period of time, even being placed among the top 100 sci-fi books next to Hugh Howey’s WOOL! And it got 25K reads on Wattpad in three months. Plus, there are fans! Fans that send fan art! Fans who talk to me about my characters Aloy, Vienne, and Griffin like they’re real people! Fans who say that the gender issues discussed in the novel helped them feel stronger!
|Rori's debut YA novel|
Now I have a new agent (a highly experienced one), and a couple more books in the hopper. My author career is still just starting out. It has been a rocky start, for sure. That’s why I love reading about big-time authors who’ve also persevered against rejections. I just finished reading a short biography and journal of Beatrix Potter. Yep, not Harry Potter. Beatrix Potter!
Did you know that Beatrix Potter was rejected by so many publishers, she decided to self-print 250 copies of Peter Rabbit just for her friends? It was sold in a few bookstores, and through word of mouth it gained popularity. Only then was it picked up by a traditional publisher.
In Beatrix Potter’s own words, here’s what she said about receiving rejections.
Tuesday, March 13th, 1900:
Another rejection today for my “Tale of Peter Rabbit and Mr. McGregor’s Garden”. The publishers Frederick Warne and Co. seemed interested and I went today by appointment to meet Mr. Harold Warne. But he wants a bigger book, which I cannot do, and we had arguments. (It is odious to a shy person to be snubbed especially when the shy person happens to be right). If no one will accept the book as it is, I will get it printed myself.
If she and the publishers only knew how important Beatrix Potter’s book would become in children’s literature! This year I took my kids to a Beatrix Potter-themed puppet show. It was so cool to see dozens of kids laughing along to the tales of the two bad mice, Jemimah Puddleduck, and Jeremy Fisher the frog. It’s over a hundred years later, and these stories still resonate with children. And to think even Beatrix Potter received her share of rejections. Unbelievable!
Makes you ponder: if you just keep going, plowing on ahead, getting more experience with your craft and trying new avenues, great things can happen. That if people like Beatrix Potter can bounce back after having their writing turned down, we all might have a chance too!
Rori Shay is a strategic management consultant living in the Seattle area with her family, black lab, and cat. In the writing world, Rori is primarily known for her science fiction trilogy, The Elected Series. She enjoys running, reading, snow-shoeing, pumpkin-picking, and right now… writing a new sci-fi novel! You can visit her website at www.rorishay.com.