There are two ways that I can tell the story of my first book publication. The short version is that I started a blog on writing tips in 2012; I self-published a collection of my favorite 100 blogs in 2015 as an e-book; and in 2016 I signed a literary agent who liked what I was doing, and signed with a traditional publisher a week and a half later. Thus, Get a Grip on Your Grammar: 250 Writing and Editing Reminders for the Curious or Confused (Career Press, 2017) was born.
This guest post is by Kris Spisak. With degrees from the College of William & Mary and the University of Richmond, Spisak began her career as a college writing instructor; however, after six years in the classroom, she transitioned to professional writing and editing. Helping writers sharpen their craft was the driving force behind her book, GET A GRIP ON YOUR GRAMMAR: 250 WRITING AND EDITING REMINDERS FOR THE CURIOUS OR CONFUSED (Career Press, 2017), and the creation of her writing program, Grammartopia. Kris is also pursuing the publication of her first novel and is the co-founder of Midlothian Web Solutions.
I like that story. It’s a fun one to tell; but as in any publishing story, the path to holding my first book in my hands is a bit more complicated than that. There was a lot of strategy involved that helped my chances of success. Here are the secrets to the longer version of my story.
What I Learned on my Publication Journey:
1. Don’t Wear Publication Blinders:
If you asked me about my passion, I wouldn’t say “grammar”, as my book title might imply. I’d say my passion is language itself—storytelling, wordplay, and provoking thought with little squiggly shapes on paper. I’ve published poetry, short fiction, and more business articles and blogs than I can count. While some might argue that the more time you dedicate to your genre, the better you will become, I’d contend the opposite. Write diversely. Experiment with different forms and different audiences. The more you collect words together, the better chance you have of something catching fire.
2. Allow Yourself to Play:
When I began my blog, I wasn’t aiming for publication. I was jotting down reminders for my editing clients, business clients, and friends. I was trying to make them laugh while I explained language use without any grammar jargon. I found my voice and style more easily than any project ever before because there was no internal or external pressure on my process. Allowing yourself time for creative play isn’t a waste of time; sometimes, as you scribble and poeticize and probe the possibilities, you might stumble upon something brilliant you wouldn’t have otherwise.
3. Find Your Support:
Other writers understand the highs and lows of the writing life better than anyone else. My critique partner gives me deadlines, a renewed drive for my projects, and delicious appetizers. Central Virginia is lucky to have a powerhouse writing community, James River Writers, where I have found my writing tribe and my source of continued industry education. Writing does not have to be a solo endeavor
4. Research the Online Marketplace:
When I was about 100 blogs in, my readers began asking me when the book was coming. I smiled politely at first, but in this moment in publishing history, I realized there was nothing stopping me from seeing what would happen. My e-book experiment began with researching Amazon, and I was surprised to learn how much an author could do to improve their chances. A book has a better shot if it can be found in multiple niches of a genre. Testimonials and an Author Q&A can be added to a book’s Amazon page to capture both an author’s professional presence and a collection of keywords that will boost its findability. In the indie pub world, there is so much more to consider after polishing your book, giving it a well-designed cover, and pressing “publish.” These strategies change, of course, so authors would be wise to do their homework.
5. Experiment with Marketing Techniques:
I played with Facebook and LinkedIn ads, BookBub and its competitors, and even guest blogging. Whether it was these efforts, my energy spent on Amazon, or a combination of the two, a few months after publication I had an offer of a buy-out of my project from a major dot com. I’m not quite sure which piece of the puzzle hit, but when I was on the phone with an exec from across the country, talking conditions and dollar amounts, I knew my little self-publishing experiment was working.
6. Endure, Endure, Endure:
I have a lovely digital folder of rejection letters where literary agents have told me that “this was a really close call, but …” or “I might regret it, however… .” I have a hand-written notebook that tracks every query I’ve ever sent, and I’m scared to count how many pages are full of Xs rather than highlighted checkmarks. Am I still pushing forward full-steam on projects that seem almost there? Absolutely. But I didn’t allow these rejections to define my publishing journey. I asked myself what was working well in my creative life, and my answer was my blog and my e-book. When I shifted my thinking away from my novels and toward a writing reference book, I drafted a new query. After years of rejection letters and close calls, I was on the phone with my future literary agent within a few hours of my sent email.
7. Dive into Digital Data:
Of course, getting on the phone with my future agent would have never happened if my initial correspondence wasn’t full of data. After a year or two of blogging, I began to closely track spikes in my web traffic. By posting consistently, studying search engine optimization, and building a web reputation, I had a number of blogs make their way to the front page of Google’s search results. When my query included my website analytics, my number of high-ranking blogs, my social network numbers, and my writing tips email newsletter audience, I know I gained major credibility.
8. Network, Network, Network:
As a local editor and a regular volunteer within my local writing community, a couple years ago, I had the opportunity to moderate a panel on the editing process. My future agent, Lisa Hagan, was sitting on that panel. At the time, deep into fiction work, I remember thinking that it was a shame she didn’t represent novels since we connected so well. I cannot tell you how happy I am that we connected so well. If I never offered to volunteer for my local writing community, this connection never would have happened. In addition, by being active in the literary scene, I’ve been able to make real connections with authors I’m in awe of. Because of this, in my query letter, I was also able to discuss names of writers who could potentially blurb my book or help in its publicity, and these names came out of true relationships.
9. Relax When You Can:
The pressure we put on ourselves to finish, to publish, to build our audiences, and to sell our books is sometimes a bit overwhelming. Being a writer is more than a hobby or occupation. It’s a lifestyle—and one we need to shape with kindness to ourselves at its core. If the journey to publication is all stress and agony, the passion that swept you up in the first place will disappear.
In the summer of 2012, I started a blog. That’s neither the start nor the end of my publishing story. I’ve seen my first book launch. I’ve signed my name on its title page. I’ve booked school, community, and writing conference events around it. I don’t know the long or short version of the next chapter of my journey, but I do know the above steps will remain critical along the way.
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