While Lily is still a new author, she has published several books. In that time, she’s learned some valuable lessons about publishing and talks about some things that other authors get wrong.
Stephen: lily, welcome back to Discovered Wordsmith, the second half, and we’re going to talk about the path to publication. Um, before we do, you’ve written several books. You have another one coming out. What are some things that you have learned along the way that you do differently than original or some things that you thought were a certain way and you learned the real truth as you wrote?
Lily: Yes. Yes. I spent far too much time, uh, looking for agents, uh, and, and querying them far too much time. I mean, I’ve had, uh, I’ve had some fine agents. I, my first agent was Canadian, uh, because the first book I was trying to sell had a Canadian character. Canadian characters aren’t that popular in America, I guess.
I dunno. Uh, but, and so, uh, uh, but, but then she got, I, I think she, I think she went into a deep depression or something. And so, so I lost, I lost my Canadian agent. So then, you know, I started exploring and I have sent out so many query letters. I’m an expert query letter writer. You know, and I’d, I’d get, uh, uh, some interest and people would look.
And the problem is that, uh, most of the major agents that you want to work with happen to be in New York. Uh, and, uh, and they’re looking, they have a very narrow way of looking for what they want to publish, and they’re not gonna take many chances on people. Like me, uh, who didn’t have a track record when I started out.
I hadn’t gone to a prestigious, you know, like the Iowa workshop, uh uh, and, and so that wasn’t working in my favor. And I was Canadian. And yes, I did have a lot of Canadian characters. So again, you know, if, if you’re, uh, uh, if you’re not part of a, a certain scene that’s, uh, visible in that kind of publishing world, You fall through the cracks.
Uh, and there are other, other things that come up too. So, uh, when my, um, actually, my second novel that I had published, uh, had an agent who absolutely loved it and he was, uh, a well respected New York agent. He worked for a big agency and, uh, he was so excited about it and he thought he was gonna have a bidding war.
Uh, Unfortunately it was 2009, and if you recall, uh, there was a severe economic downturn then, right? So that prevented, I mean, not only do publishers, uh, avoid, uh, beginning writers, uh, that don’t have a track record or some other record, uh, they also during an economic downturn, aren’t gonna take any chances at all.
So it, it, he didn’t have a bidding anymore and he, you know, tried, uh, it got really good feedback from the places where he sent it, but they not enough for them to publish it. Uh, so he, you know, he tried, he worked on that for about a year. So when I got it back, I thought, uh, you know, I, I was sort of thinking about if none of these publishers, if they said really good things about it, but didn’t want to publish it, why I.
So then I hired a professional editor and, uh, and had him give me some structural feedback, which led me to do another, uh, major rewrite of the book. So after that, I decided, uh, that it, it seems futile to be wasting my time trying to get an agent. To make the breakout, you know, book with a big publishing house.
Uh, so why not go to small presses? So that’s when I started, uh, exploring small presses. And, uh, and, and very soon after I started to do that, my first book Fling, uh, uh, received interest from Pinnell Publishing and, uh, and they published Fling. Then after that I was, uh, looking for a publisher for KoSA. I thought that it was probably more sophisticated.
Uh, I would, I, I need, I still thought I needed a publishing house that would give me really good editing on it too. ’cause I felt it was the most, how do I wanna put it? Uh, I was doing some, some sophisticated. Interesting things with the narrative. Uh, and a straightforward publishing house might have had some trouble with that.
So I needed a publisher that was gonna be able to, uh, take that in and then help me take it to the next level. And so that’s when I went to Regal House Publishing for that book. And they were, you know, they immediately grabbed it up. And then as I, um, mentioned in the early part of this podcast, uh, Uh, Pinnell Publishing has published my other novel, free Fall and Divine Comedy, and will be publishing concessions of a Canadian girl in training this fall.
So I, I recommend, uh, certainly try to get an agent, you know, maybe spend a year, uh, doing that and sending out tons of queries. Uh, but if you’re not getting anywhere, don’t waste a lot of time. Your, your time is better spent revising and, uh, getting really good editing, uh, from, uh, either beta readers or paying for a good editor and making sure that you have a document then that you have a manuscript that is really ready to meet the world.
So I think too often writers, including myself, They try too soon to, uh, submit their work and rather it, it, it, you just have to, uh, bite the bullet and understand that perseverance is the pathway to getting published. And perseverance means that you really have to commit yourself to taking this manuscript, uh, to the highest point you can.
In terms of revision and making it, uh, something that, you know, uh, readers are going to, uh, jump at. So, um, yeah, it’s so in this path to publication, uh, you have to be willing to, uh, uh, to slow down in some ways and to expand in others. So slow down in terms of. Sending out work before it’s ready, expand in terms of making that work is as good as you can, as as you can make it.
Stephen: Got it. And do you think, um, getting an agent is recommended for most authors rather than doing editing and self-publishing on their own?
Lily: Well, you know, it depends on what you’re trying to do. Some people don’t have the stamina, uh, to do, to go through the traditional route of, uh, either through, uh, getting an agent or through working with a publishing house.
Uh, they just wanna get a book out, and that’s, those are the ones that tend to self-publish. Um, they’re not as concerned about the quality of the book. Which doesn’t mean that there aren’t some good self-published books out there. I don’t mean to, you know, imply that, but I’ve read enough of them that I, you know, I read a few pages and I see the grammar errors, I see the style stylistically, they’re clumsy.
Um, they’re just so many problems. And, um, uh, so, you know, that’s, that’s my, um, Where I’m discriminating against self-published books. But, um, uh, yeah, so you, you have to decide what pathway you want. If you want to produce something that’s really high quality and it will hang around for a while, that people would want to read down the road, you know, a few years to, uh, then, uh, you know, going with an agent first is, can be a good path because sometimes.
A lot of agents, uh, do some editing themselves. So if an agent falls in love with your book, he or she might make some suggested changes that you may or may not follow. Uh, and, uh, and, you know, that may be helpful and lead you to publishing through that agent. But, uh, uh, so, you know, so I think it’s worth it to try the agent route.
But I also think that if you’re not, well, two things. If you’re not, if the agent isn’t managing to sell your book, either the agent isn’t very good or the book isn’t very good. Or, or, or it hasn’t reached, or both, yeah. Or both. Or, and, and it, and maybe it hasnt reached its potential yet, and so it’s still in its early stages.
So, uh, so if that’s the case, If you’re getting that kind of feedback, then, you know, as I did with osa, it’s, it’s a signal to pull back and, and, uh, re rethink the book. You know, get some expert opinion and, and put it through some more revisions. Uh, revision is not a dirty word. It’s, it’s the essence, you know, it’s the heart of writing and, uh, I can’t tell you how many revisions my, uh, works go through before they’re, you know, I think acceptable either to me or, uh, to a,
Stephen: uh, a good reader.
Okay. And when you’re writing, um, what, uh, software do you use or how do you write? What, what do you use to write? I
Lily: don’t have any tricks in the sense that I just, you know, I use Microsoft Word. I don’t have these, uh, programs where they, where, I don’t know, I don’t know what they do, but they put a structure and so I, I can’t work like that because I have no idea when I start writing where I’m going.
I don’t want to know, because otherwise I wouldn’t write. Writing for me is a quest, and so I start out with an image or whatever. I start out with a character and I find out what’s gonna happen as I, as I write. So, so those, those kinds of programs, uh, wouldn’t be very useful to me. But for people who, uh, who need the structure, Uh, they should investigate those things and they could be helpful.
I just, I’m just not drawn to them because I don’t work that way. Uh, so I have no magic except for you just have to sit down every day and write. I. That’s the magic. Uh, when I was, um, uh, helping to raise my husband’s, uh, kids and, uh, teaching at the same time, I, I, uh, managed to carve out an hour a day, almost, almost every day.
And in a year I had a book. I had at least a draft, a full draft of a novel. Uh, if you do that for an hour a day, 365 days, Then you’ve got the draft of the novel, right? So it’s really, it’s really about, uh, sitting down and really being committed to the process of writing regularly and keeping that connection with your writing self and with the material.
Uh, I think for me at least, and some people can take breaks. And, and profit from it. Uh, for me it’s always been important, um, to have that ongoing connection with the material. Uh, but I also don’t just work in that one genre or on that one project. I’ll sometimes have two or three projects going at the same time.
So if I need to take a break from one and give that a little breather, a little rest, uh, I’ve always got something else to turn to. In the meantime, I. So, uh, yeah, I mean, there there’s no, as I tell my students, there are no absolutes in, in writing. There are no absolutes as far as what you must do, what you should do.
It’s, it’s all individual really, and you have to discover for yourself what the best process is for you. And, uh, and, and you know how to, how to approach that. What, what works for you as a writer and what fits into your life as a writer. So, uh, okay.
Stephen: Yeah. Um, so you’re, you’re going through a press, uh, publisher.
Um, are they doing marketing? Are you doing marketing? Um, what, what are you doing to get the word out and market The book? Yes.
Lily: Uh, oh my God. Let me count the ways. Nice. Uh, if you’re lucky enough to have, uh, a big, uh, publishing house, you’ll, they’ll give you a lot of help with marketing, but you still are required to do a lot on your own.
If you’re working with a small press, they have, they don’t have the, um, the time or the money, uh, to do a lot. Uh, so it’s much of it falls on your own shoulders. So here I am, you know, I’m, I’m here on podcasts. I. Uh, do a lot of interviews in various places. Uh, and, uh, you know, and I used to schedule, uh, I, I found that, uh, uh, senior residences were a great place to sell books.
Because people read, a lot of them read still, and, uh, and they love meeting. They love having people come in and talk and so on. So I, I probably, uh, have gone to, you know, at least a third of the senior residences. In the Bay Area to talk about like at different times. Uh, but you know, there are all of the, uh, the social media that you’re supposed to have a presence in.
And, and I’ve, uh, and I do that like on Facebook. I’m part of, I think about 20 or 25, 30 groups that have something to do with writing. And I check in with them, uh, uh, regularly, but I also weekly on, I, I post. Um, weekly, uh, what I call Friday inspiration. So every Friday I post a quote from something that’s, you know, inspiring and, and so people have come to expect to see that every Friday.
The quote, uh, that I create word swag or something like that. Uh, the other thing, uh, of course I have a blog. Uh, and it’s developed, uh, uh, really well over the years. So every Monday I post something new about reading or writing, uh, because you can’t be a writer if you’re not reading too. Uh, right. Yeah.
Stephen: exactly. So, so, uh, these other avenues, the word swag and the blogs, um, they’re not directly saying, Hey, here’s my book, buy it. Well, they, they’re subsidiary that build up. Is that sound correct?
Lily: Well, I mean, if every Monday when I do my blog post, uh, I get a lot of people who come to check it out. And the first thing they see is my landing page, which has all of my novels on it and, and my poetry collection.
So they can’t avoid. Um, and it’s not a hard sell. It’s not saying Buy me, buy me, but it’s right. It’s, it’s a, I guess a subtle sell. Uh, uh, if you’re interested, you know, these are my books and you can find them easily. Uh, Yeah, so I, so, uh, but I do like, um, on Twitter every couple of weeks and, and when I have time every week I’ll post, uh, something about the author, something about one of my books.
I mean, there are just, there are a hundred different things, uh, that you can do if you have a hundred hours in your day to do. Right. Uh, to
Stephen: help on top of
Lily: writing. On top of writing, exactly. So, uh, uh, you know, I’ve done book clubs. I’ve, I’ve written to, uh, uh, you know, various places that where I’ve discovered, you know, they have a book club and I’ve introduced myself and have sometimes gotten, uh, you know, them to read my book and I visit their, their clubs.
So there’s just so many, so many possible things, and I think you have to be. Uh, you have to be careful with your, your time. You have to choose the ones that work for you best, but also that are going to, you know, produce something, uh, in the end. Uh, right. I think it whenever you can get face-to-face readings.
Uh, I mean, like, for example, uh, the demystifying the path to, uh, publication, I’ve done that. I’ve, I’ve done that as a presentation at a couple of different libraries. Actually, no more than that. About four or five different libraries. And there you get, you know, your face-to-face contact with people pre covid, but, uh, right, you can still do all of that on Zoom.
Uh, And, and teaching. If you can teach a workshop, you know, that’s a great way too to introduce people to you and your, and your work. Uh, I have, when I, I just finished teaching a workshop on memoir. And I have a backdrop that has all of my books on the bookshelf behind me so that my image, you know, my books are all behind me.
They can’t, they can’t. It’s subtle.
Stephen: Right. Let’s see it. Right, right. So let, let me ask, uh, you chose demystifying the path to publication. What parts of publication do you find or did you find? And maybe other people find, uh, mystifying and confusing that you’re trying to make easier. Uh, what parts of the whole publication process are the roughest?
Lily: Well, I think as I mentioned earlier, uh, people, uh, get stuck in, like, for example, thinking that they have to have an agent. And, and that’s why I, uh, recommend. Sure, go ahead and, and take that path. See how far you can go down it and see, you know, if it works. But don’t, don’t waste, uh, a a lot of time, uh, uh, just going through, trying to go through an agent.
Be willing to take, you know, have plan B, plan C. Be willing to take that next step into, uh, uh, going to presses yourself. And they, you could go to medium-sized presses. I chose small presses, uh, and, uh, so that you have more control over, uh, the possibility of getting published. You have more opportunity to get published in that way than you do.
Uh, if you just go through the traditional, I love your cat.
Stephen: Yeah, she’s very rambunctious. Uh, she, they’re usually in the bedroom. I must have left the door open. Great. So, um, so when you give these talks, I assume at the library or anything, you’ve got other, uh, writers Yes. There. And in your PA you’re demystifying the publication.
What are some of the things they ask about that you’ve had to answer to help clear things up for them? Huh.
Lily: Let’s see if I can think of a specific question. I mean, I certainly spent a lot of time. Questions. But um, you know, they’re usually, they’re usually, you know, the things that we’ve really talked about, the marketing and, and, you know, how do you do that?
And, um, and you know, just the fact about the writing and, and how much time do you spend on this and getting feedback, you know, on your material and so on. Um, really the basics people are, um, Who are just starting out, especially are hungry to, uh, clear away the, the veils, you know, that make publications seem so, so difficult.
And, and it can be difficult. It is difficult. And it’s especially difficult if you have your site set on hitting the big time. You know, if that’s your idea, right. Of, um, the only way you could be published. Uh, certainly hold that up and try to, uh, try to hit the big time. But if you’re not hitting it, then uh, there’s a message there that, uh, there, there are other routes to take.
And, um, and if you know, of course, self-publishing can be one of those routes too, if you go
Stephen: about it, uh, thoughtfully, right. Um, so. You talked a couple times about finding an agent. What are some things qualifications, writers should look for in an agent? What are some questions they should ask of an agent before they choose somebody?
Lily: Well, I was really dumb about this when I started. I really was, uh, I, you know, I didn’t realize just how, what a narrow niche, uh, most agents have. In terms of what they publish. So I, I was just sort of flooding the agent world with queries without being discriminating in terms of, you know, what they actually looked for.
And, and then I started to learn how to do that. And, and so I’d start to research a little a bit about individual agents. And so I’d make it sound in my query letters as if I knew a lot about this agent. And, uh, and that’s supposed to, you know, uh, make the agent more open to, uh, hearing what you have to say.
Uh, so, um, uh, Where was I going with that? What was your question again, Steve?
Stephen: Uh, what, what type of questions should people ask of
Lily: agents? So, so, so make sure that you, uh, yeah. Don’t go in blind the way I did. Make sure that you, uh, look at each individual agent that you’re going to send a query letter to and find out more about that person so you can see exactly what kind of work they publish.
If you can find out where they’ve published, what publishing houses they submit to, that they have connections with, uh, and to make sure that they have some track record too. Um, and, and there are, uh, I’m, I’m forgetting the name of this one, um, place where you can check, but there are places where you can.
Find out more about individual agents, what, you know, how many books they’ve, they’ve and so on, right? So, um, uh, so definitely, uh, do some research. Don’t just go in blind and let the reader know, or let the agent know that you have done some research, because that does endear you, uh, to that
Stephen: person. And you mentioned, um, you know, give it a try for an agent and if it.
You know, doesn’t work. Move on. What, what should somebody do if they’ve written a book? They’ve tried, some agents not gotten any good feedback, and now they’ve worked on a second one. They’ve got a second book. What, what avenues would you recommend they do if they’ve been trying to get an agent but can’t?
Lily: Well, that’s when you, uh, either you need to, uh, review the material you’re sending and see how it can be improved. If you’ve already done that, and if you think it’s as, uh, good as it’s going to get, uh, then uh, uh, that’s when I would go to publishing houses directly and you have a better chance with smaller presses.
Uh, uh, than you do with a huge publishing house. Huge publishing houses usually won’t work with a writer unless they have an agent. Uh, so you, uh, you need to, uh, you know, be selective. Uh, poets and writers has a wonderful, uh, is a wonderful resource in terms of small presses you can go through and. You know, just look for small presses and they’ll come up with lists of them.
And, and so there’s, um, you know, there’s lots of ways to investigate what small presses are doing too, and you have to approach them in a similar way that you would approach an agent to find out what are they focusing on, you know, are, would they be interested in the material that you’re working with, that kind of
Got it. Okay. Well, Lily, uh, this has been some really great advice. Um, before we go, do you have any other last minute advice you’d give to some new authors?
Lily: Where’s I, what? Uh, here, if I can read this. I love this quote that I, uh, had. This is from a journal of mine. Uh, in it, do we have a couple minutes? Yeah, absolutely.
So here in the journal I wrote, I’m, I’ve assumed that I have made a commitment to writing, but I realize it unravels regularly, daily, even just as happens in any other relationship. You have to constantly recommit yourself. Then I quote this person named Meade, m e a d e. And I don’t remember, uh, where I got this quote.
And here’s the quote. I recall the good things which had come to me as a result of my commitment to tend the garden, for example, life as a garden, bursting with possibilities. And I realized what Gerta meant in saying that when one commits oneself, providence moves to and help arise from inexplicable sources.
I realized all the riches in my life, the love and creativity have blossomed from commitment to my ability to hang in and persist. Even when I couldn’t remember why. The vow to the muse was like marriage. When the passion wanes commitment sustains us until the juices come flooding back, or as the e ching says, persistence furthers.
So you really, persistence is the name of the game. It really is
Stephen: persists And, and you, and you follow that? You said you write every day in your journal?
Lily: Uh, no. And I write, no. I write not just my journal, but I also write every day. I work
Stephen: regular project. Yeah. Nice. Great. Alright, well it was really great talking to you Lily.
I appreciate you taking some time today. Um, I wish you luck on your future book. Hopefully we’ll be able to touch base, uh, in a, you know, a year or so about
Lily: it. Great. Thanks a lot Steven. Yep. Thank you. Bye.