Guest Blogger Lauren Jones is the author of contemporary novel Tell Me How It Ends. Jones grew up in North Queensland and now lives in Brisbane with her graphic designer husband and two mini dachshunds. She started writing stories as a kid and thought time-travelling high fantasy was an easy place to start, she was wrong. Since then, Lauren has worked on her craft, gravitating toward contemporary fiction and drawing inspiration from her poorly curated music playlist.
When asked to submit a guest blog post about my self-publishing journey, I considered how I wanted to present my experience. Should I dive into the heartbreak of pursuing traditional publishing? Or should I keep it light and describe the joy of holding the finished copy of my novel for the first time? Ultimately, you’re going to get both because what are the highs without the lows?
In September 2021, I self-published my first book. It’s a contemporary fiction novel called Tell Me How It Ends and I’ll tell you what, she tested me.
I got the idea for the story while wandering the tables at the Lifeline Bookfest in 2019. Like all story ideas, it took up space in my brain for weeks before I did anything about it. It twisted and turned, slowing becoming something of value until I started drafting. By November 2019, I had a draft, and it was not good. Of course, I thought it was the greatest thing ever written and quickly dove into the editing process. For months, I tweaked this masterpiece, sending it out to friends and family for feedback. The excitement of having a finished manuscript was palpable and by April 2020, I signed up for a Query Tracker account and I started the search for a literary agent.
At this point my mindset was traditional publishing or bust. Because I, like so many other authors, thought that real validation would only come from being traditionally published. I hadn’t even entertained the idea of self publishing because my heart was set on this one path. A time-consuming and ultimately heartbreaking endeavour.
For months, I queried agents in Australia, Canada, the UK and the US. Every morning, I would grab my phone and, with bleary eyes, check my email for a response. Most days there was nothing, but on those days where I got a response, it dashed my hopes before I’d opened my other eye. Often, the responses weren’t that creative. It was always ‘this doesn’t fit with my list’ or ‘it’s not what I’m looking for right now’. Sometimes it was a simple ‘not interested’. Through the heartbreak, I reassured myself that these agents are probably inundated with manuscripts because the pandemic had many people finally getting around to finishing that novel they’d been working on.
Compared to others, I had a modicum of success over a 12-month period. The agent responses trickled in and after reworking my query letter, I got nibbles here and there. I got close to twenty partial and full manuscript requests. Which I was thrilled with. Unfortunately, most of these agents sent back the good old ‘not for me’ response after reading my work. Every one of those emails was a kick in the guts, especially when they provided no feedback on why it wasn’t for them. I was flying blind at this point.
It wasn’t until one agent had her assistant read my manuscript that I had any feedback. She ultimately passed on it as well, but not before sending back a long list of the things she felt would make the story better. It would have been so easy to file this one away in my email sub-folder titled ‘Rejections’ (I’m not kidding. It’s an actual folder in my email), but I read over the list again and again. I took every one of the suggestions and I rewrote most of the manuscript. I added plot points, shuffled chapters around, and killed my darlings. It was this decision to let go of something I thought was perfect, and develop it into something stronger, that led to my decision to self-publish.
With my manuscript being re-read, I started researching the self-publishing process. I thought really hard about why I wanted to be traditionally published. Aside from the misguided notion that I wasn’t an actual author unless HarperCollins backed me, a lot of it came down to me not enjoying the marketing side of it. I thought with traditional publishing, I wouldn’t have to worry about that side of things. Turns out even traditionally published authors have to market their own books. They also rarely get a say in their cover design and can have their story or characters changed throughout the editing process. Couple that with lower royalties and a lengthy publication process, and traditional publishing wasn’t really measuring up. Self-publishing now seemed like the better option.
Self-publishing is not without its challenges, though. This path means you handle every facet of your novel’s creation. This includes the expense of editing and cover design. My experience in these areas was pretty smooth. I used Reedsy Marketplace to find an editor, considering that my book is Australian but set in America, so I needed an editor who could edit Australian English. I also needed to come up with a brief for my cover designer and tackle the fun of creating a website, writing a newsletter and sending out ARCs to readers.
While this was a lot of work, I heavily researched the process, gathering as much information as I could from Australian authors who have self-published. Blogs and YouTube were a great resource for this side of things, as there are many creators who offer step-by-step instructions on how to publish your book through Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon) and Ingram Spark.
Having said all that, my advice would be to understand what is involved in the publishing process (both traditional and self) so you can decide what is right for you and your story. As I make the edits on my second book, I’m considering reaching out to agents again (I’m a sucker for punishment) because the experience of publishing my first book has helped me grow as a writer and actively pursue my career as an author. I’m not afraid of rejection or criticism because it was exactly those things that took my admittedly average first draft of Tell Me How It Ends to something that I am immensely proud of.
No matter which road you take, just remember that no part of this process is more difficult than writing the 200 word blurb for your book jacket.
Thank you to Lauren for providing this insightful guest post! I highly recommend her book Tell Me How It Ends, which is available on her website and on most online bookstores.