Liz Coley On Some Hard Truths About Publishing

It’s time for a new interview series… like NOW. No really, it’s actually called NOW (Newly Omniscient Authors). This blog has been publishing since 2011, and some of the earlier posts feel… dated. To honor the relaunch of the site, I thought I’d invite some of my past guests to read and ruminate on their answers to questions from oh-so-long-ago to see what’s changed between then and now.

Today’s guest is Liz Coley, fellow Ohioan who has been writing long and short fiction for teens and adults for more than ten years. Her short fiction has appeared in Cosmos Magazine and several speculative fiction anthologies: The Last Man, More Scary Kisses, Strange Worlds, Flights of Fiction, Winter's Regret, and You Are Not Alone.

In 2013, psychological thriller Pretty Girl-13 was released by HarperCollins and HarperCollins UK in print, eBook, and audiobook editions. Foreign translations have been published in French, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Swedish, Norwegian, Russian, Czech, Slovakian, Traditional and Simplified Chinese.

Has how you think (and talk) about writing and publishing changed, further into your career? 

Last time around this blog, oh back in 2012 or so, I wrote, “Relax and trust the people who’ve done this hundreds of times.” I don’t feel that way anymore. There’s a saying in author circles, that if you stick around long enough, eventually anything that can happen will happen to you or someone you know. Publishers have folded, contracts have been cancelled, the ever-revolving door of junior editors has broken up author-editor teams, and agents have betrayed their clients. I’ve kind of lost faith that anyone can predict anything in this crazy biz. And yet they keep trying.

Let’s talk about the balance between the creative versus the business side of the industry. Do you think of yourself as an artiste or are you analyzing every aspect of your story for marketability? Has that changed from your early perspective?

I had a revelation about my brand: apparently, I write library books. Books that are empathetic and well-written, about interesting issues and interesting humans. They are readable and the kind of book a teacher or librarian or mom would want to hand to the kid in need. I also know this isn’t what the publishers are looking for. Not high concept or sensational. Not a multibook YA fantasy romance. I’ve seen my rejection feedback; the editors may praise the writing, but say, sorry this isn’t a breakout story for the market today. Yeah. Duh. I knew that.

I’m fortunate in that I don’t have to earn a cent. In fact, I pledged away all my first-sale income to a worthy cause. So I write stories I think are important, and that’s why it breaks my heart a little that no one wants to publish them. There are gatekeepers, and I don’t consciously write to please them, to my detriment, I guess.

The bloom is off the rose… what’s faded for you, this far out from debut?

The year I sold Pretty Girl-13, a lot of things changed. I believed that my ten years of writing and attending workshops and reading books on craft and submitting short stories were finally paying off. This was the cusp. The threshold from Liz’s life part I to Liz’s life part 2. I was also on the cusp of a significant round number birthday. I said to my husband, “I’m really excited for this next decade.” I made a lot of valued writing friends, I spoke to marvelous kids at a few schools and a lot of festivals, I won a few awards, and I received letters from people who said my book had changed their path in life.

The energy of that launch period carried me through the unforeseen disappointments—my editor rejected two manuscripts for my option and released me; although I wrote three additional manuscripts after those, my agent failed to sell anything; there were betrayals of trust and financial shenanigans. And now, it wasn’t . . .

You know what this reminds me of? It reminds me of a huge windstorm in Columbus that brought down a maple tree in our yard. My oldest son, about twelve at the time, very excitedly asked if he would be allowed to use an ax to cut up the tree. About ten minutes later, he came into the house and reported sadly, “That wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be.”

So, yeah. Publication was awesome. But the writing life? I’ve been hacking at that tree for almost twenty years. It wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be.

Coley.png

Likewise, is there anything you’ve grown to love (or at least accept) that you never thought you would?

In my dark night of the soul, with twelve and two half manuscripts under my belt, one sale, and five self-pubs that net me about $25 a year, I decided to try something different to fight the despair. I enrolled in a week-long immersive playwriting masterclass at the university. Changed my life.

Playwriting plays to my strengths—brevity, dialogue, character. The ten-minute plays that rolled off my laptop that week were deep, playful, engaging, and most of all, appreciated by the actors who voiced them, the instructors, and my first audiences. The immediate gratification of this art was an overwhelming experience, and I began developing another whole network of supportive friends in theatre. After three years of masterclasses, I became a TA, I’ve accumulated a small inventory of works to submit and/or self-produce, I founded Next Stage Cincinnati Playwrights, and my work has been performed in San Diego and Cincinnati.

And lastly, what did getting published mean for you and how has it changed (or not changed!) your life?

Getting published means that one of my tales swims in the eternal sea of story-telling, like an imperishable plastic straw among the millions. Even though to date, I haven’t replicated that success, I remind myself to be content with what I have achieved: the ongoing reviews from people who stayed up all night reading; the letters I continue to receive from people with Dissociative Identity Disorder in their own lives or those of someone close to them; the recognition of librarians and teenagers who call it a favorite book; and the simple fact that my kids have a copy of their mom’s book on their own bookshelves. The fans have been the greatest gift, and on top of that, there’s a beer waiting for me in Prague as thanks for mailing an autographed Czech edition to a man to give his girlfriend. 

In terms of changing my life, because I haven’t gotten back on the all-absorbing post-release merry-go-round, I have had the time to sing at church, watch Netflix while I exercise, write plays, volunteer in literacy, captain a tennis team, and work on political campaigns. I suppose, in that sense, it is better that my publishing experience didn’t end up consuming all of me.

Michelle Houts On Having A Dozen Published Books... And Still Working To Be Noticed

It’s time for a new interview series… like NOW. No really, actually it’s called NOW (Newly Omniscient Authors). This blog has been publishing since 2011, and some of the earlier posts feel too hopeful dated. To honor the relaunch of the site, I thought I’d invite some of my past guests to read and ruminate on their answers to questions from oh-so-long-ago to see what’s changed between then and now.

Today’s guest for the NOW is Michelle Houts, the award-winning author of a dozen books for young readers, ranging from picture books to middle-grade novels. She's an active speaker, engaging school children across the United States, presenting to teachers and librarians at conferences, and supporting up-and-coming writers via her own workshops and the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Find her at www.michellehouts.com, on Facebook and on Twitter and Instagram.

Has how you think (and talk) about writing and publishing changed, further into your career?

Eleven books in (the 12th soon to be announced), I have now made writing my full-time job. In 2011, it was still a side thing, which gave me more freedom to NOT write if I had other things to do or just didn’t feel like it. Now, I must write daily. It’s my work. And it’s my passion.

Let’s talk about the balance between the creative versus the business side of the industry. Do you think of yourself as an artiste or are you analyzing every aspect of your story for marketability? Has that changed from your early perspective?

I still write from my heart and consider my work art. And we know that tastes in art are extremely subjective. Markets vary, trends change, and some books buck a trend and do it beautifully. Sea Glass Summer is a quiet picture book, and there isn’t supposed to be a good market for quiet books. But it has released to a starred review, an award nomination, and some absolutely lovely press.   

Houts.png

The bloom is off the rose… what’s faded for you, this far out from debut?

It’s always an uphill climb. A published book does not guarantee another published book. Being published doesn’t mean agents will knock on your door.  You have to work to be noticed. You have to do the hard thing. 

Likewise, is there anything you’ve grown to love (or at least accept) that you never thought you would?

I’ve grown to realize that I have something to share with adults. I’ve always loved talking to kids – put 500 in a room if you want and I’ll engage them. But I never felt very comfortable speaking in front of adults. I’ve grown to like (love is a strong word) talking to teachers and librarians about our shared journey to inspire young readers and spark a love of story in people of all ages.  

And lastly, what did getting published mean for you and how was it changed (or not changed!) your life?

Getting published – the first time and soon, the twelfth time – always feels like a miracle to me. Maybe even more so now than the first time it happened. Now I know how a manuscript has to earn its way to top of several heaps, many times over, before it is awarded that glorious contract. I’m still in awe of and grateful for every single “Yes.”

 

 

Amy Reed On Letting Go Of Control Once You Are Published

It’s time for a new interview series… like NOW. No really, actually it’s called NOW (Newly Omniscient Authors). This blog has been publishing since 2011, and some of the earlier posts feel dated. To honor the relaunch of the site, I thought I’d invite some of my past guests to read and ruminate on their answers to questions from oh-so-long-ago to see what’s changed between then and now.

Today’s guest is Amy Reed. Her new novel, The Boy and Girl Who Broke the World (July 9, 2019/Simon Pulse) is about two teens from the wrong side of the tracks whose lives crash into each other and start a surreal series of events that may lead to the apocalypse. Amy is a feminist, mother, and Virgo who enjoys running, making lists, and wandering around the mountains of western North Carolina where she lives. You can find her online at amyreedfiction.com. 

Has how you think (and talk) about writing and publishing changed, further into your career?

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that I have very little control over what happens once my manuscript is out of my hands and turns into a real book, like how much marketing support it will get, how much it will sell, and what kind of praise or criticism it will receive. Writing and publishing is just a long bumpy process of letting go. The less I depend on external validation, the more at peace I am on this crazy ride.

Let’s talk about the balance between the creative versus the business side of the industry. Do you think of yourself as an artiste or are you analyzing every aspect of your story for marketability? Has that changed from your early perspective?

My first couple of books (Beautiful and Clean) felt very authentic to me as an artist (or artiste, I suppose—I was still very much living in the wake of my MFA preciousness), but unfortunately my response to the success of those books was to become a lot more focused on writing what I thought I was supposed to write, what was “on brand,” and writing lost some of its magic. Then my daughter was born and I moved across the country, and something shifted for me.

The Nowhere Girls was about me reclaiming my passion for storytelling, my own voice, and my love for the lives of my characters and readers. My new book The Boy and Girl Who Broke the World (July 9, Simon Pulse) was the most fun I’ve ever had writing because I allowed myself to really play with fantasy and surrealism for the first time. And my next book--which will remain mysterious for now since it hasn’t officially been announced yet—is the weirdest (and maybe best) thing I’ve ever written. 

Amy Reed.png

The bloom is off the rose… what’s faded for you, this far out from debut?

Planning my own book tours. I don’t do that anymore. I pretty much just do one release event at my local indie, and I’ll do local events with friends when invited, and of course whatever my publisher plans for me, but I’d rather put my energy into my writing.

Likewise, is there anything you’ve grown to love (or at least accept) that you never thought you would?

That my books are not for everybody. I write about dark stuff because those are the stories that resonate with me, and they are the ones I needed to read as a teen. But not everybody wants to read those stories, and that’s okay. I have never been a conventional person, and my books are not conventional. And as we evolve, we are both getting even more unconventional.

And lastly, what did getting published mean for you and how has it changed (or not changed!) your life?

For the last six years, I’ve (mostly) been able to write full time, which is a great privilege and gift that I really try to not take for granted. I’ve also made some incredible friends along the way, which has been a lifesaver in this often very solitary profession.