Wednesday, September 7, 2011

18 WOW Wednesday: PJ Hoover on Not Letting Your Work Go Unread

P. J. Hoover first fell in love with Greek mythology in sixth grade thanks to the book Mythology by Edith Hamilton. After a fifteen year bout as an electrical engineer designing computer chips for a living, she decided to take her own stab at mythology and started writing books for kids and teens. Her first novel for teens, Solstice, takes place in a Global Warming future and explores the parallel world of mythology beside our own. Her middle grade fantasy novels, The Emerald Tablet, The Navel of the World, and The Necropolis, chronicle the adventures of a boy who discovers he’s part of two feuding worlds hidden beneath the sea. Catch her on her website, or on twitter.

Not Letting Your Work Go Unread

by P.J. Hoover

I’m not sure about the rest of you, but when I dreamed of my publishing career, it was simple. Something along the lines of (1) write book; (2) find agent; (3) sell book for a gazillion dollars. Three easy steps. I’d do my part, being step (1), and the splendor of my writing would do the rest.

Okay, so it didn’t quite work out that way. Sure, I wrote a book I love (being THE EMERALD TABLET), and I queried this book. And I was thrilled when I sold the book as part of a trilogy to a small press. I poured myself into revisions, learned a ton about the process and the publishing world in general, and ended up with three books I loved. Seriously. I love them. (And for those curious, the books are THE EMERALD TABLET, THE NAVEL OF THE WORLD, and THE NECROPOLIS.) Every time I pick them up and start reading them or when I think of fun elements I used in the book, I get a happy smile on my face. My middle grade trilogy holds an amazing special place in my heart. Sure, it’s not perfect, but I’m still proud of it and thrilled to share it with the world.

After writing the third book in my series (THE NECROPOLIS), I wrote another book and managed to snag one of the very best agents in the business. Laura Rennert was at the very top of my list of preferred agents, so to say I was over the moon when she offered representation would be putting it mildly. How cool to know she supported me and my work. And as excited as she was about my new middle grade story, I was sure it would sell in a day.

Yeah, you guessed right. It didn’t. Looking back on this submission period, I realize the piece was just not revised enough to go out on sub. I believed in the story and I loved the writing, but once I’d collected a fair number of rejections and started thinking about revisions again, I was shocked by how much had to change. It was so obvious in hindsight. And I was willing to change it. Because, when it comes right down to it, I love revisions, especially when I have strong direction.

But I put the middle grade piece on hold, because in my spare time, I decided to venture into the young adult market. I had been reading tons of young adult stories, and I loved the thrill and intensity that was present in so many of these novels. My young adult story (SOLSTICE) flew out of my mind and into the computer. It flowed faster than any writing has every flowed for me before. And I took advantage of this crazy period and wrote my butt off.

I had a first draft in just over two weeks. Wow. This was super fast because it normally takes me two or three months to crank out a first draft. Still, I knew the story needed lots of revision, and with the help of Laura, I spent the next couple years revising. I was willing to try anything and see what worked, and in the end, I found myself with a story I couldn’t wait to share with the world.

SOLSTICE got a fantastic response from publishers, and it even went to acquisitions. I was sure I was going to get an offer. My agent was sure. The world was sure. And then the offer fell through. Yeah, I was discouraged. I’d worked so hard on it, and I hated the thought of letting it just sit on a shelf somewhere and fester. So I revised again and my agent and I thought about our submission strategy. We were planning to send it back out.

But then…she brought up the idea of independently publishing the novel. She told me what she viewed as the pros and cons, and then she left the decision in my hands. I decided to go for it. Because I truly can’t see more of a crime in our writing world than letting work that we’ve worked long and hard on sit somewhere unread and die. I’d put everything into SOLSTICE, and I wanted to share it with the world. The timing felt right to get it out now, and my agent agreed.

So now, in addition to my middle grade trilogy, I have SOLSTICE out in the world. People are reading it. People are talking about it. People are telling me they love it. Did I ever imagine this is the path I was going to take? Heck no (refer to the three steps in the beginning of the guest post for my visions). Do I regret it? No way. In addition to people reading SOLSTICE, my mind is now free, and I can move on. I can work on new stories and invest my emotional energy there. It’s a great place to be.

18 comments:

  1. I think it's important to be flexible. As a writer, the main thing I want is for people to read my stories and enjoy them (even though I do have those dreams of success in my head). I love your point about feeling free and moving on.

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  2. Thanks for sharing your journey. I especially appreciate knowing I'm not alone in taking years to revise something. Glad you took the plunge on e-publishing Solstice. I loved it and of course loved your middle grade series.

    Looking forward to seeing what your next project is.

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  3. Thank you so much, Andrea and Natalie. And thank you for hosting me to be here, Adventures!
    I really am happy that I've been able to move on and free up my mind more than anything.

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  5. Really inspirational, PJ. I've bookmarked this for those down-in-the-dumps days when I need a kick in the backside. (Kind of having one today, so great timing! :-)

    There are so many avenues for a story to get to readers these days, and it's an absolute waste to let a polished story gather dust on a hard drive. The Internet has taught me that there is literally a market for everything if you know how to find it.

    I know you're an Austin dweller, hope you're far away from the fires.

    EJ

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  6. You are a pioneer PJ, and I am so proud of you for what you did. That leap must have taken so much courage, especially at that time. And BECAUSE of that leap, you have inspired others to do the same! Great books should not sink into drawer oblivion. They should be out there in the world to be shared and enjoyed.

    Thank you!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

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  7. Thanks PJ. This is a real help to those of us struggling to decide what to do with our stories.

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  8. I admire your courage, as well, PJ. One question I have about the whole process of e-publishing is how do you know when it's ready? You know us writers -- we can revise things to death, and even when it's out and published we see things we would change. At least with a publishing house you have to put a stop to editing! How do you decide when to let it go into the world?

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  9. I think it's critical, like you said, to know when your story is ready. That's so hard, when you love your work and have worked so hard on it. Given the opportunity, most of us would pull the trigger prematurely, myself included. But I hope that that knowledge (or instinct, maybe) kicks in with more experience.

    Thanks for sharing your story, PJ. Solstice is on my Kindle right now, and I can't wait to read it!

    Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse

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  10. Fabulous, inspiring post from a fabulous, inspiring author!

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  11. What a great story. The one thing I'm learning these days is that the path to publication is not what most people expect.

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  12. Thanks, PJ. Once again, proof that there is no right or wrong way to go about getting our stories out there. Great reminder to follow our own paths:)

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  13. Thanks, E.J.! I am mostly far enough from the fires, but they've been scary. And lots of smoke.

    Thank you, Angela! It's amazing when I think about how many books are probably out there is drawers because authors got frustrated.

    You're welcome, Ben!

    Hey Judy, what a great question. And I have no good answer. Because there were probably three other times in the course of the three years of revisions when I was sure it was ready. I guess the thing is, none of those points would have produced a bad story had I indie-published at that point. Throughout the whole process, I had put lots of effort into revisions.

    Becca, I hope the same for me! I've always have plenty of time to work on stories, but I imagine as sequels and new books are demanded on a shorter schedule, this is where the revision time is just not put in.
    Thank you for reading!

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  14. Thank you, Jessica!

    So true, Stina! The "path" to publication is an evolving thing, and I kind of love that.

    You're welcome, Michele! It is so important to just keep plowing forward!

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  15. The story of your journey is so awesome PJ! I mean I'm sure it's bittersweet for you, that's obviously a lot of anxiety to go through, but it's really encouraging for the rest of us.

    Thanks for sharing it!

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  16. PJ, my very first blog talked about how I thought, "Hey, got a great story. I'll write it, get someone to get it to one of those fancy publishing places then BAM! Movie deal!" Yeah...good times until reality hit.

    However, I love what you did. You kept believing and striving and revising. You even took your writing another route.

    I, too, am continuing the writing journey (not going to let a little reality slow me down). And your story is very inspirational regarding the good that comes from believing in yourself.

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  17. You're welcome, Matthew! No matter what else it is, there is plenty of fun in it. I hope I mentioned that :)

    LOL, Angela! So I'm not the only one :) Good luck with your continued journey. I'm sure it will be a successful one.

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  18. Ah, here's that post so I can comment. Luckily I had the linky in my email folder too. Okay! It works now, woo.

    WHAT? You mean a publishing career isn't that simple little list you mentioned, PJ? I'm so disillusioned. LOL Congrats on your success and perseverance with SOLSTICE!! (argh, and how disheartening when it got to acquisitions at that one point and was rejected! It happens, I've heard...)

    Best wishes for your writing future. :)

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