Friday, May 11, 2018

If I knew then... by Joan Donaldson-Yarmey

If I knew then ...

Things have sure changed since I began writing. I took a few writing courses and began my published, writing career (as opposed to my unpublished writing career) with a short story titled  A Hawk's Reluctant Flight, in a small magazine called Western People. With that on my short resume, I had travel and historical articles accepted by other magazines, one of which didn't pay anything to the author. Then I took another writing course and one of the speakers was Grant Kennedy owner of Lone Pine Publishing in Edmonton, Alberta.
       At the time Alberta was divided into tourist zones and I had been thinking about doing a book on what there was to see and do in each zone. I sent a query letter to Lone Pine Publishing and the senior editor responded with a phone call. We set up a time for me to go to the city and meet with her and Grant Kennedy. I outlined my idea and Grant said yes it was a good one but he thought that the books should be more on the people and culture of each zone. He liked his idea and I liked mine so we decided we couldn't work together. As I stood to leave I said. "Well, at least as I research the zones I will see all the backroads of Alberta." He replied. "I've always want to do a book on the backroads of Alberta." I sat back down and that was how I began my backroads series. Over the next ten years I travelled through and wrote two books on Alberta, four books on British Columbia and one on the Yukon and Alaska. These books were very successful and I decided to branch out into fiction.
       My favourite books to read have always been mystery novels and after much thought I decided to write one. I quickly learned that writing a fiction book is not like reading a fiction book. You need a story to tell, you must tell that story in a believable way, and you must make the reader want to read that story to the end. Since one of the mantras of writing is to write what you know I made my main character a travel writer. In the first book, Illegally Dead, she is headed to southern Alberta to do research for a magazine and is drawn into the mystery of a skeleton found in a septic tank. I found that I didn't write my books from page one to the end like I did when writing my travel books. I wrote scenes as I thought of them and put them in where they belonged in the story. I knew the ending but found it wasn't as easy to write it as it was to think it.
     I also learned that getting fiction published is different from getting non-fiction published.
     At that time there was no multiple submissions. A writer sent their manuscript to one publisher at a time and had to wait up to six months to hear back. If it was rejected then you sent it out to another publisher. It could take years to find the publisher who wanted to publish your book. One publisher wrote back to me that they liked my mystery story but my travel background was coming out and I had too much travel information in it. I was asked to remove some. So I did and resent my manuscript. Again, I was asked to cut back on the travel info. Again I did. The third time I was told that this was a mystery and I should stick with the mystery and leave out the travel stuff. I wrote back and said that the main character is a travel writer and is working on an article. She is not going to drop that and concentrate on the mystery. So needless to say we parted ways.
       I sent out the manuscript again and another publisher said they were interested in publishing it. They had one stipulation and that was that I should add in more travel information. We worked together and a year later my manuscript was actually a book that I could hold in my hand. Their publicist arranged a book launch and a book signing tour. It was fun and exciting to stand in front of an audience and read from my book.
       I wrote the second book of what I was calling my Travelling Detective Series to the same publisher. After about a five month wait I received a letter that told me the publishing house had been bought out by another one and that my manuscript and all my information had been sent to them. I waited a few more months then emailed the new publisher to find out what was happening. A couple of days later I received an email stating that they had no record of my manuscript.
     My heart sank.
     But a few days after that I received an email from another editor at the publishing house that they had found my manuscript and they wanted to publish it.
     However, in the time between that email and the publishing date for my novel, the publishing house was sold again. The new owner was going to honour my contracts, but in the future wasn't going to publish mysteries. I knew there was no use sending my third manuscript in the series to that publisher and after checking around I sent it to Books We Love. They immediately accepted it and e-published it. After two years of talking with my former publisher I was able to get the rights to my first two novels of the series and now all three are published with Books We Love Ltd.
     Since then I have written another stand-alone mystery, three Canadian Historical novels, a sci-fi two-book series, and a contemporary young adult novel all published by BWL. These are sold as e-books and as print books.
     Like I said at the beginning things are different than when I first started writing. For my non-fiction and first fiction publishers, there was a publicist to organize book readings, signings, and television appearances, and a distributor to get the books into stores and libraries. In the new publishing world, it is usually up to the writer to do a lot of publicity through social media and to arrange book signings and readings. I find this time consuming and, for me, not very profitable. It also takes away from my writing and because there are so many books being published every day, it is almost impossible to stand out and get noticed.
     If I knew then what I know now, would I have become a writer?
     Short answer--Yes.
     I enjoy taking an idea and making it into a story. I have more ideas for books than I will ever have time to write. When I'm not writing I go through a bit of withdrawal, yearning to be in my make-believe world with my new friends. So, it doesn't matter how much the publishing business changes, I will still write.

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