Writing for the Rodeo: How to Ride the Ups and Downs of Publishing

“Get back on the horse,” my instructor said as I lay flat on the floor of a riding arena. She crouched over me and offered her hand. “You got bucked off. No big deal. Get back on.”

I squirmed from the pain pulsing up my spine and choked on a mouthful of dust. Riding a horse involves risks—I should have recognized the risks when my stallion bit my leg and refused to let me on his back for ten minutes.

Besides risks, riding also involves various equipment and methods. For example, there are dressage saddles, Western saddles, those with horns and those custom made for riders. Regardless of saddle preference, what matters most is that a rider gets on the horse . . .

And they ride.

My reason for sharing this analogy is to show the similarities between publishing and riding a horse. Like there are many ways to ride, there are many ways to publish. What matters most is that an author releases his or her book and successfully navigates the post-publishing promo process.

I self-published two books and went through the traditional publishing process with my latest young adult novel, “The Vestige.” I know the ins and outs of eBook coding, how to negotiate publisher contracts, when and how to promote new releases, why the book industry has changed and so on. I own many different publishing “saddles” and because of my collection, I’m able to “ride” with more ease.

In this article, I share personal experiences with both self and traditional publishing and offer tips to help you “ride” with knowledge and skill.

Self-publishing was a primitive, almost foreign style of publication when I released my first book at age 15. Taking complete ownership of the publishing process was like riding bareback in a polo match—it was viewed as improper, rebellious and unworthy of true respect.

I formatted my books for various distribution sites, organized photo shoots for their covers and handled all marketing efforts. While I read “eBooks for Dummies,” people told me I was impatient and silly to attempt such a feat. They said I would be “bucked off” my metaphorical publishing horse and find myself in the dirt, bruised and aching.

Although my journey through the publishing process was far from easy, each time I found myself “out of the saddle,” I stood up and tried again.

If you forget everything else in this article, remember: Tenacity always trumps talent. You don’t have to be the best writer to be the hardest worker.


Steps to Self-Publishing:

-        Write and edit a book. Research your genre and produce a manuscript that fits the genre’s word count, refrains from passive voice and caters to a specific audience. For example, if you write a YA contemporary novel, you won’t market the book to middle-age fans of Karen Kingsbury or have a word count that matches fantasy epics like “Eragon” and “The Lord of the Rings.”

-        Create a strategic plan. Make a list of your book’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Write down possible slogans to use when marketing the book, the desired target audience, cover ideas and timeline for release.

-        Produce a book cover. Hire a graphic designer, photographer or purchase a cover template. Your book’s cover is as important as its content. Without an attractive cover, the book is less likely to generate a large amount of sales.

-        Research and plan marketing efforts. Before you move forward with publishing, outline your marketing plan. Create a timeline of social media posts, reach out to authors and ask for endorsements, budget for paid advertising and develop an elevator pitch to use when telling others about your work.

-        Format for online distribution. Each publishing platform (CreateSpace, B&N Press, etc.) has different format specifications. Format your book for each site.

-        Decide the book’s release date and begin promotions. Six months of promo are needed for a successful release.

-        Organize a blog tour and book launch party.

-        Implement marketing plan.

-        Book releases!

-        Continue marketing efforts.

Traditional publishing involves more patience and communication. I spent a year writing “The Vestige,” a year pitching it to agents and another year shopping it to publishers. The process took almost four years to complete.

Steps to Traditional Publishing:

-        Write and edit a book. Know your genre’s word count and what topics are selling.

-        Create a well-researched query. Sites like QueryShark.blogspot.com offer tips to help you develop an attention-grabbing query for your book.

-        Send query to literary agents acquiring books in your genre. Do your research—I cannot say this enough. Agents do not appreciate receiving queries for projects that do not meet their wish list.

-        Follow up with agents after two months. Often, agents specify their timeframe for response on their website.

-        Continue editing your book while you wait for responses. Other productive tasks to complete while waiting: Submit your manuscript for awards, work on a new project and send out more queries.

-        Once you gain representation from a literary agent, put together a proposal to send to publishers. Often, agents will help their authors craft proposals.

-        Wait to hear from publishers. This stage can take up to six months.

-        If publishers reject the proposal, the waiting process repeats.

-        After a publisher accepts your manuscript, you’ll go through several stages of editing, approve the book’s cover and begin promotions.

-        Book releases! In most cases, a book releases a year after it is accepted by a publisher.

-        Marketing efforts continue.

The publishing industry is a rodeo. Regardless of the “saddle” you choose, you will eventually find yourself on the ground and be faced with the choice: Will you get up, dust yourself off and try again? Will you ride despite the risks?

I ride because I believe my books’ messages are meant to be shared. Each time I step into the publishing rodeo and commit myself to a bucking round of late nights, rejection and rewrites, I think of each person who will read my work. For them, I get up and try again.

For them, I accept the risks.

Will you choose a “saddle” and pursue publication?