Wake up and Smell 2011

One of the things I like about reading other writes' tales of their paths to publication is that they speak to persistence in the face of disappointment, optimism in the face of rejection, and a sheer cussed refusal to quit. And then, without rhyme, reason, or warning it happens, and they find themselves with the three-book deal or the Hugo award or a movie option. The writer takes the hero's journey down to the nadir of despair and rises to the heights of joy, carrying away a boon, in the form of a contract, galleys, cover art, an ISBN-13.

The moral is--it can happen, and does, even to people we know. So when is it our turn?

I passed age forty before I realized I wanted to be an author, or at least to give it a darned good try so I'd have no regrets as I drew my last breath. I set a simple goal in 2003--write one novel--science fiction, because I love it--for teenaged boys, because I had two. And if I was going to be serious about this, I had to attend writing workshops. Columbus, Ohio has an excellent genre conference in Context, where I received excellent advice. Write, submit, network, act like a professional.

I started down two paths. Over the years, I wrote a handful of short stories for the adult spec fic market and patiently submitted them, the rule of no simultaneous submissions chipping away the months and years. Ralan dot com became my best friend.

Concurrently, I began writing novels for teens. Creating my first manuscript absorbed two years, followed by two more years of submitting to publishers and agents. Meantime, I'd written another shorter novel, which earned a personalized and encouraging rejection letter from an editor. I stuck it on the wall for inspiration. Cue the sound of doors slamming, as publishing houses began closing to unagented submissions. Thanks to Nanowrimo, I had a third manuscript, a political thriller with a pandemic, a government conspiracy, and a feisty teen female protagonist. Through tedious submission to forty agents, I found a representative who loved it, though she wondered aloud why I ever thought it was sci-fi. So much for my original goals!

Path number one, the short story venture, finally led to an open door in 2010. An aspiring writer friend (network!) put me onto an anthology--no remuneration, but a stepping stone. I sold "The Final Gift" to Strange Worlds Anthology, and I finally had something to put on my cover letters. On the strength of one publishing credit and a nice, compact story, I then made my first professional sale, "Immortals" to Cosmos Magazine, Issue #32. So it was published in Australia, but at least it had significant circulation. Now I had two credits for my cover letter. And so the snowball rolled. "Origins" was accepted for The Last Man Anthology, "Marriage of Convenience" for More Scary Kisses anthology, and “Till Death Does his Part,” to Bride of the Golem anthology. Thank you again Ralan.

With seven completed manuscripts in the hands of my agents, none of those deemed worthy of publication have yet sold. And this is when I woke up and smelled 2011. People had asked for years whether I would consider self-publishing. Until that coffee moment, I always said no…until I realized that what the big houses used to offer—advances, production, marketing support, and distribution—were rapidly becoming obsolete. Advances for new authors are token. Marketing is largely left up to the author. Production and distribution are (almost) a breeze with Createspace, Amazon, and Smashwords. I also had a manuscript with a “freshness date” issue—one about what might happen to a teenaged girl of Mayan ancestry on December 21, 2012.

So this is path number three, the one less taken, until recently. My independently published novel “Out of Xibalba” is available in print and ebook format through the regular distribution channels—see for links. I hope you’ll read it before the world ends.

-Liz Coley
July, 2011


Liz Coley writes speculative fiction for teens. Visit her site to read or hear a sample chapter. Buy Out of Xibalba at Smashwords and Amazon.


  1. Liz:

    I think many of us can relate with your path because for years we did as we were told--write short stories, write novel after novel, send submissions and wait, get an agent--only to find the industry implode and acquisitions take a nose dive.

    Thankfully, the writing life is different now. I have never felt better about it!

    Congratulations on OUT OF XIBALBA.


  2. Congrats to you! I think there are many more of us that struggle with the "shoulds" & "Shouldnt's" of publishing than those that score their big break. I recently chatted w/a woman who got a contract w/Random House after TEN years! I can tell you this--if it had been my book, I would have self or small pubbed after the first two...LOL Why wait? Unless you're Snookie (or Casey Anthony, perhaps?) there is no Royal Checkbook Prince at the end of the aisle.

  3. Elsie, I couldn't have waited ten years either...five was bad enough.

    :) Heidi

  4. This is something that I'm really starting to think about as my story comes closer to query stage.

    Is it really going to be worth while? Or will I actually do better to self-publish?

    Right now I don't know...

  5. It's slightly analogous to switching from film to digital photography for the purist. There was a time when film had it all over digital--better quality, no shutter lag time, etc. Then there was a brief moment when they were equivalent. And finally, digital overtook film for resolution and flexibility.

    Emotionally, however, it was hard to find the tipping point and make the switch. The rigid discipline of film still has its attractions. You have to get it absolutely RIGHT in the moment and trust until the film is developed, not scattershoot and delete. Gratification is delayed, but the perfect shot is even more meaningful.


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