I was inspired to write this by Ashley Barron after chatting about a topic I think will be more and more common in this new age of publishing: What do you do when you’ve grown out of older books you’ve published?
One of the more “differentiating” things in self-publishing is that you can change a book after it’s published. It’s not difficult to re-upload a digital copy or Print-on-Demand book, and this is probably a blessing and a curse.
What feels like so many years ago, I published my first novel, Flight. I had a bit of an interesting road to get to that step. It was a mature Young Adult paranormal Sci-fi romance book about a Harpy Hunter with a tumultuous connection to the Harpy Prince, and was filled with action and betrayal and lots of angst-ridden romance. At the time I wrote it, I loved it, but I was 21 years old, and very impatient. (I have since learned this is perhaps the most important virtue).
The paranormal boom was just at a close, and SO many paranormal romance YAs were being released. I started querying to agents, very impatiently, and then decided to try out a small press that had been recommended to me. The press took it on pretty much immediately, so I was happy with that. I knew the book wouldn’t be an easy sell to the traditional market, just because of the time of the industry. People were tired of paranormal romance.
Around this same time, KDP and CreateSpace were rising up quickly, and authors were actually finding success self-publishing their books. I started to work with a publicist to ramp up the release of Flight, but then something major came to light that I hadn’t realized. The publisher I was with had NO distribution to Barnes and Noble, which was a major sticking point at the time. How could anyone find my book if they weren’t able to order it from the largest and often only book chain?
I’m going to be totally honest, I panicked. At the time, brick-and-mortar stores were still much more prevalent than they are now, and I was terrified that if Flight wasn’t searchable on B&N’s database, it wasn’t truly published, was it? And publishing through KDP and CreateSpace would give me that distribution, So I pulled my book and decided to put it out myself.
NOTE: I DO NOT regret this decision. It was a major one, and I was so young, but I was really determined to do this right and put out a book I was in love with.
I worked my ass off. I created a badass cover, and I formatted the interior with special little sparrow illustrations as my page breaks. I’m still proud of that formatting job. When I got my first copies of Flight, no one could tell it wasn’t published by an actual publisher.
I put in the work, did signings, readings, blog tours, you name it. Flight did pretty well, and I had a few fans who loved it, and I will always appreciate those who fell in love with those characters and enjoyed what I’d worked so hard to do. I wrote a sequel, Wasteland, and began to prepare it for release, with the plan of a third book, Valkyrie, to complete the trilogy, as was pretty much custom at the time.
But when I was releasing Wasteland, something changed in me. I just wasn’t into it. I wasn’t excited like I was with Flight. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the book, I loved the book, but I was going through some pretty major changes in my personal life which would end up in a “quarter-life crisis.” I stopped writing for a time. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was constantly second-guessing my choices: should I have been more patient and tried to publish Flight with a traditional publisher? Should I have dug in and done more with Wasteland? Can I even write this last book? Does anyone care?
Years passed, and I wrote all of one chapter of Valkyrie. I wasn’t in love with the characters anymore, or the story. I’d been editing and starting my road to being an agent and in those years, I grew up majorly. I wasn’t an early-twenties girl, anymore. I also went through some pretty major health issues that ended up with me having 3 surgeries within 6 months, and then herniated a disc in my back that left me barely able to move without excruciating pain for a long time. That was a tough year, and it changed me fundamentally.
And the words I was writing were totally different and new. When I looked back at Flight and Wasteland, all I saw was a series I would never finish, and characters I wanted to give closure to, but couldn’t, because everything about my writing style had changed. I planned out the next few books I would put forward to be published, and the world of Flight seemed like the world of another person.
I felt so disconnected from those books, that I decided to de-list them, effectively un-publishing them. It was a hard decision. Had I just thrown away years of work? I second guessed myself constantly about it, but now, I only look back to that decision with relief, because the weight of those books had been dragging me down emotionally for a long time.
So now, I look at my writing career in a bit of a different light. I’m more conscious of my branding, and how I want to see my career play out and the books I’m going to write. I’m most excited about The Riders of Atsuva, a YA fantasy following the last of the Venata, a horse shaman, as she navigates a war-torn world of magic and horses after her country is destroyed. It’s basically about a horse trainer, and it makes my heart sing. I’m also working on For When You Can’t Find Me, a dark YA thriller about a girl whose sister goes missing, and leaves her a cryptic file of photos she must decipher to find out what happened to her.
I’m also allowing myself to play a little more. I’m working on a fan novelization of Horizon: Zero Dawn, and have some Twine Games and RPGMaker games I’m working on. This is perhaps most important, because experimenting has always been such an inspiring process for me.
My last big project is going to be a website called Golden Thread, which is going to be a writer resource site filled to the brim, a critiquing community, and will be starting off with a six-week Book Bootcamp course with 24 course videos and weekly assignments, all culminating in a query critique session. I’m going to need some beta testers for the first round of the course, so I’ll be putting out a call for that once the course and website are ready to go!
I think the world of publishing is great, and I love everything about it, and I can honestly say I don’t have any regrets about the paths I chose. I had to make some big decisions, but in the end, I want to feel 100% proud of all the work I put out, and I want to connect with it. Growing up pulled me away from the world I’d created when I was 20, but that doesn’t mean I can’t start over fresh.
I’m excited for everything I’m working on, both in my agenting and editing careers, and my writing career. I think the most important piece of advice I would give to anyone looking to publish their books is to be happy with your writing, no matter what. If your books don’t make you happy, if you’re writing to try to get a deal more than to release what’s in your heart, then maybe it’s time to re-focus on what does make you happy.
Our lives are much too short to not follow what is going to fulfill our dreams in the happiest of ways. I’ve given up on the idea of wanting to be “X” kind of author, with “X” kind of deal and “X” kind of release, because I can’t control that, and they’re not realistic goals.
All I can hope for is the words I write are true and inspiring, and that other people will find excitement, escape, and love within my worlds. That’s my only goal.
If you’ve read this far, thanks for sticking with my rambling. For those who read Flight and Wasteland and want that ending (It Exists!) I’m going to be releasing a version of Valkyrie that bridges the two books and also has an ending via my website, in the coming months. I truly appreciate everyone who read and loved those books <3
I’m looking forward to what the future brings!