One of the most rewarding aspects of the writing life is celebrating successes. If you’re a writer, you understand this all too well. We toil on through the valleys and live for the peaks.
Today I want to celebrate the success of my author friend, K.C. Tansley, and the upcoming release of her YA time-travel murder mystery, The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts.
Tansley’s journey to publication was no smooth ride. It was years in the making, marked by hundreds of rejections, not to mention some incredible bad luck. Yet somehow, she found the will to persevere. The story of her success is an inspiration to any writer who dreams of landing a traditional publishing contract, and she’s here to share the details with a little Q&A.
No two writers follow the same rituals and methods, but we can still learn so much from each other. Could you summarize your personal writing process?
For the first book in a series, I usually spend three months story-storming. This is where I build the story world in my head, figuring out the rules of my world, delving into who the main characters are and discovering their personal histories, and playing with the plot. I imagine how the story could go and follow a plot thread to its end. Many times, I don’t like where everything ends up, so I go back and see what happens if my characters make other choices. It’s kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure book inside my head. And I keep changing things up until I get the satisfying ending that I need.
As I story-storm, I takes notes. Usually my notes evolve into a synopsis or an outline that’s three to five pages. Once I have the general concept nailed down and I know the main character’s emotional arc and the plot arc, I start drafting. I aim for 1500 words a day, 5 days a week.
Usually around 25k, I pause and do some editing and make sure I’m on track. That’s a week of going back over things. Sometimes two weeks. Then I draft another 25k. I do some editing. Then another 25-30k. Most of my books come in at 75-85k in their first draft.
Once I’ve got the rough draft down, I make one pass through it for clarity and general edits. Then I put it aside for two to three months and work on another project. After a breather, I come back and do a serious revision before I send it to beta readers for their input.
The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts endured some deep potholes on its road to publication. Can you give readers a feel for the journey that led to this traditional publishing deal?
I spent years cold querying, pitching at conferences, getting manuscript critiques from agents and editors, and entering it in contests. You name it, I tried it.
It took me six years to finally sell the book to an editor at Harlequin. Soon after, I signed with an agent at ICM Partners. I was finally on my way!
My agent negotiated a great contract. But then she left agenting. I was assigned to an interim agent, who took good care of me. I thought we’d recover from that hiccup. My publisher assigned the editor and we got to work on editorial revisions. I was waiting for line edits from my editor when my agent told me that the publisher was shutting down the imprint that was publishing my book.
My book wasn’t going to be published, and the rights were reverting back to me. Everything evaporated. Gone. And then my agency and I parted. It was a time of utter uncertainty. I really questioned why I was doing this.
At my lowest moment, a couple friends passed my manuscript along to a few people they knew in publishing and I got lucky. A small press, Beckett Publishing Group, really liked my story and offered to publish it.
As a hybrid author, what are some key differences you’ve experienced between traditional and self-publishing?
In self-publishing, everything is on the author. You have to be the writer, the promoter, the publisher, etc. You have the final say in every aspect of book publication and marketing. It’s a tremendous amount of pressure. You live and die by your vision.
With traditional publishing, you don’t have the same level of responsibility. You also don’t have that kind of control. The publisher has the final say over the vision for the book. They can change the title, they can alter the plot, and they decide on the cover art. They also determine where the book will be shelved and how it will be marketed.
Would you share some words of encouragement for writers feeling disheartened by the process?
I’ve been rejected hundreds of times. It only takes one yes to change your entire life.
There is one way to win and that is to stay in the game. When you give up, you lose. Permanently. When you persevere and stick with it, there’s a chance you can still win. Any day, a win can come your way.
Summary: Prep school junior Kat Preston accidentally time travels to 1886 Connecticut, where she must share a body with a rebellious Victorian lady, prevent a gruesome wedding night murder, disprove a deadly family curse, and find a way back to her own time.
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K.C Tansley lives with her warrior lapdog, Emerson, and three quirky golden retrievers on a hill somewhere in Connecticut. She tends to believe in the unbelievables—spells, ghosts, time travel—and writes about them. The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts is her debut YA time-travel murder mystery novel.