My Long Road to Getting Published

It started in my early twenties. Before that I had gotten some recognition for my poetry and people had said I should try to get published, but I had almost no control over when I wrote poetry, so getting enough for a book was impossible.

Now I can sit down and just write a poem if I want to, but I also know how hard it is to sell poetry and am far more interested in telling stories. When I was in the latter half of my teens, I was obsessed with world-building. I was making up alien races, nations, cultures, and leaders and writing it all down in erasable pen (I loved erasable pens).

This obsession gave way to me running D&D campaigns that stitched my ideas together and writing histories of the peoples I created. Creating  histories and running campaigns both require storytelling. When I was in my early twenties, I fell head over heels for cyberpunk and started a novel in that vein.

I tinkered with that novel for a few years while I was in college and it just never seemed to come together. It probably had something to do with the fact that I was a physics and chemistry student and I was designing androids and other things from scratch using advanced materials. Calculating the storage capacity of a paper battery, designing miniaturized fusion reactors, and figuring out what artificial muscle technology was most likely to be useful in an android were all things I puzzled over.

Stacked on top of that, I didn’t know how to write a novel. Putting that project on hold, I worked on a different novel, one about an alien race with gender and sexuality quite different from humans. I also started posting stories chapter by chapter online. The feedback I got online caused me to grow as a writer and I became more confident in my skills.

It wasn’t until several years later that I had gotten my writing to a place where I was starting to think seriously about getting published. The problem was that I was fixated on the big publishers at a time when the traditional publishing industry was being disrupted. The stories I heard about so few new authors getting contracts discouraged me.

Deep down, I knew that neither of the two novels I was writing would make it. They were too big of a risk for the publishers and I had been working on them so long that I had no idea how to bring either of them to a conclusion.

I never wanted to self-publish. Partially because I am serious about typography and design and I knew I would be unhappy with what my books looked like at the start, and partially because I’d wanted to be published ever since I was in high school. It was more of an emotional need than a result of logic.

Everyone seems to has different ideas of success and how to tell when one has “broken into the industry” and I set the bar at getting published and not just self-publishing. Looking back on it, it’s a bit silly. It’s 2017 and there’s a multitude of extremely successful self-published authors.

To be successful at self-publishing, one needs connections. People who can help with the typesetting, good editors, cover designers, marketing specialists, etc. I didn’t have the connections or the interest in trying to fill all of those roles myself. I am sure I’ll have more connections as I become more established as a writer, but I think I’ll stick with small presses for the foreseeable future.

The advent of small presses opened up a whole new set of possibilities for me. They were taking on new authors and taking risks and many of them were treating authors incredibly well. By this time I had also realized that I was bisexual (pansexual as well) and that all the characters I had written were queer. Only side characters were straight.

As I looked into who would be interested in stories about LGBT+ characters, I found out that the rise of small presses internet distribution had created a boom in LGBT+ readership and publishing.

A lot of my 2016 summer was spent identifying LGBT+ publishers that I wanted to work with. Less Than Three Press was one of my top choices and they were brought to my attention by a friend who had been published by them.

I decided to start with a small project that I knew I could finish based on a prompt I saw on LT3’s site. Writing for that prompt led to “A Welded Wave,” my first published book. Details about how writing for a prompt helped are in another blog post.

What is your publishing experience? Are you self-published? Did you get lucky with a big publisher? Let me know about that and any other thoughts or comments you have below!

Z.A. Tanis is a writer, linguist, programmer, artist and public speaker who’s lived on a tropical island and in the frozen tundra of the upper midwest. The loves of Z.’s life are a wise and beautifully honest boyfriend, an understanding and brilliantly intelligent wife, and writing imaginative fiction. After many years not fitting into the simple categories of “male” and “female,” Z. has rejected them and happily inhabits the space between. Only since joining and writing for the LGBT+ community has Z. found true expression.

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