Lessons Along the Road to Publication

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By: JPC Allen

Thirty-two years.

That’s how long it’s taken me to see my first novel in print. Thirty-two years since I was a freshman in college and recovering from an emergency appendectomy over Christmas break. To ward off boredom, I began writing. I’d written in bits and pieces, fits and starts, since second grade. But, for the first time, I wrote consistently on a novel that I just knew would be published.

After thirty-two years, I’ve learned a few lessons on the road to publication and hope they can help you.

No Experience Wasted

That first novel I worked on that Christmas break never saw the light of print. But characters and plots from it reappear in my later stories.

In my first novel, the main characters were a teen named Jay and his twenty-five year-old half brother David. Fast forward twenty-eight years. I had the opportunity to submit a short story for publication if I could write it in two months and set it in Ohio. I wanted to write a mystery and decided to place it in Wayne National Forest. The mystery concerns a teen and his older brother discovering in the woods near their home an injured millionaire who claims someone tried to murder him. I named the brothers David and Jay. They underwent personality changes, but Jay looked the same as he did all those years ago.

Strangely enough, a new realization just hit me as I wrote this article. In that unpublished novel, Jay discovers he has a half-brother, and most of the plot is about getting to know him. In my debut mystery, A Shadow on the Snow, my main character Rae has just discovered who her father’s identity and is getting to know him and his extended family. It hadn’t dawned on me I was recycling a thirty-year-old plot.

So, don’t trash your amateurish or embarrassing first attempts at fiction. You never know what you might be able to recover from them.

Dream Small

Dream big is a mantra in this country. And that’s how I imagined my writing career when I first started out. My very first novel would be published by a major house because it was just so brilliant. It would be such a hit that my publisher would do all the promotion, and I would just sit at home and crank out novel after novel.

Well, I learned the publishing world doesn’t work that way, and that’s a good thing. My first chance to publish my fiction came in the anthology of Ohio stories. Two writers I knew started a new press to publish it. When they proposed an anthology of Christmas fiction, I submitted a short story for that, and they accepted it. The publishers liked that so much that they encouraged me to submit a novel based on the characters in the short story. I wrote A Shadow on the Snow, and they agreed to publish it.

I’m now an author of a small publisher, and I’ve found I like small better. I personally know the publisher and editor, so I trust them with my work. I have to do most of the promotion but that gives me a lot of control. They allowed me a huge amount of input on the cover, which I love. And I didn’t need to get an agent to work with them.

I’ve also found small works better in other areas of my writing life. The small, local papers where I live now and where I grew up are more likely to print my press release. I promote my writing workshops to small library systems because I have better chance of getting hired.

So even if you dream big, don’t overlook the small opportunities. They may lead to big things.

Writing Is About More than the Stories

I thought I knew what God wanted from my writing—giving teens and mystery lovers a Christian alternative to secular mysteries. But I believe that was just one of His goals, and I now understand that I won’t ever know everything about our writing collaboration. For example, when I wrote the short story, “A Rose from the Ashes”, for the Christmas anthology, I thought the point was to show mercy and forgiveness. Eighteen months later, I realized the Holy Spirit had slipped in a variation of the Prodigal Son. Totally surprised me and helped me form the themes of my novel.

Writing with my Father has changed me too, and that’s what I find so exciting about creating with Him. I don’t know where a story will go or what I will learn about Him as we work.

What lessons have you learned on the road to publication?

After trying to publish a novel for thirty-two years, I’ve learned a few lessons on the road to publication. -JPC Allen #ACFWBlogs #writetip #critiques #ACFWCommunity Click To Tweet

JPC Allen started her writing career in second grade with an homage to Scooby-Doo. She’s been tracking down mysteries ever since. She’s written mystery short stories for Mt. Zion Ridge Press. Her Christmas mystery “A Rose from the Ashes” was a Selah-finalist at the Blue Ridge Mountains Writers Conference in 2020. Online, she offers tips and prompts to ignite the creative spark in every kind of writer. She also leads workshops for tweens, teens, and adults, encouraging them to discover the adventure of writing. A lifelong Buckeye, she has deep roots in the Mountain State. A Shadow on the Snow is her first novel.

Follow the clues to her next mystery on her pages @ jpcallenwrites on Facebook  and Instagram, her website, JPCAllenWrites.com, and her author pages on Goodreads, and Amazon.

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