I wish our aspirations were like dreams where they pass by slowly in our head, but in reality it’s only a matter of seconds. Because then I wouldn’t be nineteen and not much closer to achieving my dream than when I started. It’s like I’ve been climbing a mountain for years and I’m still yet to break through the clouds.
If I were to start where this dream of becoming an author began, we’d be looking over the shoulder of little, six year old me on my iPad 2 with the pink floppy case I named Pearl. But instead I’m going to take you only a few years back in time to 2022, when I entered 11th grade. I thank my lucky stars for the high school my parents enrolled me in. It is inquiry based, which means I could do whatever I wanted in every school subject so long as I met the British Columbia requirements to graduate. So naturally, being the writer I am, I wrote books for creative writing. My teacher edited two of them and one day she told me these books are publish-worthy and that she’s only felt this way about a couple other students work in her entire career. She said more, but forgive me, it’s been a few years and my memories are fuzzy.
I was shocked when she said this. I mean of course I had daydreamed about seeing my books on the shelf at a bookstore, but I never actually thought it would happen or considered pursuing it. I just loved––love––to write. That’s all I ever want to do, and I understand how boring I sound to people who ask what I like to do in my free time and that’s all I can think to say.
This teacher compiled a list of publishing houses that don’t require an agent, because agents are extremely hard to find, to get off the waitlists for, or find one that likes your work. She then walked me through writing a cover letter and then we sent it off to the first publisher. The automated email I got back said if they don’t get back to me in a few months, they don’t want my manuscript. So, for some reason, I waited without submitting to another publisher and wasted months. When they didn’t get back to me, I begrudgingly submitted to the others on the list. Weeks passed, I don’t remember how many, and I had half as much hope as when I started. One night, I was up way too late––one a.m. to be exact––when I refreshed my email out of habit. And guess what popped up? An email from a publishing house! They wanted my book! I did a silent happy dance in the dark and then went to bed, eager to tell my parents. The next morning at breakfast, I uttered the words I never thought I’d ever say: a publisher wants to publish my book!
They wrote in their email that they were presented with my book during an Editorial Board meeting (my book was talked about by professionals in a meeting! Ah my gash!), and said, “we can confidently state that your work was found to be a hugely exciting and entertaining read, perfectly suited for a wide audience. The Board was keen to comment on your superb way with words and how the reader is immediately drawn into James’ upturned life and his journey through different worlds to becoming a powerful wizard. You’ve skillfully created a relatable, dynamic cast of characters and undoubtedly the reader will be compelled to follow the thrilling story through to the very last page.”
That day at school I showed the printed email to my teacher and she exclaimed aloud in the quiet workspace. At this point I was like, “wow, this could actually happen!”
Would you believe me if I told you, three days later another publishing house emailed me? I still can’t. I was all, “Yes! This is it! My dreams are coming true!” But then that all came crashing down after they sent me their contracts. My parents were skeptical about a few points in both of them, so they sent them off to friends in the writing and publishing business. They all told us the same thing, “Don’t accept these offers.”
So we tried to negotiate with the publishers. But we were doomed to fail for two reasons: 1) I didn’t have an agent and 2) I was a new and unpublished author.
Writing those emails, telling them we couldn’t take their offers, were some of the most painful emails I’ve ever had to write. They crushed my dreams and I knew I needed an agent to advocate for me, but the thought of finding and securing one seemed impossible. And we found that to be pretty accurate. But hey, at the very least I can say that two publishers thought my book was good and publishable. They said they couldn’t change the terms, but they didn’t say it was bad (cue another happy dance).
So what now? I certainly did not want to be a self-published author because I felt more validation from a real publishing house wanting my book than just doing it myself with no one asking for it.
The next decision I made was one of my worst. I talked to some authors. You’d think they’d inspire me, but no. All they talked about was the hard and discouraging realities of being an author and after meeting with them, all I wanted to do was quit. But my dad said: “No.” Well, not literally. He just never gave up on searching for more options. One day, he stumbled upon a webinar hosted by HayHouse. Those who signed up could partake in a contest and the highest prize is a publication contract! So you best believe I joined the webinar and sat through four long zoom calls and worked hard over the following six months on the book proposal they outlined for us.
During that time, we were scouring Fiverr for a book editor, blurb editor, book cover designer, website designer, and book formatter. I died inside every time my dad and I reached a dead end in our search. I need the editor for obvious reasons, and the blurb editor because I want to make sure people want to read my book and look past the cover that I’ve struggled to find a designer for. If you’ve checked out the book cover designer scene on Fiverr you might have found what I found. Either stock-image looking covers, little-kiddie illustrations, or… um…adult book covers, if you know what I mean. None of which I am looking for. So I turned to Reedsy and got quotes back from five people. I don’t think you could ever guess in a million years what some of the prices were. Drum roll please… *drum noises*……TWELVE THOUSAND DOLLARS. Like, excuse me? I’ve only ever seen authors portrayed as broke and struggling. So what author could afford that?! My family certainly can’t and won’t spend that much on a cover designer. But my dad and I did find one in the bunch that stood out to us, and we’re still working to get that going. Here’s hoping the cover turns out great.
On an encouraging note, we did find a book formatter and blurb editor and she said she’ll be done by November 7th. We also found a book editor and she is super kind and edited my book in about two weeks. I was so nervous and expecting her to come back with, “this is a mess, incoherent plot, start over from chapter ___ to chapter ___.” But no, she was quite the opposite. It’s strange to say that I’ve never read through it myself. Well, I have edited it and my teacher edited it, but I’ve never just sat down and read it. It’s a goal of mine to do so. A voice in the back of my mind is telling me it’s trash and I need to start over. Hopefully, after I read it through, that voice will shut up.
My dad found a web design team all the way in the UK. Over the past several months they’ve been working hard to create the website you are reading this on. You’re probably wondering why it took that long. The simple answer is, life happens and university is hard. They needed a lot of information and input from me and it was difficult to carve out time in my packed schedule to do that. But the results were so worth it. If you can’t tell by the colour palette of this website, I love purple.
On October 14th of 2023, my book proposal for the Hayhouse contest was submitted! I did not submit a book from The James Baxter series––which you can learn about on my website under explore and books––I submitted a book I have been hinting at on my instagram. They announce the winner in late December and at the time I am writing this blog, in my university’s library, that is a whole November and a half away. My nineteenth birthday is the day after tomorrow, and I’m still not even halfway up that mountain to my dreams. But there is no rush. Everything comes to pass with time. And one day, perhaps when you are reading this, there will be a book or two of mine out in the world waiting to be read.