My Journey to Getting Published
By Resa Nelson
I’ve known since I was a child that I wanted to be a novelist, but my path to getting published has been full of twists and turns. It began when I got out of college and decided to commit to writing in my spare time. So when I wasn’t at my day job, I invested my time in writing short stories, studying the publishing industry, and figuring out how to get where I wanted.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was lucky to sell three short stories to small press magazines when I was in my 20s. I also read as much as I could, mostly magazines like Asimov’s, Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Analog. In the authors’ bios, I saw that a lot of them were graduates of the Clarion SF Workshop. One of the magazines ran an article explaining what Clarion is and why it’s so successful at producing professional genre writers. (In a nutshell: Clarion takes place over the course of 6 weeks every summer. They typically receive hundreds of applications and accept about 17 students. The point of Clarion is to write, learn more about the craft of writing, and learn how to critique stories written by your classmates in a productive way. Each week a different top-notch pro writer teaches and leads the critiquing.)
Clarion changed my life in many ways, and I’m so grateful for it. A couple of years after going to Clarion, I began selling short stories to professional magazines and anthologies. Several years later, I was ready to write my first novel. At that time, the rule of thumb was that once you had sold a few stories professionally, selling a novel was a piece of cake. I sold my novel to one of the biggest publishing houses, but after several months they withdrew the offer before I could get a contract because they felt it had become “too risky” to buy first novels. All of my life I’d dreamed of being accepted by a major house. That dream had come true only to disintegrate. I’m sure this happened to hundreds if not thousands of writers at the same time.
I sent my book to other publishing houses, but no one was buying first novels anymore. The experience almost broke me in half. I thought about quitting. But I kept writing and selling short stories, and I kept working at my craft. As time went by, I gave up on selling my first novel because I felt it had become outdated and I didn’t see a way to salvage it.
Years later, I wrote my first Dragonslayer novel (The Dragonslayer’s Sword). I contacted 100 agents. Ten were willing to take a look at it, but no one was interested in representing me. The few major houses that were willing to look at unagented work rejected it. So I went to my local library and read Publisher’s Weekly. I found an article explaining that major houses today only want best-sellers. Furthermore, this article explained that smaller publishing houses and university presses are doing what the major houses used to do: develop a long-term relationship with the author instead looking for a book that will sell millions.
That convinced me to look for a smaller house. I did my homework, and made a list of all the publishers I thought might be a good match for my Dragonslayer novel. One stood out, and I decided to contact them first. Thankfully, they not only accepted my first Dragonslayer novel – they’ve published every book I’ve written! I didn’t get what I’ve always dreamed of in that I don’t get advances or a publicist or reviews by Publisher’s Weekly. But what I’ve received from my publisher is far more valuable. They educate their authors about the current state of the publishing industry. I’m able to get in touch with people at my publishing house when I have questions or a problem and get what I need. I’ve learned how to be my own publicist, which has tons of benefits.
The publishing industry has changed so much in the past 20 years (and even more so in the past year!) that I no longer want to be with a major house. Unless you already have a fan base in the millions, I think the disadvantages of being with a big house far outweigh the advantages. Today, the only way I’d consider switching to a major house would be if they offered me a $1,000,000 advance – and even then I’m not sure I’d take it! I love my publisher and hope to be with them indefinitely.
The irony is that my first novel – the one that initially sold to a huge publisher – has become my next project. I’ve finally figured out why they wanted it and how I can make it stronger. I’ve figured out how to make it current. I’m thinking the story through and expect to be ready to start writing on September 1.
I can’t wait to get it written and send it to my publisher!
The Dragonslayer's Sword (Book One):
For Astrid, a blacksmith who makes swords for dragonslayers, the emergence of a strange gemstone from her body sets in motion a chain of events that threaten to destroy her life. Her happiness is shattered when her lover--the dragonslayer--disappears without a trace, and the life that she knows and loves implodes without warning.
Astrid lives in a world of shapeshifters whose thoughts have the power to change not only themselves but others. Everything Astrid knows to be true is called into question when she learns the truth about her past and the mysterious family from which she was separated as a child.
Reality turns inside out as Astrid gradually learns the truth about the people she loves as well as those she disdains. With the fate of dragons, ghosts, and slaves in foreign lands resting on her shoulders, Astrid faces the challenge of deciding who she is and how she will stand up inside her own skin. Will she withdraw and hide from the world that has disappointed her so much...or will she rise to lead others to freedom and peace?
The Iron Maiden (Book Two):
Astrid is reluctant to travel the winter route beyond the Northlands, even though it’s her duty. She’d rather stay home in her village, surrounded by friends and neighbors. Ignoring the bonds of tradition, she decides to spend the cold winter months in the warmth of her blacksmithing shop. Why should she leave the comfort of her cottage to serve and protect foreigners who might raid and harm her native Northlands?
Everything changes when a traveling merchant steals Starlight, the first dragonslayer’s sword Astrid forged and her last link to her sweetheart DiStephan. Having no time to alert her friends, Astrid races in pursuit of the merchant, determined to reclaim Starlight as her own and return home in time for dinner. Instead, her quest leads her to new lands, unexpected friendships with foreigners, and a harrowing encounter with the damage done by the followers of a new god that considers women as nothing more than servants to men. All the while, she must be ready to face any dragon traveling the winter route.
In Book 2 of the Dragonslayer series, Astrid must learn that deciding who she is isn’t a decision she can make just once. It’s a decision she must make every day.
The Stone of Darkness (Book Three):
In Book 3 of the Dragonslayer series, Astrid accepts her duty and follows the winter route--until she's bitten by a dragon. Everyone knows dragon bites are poisonous and deadly, so she reluctantly accepts her impending death. In a twist of fate, she survives. Desperate for an explanation, Astrid believes she has somehow been protected by the black stone she keeps with her at all times, a stone that emerged from the sole of her foot a year ago.
Determined to find out what the stone is and what kind of powers it possesses, Astrid begins a journey that leads her to alchemists and an army of men under the rule of the powerful warrior, Mandulane, the acting lord of the Krystr army. Mandulane's mission is to spread the word of the new god Krystr, which preaches the evil intent of women and the danger they pose to all men, who are entitled to dominate the world. Rumors about this new god and army have spread, but Astrid is the first Northlander to encounter them.
Resa was also the TV/Movie Columnist for Realms of Fantasy magazine for 13 years and was a contributor to SCI FI magazine. She has sold over 200 articles to magazines in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Her first novel, The Dragonslayer’s Sword, was nominated for the Nebula Award and was also a Finalist for the EPPIE Award. This medieval fantasy novel is based on a short story first published in the premiere issue of Science Fiction Age magazine and ranked 2nd in that magazine's first Readers Top Ten Poll. The Dragonslayer's Sword is Book 1 in her 4-book Dragonslayer series. Book 2, The Iron Maiden, was published last December, Book 3 was published in May, and the final book in the series is scheduled for publication in November.
Resa's standalone novel, Our Lady of the Absolute, is a fantasy/mystery/thriller about a modern-day society based on ancient Egypt. Midwest Book Review gave this book a 5-star review, calling it "a riveting fantasy, very highly recommended."
Resa lives in Massachusetts.
You can add Resa on Twitter, Facebook, or find her or her books through her website.
Thank you for being here today, Resa! :)