Tuesday, August 30, 2011

My Personal Path to Publication - Samantha Combs

As promised, my new series, My Personal Path to Publication, begins with me.  I can't really ask my author friends to dig into their most personal thoughts and share their journey unless I am willing to do the same.  So, without further ado, lets get this party started!

1.   How long have you been writing?
I turned in a poem instead of a book report in the third grade.  I'm pretty sure that's when it started.  Since then I've written most of my life, short stories, novellas, poems, even comics, but I only got serious about it last year.
2.   Are you published and if so, how long have you been a published author?  If not, what’s your plan?
I am published, with Astraea Press, for my debut novel, Spellbound, which was released on June 14th, 2011 and Ghostly, which will release at the end of September.  I have a third novel, a horror novel called The Detention Demon which was supposed to be released on Oct. 3rd, but I'm sure it won't.  The publisher, Aspen Mountain Press, is in the middle of a spectacular meltdown and implosion.  My book, along with every other book they own rights to, and every author signed to them, is trapped there.  My fourth book, Everspell, a sequel to Spellbound, was just accepted by Astraea this week.  I am a very prolific writer, so I plan to continue writing and publishing at an astonishing rate!
3.   Which route did you choose for becoming published, the traditional route, with an agent, the “indie” route, going directly to the publishers yourself, or deciding to self-publish?
At first, I had every intention of getting an agent.  Whose idea was it to make it so goddamn hard? Spellbound was rejected 65 times.  I lie a lot about that figure.  It embarrasses me.  No one hears that some of the rejections were handwritten and had some of the most unbelievable things to say, some of the most encouraging "no"s you could imagine.  But then, after they would request more pages, they would still reject it.  What the hell does "we just don't see it fitting on our list" even mean?  I finally took that to mean YOU have a problem, not me.  It means YOU can't sell my fabulous book, not that my book wasn't fabulous.  That was how I forced myself to look at it.  But that got harder and harder to do at rejection #38, and #47, and almost ridiculous at rejection #53.  And then I submitted to Harlequin Teen.  They requested a full.
My husband and I did the stupidest thing.  We were so sure that meant they wanted it we made lists.  Bills To Pay With The Advance Money.  Things To Buy The Kids With The Advance Money.  Big Things to Just Buy With The Advance Money.  I mean, really.....who makes THREE lists?  We did. The rejection letter KILLED me.  My husband came home and found me sobbing.  He seriously thought someone died.  Non-writers just don't get it.  All he knew was, he was NOT getting new truck tires.
4.   How long did it take you to write your first novel?
I write fast.  Normally, it takes me about three months to write a manuscript.  Spellbound took two and a half month.  I write at night and on the weekends when the little one took naps.  She doesn't do that anymore, so I have extended the night hours.  I write from about 930pm to 12 or 130am.  I never give myself a word count.
5.   How long did it take you to publish it?
From agent stalking to actual acceptance, 15 months.
6.   How many times did it get rejected before it got published?
The aforementioned 65 times
7.   Describe your worst rejection letter.
The letter said they could not connect with the character, Sabrina, and that witches and vampires were out of vogue.  There is no vampire in my book and the character is named Serena, not Sabrina.  I was deflated. They had not read it.  I was dismissed by someone who didn't even read the book.  A book which has won the Globel Ebook Award for best Speculative Fiction - Fantasy, thank you very much.  Class and decorum precludes me from mentioning them here, but you would be shocked, my friends.
8.   Describe the best news you ever got in your writing life and how it felt.
When I received the email from Astraea Press from them ASKING me if I would like them to publish my book (ASKING ME!!!), I nearly missed it because I was so pre-conditioned to rejection.  I read it over and over, like you might look at a winning lottery ticket.  I didn't believe that they believed in me.  One small email made me believe in myself again.
9.   What’s the worst piece of advice you ever got?
One rejection letter said I had too many characters in Spellbound and I would confuse the reader.  I felt insulted for the reader.  I write young adult because I love the period of time in my life where everything was in discovery and enlightenment.  I never want to be denigrating or dumb down my books.  By asking me to reduce my cast of characters, I think that's exactly what that agent was telling me to do.  I felt that agent was advising me that my young adult audience wouldn't be savvy enough to handle it.  My reviews have proven that wrong.
10.                Now, tell us the best.
Don't give up.  Understand that every rejection is just one person's opinion and another person will have an entirely different one.  
11.                What’s the one thing you would want an aspiring writer to take away from your personal path to publication?
Writing is a learning process.  If you are not discovering something new every single solitary day, then you are doing it WRONG.  Read blogs, Write blogs, and then when you have written your blog, go back and read some more.  Research everything you can on your genre and the business of writing, because you can never forget that THIS IS A BUSINESS.  You can't just write something and sit back.  You have to learn how to query and logline and write a synopsis and then market the whole damn thing.  Learn how to spot and rely on an expert.  Because if you are a writer, chances are that is what you want to be doing with your time.  You are NOT an editor, you need one.  You are NOT a cover artist, you need one.  If you can, get an expert to help YOU market YOU.  'Cuz, lets face it, wouldn't you rather spend that time, um, writing?
And most of all, LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN.  Learn to listen to those authors who have gone before you and been there and done that AND are selling the t-shirt to prove it.  They have learned the ropes, they have EARNED the ropes, and if you are lucky enough to be in their presence when they start talking, sit down, shut up, and start taking notes.  Go to as many conferences as you can afford and write down everything they have to say.  
Here's a surprising fun fact:  I went to my first conference in September of last year.  It caused me to rework my manuscript for a month after Christmas.(family in town)  Guess when I got a contract?  Yeah, you guessed it.....Feb 2011.  Coincidence?  You be the judge.

So, here will be the part where the sharing author can put all their contact information.  I will assume you know mine already.  
I hope you enjoyed my story.  Please comment and let me know if you did and look forward to the other exciting authors coming soon!


  1. wow 65 rejection letters. I am not sure how I would handle that. Good self interview!


  2. That publisher meltdown is another scary reality in the publishing world, Samantha. A lot of aspiring writers don't realize how many small publishers come and go in the highly competitive world of book selling.

    You might get a signed deal, but that doesn't always mean your book will be sitting on a book store shelf.

    j. //

  3. Hey Stefan and Jason,
    Thanks for replying. I know 65 sounds horrible, thats why I usually fibbed and said 40! LOL. And the meltdown is only getting worse by the minute. But there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. We at AMP are keeping our fingers crossed. Wonderful people who left management there and formed a new House and trying to get as many of us out as they can have our best interests at heart.....lucky for us some people still put the authors first! Yay Musa! Can't wait to read your journeys, guys!

  4. I loved this peek in to your publishing journey! Fabulous! You had me giggling and strangling publishers in my head almost simultaneously! Seriously! lol

    Best of success, Samantha!