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November 29, 2017

Writing and Publishing Your First Book --- Guest Post from Meg Kassel, Author of BLACK BIRD OF THE GALLOWS

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Some authors write a book, get an agent, sell and achieve bestseller status quickly --- and in that order. They’re the ones you tend to hear a lot about. I was not one of those authors. I wrote my first, dreadful novel one rainy summer about six years ago. My husband and I had accepted buyouts from the newspaper we both met and worked at and moved from New Jersey to Maine. It wasn’t exactly a whim. It was more of a desire for a life reset. A call to adventure. If it was a story, it would be an inciting incident. But we moved to Maine and instead of camping and hiking and kayaking that very soggy summer, he played guitar, read, grew a beard. I took a half-baked idea that was mostly fan fiction and wrote a book.

And I fell in love. Maybe that’s a more dramatic depiction than that book deserved. It was a truly dreadful book, on every level, but the moment I typed “The End,” I felt an elation I’d never known before. I’d done something I’d never thought myself capable of. I’d created something that hadn’t existed before. I’d written a whole book. Did I mention that it was a dreadful book? Nevertheless, it was a book. In my newbie glory, I queried the thing and was soundly rejected. That was okay. If I wrote one book, I could write another. And so I did. Learned a lot, too. I joined some groups and took workshop. Read craft books and studied books that I enjoyed. As I learned, I wrote five books between that first novel and the sale that would stick (more on that later). Black Bird of the Gallows, a YA paranormal romance featuring harbingers of death who settle in a town facing imminent disaster, didn’t have a great start. The first publisher who acquired it was a European-based one, who closed their U.S. division not long after I signed a contract with them. This book has known three editors, two agents, and numerous revisions before making it to print.

When I sat down to write the book that debuted on September 5th, I had no idea that this would be the one to sell. I was only determined that there would one day be a book that would sell. My thinking was, when I’ve gotten to the level I need to be, it would happen. If a book didn’t sell, I wasn’t there yet. I don’t have quite the method of explaining how it feels to sell a book to a publisher, then to have that publisher close. It was the one and only time that I (briefly) wondered if I was on the wrong path. I became acutely aware of how much luck and circumstances are involved in publishing. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter if a book is good. Mediocre books can draw huge success. Great books can go unnoticed. The writer has little control over that. The only thing we can do is write the best book we are capable of at that time and hope everything else falls into place. Sometimes it does.

Looking back, I’m glad BLACK BIRD OF THE GALLOWS came out later than expected. I had time to refine a few things. I’m a better writer now than I was when I first wrote it. In this story of a girl who falls for her harbinger of death neighbor, I made mistakes which thankfully didn’t make it to print. The main character, Angie, is a little more complex, thanks to that delay. The villain, who I fell a bit in love with, inspired the hero for KEEPER OF THE BEES, the companion book coming out next fall --- a book that won the Golden Heart contest in 2016. I wrote KEEPER OF THE BEES in the space of time between losing that first contract and signing the second. Would I have written it at all, if I hadn’t needed a diversion from the blues of losing my publisher? I’ll never know. Sometimes, what seems like a setback is a saving grace, but it never, ever feels like that when you’re going through it. Still, those disappointments proved to me how much I wanted to be a writer. Has a setback ever turned out to be a surprise opportunity for you? Has pushing through a challenge proved something about your resilience and dedication to something?