This article was first published in the online literary magazine Women Writers, Women’s Books (booksbywomen.org)
My name is Josephine Strand and I’m the author of my first published romance novel, Misty Dreams, released in April 2021. I’m what is known as a literary late bloomer. Three years ago, I was a soon-to-be novelist past the age of sixty, and utterly unprepared for the work that goes into publishing a book—before and after it’s out in the world. Years of insecurities and setbacks prevented me from taking my craft seriously. I didn’t think I had it in me to write anything good enough to share with the world. I hope to inspire new writers with my story, and perhaps help them avoid some of the mistakes I made along the way.
Since my teens, writing has always been like a hobby, a sort of creative outlet. In my twenties, I wrote short stories and novellas, drawing inspiration from the famous authors whose books I read. I didn’t have a routine; I wrote when inspiration struck, and at my own pace, without the fear of failing or of anyone critiquing my work. When years later I was struck with the idea for a full-length, standalone novel, I went into it with the same casual, freewheeling approach.
During what I call the disillusionment period, I wrote the initial draft of Misty Dreams. I was living in Italy at the time, and although I was fluent in both Italian and English, it made more sense to write it in Italian, my native language. When my husband and I made the life-changing decision to relocate to the United States, my inner creative was shut down for years. The adjustment to a new country, a new job, a new life, left little time for fantasies. It was much later that I was seized by the desire to resume writing. I was going through empty nest syndrome and needed a distraction, so I dusted off my manuscript and started working on it sporadically. I translated it into English and played around with it, updating references to places and events to make it current. In the process, I was making it better and better, surprising myself. It was then that I began to see the possibility of turning it into a book. I was pleased with the result, and being able to share it with the world would represent the ultimate reward for all my hard work.
But I had a huge problem on my hands. Literally. In years of erratic writing patterns and utter disregard for wordcount, my manuscript had grown to around 360,000 words. And that was just the beginning. My writing hadn’t been seen by any eyes but my own. I had never belonged to a critique group or discussed my book with anyone. That’s when I knew I needed help.
My first step was to find an editor. I needed a professional to do a developmental check and reassure me my manuscript wasn’t a total train wreck. Besides, something had to be done about the length, and I knew I couldn’t do it on my own. It was thanks to my editor that I was able to shrug off my insecurities and take those dreaded final steps. Ultimately, through her expert advice and guidance, I was able to shrink my manuscript to just under 90,000 words. It was a daunting process, painful to say the least. Separating the manuscripts into two books would have been the easier way out, but the idea of ending Book 1 on a cliffhanger didn’t appeal to me. Thus began the slaughtering. It wasn’t just a matter of eliminating redundant words or tightening sentences; it meant cutting off scenes and killing off characters deemed ‘unnecessary’ to the advancement of the story. It was like cutting off pieces of me, one limb at a time.
It was during the final revisions that I began to query agents and publishers. I wasn’t holding my breath; the chances of a first-time author snagging a contract from a traditional publisher were a drop in the bucket. Since I wasn’t getting any younger, I allowed myself six months for the querying process. I submitted dozens of letters, only to receive a handful of polite rejections in return. I had lost enough time and I didn’t want to be stuck on publishing the old-fashioned way. One way or another, I was going to bring a book into the world, and if that meant jumping on the self-publishing bandwagon, then so be it.
The decision was easy, but I was facing another quandary. I was going to have to promote my book myself. I didn’t have a strong following, and I had no clue how to go about getting my book into the hands of potential readers. I was social media-shy, and the idea of setting up advertising platforms seemed overwhelming. The huge amount of work to get my manuscript to marketable standards had taken up all of my time and energy, so that there was none left for building visibility as an author. I created a website but had nothing to put on it. I had a manuscript that was getting the last touch-ups, a bunch of cover designs I couldn’t decide on and was querying agents and publishers. I told myself I couldn’t possibly find time to create content for Facebook and Instagram to promote my book. I realized other debut authors were way ahead of me. They had a blog, a newsletter, a street team to cheer them on, as well as ARC readers pledging to post reviews on release day, and they were planning launch parties. It was a sobering discovery.
Since then, I’ve come a long way in overcoming that last hurdle. Yes, I was late to the party, but I showed up for it. I made up for lost opportunity by dedicating myself wholeheartedly to improving my marketing skills. I don’t have a huge following, but I’m working on it, acquiring more confidence along the way. Writing my book has been one of the greatest accomplishments of my life, and now as a published author, it continues to give me joy through the feedback I’ve gotten from readers. But I regret letting my insecurities get in the way of my writing. I could have saved myself a lot of time if I had believed in myself a bit more. The best advice I can give new writers is, don’t let self-doubt and lack of self-confidence hold you back. Learn the fundamentals of writing and become more competent in your own abilities. Finally, look beyond your goal. Writing a book doesn’t end at the words ‘The End’. There’s so much work to be done, before and after the publishing process. Ultimately, all this can be immensely gratifying almost as much as the writing itself.
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