Becoming an Author

Hallween Signing 003

I didn’t always know what I wanted to be when I grew up. When I was younger I wanted to be a veterinarian to care for all things that appealed to the seven-year-old mind. That option was thrown out when I had to take my hamster to the vet and heard a dog crying in the other room, and the whimper broke whatever was left of my veterinarian heart. So I switched gears and wanted to be a marine biologist. I loved scuba diving and swimming in the ocean—but it turns out there’s a lot more to the career than just swimming in the ocean.

I didn’t know I’d want to be a writer; that didn’t come along until I was thirteen. Unlike most to-be writers I hated reading. I came from an elementary school that required you to read a different book every month and either take an online quiz, or write a book report. The process was gruesome. I combed through the school library, reading the backs of every paperback novel that looked the least bit interesting. I read Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events. It’s a good series for its target age group, but anyone who’s read it knows that after a few books things get repetitive and predicable.

In high school a friend of mine introduced me to The Twilight Saga. Here I went from reading a less than two hundred page book, to a more than four hundred page book. My brother said I wouldn’t be able to read it since I had only a week before the month ended; and even my teachers looked at me questionably. But I told myself that in order to finish on time, I had to read at least fifty pages a day. I went above and beyond, reading more than one hundred a day.

Stephanie Meyer, the author of The Twilight Saga, gets a little bit of a bad rep for the books she’s written because, let’s face it, sparkly vampires? But she’s done something right, and that’s create a story that allows you to become entranced into another world. But she’s also opened the eyes of people like me, people who thought they weren’t readers. Here I am, six years later, and having now read over three hundred books cover to cover.

The world of reading introduced me into a world I didn’t know existed. As soon as I finished one book I would read another. I had discovered the Young Adult genre, the genre where the stories and characters capture you and take you away. At some point reading was not enough; I had to create. Let the record show that I am an incredibly stubborn person. When I want to do something, I do it. So you can imagine what happened when I decided to write a book.

At first I wrote a fan-fiction in a Notes document on my lapstop, based off of Twilight. About two minutes into writing I realized if I’m going to put this much effort into something, might as well make it publishable. I deleted the Note document and opened Word.

I can’t say where I got the idea for my first book, Essence. I had a picture of a basin from the White Mountains in New Hampshire from a family vacation the year before. There was something about the basin, the way the massive rock seemed to curl around the water, which lead me to make a story. So I did what any good writer does, and I asked myself a question. What if that basin was magical? So Emma became a girl trapped inside a place called Phantom Lagoon. What if that lagoon made her a ghost—an Essence perhaps—and her parents thought she was dead? Everyone always wonders what it would be like to witness your own funeral, but with Emma I could do just that.

In 2013 Essence was published. I had spent three years writing, re-writing, and attempting to publish. I researched ruthlessly how to get a literary agent and how to write the perfect query letter, but to no avail; I always came up short. Forty rejections letters, no matter how heart-breaking, forced me to make my novel into something much more complex and magical than I had imagined.  Ten drafts of my manuscript later I knew I was ready to publish, even when I didn’t have a literary agent to back me. Traditionally publishing is hard, and even harder when you haven’t even graduated high school and agents want to see a college diploma. So I self-published.

Self-publishing is a whole other world in itself. With today’s technology, just about anyone can self-publish, but very few can do it successfully—selling books, finding reader, being viewed as an author, and not just someone who “published” a book. The fact is, a book, no matter how good it is, is not going to sell itself. You need to market for it, and this means a lot of trial and error; figuring out what works best for you and your product.

I worked with two professional editors that I had hired using the money I had saved up to buy a car. They made sure my plot was tight, the characters had drive, and that overall it was a well-written novel. When it came down to it, the self-publishing process—once I had done all my research—only took about six months. In that time I amped up my author website, designed the cover for my book, shot and edited a book trailer, and continued to create content on my YouTube channel, mandilynnVLOGS. This was the key factor. Every author has to have their niche in social media. It’s what you’re known for in the internet world, whether it be your blog posts, you artistic photos on Instagram, or in my case, the videos you create on YouTube.

During the six months it took me to self-publish, I was documenting every moment. I talked about everything from how I found an editor, how to format for an ebook and paperback, and tips on writing. Slowly but surely I accumulated subscribers that would later buy the book once it was released, simply because they’ve grown to trust me and the content I create.

Essence, the book that I had spent over three years writing, was going out into the public world where people could decide whether they loved it, or hated it. It was a terrifying thought knowing that Essence, something that had been so deeply private and personal for three years, was now out in public eye. In celebration of the release I had ordered 100 paperbacks to sell at my book launch. It seemed like a bit of an over estimation, but I had done my homework. In preparation of the book launch I sent copies of the book to reviewers online who were creating buzz about the book before it was released.

Turns out 100 copies wasn’t an overestimation at all. At the book launch I was able to sell about 60 copies in five hours, and later sold the remaining 40 in the other signings I had scheduled for future events.  Online I sold 36 copies in the first month alone. It wasn’t New York Times Bestseller numbers, but it was enough to keep me going.

Things started to build from there. I was able to schedule multiple signings and writing workshops where I could talk about my own personal process of novel writing. Eventually I became a common visitor to the Dean’s office of my high school, not because I was in trouble, but because a newspaper wanted to interview. Stonebridge Press and Villager Newspapers featured me, front page, on every single town that their papers covered.

Interviews came to me in odd ways, whether it be through the contact form on my website, or the Dean’s office of my high school. What I’ve learned is sometimes it comes down to luck and chance. One of those chances being when I had left my business card in a local bookstore, not really expecting much out of it, but soon enough I had a woman emailing me about doing a local television interview.

It wasn’t long before I started writing a second novel that would later earn the title of I am Mercy. It acted as a prequel to Essence in the way that it gave you the backstory of what an Essence really is and how it came to be. This new novel was a challenge of all sorts. Not only was I writing it while attempting to graduate high school in one sane and non-emotional-wreak piece, but the novel just so happened to take place in 14th century France during the Black Plague.

I started writing I am Mercy shortly after being diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. For me that meant I was terrified of going to school, and sometimes going to work. About the worst thing you could do was leave me in a room alone—because then I would start to think. I am Mercy was a release. It was the only time I could think without it being dangerous. I found my way back to reality through writing, by first leaving reality.

I wrote I am Mercy, never caring about how it came out, only knowing that it made me feel better. It became a place where I could process things that I normally wouldn’t be able to think about without having an anxiety attack.

The bulk of I am Mercy was written in four months. As a writer, there are some times when you feel obligated to write, and then there are other times when you have to write. Not because you have a 1,000 word count goal every day, but because if you don’t put your thoughts on paper, you feel incomplete. That’s what those four months were like.

I am Mercy was published on October 30th, 2015. It was a process handled while transferring colleges, working part-time, and learning to deal with my anxiety in a way that didn’t affect my daily life. In the end I am Mercy found its ways to the shelves and to the hearts of many readers.

It’s hard to look back at when I was younger and not realize that I had always wanted to be a writer. Even essays for school and college have become a fun task. Today writing is such a central part of who I am that I can’t go to the dentist without people finding out I write books. Because sometimes your dentist asks what major you study in college and assumes English means you want to be a teacher, you tell them no, I want to keep writing books, and maybe even publish some creative non-fiction. And that’s when conversation of how you wrote a book comes up; all the while your dentist is prying your mouth open to see if you brush your floss every day.