Choosing to Begin

Photo by Jon Tyson (Unsplash)

Each writer becomes an author in their own way. Each route to publication is unique and while you can read about someone else’s experience I doubt you can duplicate it yourself. Writing is a practice—something you work at repeatedly to become proficient. The arts are a prominent theme in my books and writing, like music, visual and performing arts, to do it well you have to practice. You write, edit, and rewrite to hone your craft and simultaneously work on growing courage and conviction—dispelling the internal and external voices that tell you that you can’t and, embracing those that say you can. You’ll also need the wisdom and grace of friends, family, and other writers who are willing to share their wisdom and experience so that you grow through it as you go through it.

Until my debut novel, Provenance, I had never written fiction. I entered the publishing world naked and afraid—with no massive social media platform, celebrity status, or inside access to the publishing world. I also had additional hurdles—I am a woman of color writing about a nuanced black experience (passing) and, I’m over fifty.

Undeterred,  I went to writing conferences to meet agents and queried incessantly hoping to beat the odds. Agents in their 20s and 30s looking for the next young literary breakout talent found it hard to relate to me and my manuscript. Though the odds were against me, I believed in my hard-earned skill and if I am anything, I am determined.

After a couple of years of “I don’t understand how to find an audience for your book,” or “I don’t think I am the right agent for a book like this,” or no response at all, it became clear that landing an agent and a traditional publishing deal was highly unlikely. I may have been beaten but I certainly wasn’t broken.

I wrote Provenance for avid readers like me—anyone who had grown tired of reading fiction about the African American experience that focused only on our history of being enslaved. I craved stories that celebrated what it means to be a person of color – to determine our own destiny and to achieve great things because of and in spite of.  I knew I had written a good book, and I knew there was an audience for it.

Not being able to land an agent could have ended my quest to be a published author but as I said before if I am anything, I am determined. I figured out how to self-publish and promote my debut novel. I worked like hell to reach an audience that I knew was there.  

Provenance took this author on an exhilarating adventure. I am grateful to the readers who helped it reach #1 in African American Fiction on Amazon, to the juries who awarded it prizes for debut and historical fiction, to the book clubs, book fairs, and libraries who invited me and my book to in-person and virtual appearances around the country.  It was a heady adventure—risky and remarkable.

Fast-forward to 2024, Promise, the sequel to Provenance is complete and I am embarking on a new adventure. It is time to begin again. Putting fears of the dreaded sophomore slump aside, I am querying agents hoping that the literary world is more welcoming to authors of color and opportunities for diverse stories have truly grown. Writers and readers of color have always bought and read books. I am hoping that with more expansive thinking comes a myriad of opportunities. This adventure starts with the success of my debut novel and thousands of readers who know my work and are asking for more – now I am neither naked nor afraid.

So, aware of the challenges and the rewards and armed with my hard-earned skills and my hard-headed determination—I am choosing to begin again!

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