Meet Guest Author, Laura Smith…

Early Years

I decided that I was going to become a writer when I was five years old. School must have had something to do with it. I remember learning about dinosaurs in Kindergarten and attempting to write my own dinosaur book. Even though I couldn’t read, it was so much fun coming up with fun facts about each dinosaur that I knew and asking my parents to spell out the words that I wanted to write down. That’s when I knew that I wanted to do this for a living.

As someone who can’t make up their mind about what to order at a restaurant or what color to paint a wall, it was always a comfort to know what I wanted to do when I grew up. I wrote stories constantly, first copying my favorite books and tracing the illustrations and then coming up with my own original stories that filled notebook after notebook. I thought it was one of those activities that everybody likes to do, but I was constantly corrected when my elation over being assigned a particular writing project in school was met with a vast array of groans from my peers.

Even now, it surprises me when people say, “That’s interesting that you like to write. I don’t have a head for that.” It makes me feel like a mathematician, something that I don’t have a head for. Something just clicks, and it flows so easy and is fun at the same time. We all have things that we’re good at, and we all have things that we like to do. When the two come together, that’s when you know you’ve got something.  

College Years

Going into college, I knew that I wanted to work towards a writing degree. I found a small, Catholic, women’s college in my hometown that offered a B.A. in Creative Writing, and I jumped on it. It was the perfect environment for me: small, close-knit, within driving distance from my house, and a curriculum full of English and writing classes.

I loved every day that I was there. However, I found that the classes didn’t cater towards my type of writing. We were being trained to write the next great American novel or poetry collection. I wanted to write for children, particularly chapter books. Genre writing was discouraged, however. Instead, I was pushed toward poetry and intellectual short stories that could be published in a literary journal and provoked deep, mature thoughts on life that as a suburban girl just coming into her 20’s, I did not yet have.

Still, I found ways around it, and I continued to write year-round, pounding out stories and poems during my summer breaks that I could take to class to workshop and receive crucial feedback. I also blogged for several websites to earn a little cash and earn some writing credit. My teachers and classmates were always impressed by large body of work. Many of the students brought the same collection of stories to each class, never editing based on our feedback, and some weeks having nothing to workshop at all. Others would bring in one or two pages of a story that they were working on.

Meanwhile, I would show up with my 8-10 page, fully completed draft looking for a handful of helpful critiques. They jokingly referred to me as “the overachiever” when really I was just trying to get the most out of my college education. It’s nearly impossible to find fellow writers to read your work outside of the classroom, and I think I recognized that even then.

Despite being limited in the type of work that I was allowed to hand in during class, I was able to write a few pieces that I was proud of. One short story stuck out to my fiction professor who suggested I turn it into a novel. The story was about a girl who helps out her elderly neighbor in the yard and has a conversation about the old woman’s past. It was based on a neighbor that my family was close with growing up along with visiting another neighbor’s estate sale and learning that she was an avid horse rider when she was a kid.

Adult Years

After graduation, I didn’t find a job right away. It turns out, there are no entry jobs for people with Creative Writing degrees. Imagine that. So, while I job hunted, I worked on my novel, turning that short story that my writing professor had praised into the first chapter. It would be a middle grade novel, returning to my originally chosen genre now that I wasn’t restricted by my college rules.

I also submitted poetry to several literary journals. This was right before the cusp of electronic submissions so most of these submissions required a trip to the post office and many postage stamps. It would have been helpful to know that:

1.      My poetry wasn’t any good.
2.      I don’t particularly like writing poetry.

3.      Getting published in a literary journal, as with any traditional publishing attempt, is a lot like winning the lottery. You have to play to win, but you rarely win.

4.      I should have waited a few years until it’s free to submit and you don’t need to spend $3 in postage for each submissions.

Despite my terrible poetry and inexperienced, uneducated knowledge of the submission process, I did end up with a few publication credits under my belt, mostly ones that paid in copies and were not well-known. Still, I was proud of my ability to stick with it, despite the mountains of hard work with little return. But that’s the job I signed up for. Still, I was ready to be done with poetry and work on my strength: fiction writing.

After a few months, my first novel was finished. I called it The Stable House, about a sixth grade girl whose house burns down, and she and her family have to live in a dilapidated house borrowed from her father’s friend while theirs is rebuilt. A few edits later, I began to submit it to publishers. I combed the entire internet looking for publishers who accepted un-agented middle grade submissions. Once I was out of places to submit, my mom suggested I self-publish.

Self-publishing was growing in popularity thanks to Amazon. So, I started to look into it. There wasn’t much written about the subject at the time to really grasp all that was involved in the process. So, my first attempt at self-publishing was a clumsy attempt at best. I had a terrible cover, no marketing strategy, and an unpolished manuscript. But there’s no one to hold your hand through the self-publishing process. So, I had to correct these errors one by one.

Meanwhile, I started to write my second novel, Saving Hascal’s Horrors, another middle grade book about a boy who tries to save his father’s failing horror-themed store by solving an old missing person’s case that led to the store’s decline in sales. While I made the rounds submitting to traditional publishers, I ultimately followed the same path as my first novel and ended up self-publishing. Sales were just as modest as self-published sales tend to be in Kindle formats, and my target audience doesn’t typically have access to or interest in Kindle readings. Still, the reviews were all positive from both kid and adult readers, and it remains my favorite book that I have written.

My third novel, The Castle Park Kids, came to me when my friend suggested writing a book based on the outdoor games we played with the neighborhood kids at the playground growing up. The book became a love letter to my childhood. It’s a big hit with my group of childhood friends, but the reviews were mixed by adult reviewers. The few kid reviewers I could get to read the book ultimately liked it, though.

After the release of my third book, I decided to purchase some hard copies at cost from Create Space, which I used to self-publish all of my books. Then, I rented table space at various events in order to get the books into the hands of my target audience. Some were more successful than others, but none of them helped to bring much exposure to the books as a whole.

In order to keep from growing too discouraged by my failed or moderately successful marketing attempts, I decided to write a new book. The Secret Superpowers of Molly Bright has not been published in any form. This time, I began to target literary agents to represent me and broaden my opportunities to find a publisher. Representation gets you access to submit to literary agencies that will only look at your work if you have an agent. However, it has been said that it is harder to find an agent than a publisher for your books, and as I already knew, finding a publisher is nearly impossible.

The problem is that thousands of books are coming their way at any given time, and publishers and agents can only pick a handful of those to publish or represent. So, you not only have to be good, you have to be good and get noticed by the right person at the right time. This doesn’t even guarantee success if your novel is published. This just gets you in the door to getting published.

So, while I wait for lightning to strike, I’m working on two sequels to Molly Bright. Series are a big deal in the middle grade genre. This book also carries a widely popular fantasy element which I believe will entice those who are looking for books that will sell. After years of self-publishing, I know how important it is not to rush and to get it right.

In the meantime, I continue to blog on the side. I’ve been blogging for a site called HubPages for nearly five years now. I also created my own blog in January 2019 where I can write about whatever is on my mind, review books, and feature guest posts from fellow writers. To stay in touch with the middle grade genre, I also review and edit reviews for LitPick, a children’s book review site. It’s a volunteer position, but this site has been instrumental in getting book reviews on my novels from young readers and helping me to understand what kids look for in a good book.

I now guest post and submit articles to various blog and websites, and I am finding small but immediate success that is helping me to gain exposure and learn what attracts readers. If only someone had told me that sooner, I’d probably be a lot farther along in my career by now. But this trial-and-error method of adapting with the writing world and exploring multiple paths in my quest to become a full time writer has been a definite learning experience. Even if I never get to that point, it won’t keep me from writing. I’ve been doing it since before I could read, and I will do it in some capacity until I can no longer pick up a pen.

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