Today I’m so very excited to have on the blog the author of one of my most anticipated releases of 2019 and that’s none other than Rena Barron, the author of African fantasy KINGDOM OF SOULS. And she’s here today with a post opening up about her journey towards being a published author. And let me tell you, I loved how candid and real this post is, and I’m honored to be sharing it with the rest of you. So enough from me, because that’s NOT what you’re here for and let’s get on with the actual post.
Buckle up, my friends! This is going to be a bumpy ride as I travel down memory lane and talk about my 10-year journey to publication. I penned my first awful poem in middle school and spent my free time split between telling myself stories and making mud pies on a farm. I peaked in high school when one of my poems was in our local newspaper under the obituary section.
Writing was pretty much a hobby throughout high school, but I wanted it to be more. I spent every extra dollar I had on entry fees for short stories contests. I was obsessed with the L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest and entered it religiously for years. Nothing ever came of it though.
In high school, I attempted to write my first two novels. I didn’t finish them. The first was a Farscape-esque space opera. I wrote several short stories in that world intending to turn them into a novel. I wrote character profiles: planet of origin, demographics, physical characteristics, relationship status, career, and personality quirks.
The second book I attempted in high school was inspired by the movie, The Craft. I’d been into witches for a long time, so no surprise this one popped up. I didn’t finish that book either. I went off to college and was a miserable pre-med student, so I passed my little free time working on my stories before I changed majors.
I started a new manuscript that was a thriller in the vein of Dean Koontz while in college (I’d been reading a lot of Koontz since early high school). I joined my very first writing group a few years after college, and it took me seven years to finish writing the thriller. I paid $1,200 for a professional editor. It seemed like a great idea, but it wasn’t in the end.
When I joined the writing group, I did so knowing that my work was nearly ready to submit for publication. I’d gone through it with a fine-tooth comb with the editor. Still, the writing advice online said that I should have critique partners to solicit feedback, which ended up being worth so much more than what I’d paid for the editor. My ears were ringing when I heard what they had to say about my writing. It needed a lot of work–like a lot. They did a great job sandwiching the critical feedback between the good stuff.
I queried my thriller to a whopping twenty-five agents. I can still hear the resounding echo of no across the board. My mom had loved it, so that was something! I shelved the book and moved on to a dystopian in the vein of The Handmaid’s Tale meet The Road. By then, my reading habits had changed quite a bit. I’d seen Janet Reid suggest on her blog that writers needed to read widely to learn how to write well. I took that to heart. I queried widely too and got some bites on the dystopian novel. Out of about 130 queries sent, I got twelve requests for partials or fulls. All of those requests ended in rejections, though.
My third manuscript was called The Last Witchdoctor, and it was the first story in which I wrote about someone who looked like me. Before that, I’d been too scared to write about black characters. I had never read any in the countless books I devoured from the bookstore or library in my beloved science fiction and fantasy genre. Up until that moment, I had subconsciously erased myself in my own story. I queried the manuscript in 2014 and got a few bites after querying about a hundred agents. They all ended in rejections too, so I shelved the book.
Next, I wrote a near-future young adult science fiction that took me about two years to finish. A funny thing happened when I was writing that story. I experienced some severe growing pains. I would work on one page for days or one line for hours. I was extremely frustrated again. I revised that manuscript to death before I queried determined to get it right this time. When I sent out my first batch of queries, I received requests, like a lot of them.
I thought this must finally be it. Then the rejections started pouring in. Among them, I received some revise and resubmit requests (R&Rs) with notes on what wasn’t working in the story. For another year or so, I revised and revised and revised. I remember reaching my birthday and realizing that I’d been seriously pursuing publication for ten years. I hit a wall (figuratively, that is).
I kept thinking about The Last Witchdoctor and wanted to go back to it. I told the agents who still had the full or requested R&Rs for my near-future YA science fiction that I was taking a long break from it to work on something else. They were supportive of my decision.
I opened up a blank document and began to rewrite the story from scratch. I needed a fresh start and didn’t use any parts from the original manuscript. It took me about six weeks, but I had a new draft. I’d written with no goal in mind. I remember telling myself that agents had already rejected the story, so I had nothing to lose. I wrote the story of my heart and fully embraced myself. After I was done, I set the story aside to go back to the R&R requests for my previous manuscript.
Around the same time, the Pitch Wars application period was coming up. For people who don’t know, Pitch Wars is an annual mentorship program founded by Brenda Drake that pairs writers with a mentor (or a pair of co-mentors) to revise their manuscript over a specific period, then present a short pitch and the first page in an agent showcase round. I had no intention of entering, but my friend Ronni Davis (author of When the Stars Lead to You) encouraged me to go for it. I did so without any expectations. I’d applied for Pitch Wars two years prior with another manuscript and didn’t get any bites.
Jamie Pacton (author of The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly) and MK England (author of The Disasters) ended up choosing me as their mentee, and I was excited to be revising with them. Their biggest suggestion for the manuscript was to cut the secondary point of view character, so I ended up cutting the manuscript in half and building it back up from there. I meet my dear writing critique partner Alexis Henderson (author of The Year Of The Witching) through Pitch Wars. We spent many late nights DMing through our fatigue and frustration and sheer determination to finish our revisions.
So much of what happened after that still feels like a whirlwind. I signed with Suzie Townsend at New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc, after multiple offers of representation. It was important for me to sign with someone who got my manuscript and could talk shop about my career goals.
We went into revisions soon after and on submission. The manuscript sold fairly quickly at auction in a three-book joint deal with HarperTeen (a division of HarperCollins US) and HarperVoyager UK. I count myself lucky to have landed two brilliant editors, Stephanie Stein, and Vicky Leech. They’ve been supportive and push me to realize the full potential of the story. We retitled the book to KINGDOM OF SOULS, which had originally been my idea for the series title. KINGDOM OF SOULS is out September 3 in the US and September 19 in the UK.
After Pitch Wars, I started working on a middle grade contemporary fantasy. We went on submission with that story in March (just about three months after KINGDOM OF SOULS had sold). I was at my day job about a week after submission when Suzie called me to say that we’d gotten a pre-emptive offer from HMH Kids. A pre-empt is an offer intended to snag a manuscript off the market before an auction. The caveat with a pre-empt is that you usually have 24-hours in which to accept the offer, reject it, or negotiate. Suzie and I talked through the pros and cons, and in the end, we both felt the offer was excellent. I’m so lucky to have another great editor in Emilia Rhodes at HMH for my middle grade series, MAYA AND THE RISING DARK. The book will be out May 2020.
These days I’m juggling a lot of moving parts and writing nonstop to meet the demands of being under contract for six books. It’s been fun and challenging, but I wouldn’t trade this for anything else in the world. It was a long road to get this far, and I have a long way to go to fully realize my writing dreams.
About the author
Rena Barron grew up in small-town Alabama where stories of magic and adventure sparked her imagination. After penning her first awful poem in middle school, she graduated to writing short stories and novels by high school.
Rena loves all things science fiction, ghosts, and superheroes. She’s a self-proclaimed space nerd. When she’s not writing, she can be found reading or brushing up on her French. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram at @renathedreamer.
She is represented by Suzie Townsend at New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc.
About the book
Publication date : September 3rd, 2019
Publisher : Harperteen
Genre : Young Adult | Fantasy
Page Count: 496
Synopsis : Magic has a price—if you’re willing to pay.
Born into a family of powerful witchdoctors, Arrah yearns for magic of her own. But each year she fails to call forth her ancestral powers, while her ambitious mother watches with growing disapproval.
There’s only one thing Arrah hasn’t tried, a deadly last resort: trading years of her own life for scraps of magic. Until the Kingdom’s children begin to disappear, and Arrah is desperate to find the culprit.
She uncovers something worse. The long-imprisoned Demon King is stirring. And if he rises, his hunger for souls will bring the world to its knees… unless Arrah pays the price for the magic to stop him.
Learn more about the book here.
That’s it until next time.
Hope you enjoyed, write to you soon.