There are many paths to publishing. The blog series Experiences in Publishing explores individual authors’ unique journeys.
If there’s one thing emerging authors should be mindful of as they begin submitting their work for publication, it’s that there is no formula or standardized path. No two careers are alike. For author Lindsay Lerman (I’m From Nowhere, CLASH Books), the path was long and full of uncertainty. “I had heard from so many agents and editors that they were impressed by my book but didn’t quite see a clear path to market for it (or me),” says Lerman. It’s the mixed signals that create the most confusion. To think that they liked her work and yet still held back, inevitably refusing to represent a book and author that—according to their correspondence—they loved. Perhaps it might have been easier to simply get a no. It could have stung less.
Lerman offers one particular example: An agent spoke about how their entire agency was buzzing about I’m From Nowhere all weekend. “They suggested really great things to come from me, but [the book] was just not a surefire hit.” Like the other agents, despite all the enthusiasm and positivity, they ended up passing. Lerman worried if she would ever get published. “At some point I began to wonder if there was no place for me in the marketplace—if maybe I should just let writing continue to be my secret, something just for me.” Acceptance arrived in an equally unexpected way. CLASH Books, a young independent press based out of Troy, NY, specializing in cross-genre and innovative literature, loved the book and, better yet, was willing to take the risk that no agent or New York City publishing house would. After so many passes and submissions, I’m From Nowhere arrived in editor Christoph Paul’s inbox relatively ironclad and ready for publication. Still, like any good editor, Paul saw the manuscript in a wider light, able to offer feedback that inspired Lerman to flesh out a few narrative moments that she had punctuated but passed over with brevity. “That ended up being an important experience for me,” Lerman confesses. “Despite the fact that I had written a book with lots of care and attention, there were moments in the book when I’d held myself back. I feared being a ‘self-indulgent writer.’”
Publishing with a brand-new indie publisher proved to be energizing. After the edits were complete, Lerman and her publisher approached marketing and publicity with an eye for creativity. “We tried to be clever and thoughtful about it,” Lerman explains. “I took social media seriously. I planned a small tour. Knowing that I didn’t have many connections, I started small and kept all of it as meaningful and interesting as I could.” Even now, long after the book’s release and the subsequent publication of a new edition, I’m From Nowhere continues to find new readers via one of book publicity’s most difficult feats: organic word of mouth. People keep finding the book. Perhaps it was that creativity and willingness to put herself out there and give it her all that helped lay the foundation for the book’s reach.
Her second book, What Are You, will be published in spring 2022, again by CLASH Books. “I think it’s a different landscape now, with COVID-related considerations dominating our thinking. I don’t know what I’ll do for the release of the next book,” says Lerman. Yet the risk hasn’t changed. Due to the marketplace struggles, where the challenge used to be getting the word out about a new author, now it is more about getting the word out about a book, any newly published book. CLASH Books has invested in Lerman and shows no indications of treating the second book with any less attention than the first. Meanwhile, Lerman has fostered the momentum and drive to continue writing by working on multiple new projects. “I’m certain it would not have been possible without publishing a book,” Lerman muses. “Ultimately, the writing is its own reward, and it will eventually either stand on its own or it won’t.” Lerman has learned from countless rejections (and the eventual publication) of I’m From Nowhere that it is still all about the writing, and the drive to write is the real never-ending challenge. “On the good days, it’s exciting that I have so little control—I get to ride the waves,” says Lerman. “On the bad days, I put my head down and get back to writing as soon as I can, even if it’s just for an hour in the middle of the night.” That long path to publication has given her the sort of experience that helps endure both the good days and the bad.