Updated: Oct 13
Welcome back to this mini-series of guest posts on the BIPOC Bookshelf. I’m Kay Costales, poet and author. My previous post (THE TIME GAP [Part 1]: Agent to Book Deal - The Tough Stuff) can be found HERE. Part three will be on its way soon!
I am writing this in the summer of 2021. By the time this gets published, my third poetry collection. TELL YOUR TRUTHS has been released and is available with most book distributors.
TELL YOUR TRUTHS is the third installation of the EMOTIONS series of poetry collections by Kess Costales. The themes of this collection focus on identity and the different aspects of it, which include: 1) heritage (as a Filipino-Canada), 2) heart (as a queer woman), 3) health (as an experience of chronic conditions and other issues of well-being), and 4) healing (through acceptance of these identities).
Now, let’s talk about dreams and achievements.
I was in my third year of university that I had a big story idea. It was 2016 and I decided I wanted to try to write a whole book. Have I ever tried to write a book before? Maybe a novella. And now I was thinking of a whole sci-fi fantasy series. Spoiler: I didn’t finish writing that book until 2018, and then I later rewrote most of it. It was the next book idea that ended up as a completed first draft.
A few revisions later, lots of research into getting published, trying to find a place in the #Twitter writing community, and I was participating in Spring 2018’s #DVpit contest. One of my pitches was liked by dozens of agents and a few editors. I didn’t receive an offer immediately, but weeks later, I signed with my first agent. As you often do when you sign with an agent, you dive into revisions again before you go out on sub. Then, when you finally go on sub, your eyes are full of stars and you feel at the top of the world, ready to achieve major success.
That didn’t happen.
Some people get a book deal within days. Some get it after years. Many don’t get a book deal until they’ve submitted multiple books. Do you ever think you’ll be the last of those? Not really. I kept thinking I wrote a phenomenal book and would receive praise and money immediately.
Three books on sub later, still nothing. I’m on my fourth book on sub now and trying not to beat myself up over the fact that these haven’t sold yet.
It’s timing, it’s the team, it is so many things that are beyond control. The difficult thing to remember is that rejections are not a clear indication of your ability to write. The sad reality is that a lot of the time, it is just pure luck.
If that sounds hopeless, I totally understand. It isn’t though, no matter how difficult that is to believe.
There are multiple responses that you can get on sub that aren’t an offer to buy the book, for example:
Not for me
Liked it, but not passionate enough.
Loved it, but maybe not the right person.
Loved it and took it to acquisitions, but it didn’t work out.
Loved it, but wondering if you could do some revisions and resubmit to us.
Feedback – maybe a little, maybe a whole lot.
I did receive all of these. A few editors were kind enough to offer their ideas for revisions. I went to acquisitions a few times. Ultimately, I did not get a book deal. A lot of interest, a lot of “Send me the next one!”. I hold on really tight to that last one and use it to focus on the next thing—which, by the way, is what you should do while you’re on sub. Focus on the next thing.
We are not one book. We are a career. We are full of dreams.
That’s why you’re even bothering to read this post, right?
But, honestly, I feel like 90% of what I say to my #agent is complaining and stressing. Which is no fun. I feel bad about it. My agent always reminds me that she’s there for me.
Also, if you need an #agent that you can vent to, make sure you have an agent that doesn’t mind. An agent that’s there for you. You want someone who feels like a partner, who has the knowledge and experience, while also the passion and enthusiasm needed for your journey. Do not settle for someone who doesn’t get you pumped and excited. Do not settle for someone you have doubts about and/or you don’t feel comfortable.
It is, ultimately, your dreams and your journey. The things within your control should be what you want them to be.
The goal post is always changing. That’s something that so many authors say.
I’ll be happy when I finish writing a book.
I’ll be happy when I get an agent.
I’ll be happy when I go on sub.
I’ll be happy when I sell a book.
I’ll be happy when I sell a book for at least six figures.
I’ll be happy when—
It can go on and on. Everyone has variations of these dreams.
Don’t we all start out just wanting to write a book? If you start out thinking that it’s only about the money for you, it’s not a great outlook and you may want to think more deeply on subject. Of course we want money because we live in a capitalist world and everything costs money. There are bills to pay! Things we want to buy! Like books! We’re writers, of course we want all the books and stories.
But if you’re only interested in the money, please be aware that it would likely take years to get there. For most authors, it does. Many earn enough for a living, many earn less than that and have a separate job, a few make so much ridiculous money that it feels like they’re a celebrity. That’s not in an author’s control either. So don’t focus on the money; it might turn out great, but focusing solely on that will be very stressful. It’s not the only gain from becoming published.
Don’t forget about the passion and the love that brought you to writing a book.
And then what happens if you get caught up on the things you can’t control?
I fell out of love with writing.
I fell out of love with publishing.
I fell out of love with the fight for literary success.
I wanted to have a book on store shelves—or personal shelves—with my words and my name on it. If traditional publishing wasn’t going to give it to me, I would get it for myself.
Here comes 2019, a nasty punch to the guts and then a knee to the face, and I say: fuck it. I write a poetry book. It’s not spectacular but it’s mine. All mine. I control every part of it. People can buy it and read it and it’s all my work. It doesn’t matter what happens to it because I didn’t do it for anyone else; I did it all for me.
2020 rolls in with hopes and dreams and promises for an even better year—and then we get hit with the COVID-19 pandemic and the world goes to a standstill. Traditional publication becomes more difficult. All the big events get cancelled. Remember those dreams and goal posts? No more going to BookExpo, no more getting featured for BookCon or anything else.
Make new dreams. Set new goals. Focus on what you can do, not what others could do for you.
Trust me, I also desperately need these reminders and pep talks. I don’t cry after every editor rejection anymore so that’s an improvement, but I struggle to focus only on the my own actions and decisions.
Okay, so I have a book. Let’s do another one because it felt great to see my accomplishments.
Okay, that was cool, but it’s not affordable, so let’s find a way to reach more people.
Okay, that was great. Now I have to figure out how to keep going.
I start writing a new story. I finish the first draft of this new story. I have new ideas and they’re actually coming together. My love for writing came back and it was because I wasn’t focused on selling anymore. Everything I was writing was for me. Is for me. It will always be for me before it’s for anyone else.
If you’re struggling with things you can’t control, keep your attention on what you can do.
If you can’t write a new story, write down anything that comes to mind. Free-writing is a life saver.
Shrink the problem. Break it into little pieces. It’s an anxiety thing to cope with stress.
For example, you have to clean your house and the task as a whole is daunting, so let’s take it bit by bit.
Pretty sure everyone in my life hates that I start things, then move onto the next, before it’s 100% completed. I like to do a little bit of everything first, before I fully finish a single task. It makes me feel like I’ll accomplish everything.
I do this with my books too. Don’t tell my agent. I have like 10k of a new story down when the idea comes to mind before I continue with what I’m actually supposed to do. I don’t tell my agent right away because, honestly, I need to know if I’ll love it enough to continue. There have already been a handful of projects I told my agent I wanted to do and then never actually did it. I wanted to skip all that yes-no-maybe sort of stage and just get to it. half of the time, I don’t yet have the tools to craft a story the way I want it to be.
Just keep dreaming. Keep imagining wonderful things. Do everything in your power to make your dreams come true. Cross your fingers, say your prayers, check the stars and planets and see how they align for you—whatever works. It’s the dreams that matter.
Maybe you won’t always believe that they will come true, but keep returning to them. Bring the passion back when it starts to fade away.
Believe in yourself. Believe in luck. Be hopeful, be brave. If you’re not able to do that all the time, it’s okay. Be patient with yourself and the world. We’re still in an especially difficult place, but we’re still here. We can keep going.
So the main things are:
Focus on what is within your control
Break down daunting tasks into smaller ones
Don’t stop dreaming big
Thanks for reading. Take care of yourself.
Kay Costales (she/her)
Kay Costales is a Filipino-Canadian author and poet, represented by Lesley Sabga of the Seymour Agency. She has a passion for pretty things, ice cream and desserts, and trying to sound smarter and more interesting. She is queer and disabled and proud to be open about it. When not writing, she works as an administrator in property management. Currently, she lives in Toronto with her partner and their spoiled cat.
Purchase Kay's Poetry: https://www.etsy.com/shop/byKessCostales
Poetry books (as Kess Costales):
SO SAYS THE HEART (2019)
SPEAK YOUR DARKNESS (2020)
TELL YOUR TRUTHS (October 2021)
LOVE LIKE INSECTS (2020)
LOVE LIKE GARDENS (TBA 2021)
COUNTING (Ruru Reads, 2018)
MUSEUM (Room Magazine, 2018)
WHATEVER SHE WANTS (Keep Faith, 2019)
MY MOTHER (Marias at Sampaguitas, July 2021)