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July 15, 2022
By Josephine Angelini
How to go from seven-figure debut author to midlist to publisher in five easy steps.

When I wrote my first novel, I considered it a trial run for when I was ready to write a real one. I honestly never thought it would get published. But what happened next was every writer’s dream. Within a matter of weeks, I landed a high-powered agent and a seven-figure deal from Harper Teen for the rights to my debut novel, Starcrossed. All the stars seemed to have aligned for me, but, like in the Greek tragedy my novel was based on, things would unravel for me faster than you can say divers alarums.

So what happened? Good question. It’s hard to explain without a few glasses of red wine and a permanent twitch in your eye, but my Icarian rise and fall can be broken down into five basic steps.

Step 1: Lose your editor right before the launch of your debut novel

This first step is crucial in making the formula work to perfection. But it likely won’t happen unless your new editor, the person who put all of their passion and professional stock into your debut novel, isn’t a hot young up-and-comer whom other publishers will want to poach.

For maximum effect, be sure to have said editor leave the imprint within a couple of months of the release of your new title, leaving it orphaned. Seriously. Raise the stakes!

This will undoubtedly ensure your path to step four. You could pretty much skip to that one now, but, for kicks and giggles, proceed to step two.

Step 2: Have the Big Five flood the market with similar material

More is always better, especially when it comes to selling books. It’s the good ol’ shotgun approach, where the hopes are that one book will offset the costs of the rest. I think it’s called the law of averages. Or the law of diminishing returns. I forget which one. I guess it all depends on which side you’re looking at it from, no?

Anyway, make sure that your publisher and others like them are buying up every conceivable title in the same genre, and that they hit the market right before your book comes out, or, better yet, at the same time. You know what they say, misery likes company.

Step 3: Rebel against social media

Unfortunately, this third step requires some help on your part. Here you must (a) hate to put every thought you have into 180 characters or less for the whole world to see and (b) have the sneaking suspicion that, every time you take a selfie, a piece of your soul withers.

Throw in a deep-rooted fear of attracting too much attention to yourself after a few encounters with stalkers. If this speaks to you, then you are tailor-made to cruise right on through to the step I like to call “Taking Up Drinking.”

Step 4: Switch genres

Congratulations, you are now entering the coveted midlist territory. This fourth step requires a heavy dose of self-doubt and a healthy serving of nausea-inducing panic. Step four is where you will most likely question everything you ever knew about yourself as a person, as well as as a writer. It will help tremendously if you are also diagnosed with appendiceal cancer at this time.

If you’re fortunate enough to make it through that ordeal, then the obvious next step is to move outside the genre you know and love so well and write a middle grade book about your formative years because, when you feel vulnerable, the ideal thing to do is to reflect on some of the horrible things you endured as a child.

Then, when you’re done writing that masterpiece, do another 180 and write a thriller inspired by the fog of painkillers you were under while recovering from having half of your colon removed. But forget about anyone reading this book because, just as you are now finally ready to turn the page on these past few chapters in your life, so is everyone else.

Step 5: Turn your back on the Big Five

This may sound like the hardest step of all, but it’s easier than you might think. You can quit writing altogether and do something else with your life, but you’re probably throwing the baby out with the bathwater. You can self-publish, which is not a bad option. Just ask L.J. Ross, Mark Dawson, Skye Warren, or Rachel Abbott, just to name a few. Or you can do what I eventually decided to do, which is to seek out a distribution deal, form your own imprint, and become your own publisher.

Regardless of which one you choose, step five is mostly about recognizing that, just like recording artists, authors no longer need traditional publishing to have their works see the light of day.

If E.L. James taught us anything, it’s that a good story will find readers no matter how it’s distributed. And the best news of all is that you probably don’t have to go through what I went through in order to become your own publisher. In fact, I would skip right over the first four steps and save yourself the heartache. And the cancer.

Josephine Angelini is a young adult author who lives in Los Angeles. Her latest novel, Scions, a prequel to the Starcrossed series, is scheduled for release October 4.