Welcome to the first of three special author reflection posts for 2023. We all face challenges, failures, and triumphs as writers. During the month of December, myself and two other fellow Aussie authors share our 2023 journey with you all, along with our hopes for 2024.
This post comes from author Hayley Price. Hayley is an author and musician. Hayley's debut novel titled 'The Vermilion Ribbon' is out now.
2023 – Hayley Price
2023. My most significant year ever as an author. Thirty years ago, I wrote a short piece based on an idea that involved the deception of the reader and led them to believe that a killer had entered a room to claim a victim, only to flip the scenario completely. I loved it, and expanded it into a longer piece, then a full novel of around 60,000 words. Then I forgot about it until 2022.
When I returned to it in 2022, I remembered how much joy the story had given me to tell, but I wanted to change the theme. I wanted to turn my book about love that endures beyond death into an HEA, then a second book, and a third. As I developed the story, a host of ideas came to me, and the muse refused to leave me. I would go for a run and return with a brand-new addition to the series. I would hear a line of dialogue in a movie, and it would spark four chapters of the story of my character. 2022 proved to be the most productive year of my writing life. By the end of the year, The Vermilion Saga had been born, and I had written the first drafts of six books. I could not stop writing, and I could not stop having new ideas.
I loved the experience that brought Corelle to life and gave her a persona, a life of her own that promised to fill eight or nine books, but I wrote it all in a vacuum. Practically nobody but me knew anything about Corelle, or even that she existed. I turned my attention back to the first book, which had gone through several different name choices before I settled on 'The Vermilion Ribbon'. I tidied it up and sent it to a friend, an editor who offered to do a line edit on it at “mates’ rates.” She ripped it to shreds. The pacing? Off. The order of the storytelling? Jumbled and haphazard. In the rubble of my dreams, she found the phoenix. Change it, improve it, and a book lay there, a compelling story that she referred to as, “Jason Bourne, but better, and with lesbians.”
My first attempts to recraft the story were clumsy, but every time I began again, I felt that I grew as a writer. By early 2023, I had added over 30,000 words and changed the direction of the story to match the concept of the series. I happened to mention to a writer friend that I had seven books written, and she said that the time had arrived to bring one of them to life, so I turned my attention to that thorny subject.
I had a book but nothing else. I created an online identity through all the usual social media platforms, and I looked around for the means to publish the book. I persuaded myself that traditional publishing would not work. 'The Vermilion Ribbon' became a niche book in my own mind, a lesbian assassin in a world of my own creation where no dragons, orcs or fae roamed, and nobody used magic.
I decided to self-publish. That world is fraught with peril, and if there were no dragons in 'The Vermilion Ribbon', dragons a-plenty lie in wait down Self-Publishing Lane. I knew nothing of how to approach it, but someone mentioned Ingram Spark, so I looked at their website. The instructions on how to format the book must have been written in some underworld script that I could not decipher, and I had a panic attack just contemplating it.
I chose to approach a hybrid publisher. All the writing groups I am in on Facebook said, “Don’t pay anybody anything. Self-publishing should only cost $20.” That may be so for some people, but I just couldn’t do it, so I signed an agreement, handed over my deposit and waited for them to produce the masterpiece the world awaited. May, 2023, and they vowed to bring the book to fruition within fourteen weeks.
They didn’t like my cover concept, said people wouldn’t like it. I had created the concept, could see the covers of at least the first four books in my head, all in the same style, a blurry representation of a key moment from each book. I stuck to my guns, and the cover art took forever to complete. In the end, I compromised, unable to get what I wanted from their artist, and with no direct contact between the artist and me, the communication frustrated everybody. I could sense the artist’s irritation in the names attached to each new iteration. I settled, something I rarely do, and we had a cover.
The process of typesetting, formatting, remains black arts to me, but the first time I saw the first digital proof of the book in all its formatted glory, I almost cried. It looked exactly like a book, and the dream became almost a reality for me at that moment. I screenshoted a page of it, sent it to friends, and crowed about how my book had finally come to life. If that had been a life-defining moment in my mind, the moment I opened a box and held my own book in my hands defies description, even though I call myself a writer.
I held my book. I had written it, I had burned the candle at both ends to bring it all together, cried, laughed, screamed in frustration, cut out parts that I loved but that I accepted did not work, and finally I had come to the moment where 'The Vermilion Ribbon' stopped being pixels on a screen, just a thought that refused to leave my mind, awake or asleep. I held a book, and if for no other reason, 2023 will always be The Year I Held My Book.
It turned out that my “niche” thought had been wrong. People from all strata of life enjoy it. I toned down the sex to the point that most lesbians might even feel frustrated by the lack of intimate action, but by doing so, almost anyone could read it, if they’re okay with graphic violence, questionable morality and a main character with the same mental demons that have tried to tear me down throughout my life.
What a year. I brought my thirty-year old book into the light, and people read it. I got messages from people when they hit a moment of trauma in the story. I sent the second book in the series to my editor and have the third almost ready. I learned a lot from the hybrid process, and I’m not doing that for the next books. I’ll do it all myself, retain all my own control. I’ll use the artist I want and bring the book to life myself.
What does 2023 mean to me? It’s the Year Of The Book. I’ve published music, recorded albums, worked with a top producer, but now I have written a book that I can hold in my hands. It’s harder to write a book than a song, but I finished eight books and began the ninth by November, along with the first draft of a separate book. I will always remember 2023 fondly, because at sixty-six years of age, I did something that I had wanted to do since I was six years of age. I published a book.
2024 will be busy. I will publish the second and third books at least, maybe more. I have found a brilliant artist for my covers and I’m excited about the artwork he’ll produce. The hybrid people were right, damn it. My cover gets more downvotes than upvotes, and I’m not going to be quite so stubborn in future. If the books don’t sell, so be it. I gave it a shot, and I’ll have the world’s most expensive collection of paperweights to add to my expensive coffee coasters, the CDs of my album that didn’t sell as well as I’d hoped.
Gene Krantz of NASA wrote a book about the Apollo 13 mission called 'Failure Is Not An Option'. Ratings and financial failure might be an option for The Vermilion Saga in the fickle world of readers, what’s hot, what’s not. However the books perform, however many 1-star reviews they get, I wrote them and I brought them to life. That doesn’t feel like failure to me.
2023. What a year. What a ride. I will never forget you.