Success Story with Stephenia H. McGee
Award-winning author of Christian historical novels, Stephenia H. McGee writes stories of faith, hope, and healing set in the Deep South. Stephenia lives in Mississippi with her sons, handsome hubby, and their fur babies.
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I’ll never forget my first meeting with an editor. She eyed the two-inch-thick printed manuscript I’d plopped onto the desk between us and said, “This is your first conference, isn’t it?”
A naïve new writer, I’d lugged an entire suitcase full of rubber-band-encased manuscripts (imagine my fun with TSA) to the conference with me, sure everyone would want to read my book right away—a misstep editors, agents, and other writers all found rather amusing.
Disappointed but undeterred, I met agent Les Stobbe, who graciously smiled at my enthusiasm and offered mentorship through an apprentice writing program. I soon learned that though I had the passion to weave stories, I didn’t understand the craft. For the next four years, I poured myself into learning everything I could. I took classes, read craft books, and focused on developing my voice.
In 2012 I jumped into publishing with a small press, but after that didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped, I decided to publish the next book on my own. I started a publishing company and registered my business with my state. I hired editors, cover artists, formatters, and other professionals to complete the project. That first book earned out my initial investment within two months. Bolstered by my success, I continued to write and publish, soon earning a Qualified Independent Publisher status with the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers).
Then one spring day in 2017 I received an unexpected email from an acquisition editor at Revell, a division of Baker Publishing. My dream publisher. I remember dropping my phone in shock. Kelsey had read one of my books, In His Eyes, and wanted to know if I’d be interested in pursuing traditional publishing.
I worked up a proposal to show her at the ACFW conference that fall, where I also met literary agent Jim Hart. A few weeks later when he offered to represent me, I’d thought everything was falling into place.
When the proposal was rejected, discouragement became a real struggle for me. Things only got worse as Jim sent in more proposals to more publishing houses, all of which ended in disappointment. But I still refused to quit. I kept writing and publishing, and I kept working on crafting better proposals.
Then three years after that first unexpected email from Kelsey, Jim called with the news that I’d been offered a two-book contract with Revell. Now, I’m thrilled to be working with both an agent and an editor who will help me continue to grow as a writer. Those books will release in October of 2022 and May of 2023.
For anyone looking to indie publish (as a platform to seek traditional publishing or otherwise), I always give the same advice. Treat indie publishing as both a business and a professional representation of you as an author. Invest in your website, your writing, and connecting with your readership. Build your brand. Understand marketing.
Most importantly, never rush publishing. Make sure you’ve taken the time to hone your craft and always hire quality industry professionals to produce your work. Your high school English teacher does not need to be your editor, and unless you have a graphic design background, you shouldn’t be doing your own covers. Even great books don’t sell when they have an amateur cover, and poorly edited books will only hurt your career in the long run.
If I could go back and talk to that new writer getting on the plane with a head full of dreams and a suitcase stuffed with manuscripts, I’d tell her to have a little more patience and remind her that you can’t grow if you’re too tender to learn. Take constructive criticism with grace.
I’d also give her a high five for never giving up.
If writing stirs your soul, then don’t let anything snatch away your dream. Learn, be open to opportunities, work hard, and never stop writing. Your readers are out there, so do everything in your power to create a story worthy of them.