Hello, hello! *taps mic* Is this thing working? It’s been a while, so…
Okay, first thing: If you didn’t know, production has finished on the Prince of Deceit audiobook and it’s now available wherever you get audiobooks. It’s so amazingly done by the talented Charlie Sanderson, who also narrated Dragonblood. You can check out the sample below.
With this, the Dawn of Ragnarok series is well and truly finished. 🙂 It’s been a long journey, and I couldn’t be happier with how it’s turned out and where it ended. <3
Now I suppose it’s time to move on. But before I do that, I wanted to look back for a second. I am a huge proponent of “don’t forget your origin story.” We may get far in life, but we should never forget where we came from, and the struggles we had overcome to get there. It keeps us humble, gives us compassion for others struggling along the same journey, and makes us appreciate what we have accomplished that much more. In the age of “enough is never enough” and “put your best face forward,” it’s sometimes hard to see the thorns for the bloom, so to speak.
So here is my origin story, shared for anyone who might be interested. Feel free to click away if you’re not. I won’t be offended. 🙂
How Alianne's Writing Journey Began
I often say I was a writer before I was a reader. This is true. And the question I always get is, “How can you write if you don’t read?!” It’s actually really simple. Let me explain.
I was born in Central Europe, where, at the time, books were treated very differently than they are in the United States. We didn’t have mass market paperbacks hanging out randomly on shelves beside the check-out counter at the grocery store. We had bookstores, and in them, 99% of the books were hard cover. That included novels, educational books, reference books, cook books, etc. With the exception of some children’s coloring books and very small volumes of poetry, pretty much every book you saw was a hard cover. And those are expensive. As a child, I did have books, but they were more of what you’d call reference books than story books. I think I had a book of fairy tales, but aside from that, it was all illustrated encyclopedias and such that you don’t really sit and read. You leaf through them, look at the pictures, maybe read a paragraph or two. The stories I got came from weekly radio shows, movies, and bed time cartoons.
What I did have was a child’s very vivid imagination. I made up a lot of my own stories, but I was an introvert from birth, so I never told them “out loud.” Once I learned to write, though, all that changed.
I still have poems I wrote in a little autograph notebook when I was about 6 or 7. I lost the notebook where I wrote my first prose story at age 12, with a plot that was way, way older than my prepubescent self.
At age 13, my whole family moved to the United States and I got dropped straight into high school. The semester had already begun (we’d just arrived), and I was a year ahead (because it didn’t make sense to switch schools again a year later). I’d done none of the orientations, I’d met none of the other students, I had no idea where I was supposed to go (no one bothered to tell or show me). But as luck would have it, I ended up getting adopted into a friendship of two other girls, who did what I used to do: make up stories. Only they shared a world in which those stories were told, and they spoke about that fictional world as if it was real. Pretty much, “What happened with X at the party last weekend?” type conversations, except the answer was usually something like, “Oh, he got drunk on Atlantian ale and passed out under the table so the horsemen [meaning the 4 horsemen of the Apocalypse] dragged him to the stables and dropped him in a pile of dung. He’s still sleeping.” And I immediately wanted to get in on it.
We ended up making up whole universes where we were the main characters and stories evolved around us, and eventually, we started writing them down and sharing them with each other. Those are some of my (very few) best memories from high school. I blocked out most of the rest of it (not worth rehashing).
Fast forward to Junior year. On a random grocery run on a regular day, I got my first paperback book with a bright, colorful cover that turned out to be a romance novel meant for older audiences (oops…) and everything changed. From that day on, I was hooked on the written word. I proceeded to get all the rest of the books by that author. We would go to the mall, and I’d make a beeline to the nearest bookstore, and come out an hour later with a stack of books to read. Whatever money I got for my birthdays and Christmas, I spent on books. I measured the cost of everything based on how many books I could buy with that money, and whether it was worth it.
It just so happened, that year my English teacher had us keep journals. Every week, we had to write something, and we’d hand those journals in and get graded. As an introvert, I didn’t have much to talk about when it came to my personal life. It didn’t seem interesting enough for me to write my own journal, much less one I’d then have to hand over to be read by someone else. So instead I wrote short stories. They were a hit. My teacher loved them, and I got lots of extra credit points each time. So I figured, why not keep doing it?
This was also the year one of my writer friends graduated. As a going away present, she gave me her entire collection of YA fantasy books by an author she’d introduced me to. I will love her forever for this. I may have been reading a lot of romance by that point, but not much of it was fantasy, and I discovered that fantasy was what had been missing in my life up to that point. And in my free time, I was diving into TV shows I’d never heard of back home, and writing elaborate fan fiction stories for them, as well as for the novels I was reading. Basically, when I wasn’t studying, I was making stuff up.
How Alianne Got (Self-)Published
Fast forward again to Senior year AP English. We were reading Pride and Prejudice. Our teacher (one of the best I ever had) was teaching us about voice in literature, and gave us an assignment to write a short story in the style of Jane Austen. I ended up writing a novella. Because that style is a freaking earworm and, really, there is no way you can write a short story and do it justice. I turned in one chapter, and the teacher was so impressed she asked if there was more, so I gave her the rest of the story.
This was the turning point. Because, up until then, writing had been a fun way to pass the time and relate to my friends in this strange new world I’d been thrown into. I honestly didn’t have many (or any) friends outside of that very limited group. My social life happened in alternate universes, and I still remember them fondly, but I never thought it would be anything more than that.
Until that one teacher asked me, “Have you ever thought about being a writer?” No, I hadn’t. The possibility had never entered my mind. I was still operating from the Motherland mindset that such lofty professions were for other people in foreign countries, who spun tales that then got translated into 15 different languages and became international bestsellers. I didn’t qualify. But she said, “You have so much talent, I think you can really make a go of it.”
That summer, I went on the internet and found my way onto the Avon Romance submission page, which stated that in order to be considered for publication, a manuscript had to be 100,000 words in length. (side note: This is my benchmark to this day. Though most of the Indies I know consider anything over 50,000 to be a novel, to me, that’s a novella at best.)
That was pretty much all the direction I (thought I) needed, and over the summer break, about 2 months’ time, I wrote my first novel. I immediately started sending query letters. One was to Avon, of course, but I sent 2 others. And while I waited for the glowing acceptance letter I was dead certain I would get, I wrote a sequel, and started on books 3 and 4, while filling my Documents folder with countless short stories, story ideas, poems, flash fiction, etc. At one point I had a DeviantArt account where I posted stories by chapters (I since took them down).
And then I got my response. It was very much not a glowing acceptance. But I just thought, “Ok, cool. Moving on.” Didn’t miss a beat, just abandoned that series (because it clearly wasn’t good enough) and started another. Well, 2 others. Pretty much simultaneously. One was a series inspired by my high school (and college) friendships. The other was inspired by a PNR series I’d recently discovered.
But those were novellas, and that wasn’t good enough, either. In order to get published, I needed a true blue novel. And that didn’t happen until my final year(s) of college. Because I am a planner, and I knew that, if I got accepted, there would be timelines and deadlines involved, so I wanted to be ready and have something ready to go at all times. So, by the time I submitted Blood Moons to the first publisher, Blood Trails was already finished and I was halfway through finishing Blood Debts. By that point, I had folders of stories I’d started and abandoned, and ones I planned to pick up after this series was finished, and so many other ideas I was excited to explore.
My hope, again, was a glowing acceptance before I graduated, so I could transition smoothly from college to full time writing without ever having to write a resume, or meet an HR person in any capacity.
What I got back was not quite a “Yes!” but not quite a “No.” I was asked to revise and resubmit. So I did. I was asked to revise again, this time with the suggestion of cutting down the plot to fit in more sex. I realized this was not a good fit for me. Thanked them for their time, and moved on.
Happily, the second publisher I submitted to accepted my (now revised) manuscript without caveats! Only problem was, by the time I got my contract, they had discontinued their print publishing to focus solely on eBooks. It wasn’t ideal, but I got my foot in the door, and that was a start.
Fast forward a couple of years, a friend of mine sent me a link to Smashwords. At that point, I’d been publishing The Beast on my blog by chapters, and she said, “You can do better.” And she was right. I self-published the novella there as an experiment, and got hooked. And then I started comparing what my publisher did, to what I could do.
Now, let me say this loud and clear. My publisher was amazing. They did nothing wrong. In fact, at a time when a lot of authors were getting scammed and done wrong by small Indie publishers, mine was a paragon of business ethics, communication, and quality publications. My leaving to go fully Indie had nothing to do with them.
I just realized how much of a control freak I was. I wanted more say in when and how my books were published, how they were priced, what format they took, etc. These were things hard-coded and unchangeable with my publisher. So I thanked them wholeheartedly for having taken a chance on me, got my rights back to the 3 novels they’d published for me, and re-published them myself, as eBooks and paperbacks.
Ever since, my focus has been on perfecting my craft. Both as a writer and a publisher. So I revamped my website (a lot), and wrote more books, and found better ways to format for print, and a better Print-on-Demand service to publish them. I have explored different genres (because I don’t know how to stick to just one) and dipped my toes into audiobook formats. And I have never looked back. I have never regretted any part of my journey, and I never will. Every choice, opportunity, hardship, and set-back taught me something. I have learned so much, and hope to keep learning for a very long time.
And that’s how I went from dreaming up books, to writing and publishing them all on my own.
How Alianne Developed Her Voice
I sometimes get this from writers just starting out on their journey. This is the part where I try not to offer advice no one asked for. I’ll just tell you what I did, and why I think it helped me.
READ A LOT
This is a given, but it’s not always as simple as that. I already wrote a blog on it on my industry page, so if you want to know what I’m talking about, check it out here: Read More, Read BETTER.
This part is more involved. A lot of people have very strong opinions when it comes to what authors write. They’ll say fan fiction is cheating, or poetry is for snobs. They’ll say books over 80,000 words don’t sell, or books under 50,000 words aren’t books (calling myself out here). But I think all forms of creative writing are important, especially when you’re just starting out. Because going into this with the plan of writing a 100,000-word novel right out of the gate is intimidating as hell and, ultimately, self-defeating.
Here’s what I think:
Poetry is important for everyone to try at least once. Poetry is all about diction. You have to choose the exact right words to carry incredible impact in a very short narrative. Poetry was the first thing I ever wrote, and I think it might have been the easiest thing I could possibly have started with. What child doesn’t like rhymes? It taught me to be direct in my prose, to consider my word choices, my sentence structure. It helped me infuse a little style and flare into my narrative, without going overboard into purple prose or info dumps (I hope).
Fan fiction was my gateway drug to novel writing. If done correctly, and not published without the original creator’s consent, it’s an incredibly powerful learning tool. For me, it created a safe environment where the world building was already done for me, and I could make up my own characters to fit into it and focus on their development. That is huge for me, because I don’t want to write shallow, one-dimensional puppets. I want characters with depth, flaws, and complexity. I want to present people others can relate to, even if they’re not 100% likable. I wouldn’t be the writer I am today had I not dabbled in other people’s imaginations. They opened the door for me and let me sit on their shoulders so I could see the possibilities before I could stand on my own and create them myself.
Short stories are such an incredible ego boost. You know what short stories are best at? Showing you it’s not only possible but doable to start a piece of fiction and finish it. So many authors never finish their first book because it just takes too long, it’s too much work, and it feels impossible. For me, writing short stories was always a huge accomplishment. I used to keep a spreadsheet of the stories I’d written, and how long it took me to finish them. And eventually, those stories turned into novellettes, then novellas, and finally novels, and supernovels. But I needed that intermediary step not just to rack up word counts and sharpen my skills, but to learn what I was capable of, that there were no limits to what I could do, except those imposed by people saying, “You can’t do that.” And no one cares what those people say, anyway.
The point is to write a lot, and write often. You may have amazing stories ready to tell, but captivating an audience is as much about the story as it is about how it’s told. The first is a gift. The second is a skill that needs to be practiced before it can be mastered.
I decided to share this very long story for one reason. To show you that what you see people celebrate doesn’t happen overnight. You may think you’re seeing step 1, but for the person taking it, it may be step 5,674. I got published right out of college and people told me, “You’re so lucky you got your start so early!” They had no idea of the 12 years I’d already put into it. A fellow author and I would swap short stories and they’d get upset because mine turned out better. Well, yeah. I’d been writing them for a while, where as they were just starting out. But when I tried to explain that, I think it came across as arrogance, when really what I was trying to convey was, “Don’t give up! Your story is great, it just needs a bit of polish. You’ll get better with practice.” I can sometimes put my foot in it… that’s why I’m a writer, not a speaker or a coach.
I feel old saying this, but things were so different when I started than they are now. What I learned about the industry all those years ago, and even throughout this journey, almost doesn’t apply anymore. The one thing that remains constant is the only piece of advice that matters: Keep going. Never stop reading, or writing, or learning new things, whether it’s related to your books, or to the world of publishing in general.
Things will keep changing, and we as writers have to adapt and change with them. How much we change is up to each author individually, but being stuck in the past with an, “When I was your age…” mentality won’t win anyone any favors. With that said, some things (should) remain eternal: Quality matters. Trends change. Your voice is unique. Don’t make it like everyone else’s. And above all, write your heart out.
Until next time! <3