Publishing Part 3: Finally Trad Published and Endlessly Emotional
Somehow, it’s been over a year since I last checked in with Pipeline Artists on my long and winding publishing journey. I kicked off the series by sharing my experience with the ‘team trad’ vs. ‘team self-pub’ debate, and in a follow-up article, I detailed a whole new option I discovered, one which resulted in my first trad publishing book deal in 2021.
Well, now it’s late 2022, and I’ve officially been a trad debut author since May.
So, let’s talk about it.
If I had to put the trad pub journey in the most non-writer terms, I would simply say that I am constantly feeling all the feels.
But alas, I’m a writer, a lover of the long-form, and one who’s growing weary of a social media world where flashy bite-sized morsels are increasingly becoming the norm for content consumption (this is the part where Pipeline Artists can insert the cartoon image of Abe Simpson under the headline “Old man yells at cloud”).
And so, here’s what this weary woman writer really means.
Page one-rewrite and an (old?) main character.
In March 2021, I signed the final book deal contract for 24 Hours in Paris, a page one-reboot of the Wattpad edition I’d originally written just for fun several years before. The story had been available for free until October 2020, when it had entered the Wattpad Paid Stories program. It was nice to see a bit of money coming in from a just-for-fun story—my book equivalent of a “fuck it” script—and now, because of the book deal, a whole new version would arrive in fourteen months, not only on the Paid Stories platform, but on actual, physical bookstore shelves.
(More on that later, we have a reboot to write!)
This book deal stemmed from Wattpad WEBTOON Book Group launching an adult women’s fiction imprint (after having already successfully published several YA titles). That meant my college-aged main characters were about to undergo the opposite of a glow-up. That’s right: enter the transition from fresh-faced nineteen-year-old students to collagen-deficient co-workers.
I felt nervous but excited.
The timing was perfect, because in the years since writing the original version of 24 Hours in Paris, I’d transitioned to writing older characters in their thirties, which in my mind are still very young. I mean thirtysomethings? Babies! Meanwhile, a lot of the rom com bestselling books have main characters around twenty-five (which is fine, such a fun age!), or if they do have characters that are twenty-nine or thirty, they’re portrayed as ‘broken’ for being single or confused in their careers.
(Insert the Michael Jordan meme “It became personal with me.”)
Needless to say ...
I felt annoyed and determined.
I decided right then that my new main character would be around thirty-five (still young, but an old-timer in the genre), with the added plus of having a South Asian heritage—to represent my own background and provide some needed POC representation in the genre. I’d build the rest of the story around my original “fuck it” idea, the one where two opposite people miss their flight and spend the next 24 hours exploring Paris and falling for each other—because what’s more “fuck it” than using an entire novel to indulge in your beloved memories of Paris? And hopefully readers would enjoy that, too? They had on Wattpad, anyway!
Alright. Back to March 2021.
The plan was in place, and I had four months to write around 80,000 brand new words.
Cool. Except for the tiny matter of already having a full-time job writing ad copy.
And being a procrastinator.
And being a lot older than my self-pub days when I would knock back coffee and cans of Red Bull while moonlighting as an author.
Would my body be able to handle the exorbitant amounts of caffeine once more? Would my heart explode?
I felt scared.
The Editorial process and my first trade review.
Despite my fears of pulling 300 fresh pages out of my ass, I met the deadline at the eleventh-and-a-half hour. A few weeks after that, the editorial process for my first traditionally published novel began.
It was so different to go from being a self-pub author in control of everything, to a trad pub author with an editorial team, marketing, sales, PR ...
I felt worried that my ego would run wild.
Honestly, there were moments (haha), but I think I got through it without being too insufferable (don’t quote me on that).
When it comes to editorial feedback, a big part of my writing style is “screenwriter,” meaning I lean heavier on dialogue and less so on back stories and inner thoughts. Because of this, it was great to have an editor who would tell me when I wasn’t doing enough of those things. It also meant that when I felt strongly about how I wanted the dialogue to go, my editor trusted me with that.
I felt relieved.
As the months passed, so did the rounds of editing, and eventually, my book was submitted for a trade review to Publishers Weekly, an institution with 150 years of history.
I felt terrified.
Professional reviews aren’t the only things that matter, but after self-publishing three novels that weren’t eligible for trade reviews, a part of me now wondered if the naysayers would be proven right; not just the people who think self-publishing is for hacks, but the 100+ literary agents who’d rejected me over a decade ago.
I tried my best to forget about the review, and to remind myself that this reboot story had made me smile, laugh, and get teary-eyed, not just once, but through every round of editing. I was creatively satisfied, and whatever happened next would be out of my control, so why not just enjoy this special time before critics and readers invaded this pure connection with my art?
And then, the review came.
It dropped in my inbox as an email from my editor, who shared the link and simply said “I think we’re about to make your day!”
I had to read it twice before it finally sunk in, because not only was it a starred review, but it was so effusive with glowing praise that it completely blew my mind.
As a side note, I won’t be sharing a link to buy my book in this article—as in my mind this isn’t really a marketing piece—but since most of the readers of Pipeline Artists are fellow artists, perhaps you’ll indulge me if I share a link to the review? Here it is.
More specifically, here are some of the quotes that made me sob. For real, I needed a beach towel to sop up all the tears by the time I was done reading the review.
“Filled with delectable delights and heart-tugging insights, this stunning contemporary romance ... is a feast for the senses.”
“The sharp comedic timing and mouthwatering culinary tour through the city would be enough to carry the novel, but the sheer depth of character development elevate it further ...”
Getting a nod to comedic timing when dialogue is so important to me? And having the reviewer enjoy my tour of Paris, when that was the “fuck it” intention behind the book?!
It felt incredible.
Next stop: the launch day highs.
On the night before ...
I felt ill.
Even as incredible friends sent me gifts and flowers and balloons and supportive messages, I wanted to hurl.
After an almost sleepless night, the big day came. It was a glorious—and luckily vomit-free—blur. A lovely bouquet of flowers sent to me from my publisher ... amazing friends tagging me in social media posts featuring their recently purchased copies of the book ... being featured on a national talk show (holy crap) ... a celebratory dinner with some friends and publisher colleagues, and ... for the first time in the history of Romi Moondi ... seeing my name on Indigo book shelves (Canada’s equivalent of B&N), before signing copies and anointing them with the “Signed by the author” sticker.
It felt like a dream come true.
The “letting go” lows.
As a self-published author, I can check units sold and pair price promotions with paid online ads whenever I want to trigger a sales boost.
As a traditionally published author, the most I can do is continually obsess over Amazon rankings. For the first month, that was exactly what I did.
I felt like I was spiraling.
It was hard to return to that glorious moment of feeling creatively satisfied, because the business and customers and rankings and sales had invaded the space of creating art that I loved.
There’s just no going back once your book is out in the wild.
The timing of my spiral coincided with a monthly check-in call with my creator manager at Wattpad WEBTOON Studios. To be clear, I am not the only author on this manager’s roster. Only one of many. And yet, this angel of a human is always on top of her game and always tries to support me, even if my contract doesn’t give them a commission (another reason I love working with Wattpad).
As I spiraled in that call, she reminded me of all the good things, and told me to go enjoy my vacation and forget about all this shit.
That was back in July, and I haven’t looked at my Amazon rankings since.
I felt grateful.
Hometown writer makes good.
Soon after I returned from vacation, my publisher had arranged for my first in-store book signing—in my freakin’ hometown of Kitchener, Ontario, Canada! This was the place where my high school English teacher had threatened me with detention if I didn’t join the high school newspaper. It was also the place where I’d been voted most sarcastic in my graduating class. And finally, the place that formed so much of my current curmudgeon-with-a-soft-spot self.
It felt like I’d come full circle.
The social media blahs.
BookTok. One word that sends shivers down an author’s spine. I knew going in that the world had changed since my self-publishing days. I was ready for BookTok. What I wasn’t ready for, was how much BookTok had evolved, even in the last two years.
It began as this clever marketing tool for authors. So you start your video by describing this WILD thing that happened to you. And then at the end you do the big reveal: “to find out what happened, read [insert book title], available in bookstores now!”
Oh, how things have changed. Today, BookTok has become a community ruled by readers-turned-influencers, almost to the point where authors feel like they’re invading the BookTok space (which is probably why there’s a separate AuthorTok hashtag).
And yet, all of our publishers still want us to use it. They want us to go viral because, hey, you never know. I don’t blame them, not when BookTok has been shaping the NYT bestseller lists for so long (with romance books consistently dominating the list for Trade Paperback Fiction). But you know what ends up happening? The books go viral, they hit the NYT bestseller list, the bookstores then stock more of those books and put them on special BookTok tables, more people buy and post about the books—because if you post about popular books you’ll get more views and clout on TikTok—and it becomes this 360-feedback loop. This echo chamber makes it even harder to break your way in.
When I realized all of this ...
I felt hopeless and bitter.
In the end, I decided that I would use social media, but I would do it strategically, so it didn’t wind up taking over my life. For me, that means things like making the same content for IG reels and TikTok to save myself time, and choosing certain days and hashtags that seem to work better for my content.
Once I made those adjustments ...
I felt like I could breathe.
One day, through a tagged post on Instagram, I found out I was the book club pick for a Canadian group of fabulous, empowering women. After striking up a DM chat with the group’s founder, I was invited as a special guest to their virtual book club session. On that Zoom call, I got to hear enthusiastic comments about my book, I got to see one of the book clubbers dressed up as my main character (!), and I learned that one of the readers pulled an all-nighter because she couldn’t stop reading my book.
I felt like my heart might explode (in the GOOD way, not the Red Bull way).
Not enough readers.
I was aware of all the stats on how it’s hard to be successful as a traditionally published author. Even so, a grandiose part of my personality felt that for me it would be different. That an incredible starred review and national talk show exposure would at the least make me a Canadian bestseller, if not a NYT one.
It didn’t. And yet, I keep being assured that the book is doing well. It’s just so hard to truly know, when I can’t see every stat like some all-seeing bookish “eye of Mordor.” Sometimes, I’ll be tagged in a post from a reader in Texas who picked up my book in an independent bookshop, and I’ll think, wow, things are happening! Other times, I’ll look at my follower count which has been flat for a week or two, and I’ll think no, things aren’t happening at all.
Recently, I read an interview from an author who became a huge NYT bestseller with her debut rom com book. She talked about how she hadn’t known what to write for that book, until her agent brought up the most popular romance trope, “enemies to lovers,” and suggested she build her story around that. I’m sure that wasn’t the only reason she became a huge bestseller, but it reminded me how I specifically avoided making my characters “enemies” at the beginning, because frankly I find it silly when co-workers in rom coms are enemies—because hello, how the hell would that even go down without HR getting involved? My heart just wasn’t feeling that trope, so I went with “opposites attract” instead, something that feels more grounded and enjoyable to me.
I know a lot of readers would prefer “enemies-to-lovers” if given the choice, but I also know that my people are out there, too.
So, is it best to follow your gut or maximize your marketability?
I felt totally confused.
The magical moments since.
As of writing this article, it’s been nearly six months since the launch of my debut traditionally published novel. In addition to all of the above, a lot more has happened. In October, my publisher sent me to New York City freakin’ Comic Con! I spoke on a panel and did a book signing with other Wattpad WEBTOON Book Group authors. It still feels strange to type that. What a magical day.
I’ve also gone back to the two biggest Indigo bookstores in Toronto on several occasions to sign more copies of my book—because they keep selling through and the stores keep re-stocking! Last week, one of the Indigo stores ordered five more copies nearly six months into the launch—when it would’ve been totally normal for a spring/summer book to be forgotten by now.
All of this feels incredible.
Oh, and there’s a sequel.
Sequels with the same main characters don’t happen very often in rom com books, which makes it all the more incredible to have a publisher who believes in my vision (“I see one more book for these characters,” I said. “Not a trilogy, just a sequel. THEN I’ll stop being evil and give them their happy ending.”).
24 Hours in Italy will be coming to bookstores in summer 2023.
I’ll end by saying that the trad pub journey has been a big and endless emotional rollercoaster, so much so that at times it made me long for the days of the typical French fuck boys I routinely encountered during my time in Paris, because even they were less emotionally complicated than the sum of all parts of the traditional publishing world.
Still, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
I feel really glad I never gave up on my dream.
Writing a sequel is a whole other journey filled with self-doubt, so if you’d like to hear more about that in a future article, please contact your local Pipeline Artists representative!
Until then, I’m on a deadline, so I better get back to it.
Editor's Note: Romi may be too humble to link to her book, but we're not—24 Hours in Paris.
*Feature Photo: Romi Moondi at Comic Con
Watch Romi Moondi's (free) Symposium session—TikTok (and Other Social Media) for Creatives