• Grace A. Johnson

The Journey of Held Captive--Part 3

For the last two Sundays, I've been sharing with y'all the long, drawn-out comedy of errors and cautionary tale I call the journey of Held Captive, my debut novel which released on Amazon in paperback and eBook format on March 23rd, 2019.

Today, I finally get to sum it all up--and on my new (and very cheap, as in free) website and blog. Today, I want to tell you all about my crash and burn with tradition publishing, how I got that very fuzzy, should-have-been-super-pretty cover, and what has come about after publishing Held Captive.

By now, you know how it all began as "The Lady Pirate" and how it became Held Captive. What you don't know is how it went from 25 chapters and an epilogue sitting on my laptop to an actual, hold-it-in-your-hands book, or how I went from a twelve-year-old who didn't know jack diddly squat about publishing to a thirteen-year-old with a published novel. (Note that I didn't become a thirteen-year-old who knew about publishing. I don't. I learn more every day, y'all.)

While my cousin was editing it through the month of December/January, I spent most of my time trying to submitted a query. So you see, I wasn't a total idiot. I'd watched The Waltons and read a couple books about writing/publishing books. I knew NO ONE on God's green earth was going to accept an unsolicited manuscript. I knew that I couldn't just call up Thomas Nelson or Bethany House or Penguin Press and say, "Yo, Adrian. Wanna publish my book?" I knew that I could not afford an agent--or an editor, for that matter, which is evident by how desperately in need of editing Held Captive still is, after three-to-four rounds of editing. But I also knew that I could try. There were a couple companies that accepted queries--a letter or an email (usually written to an agent, in case you're wondering, or by an agent to a publisher)--basically stating, "Hey, check this book out. Wanna publish it?" I looked up how to write one and this is what I got:

Dear ----,

I am in search of publication for my debut novel, a historical Christian romance novel titled Held Captive.

This story takes place during the Golden Age of Piracy and tells the tale of a female pirate captain whose life changes drastically. Captain Rina Blackstone is the most notorious female pirate to ever plunder the Seven Seas and the fiercest captain to ever sail the Atlantic. But one thing she has never been able to handle well is change. When one merchant ship raid takes a wrong turn and results in her capture, Rina has to escape before all the control she’s worked so hard to obtain falters.

Xavier Bennet was commissioned seven years ago to find the Duke of Rothsford’s long lost daughter. Those seven years have passed without a trace of the woman except for the one letter he believes will lead him to her.

When Xavier’s ship, the Jessica, finally crosses paths with the Rina, it’s all he can do to hope that somehow, someway, he’ll be able to find Lady Catherina and return her to her parents. Except the pirate captain he finds certainly surpasses his expectations and brings the one thing he cannot afford: trouble.

As the pieces to this puzzle slowly come together, Rina finds herself in a situation that requires a choice that she had never thought she would need to make. Will she embrace her unknown future and her new family or will she return to her life of piracy? Even she is unsure of the answer.

This novel runs just over 74,000 words, and possess similar traits to that of Marylu Tyndall’s The Redemption and Roseanna M. White's The Lost Heiress.

I have been writing since I was five years old and have had a short story and essay published in my local newspaper.

Thank you ever so much for your time. I hope to hear from you soon.

Sincerely,

Grace A. Johnson


So, most people who write queries have a long list of credentials and have been published seventy-five times before. The examples I read on Writer's Digest made me want to publish the book. Seriously. Well, obviously I don't have credentials. But...I got a hit. I sent this in to the only company I knew would take a query--WhiteFire. Now, I'd struck up an acquaintance with the owner's wife, Roseanna M. White, who's an amazing writer I adore. So, I was kind of hoping that I'd curried a wee bit of favor and that I could get my book published by an author I love. I was also hoping that, you know, thirteen-year-old girls' second manuscripts could get published in general. Unless their dad owns the company...nope. I had apparently jumped headfirst into a writing career without taking all the necessary recommended steps. You know, write for a paper, freelance, enter contests, start with small short stories, yadda, yadda, yadda. My first project was going to be a trilogy and I wasn't even going to sit down and plot it.

By the seat of my pants? Oh, yeah. No doubt about it.

Well, dear Mrs. White read my email and asked for a proposal. And, yeah, I had one of those too. But you really don't want to see it, because it stinks, which is probably why I never heard from Mrs. White again, but for a confirmation of receiving my email.

Three months went by in which I waited and tried--and failed miserably--to kick-start my writing of the next book, Prisoner at Heart. Well, my uncle's girlfriend (whom he'll be marrying in six days, actually) suggested publishing through Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing.

My mother and I prayed, looked into it, researched the pros and cons of trad vs. indie/self. Finally, we both decided that KDP was the way to go. I could do all of the formatting, cover designing, marketing, publishing, price-setting, rights-owning, etc., by myself. I was the boss, el jefe, the top of the food chain, the queen, whatever you wanna call it. They would print it, e-print it (not a thing, BTW), and sell it on Amazon. I could order physical copies at a discount to sell--which I do, at my grandmother's store in our hometown.

It was absolutely NO work whatsoever to get this done, and I've even encouraged a friend to publish his own work through KDP. Now, he's got several novellas/short stories published and for sell on Amazon.

It took less than two days. I did it over the weekend. My book was out, friends and family and Facebook had been notified, and boom! I was a published author.

Now, about that cover real quick. During our three months of waiting and consideration, I was scrolling through stock photos--which I ask that, if you are under eighteen or not under adult supervision--you please not do--and trying to figure out what in the great googly moogly I was going to do about a cover. KDP has a cover designer with pictures, but I was shooting for more of a 17th century romance vibe--not a modern-day self-help conference vibe--and even the nautical pictures were not cool. Well, as I wrote, I collected pictures. (I've had to purge my pictures folders several times over the last several months just because of how many pics I've collected. It's like an addiction.) Of course, the pictures are copyrighted and only for my own inspiration, but one of them was absolutely perfect for Rina. It was roughly how I imagined her looking, and the dress the model was wearing was actually the inspiration behind a scene in the book.


"Red was her color. I wasn’t certain as to why, seeing as how red had always served to remind me of that one verse in Isaiah. But perhaps that was why, for the scarlet red that adorned her ladyship was a symbol of all her sins and all the blood on her hands. Yet just as the Lord said, her sins could be as white as snow.

If only she would believe that.

Something about the way she moved in her uncle’s grasp, swaying and stepping with a carefree grace that seemed so unlike the stern captain who stood straight as a board with authority upon the deck of her ship, caused the faint glint in her eyes to become a twinkling star in the night sky, lighting up the room and making the slight grin her lips wore transform into a blooming smile.

Her skirt swished around her legs like waves against the hull of a ship as she turned, almost tripping over Lord Dominic’s booted foot, her caramel curls bouncing around her. She really couldn’t dance, I had to admit, but whenever the music picked up a faster tempo and Lord Dominic grabbed her hand, steps didn’t matter."


Anyway...I decided that I'd try to use that photo for my cover, after many tears were shed over countless hours of web surfing. (Many tears continued to be shed during the waiting period for Prisoner at Heart. I've finally realized that the only way one can ensure a beautiful cover is to pay good money for it. *shrugs shoulders noncommittally with a half-frown*)

I Google Image Search-ed it, found that it was a photo for one of Majestic Velvets' (a costume company) dresses, then contacted the boss lady. Suzie Hemphill was actually super nice and totally cool with me using her pic as my cover. I thanked her profusely, inserted the picture into KDP's cover designer, and then this appeared:


It looks much better as a thumbnail. It took a lot of tweak-age to fit it into the box (or, technically, onto the surface of my book), and turned out extremely fuzzy. But no one's said anything but my mom, so it's good.

Once that was done--and I figured out that I was better off NOT having a chapter header than killing myself trying to stick one onto my manuscript--Held Captive was ready to make its debut.

I ordered author copies for my family and ended up ordering several hundred to sell at my nana's store, at family reunions, at church, and to donate to the library (yes, my book is in THREE local libraries!) in town and at the middle/high school.

Two months later, I'd sold a great deal, been featured in our county's two newspapers, and even spoke to the eighth grade (the grade I was in at the time) English classes at the local school I don't attend. (Have I mentioned I'm homeschooled?)

All in all, it took nine months to write, edit, and publish the book. I usually say it took nine months just to write it, but I suppose it didn't take but maybe half that long--which also applies to Prisoner at Heart, but I prefer to round my numbers than do the actual math. 😉

There were a lot of trials--and happy moments--in Held Captive's journey. I've tried to pick the most interesting and summarize my experience, but as I write I realize there was so much that went into those nine months and so many issues that spilled over into writing Prisoner at Heart. Most of all, I've learned that no matter which words seem to fit, what pops first into my mind, or how I think my story should turn out, the best thing to do is to let go and literally let God. There are so many times that I think of a certain thing I wrote or idea I came up with and can't even remember my thought process--or even if I thought it. I truly believe that the Holy Spirit had--has--a much bigger hand in my writing that even my ten typing fingers do. I can only marvel at all God has accomplished through me and pray that everyday the impact grows bigger and bigger.

I'll sign off with an excerpt from Held Captive and leave y'all to look forward to book 3, Bound and Determined!


"I wanted to jerk away, but his hold was too fast. I wanted to plant my fist in his face, but I was drowning in his touch. And I wanted to tell myself not to lean into him, to return his kiss, but the last of my common sense had fled me, and frankly, I didn’t want it back.

Xavier’s arms around me tightened, his mouth moving against mine in such a way that made me wonder if he had intended only to shut me up or if he had been planning to get his hands on me all along. Not that there was anything I was able to do about it, leastwise not when I was unwillingly enjoying kissing this devious scoundrel all too much.

My mind was spinning now, with warnings and objections and him. My heart was pounding, perhaps from fear of what the knave might truly be attempting to do or perhaps from sheer pleasure. And my hands, the utterly rebellious little limbs, were sliding up his chest to his shoulders, gripping onto him for dear life as I went overboard.

I parted my lips, deepening our kiss even as I told myself not to. Dash it all. What did it matter anyway? It was naught but a stupid kiss. I might as well make the most of it, aye?

But then, at that very moment, Xavier pulled away, his hands immediately slipping away from my waist as he stepped back.

Out of furious instinct, my hand shot out and whipped him across the jaw, yet for the opposite reason than usual.

And this time, he rubbed his jaw, his gaze colliding with anything but my own. “I’m sorry, Lady Catherina. I truly am. And you may have all the air you want.”

I watched, arms folded over my chest, as past me he went, bounding up the remainder of the steps, either completely forgetting everything that had transpired over the last few minutes since he had swung open my bedroom door or sorely regretting it. Coward.

Not that I cared. He was likely doing the better thing, while I stood here missing the delightful taste of his lips. Ugh, but I shouldn’t have succumbed to such weakness as to actually let him kiss me...and like it. Though try as I might, I couldn’t regret doing it. I had just given that “good” man a reason to keep his distance anyway. Perhaps ‘twas not the worst of ideas after all.

I trudged up the last of the steps, shoving away any and every last thought of Bennet and kissing from my mind."


And, yes, I just HAD to share a kiss scene! 😋


Excerpts from Held Captive: Copyright © 2019 Grace Ann Johnson

All rights reserved.

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