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JessLynnBabblin'

  • Writer's pictureJessica Nacovsky

156: My Experience With Tea With Coffee Media

Howdy! In case you haven't heard, Tea With Coffee Media, my publisher, announced that they are closing their doors at the end of July. I always meant to share my experience in having Stem & Stone and Light Step traditionally published. Now that TWCM is shuttering, it seems like a good time to speak on their legacy.


For background, I've been writing novels on and off since 2012, though with greater frequency, and taking the craft more seriously, since 2016. It was around 2019-2020 that I made the leap from trying to write a novel I could be proud of, to actually working to get it published. Like many writers, I didn't go into my initial projects worrying about marketability or comparison titles. Rather, I had a story in my heart and I wanted to do it justice. However, upon deciding to take the professional road, I quickly deduced a need to be active on social media.


Yes, basic Googling provided me with general information regarding the process of querying agents, how that conflicted with submitting directly to publishers, as well as providing templates for either sets of letters. But, by being active in the #writingcommunity on Twitter, I was able to glean first hand intel on how to pitch my novels, which pitching events were free, what agents had a bad reputation, likewise for small publishers, etc. And I became very active, taking part in online pitching events, trying to land an agent for my novels, alongside traditional querying. Every 30 or so rejections, I'd review any feedback thus collected and get to revising. This was while reading up on how better to write, taking writing Masterclasses, watching Youtube lectures, listening to relevant podcasts, etc. On top of continuing to write new stories, and edit old ones.


Eventually I migrated from querying agents to directly submitting to small publishers, even paying a handful of fees along the way (not the best idea), in submitting my novels to competitions. I was very open, on Twitter more so than any other social media apps, about my writing journey. By November-December-ish of 2022, I'd amassed over 10K followers on Twitter, who were largely interacting, this being before Elon bought the app and folks began leaving in droves.


It was around this time that I was taking part in a Twitter pitching event, likely #pitdark, and The Ciroth (Kaitlyn Kalor), a member of the Tea With Coffee Media board, suggested I check them out. I perused their site and found that they were a fledgling publisher set on running an ethical business. I was a new writer and I liked the idea of growing my career aongside my publisher. With The Ciroth's encouragement, I pitched her over Twitter, and when she liked those, I submitted to TWCM directly. The books I submitted were Stem & Stone, my ya dark portal fantasy adventure novel, Light Step, my adult magical realism novel, and Soul Walker, my paranormal women's fiction novel. Of the three, they wanted the first two, suggesting I continue revising the third and resubmit it at a later date.


We had a virtual meeting over Discord to make sure all involved personalities meshed well, where we got a feel for each other's intentions. They reiterated the emphasis on running an ethical business. I did have questions. First and foremost, what would happen to my books if, Princess Yue forbid, they had to shut down? They were surprised by the question, but took it in stride, assuring me all of my creative works would return to my ownership should that occur. They also swore to include that clause, not just in my contract, but it every author contract from then, on. I asked about audio books. They explained about the high cost and stated that would depend on sales. I asked if the author would have any say over the cover and they assured me the author would have the final say. I had some other basic questions regarding royalties, which I'd pulled from Google, and their answers were satisfactory. At the end of the meeting, I admitted I had full manuscripts out with two other publishers, and asked how long before they needed an answer back. They gave me a month, which I found amenable.


This being the holiday season, the other publishers replied that they wouldn't be making an offer within that amount of time, simplifying my decision, and I signed with Tea With Coffee Media. A release date was set for each book and I was able to announce my first real bit of publishing news. With my debut months out, I set about tweaking my marketing.


See, prior to signing with my publisher, I was very politically outspoken over Twitter. More so than on this blog, even. However, now that there was a group of people essentially gambling on the success of my novels, I made the decision to tone down my more controversial takes. The process didn't happen overnight, but I did make the shift from ranting daily about the evils of our capitalist duopoly, to mostly posting jokes and promoting my writing peers.


I also expanded my social media repertoire to include more TikTok, Instagram, and in light of Elon Musk's very expensive tantrum, I started posting to Mastodon (which didn't last), Threads, and Bluesky.


TWCM took to hosting a self care session and a free marketing lecture once per month, posting the marketing lessons to Youtube for anyone who missed them. My first year with TWCM, the self care sessions were usually spent playing the cheap/free game, Among Us. Once we watched a movie. It was all very wholesome. Eventually the self care sessions and lessons became less regular. Life tends to get in the way of anything extra, and I imagine the hosts were very busy. Also, once exhausting the intended curriculum, unless they wanted to begin filming new lessons on old topics, I'm not sure what else they could've done.


Months before Stem & Stone was set to be released, I was contacted by Victoria Moxley, the cover designer, who also happened to be a member of the board. She asked what I had in mind for the cover. I showed her a cut-paper mockup I'd made, as well as a Pinterest folder of illustrations in the same medium. She and I discussed the mood we wanted to evoke and, scrolling through the Pinterest folder, she selected a reference for the palette. Victoria has a great deal of experience as a graphic designer and illustrator, and was enthusiastic about learning a new medium and style, sharing how she'd done so before for other authors. She said she would reach back out with mock ups after she got a handle on the medium.


Next up, Sarah Faeth Sanders let me know the first round of edits were done. She wrote a letter explaining her style of editing, some mild developmental critiques, and her overall impression of the story. I read her letter before fully going back over the manuscript. I suspect that with every round of editing, I was supposed to jump from suggestion to suggestion, confirming or denying each, rather than revising the entire document anew. I probably took much longer to go over every round than the other authors. Anyway, she did a very thorough job and I greatly appreciated Sarah's feedback.


The next round of editing was by Grace Wittkofsky, who I believe was the owner or co-owner of TWCM. Hers felt like a lighter edit, more of a beta read, and she offered great feedback as well. Because of who I am as a person, I took the opportunity to again revise the entire book, but my manuscript was very clean by this point, and the changes were mostly minor.


Kelsey Anne Lovelady, another member of the board, was responsible for the formatting, and she did a wonderful job using her craft to emphasize the story. She did take my vision into consideration with regards to the chapter titles and the typeface for the body text. When the hyper specific imagery I had in mind for chapter illustrations, wasn't available as a stock image, she made it from scratch.


The TWCM CEO, Tyler Wittkofsky, was always seeking new marketing opportunities and he arranged for me to be interviewed on a handful of blogs and podcasts, nearing the release of my debut, and after, to get the word out.


A unique, wonderful aspect of TWCM is their emphasis on inclusion, and maintaining a healthy, compassionate, workplace. The average employer in our capitalist society isn't willing to offer long term accommodation to a suddenly struggling employee, to the extent that multiple laws have been enacted to defend suffering workers from being unjustly fired or punished by their unempathetic leadership.


All that to say that TWCM allowed grace for our cover designer when she was dealing with personal difficulties. Ten days from the Stem & Stone release date, she apologized for being incommunicado for so long, admitted she'd been unable to fully devote herself to the illustration, that she was dissatisfied with her mockups, and had made the professional choice to go with my original mockup instead, for the cover illustration. She provided me with two options, both using my paper cut illustration, placed over different stock-image backgrounds. I was flattered that she liked my illustration, though I had intended it as a mockup and not the finished piece. I do wish circumstances hadn't prevented her from reaching out sooner and explaining her difficulties with the medium, perhaps shared her desire to go with my work instead, as I would have liked to re-create the piece, taking into account the mood she and I had intended to evoke. The Pinterest palette she'd earlier indicated was better suited for the story than that of my loose mockup. But crises don't care about one's schedule and obligations. And ultimately, I'm happy with the cover.


Stem & Stone was released on time. Aside from myself posting the announcement everywhere, TWCM also promoted my debut on their various platforms, including Twitter, Youtube, TikTok, and Threads. While I didn't have a release party (I'm a homebody living very far from most of my support system), I did start bringing my books to First Friday in downtown Bryan, a monthly event wherein I sell my art. They was a small delay in the shipping of my author copies, and to remedy that, I was provided with extra copies, which was very kind. For clarity, all of my author copies were free for me. It took me a few days to get my author Goodreads page approved, but there's nothing TWCM could have done to speed that up.


With my second book, the adult magical realism novel, Light Step, my experience was much the same. Sarah Faeth Sanders did the first round of developmental and line edits. I did a full round of revisions while going over hers, agreeing with the vast majority. Grace Wittkofsky did the second round, which doubled as a beta read, and I did another full round of revisions, while approving of those. I absolutely took longer than anyone expected, I believe because I was only supposed to be approving the suggested tweaks. Kelsey Anne Lovelady reached out about formatting, and together, we found the appropriate typefaces for the body text, chapter titles, and she found the perfect stock graphics for the chapter imagery. Tyler Wittkofsky sought out, and found, marketing opportunities. There was a similar hiccup with the cover illustration, and again I was able to create the cover art. If you've read the TWCM official closing announcement, you're aware that the entire board suffered mentally and physically in meeting the demands of publishing, on top of their various full time jobs and other responsibilities. While I was not privy to what troubles they didn't post on social media, I'm glad that kindness and compassion reigned.


The release went smoothly. There were some shipping delays, which I'm beginning to recognize are the norm for print orders from Ingram Spark, as well as a delay for the ebook to populate on the various online booksellers, but eventually it did appear. An arc reader added Light Step to Goodreads in order to leave the review and somehow Goodreads linked it to another author with the same name. It took me a few days to figure out how to remedy that, but I was able to claim my book, while rejecting that author's other books, from my Goodreads page, rather than having to pull in the assistance of Goodreads' "Librarians." In light of anti-TikTok regulation, I expanded my social media-based marketing further into Clapper and Youtube.


And even after the release of each of my novels, TWCM never stopped promoting them. Various board members did reach out to books stores near me about potential signings, and while they had no luck on that front, Victoria Moxley did convince Hyperbole Books, in College Station Texas, to shelves our books (hers and mine, as we are locals)! That was very cool. I don't drive and she was even willing to give me a lift if necessary. Luckily my husband was available so I didn't need to take her up on that offer.


Also, through every step of the process, before and after my novel releases, any time I've had a question, if I posted it to the group, a member of the board was happy to answer. Even now, I keep reaching out, and receiving support, as I'm creating my own Ingram Spark account and transferring my novels.


Overall, my experience having my first two novels published by Tea With Coffee Media, has been overwhelmingly positive. I've recommended them to so many writers looking to get their start, and I'll be cheering everyone involved on in their future endeavors. Thanks for stopping by! I drop a new blog post every Monday! Toodles!



Newsletter

Howdy! It was only briefly after I posted last week's blog & newsletter that authors were privately informed Tea With Coffee Media would be closing at the end of July. Meaning I've had a week to digest the news. While I'm not looking forward to the process of figuring out the relevant software for formatting novels for ebook and print, these are skills I was probably always meant to acquire. And for now, in their present state, the books are good to go. But, should I spot any issues down the line, I need to be equipped to solve them.


I've continued editing Soul Walker, my paranormal women's fiction novel. I am a little sad I won't be submitting this much improved manuscript to TWCM, but I'm glad the board has made the responsible choice to prioritize their physical and mental well being. Maybe I'll hire an editor and self publish. I don't know. There will be at least one more round of revisions after this one before I need to make that decision. I will continue editing Soul Walker this week.


I'm also currently reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Normally, upon finishing a book, I donate it. Unfortunately, this copy is literally falling apart. Maybe I can use the pieces for an art project instead.


Speaking of art, First Friday is next week, and I have no new art to show for it. Hopefully I can knock out a woodburning or two this week. I did make another scrapbook page, but I'm still on the hunt for pride themed imagery for Samwise' next page.

I finally got around to joining the Brazos Writers Group. I made it to a casual meet up on Saturday where I hope I learned everyone's names! The plan is to see them again, in person, soon. They also host regular virtual critique nights, but I don't have anything new that I would want to volunteer for feedback. Perhaps my next story outline? I'm overdue for dropping a list of story ideas. It's been many months since I spent 24 hours listing 20 concepts to pick from.


Thanks for stopping by! I drop a newsletter every Monday! Toodles!

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