Willamette Writers member Thomas J. Sims explained that when he thinks about his publishing journey, it’s impossible to not think of clichés.
“It’s been a phenomenal experience,” Sims said.
Sims’ book, “On Call in the Arctic,” is based on his experiences working as a doctor in a remote part of Alaska.
He knew he needed to write down what happened. “It’s a story about adaptation and survival.”
The problem was, Sims was not sure what his next step was.
“I wrote this memoir, but I had no real idea what I was going to do next. I’d been traditionally published before, but like everybody else, I’ve studied everything. I’ve done my research.”
Sims explained that Print on Demand changed the publishing landscape, and made it more financially possible for him to publish his own work.
“I was going to self-publish. That was my plan.”
The Road to Publishing
But he still felt like he needed that extra something to really get his work out there.
“I submitted to a contest. I don’t normally do contests, but this one was a Memoir Writing Conference through the University of California.”
Sims felt like the contest had a little more weight with the name of the university behind it. The conference was juried – only those selected would be able to attend. In addition, three memoirs were chosen as winners of the contest. The top memoir would be looked at by an agent.
“I won the contest,” Sims said. “The agent looked at my work, read it, liked it, and accepted me. But it wasn’t over. She said it needed a lot of editing.”
At the time, Sims was not familiar with Microsoft Word edit functions. He made mistakes as he passed his work back and forth, and the editor got frustrated.
Ultimately, the agent decided to not work with Sims, and told him she would not represent the book.
“I thought, this is the end,” Sims said.
Back to the Learning Table
After losing his agent, he didn’t give up. He returned to querying.
“I queried in batches of 10. By the time I had sent out 20 queries, I had three responses.”
Sims ultimately found the type of agent he was looking for, but the agent asked for a book proposal, instead of the book itself.
“I had to go back to the learning table,” Sims said.
He worked hard, and after revisions and edits, his agent eventually sent out the proposal. It sold in two weeks to Pegasus.
“They have been unbelievable with me. I’ve been involved in decisions on editing, cover, and formatting.”
Sims enjoyed every step of the publication process. The book launched on September 4, and Publisher’s Weekly reviewed it, saying: “Sims has delivered a captivating account of practicing medicine in the furthest reaches of the U.S.”
“Now, I have a signing at Powell’s,” Sims said.
Making your work stand out
Sims believes that all the good that is happening around this book is a result of distinguishing himself – making his work stand out.
“With that contest, I had my work validated, so that agents were more willing to take a look.”
Sims emphasized that the number one thing you have to have in the first place is a good book.
“But there’s millions of good books out there,” Sims said. “You have to distinguish yourself from the rest of them.”
For Sims, the contest helped him do that, along with his recent Nautilus Book Award.
After his long publishing journey, his biggest suggestion is to not give up.
“When that agent fired me, it was a hard nut to swallow. But it turned out to be good in the end. You got to keep forging ahead.”