The Timekeepers War– Final Edit Complete! (again)

Well, I’m sure some of you were starting to think it wasn’t going to happen (myself included)… but I finally completed the final edit of my novel, The Timekeepers’ War! Again.

Editing is really the hardest part of writing a book, I swear. I’d heard that before and I never believed it. But that’s because what I thought was editing was really proofreading. And the two are very, very different beasts. After I finished my behemoth of a first novel (it came in at 503 pages, and almost 147,000 words…) I gave copies to a few trusted people to read for consistency, grammar, spelling, and readability. They came back with lots of little changes. I went through TKW three or four times with suggestions from various people, making what changes I deemed necessary, and TA-DA! Final edit complete (pt. 1)

I was feeling pretty good about myself, as a first time author. I’d gotten some really great feedback from my beta readers, along with some constructive criticism that I was able to apply to make my novel the best that I could make it. I sent it out with quiet confidence to agents and publishers alike. And waited… and waited…

And then the rejections started to roll in. I did receive some interest though, which was encouraging. I had requests for the next 10 pages, the next 30 pages, the next 50 pages, and even a couple of requests for the whole novel. I must be doing something right, I thought. They want to see more! They must like it! But nothing panned out. Eventually, each of those requests for more ended in yet another rejection. I was heartbroken!

Two good things came of this process. One: I received some really great feedback from a small publisher who highlighted my strengths and went to the trouble of explaining exactly why The Timkeepers’ War wasn’t working for him. And suddenly, all those vague rejections started to make sense. I had a great story idea, I had likeable characters, I had an intriguing setting. But I needed to seriously work on my pacing if I wanted to sell this as a commercial novel. But I didn’t really know how to go about fixing that issue. I read a lot of long-winded fantasy and sci-fi, and I enjoy them. Pacing isn’t something I knew how to do, it isn’t something I look for in a book. It isn’t my style. But as a first time writer, you have to be able to market your work to a wider audience. And agents and publishers like to see action, they like pacy, they like movement, they like all these things I didn’t know how to deliver (and in many ways, felt I shouldn’t have to). But that brings us to good thing number Two:

I decided to hire a professional editor. One who specialized in SF and worked in the publishing industry. And it wasn’t cheap. But it was totally worth it. My editor echoed some of the feedback that I had already had regarding my strengths as a writer.  And he really, really drove home the point about my weaknesses. It was hard to read at times, but I had decided when I hired him that I would listen and learn from what he had to say. So I had to suck it up. And that can be very hard to do when you read “Boring! Get on with it!” and “I’m losing interest here” and “I’ve forgotten what this story is about now” and “I really want to throw this book at the wall!” written in the margins of your baby. Okay, so that last one never happened, but I that’s how I interpreted it.

But when I started going through some of the changes that he made, I got it. Slowly it dawned on me that my readers don’t need to know everything I know about my world and my characters. I’d spent so long envisioning them, and building a world to hold them, that I found my self rattling off inane details about everyone and everything in my novel. As the person building the world, these details were necessary to me. They helped me to visualize my world and my characters, and kept my environment consistent and believable. But what we need as writers is not the same as what our audience needs as readers. Lesson learned. I started cutting like a crazy person.

At first, this was difficult. But I saved all of those little scraps of imagery, unnecessary scenes and characters, and I told myself “They’ll still be here for me when I need them.” And as kept cutting, and rewriting, the process became cathartic. Sometimes less really is more, and I finally was able to see what this meant in relation to my own work. The middle of my book required extensive rewriting to deal with info dumps. I rewrote about 200 pages of text just to get the pace moving again after I had killed it dead and beaten it’s corpse like the proverbial horse.

And it didn’t always go smoothly. There were good days and bad days. Good months and bad months, really. The hardest part of editing like this is the urge to give up and move on to something new. I was so disheartened some days to be still working on the same book when I have so many ideas for my next projects. I have new projects started, waiting for me, calling out my name! I had thought The Timekeepers’ War was done, I had cut the strings and moved on. I felt stuck.

I started procrastinating. I started to fear finishing it, actually. I was afraid that I would go through all of this, only to find that my novel was still nonpunishable. That I would be a failure at the one thing I really wanted to do. That I would let down everyone who had believed in me and supported me up to this point. Even thinking about my novel started to make me feel anxious and depressed.

Luckily those people who believed in and supported me, continued to do so. I was ready to throw in the towel on more than on occasion. But after a serious kick in the ass from my partner and biggest supporter, I realized that the only way I was going to fail all of these people, and fail myself, is if I stopped trying. I was going to quit because I was afraid to fail. That didn’t make sense. That didn’t even leave me a sliver of a chance to succeed. I’m no gambler, but those are some shitty odds. So I made myself do it.

And as I plowed through I realized that it’s a better novel now than it ever was. And what I considered my best before is sorely lacking compared to my best today. I have become a better writer for this process. And every time I have to do this in the future, I’m going to come out ahead. This is what it’s all about. Blood, sweat, and tears, no lie. Lots and lots of tears. It’s no cakewalk… no wonder so few people make it in the publishing game. Will I be one of them? Only time will tell. But I’ve learned so much in the process that, if nothing else, I can say that my attempt wasn’t a failure.

So the final result? I cut over 20,000 words from original text. I’m down to 127,191 words, down over 50 pages of info dense text. And I feel like a new person with a new and better book. I’m read to start all over again.

I will be looking for beta readers for this round, if anyone is interested in helping. Please send me a message.

Thanks for reading!

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SF Book Review: The Artemis Effect by Kasia James

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4/5 Stars

Science fiction can be an iffy genre to go exploring willy nilly. I usually like to stick to the beaten path (my own, anyways) rarely abandoning my tried and true authors. Most of my forays into the unknown (unless they’ve come recommended by a reliable source) have been disappointing. Sci-fi shelves seem to be a haven for poorly disguised political/religious allegories, plotless nerdier-than-thou techno-babble, and sagas of sexually liberated space sluts. Often some combination of the three. The trouble is, with such a vast world of possibilities before them, too many science fiction writers indulge in formulaic drivel.

That said, I’m glad I took a chance on Kasia James’ debut novel, The Artemis Effect. I was pleasantly surprised by James’ refreshingly different take on the post-apocalyptic theme (or should I say peri-apocalyptic?). Hers is the only novel I’ve read which actually looks at the breakdown of modern civilization as it’s happening, rather than simply assessing the aftermath. This is an interesting spin, as it allows for some truly interesting and engaging character development (all too neglected in many SF novels), as well as painting an almost intimate portrait of the individual lives that are affected during the crisis.

James’ characters are one of her strongest assets as a writer. She does a wonderful job of bringing Scott, Kimberley, Bryn and their circles of friends/family to life, drawing parallels across the globe as the story progresses in Australia, Wales, and the USA. The dynamics between the main characters and their cohorts are believable, entertaining, and often touching. Conversations actually read like conversations, rather than info dumps and uber-correct robotalk (another skill that many authors never master).

The only glitch for me, as a North American, was in the language used by Kimberley and Ray and the other Americans. James was born in Wales and currently lives in Australia, so I trust her use of idioms, etc. for the characters in these areas. But sometimes the Americans just “talked funny*”. Now, I’m Canadian, so I’m used to a bastardization of British and American English. These errors were very minor (we would never say ‘auto accident’, for example, but ‘car accident’ or ‘car crash’) and didn’t detract from the text at all. But it’s worth mentioning if you’re one of those colloquial-grammar-nazis (if there is such a thing). To be fair, this probably happens all the time with NA writers screwing up localized variants of English across the globe, and I don’t notice because I’m an ignorant North American. Maybe I should just shut up.

*Southern hick voice.

On with the review! The Artemis Effect has a unique and substantial plot to give a solid background for the character development. And I’ve gotta say, I had no idea where James was going with it until the very end, which is awesome! (I’d be curious to know if James is familiar with the novel Ammonite by Nicola Griffith, as one of James’ subplots can be strongly linked to themes in Griffith’s work) I love not being able to predict where a story is going, just being able to enjoy the flow. The pacing was great, there’s lots of action to keep you reading. The tri-part narrative was perfectly balanced so that each section had enough detail to give some insight but not so long that you forgot what was going on with the other characters.

Long story short, I recommend it. You can purchase Kasia James’ novel on Amazon, here. (Do it now!)

Note: I stubbornly refuse to convert to an e-reader and James was kind enough to humour me. She sent me a lovely paperback copy to review, for which I am eternally grateful. I promise, good customer service did not in any way affect my review. But I believe James deserves personal brownie points for being so accommodating. Also, check out her blog, Writer’s Block.

Collaborative Writing Opportunity for SF Lovers

Hi, all!

I just discovered a wonderful blog, and I wanted to share. If you’ve ever wanted to write a novel, but don’t have the time, or have a ton of great ideas and can’t find a way to bring them all together, you might want to check out The Stone Soup Novelist.

This blog is dedicated to writing a science fiction novel with the collaboration of as many SF readers and writers who are willing to share their ideas. Check out “The Story” page for some background on the backbone idea, and then start brainstorming!

Of course, there is no guarantee that your ideas will be used in the final product. The author is using a voting system to decide which ideas are best. Even if you don’t have an idea to share, you can still vote for your favourites. But don’t be shy! The more ideas are posted, the more conversation will be generated, and the more interesting the end work will be. I think this is a great idea, and I will be contributing. I think the more people who get involved, the better the novel will be (and I’m sure the Stone Soup Novelist would agree).

So if you have a few minutes to spare, jump in and start tossing some ideas around. This is a great opportunity for all of you creative people who are looking for an outlet. Focus that energy!

Resource for SF Writers: Small Press Publishers

Greetings from the cold, wet prairies. No, I’m not happy about it either. It’s almost June, people, make with the sunshine already.

Now.

Today’s post is something that will hopefully be useful to my fellow first-time SF and Fantasy writers. To the unwashed (or is that just me?) and unpublished (perhaps the two are connected) masses of hopeful future novelists, I dedicate the following list. But first, a word from your fearless leader:

I’ve recently been looking into smaller publishers, and submitting my science fiction manuscript The Timekeepers’ War to them as well as to literary agencies. If I’m honest with myself, I really don’t want to publish with a small press. I, like all (commercial) writers, have big dreams of seeing my novel in grocery store checkout lanes, in airports, and every other random outlet for those trashy NYT Bestseller racks. I want to be able to make a living at this writing shtick. I’m not interested in winning some hoity-toity literary awards and only being read by intellectual assholes. I’m in it for the money.

Which makes me an idiot.

Because making decent money at writing is kind of the literary equivalent of winning the lottery. It’s a matter of luck, skill, talent, luck, and more luck. Just ask anyone who’s made it. It really kind of just happens. So I have my fingers crossed. And the “big dream” is one of the reasons I’m choosing to seek agent representation in the first place. I realize that a lot of writers do not go this route. They take on the massive burden of pimping themselves to the little guys, and do really well with it. Someday, that might be me. But hopefully, I can have someone do the dirty work for me, and I can just write. That’s what I want.

But, and there is always a “but”, even an agent can be hard to find. So I decided to start looking into the little guys just in case I don’t have the kind of luck required to land a massive multi-novel book deal. You know, just in case reality catches up with me and I find myself sobbing into my latte while I place my first order on Lulu.

And when I decided to look into small press publishers, I realized something. They’re frackin’ hard to find. There’s a bazillion of them out there, but just try to google that shit. Especially as a writer of genre fiction, it can be hard hours of slogging through website after website to find A) Publishers that accept Sci-Fi and B) Publshiers (even small ones) that are open to unsolicited submissions. Plus, most small presses have the life-expectancy of a fruit fly. So just when you thin you’ve hit the jackpot, and you find a list of small press publishers of science fiction—think again. At least half of those links will be rerouted to “buy this domain” websites, and also, strangely, mattress warehouses.

So, I’m going to give you a list of links I found that are still what they are supposed to be: someone to publish your awesome book. I can’t claim that this list will remain current for any specific period of time, but for those of you suffering through the process with me, it will work. Keep in mind that some submissions may be closed at the moment, but will be open later this year. So get your bookmarking fingers ready. Here it is:

Anarchy Books
Fairwood Press
Changeling Press for erotic fiction with sci-fi or fantasy themes
Mundania Press LLC
Old Earth Books
Arkham House Publishing
Necro Publications
for their SF, see Bedlam Press imprint
ChiZine Publications
Elder Signs Press
Sofawolf Press
accepts anthropomorphic fiction only
Tyrannosaurus Press
Edge/Tesseract Books

This list is by no means complete, but I have narrowed these 12 sites down from a list five times its length on The SF Site. I did the work so you don’t have to! I will like likely continue adding to it as I find more. In the meantime, if you want to continue your search, check out this site. I haven’t gone through all the links yet, but once I do I’ll post the good ones here. If you find, or if you are, a small press publisher that you would like to see on the list please let me know. I have purposely discluded those publishers whose websites state that they will be closed to submissions for longer than one year, as well as those who do not accept unsolicited or unagented manuscripts.

Just a quick note about small press publishing. Most small presses offer a higher percentage of net book sales to their authors, which is great! They also tend to have a higher staff:author ratio, so it can be easier to get more personalized service from them. Another great thing about small presses is that they can afford to take risks that larger publishers can’t, so if your work is new and different, a small press might be the best way to go at first. Larger publishers have a lot more pressure to go with the “tired and true” novel formulas, so keep that in mind. The downsides (potentially) to small presses are that they print in smaller runs, and their exposure may be limited. Also, they have a tendency to start up and disappear due to financial difficulty. But there are lots of resources for writers out there if you want to check out a particular agent or publisher’s track record.

If you have a small press publisher that has offered you a book deal, that’s great! But be sure to check them out on Writer Beware before you sign anything. This is a great resource for new writers who want to avoid being scammed by people trying to take advantage of how awesome you know your book is. And it’s a good place to check if an agent or publisher has a good or bad history with their previous clients.

I hope this was useful. Thanks again for reading, and I’ll keep you posted when I find more publishers to add to this list.

 


The Adventures of Querying Continue

Hello, all.

Thank you for sticking with me these days. I hope you’re enjoying some of my other material while we anxiously await news of my query letters. I’ve got book reviews, short fiction, and haiku to distract me (and you) from the elephant in the room. Is that the right use of that expression?

It doesn’t matter.

Some exciting news this week! I’ve had one other agent request a partial of my manuscript. I had to snail mail it to him, which was expensive, so I hope I don’t have to do that too often. But there was something much more real about stuffing my manuscript into an envelope than there is in emailing them, and I think that was the first moment I really felt like “I’m doing this!”. It was kind of cool.

I’ve also had a request for a full manuscript from a small publishing press! That’s my first request for a full, which I’m totally stoked about. It’s kind of backwards, as I had wanted to score an agent before submitting to publishers. But I have found a few publishers who accept unsolicited and un-agented works from new writers, so I’m going to try my luck with them too.

My hope is that, if a small press offers me a deal, I can use that deal to land an agent. Apparently agents are a little more eager to represent clients who already have an interested party. And why not? At that point it’s essentially free money for them, right? Well, not exactly, I guess. But sometimes finding a publisher is the hardest part of the job for an agent. I’ve heard tales of writers who finally found an agent, only to discover that it sometimes takes years for an agent to land you a book deal.

Zoiks!

I can only hope that won’t be me. Anyways, I’ve also sent off a full to another small press: one that doesn’t take queries, it just takes the MS right off the bat. That’s exciting, but it’s not as cool as having someone read your query and then actually ask to see more. I’m also printing off another hard copy to send to an imprint of Penguin books that—miraculously—accepts unsolicited complete manuscripts. It’s a long shot, but DAW would be a pretty major publisher to land without an agent, so I’m going to bite the bullet and ship my MS to them (another $25 “invested,” at least!).

I feel like I have a better chance with agents and publishers who take full manuscripts instead of partials. When an agent requests a partial, it’s usually only 20-50 pages of your work. I guess I’m a little insecure about the beginning of my novel, but the narrative style is a little unusual and I’m not sure that 50 pages is enough to “get it”.

Those of you who’ve been beta readers for me can feel free to jump in and assuage my fears anytime, now.

But anyways, I’ll keep you posted. If anyone knows of any super-awesome SF small presses, let me know in the comments.

Connections, Connections, Connections!

I’m sure you’ve all been waiting with bated breath to read the latest update in my journey to published-writerdom, or as I like to think of it: “The Diary of False Hope and Broken Dreams”, but sadly I, too, am playing the waiting game.

Now that you all (hopefully) have a better understanding of what the process looks like (if not, please refer to my earlier posts), perhaps you can sympathize with the soul-consuming anticipation and lingering dread of this so-called “game”. I have sent out almost 20 queries to agents in Canada and the US. I have received only three responses. Two rejections, and one request for a partial manuscript. While the rejections kind of suck, I’m heartened that I haven’t seen more of them, really. I’m still obsessively checking my email (even though my iPhone supposedly alerts me of incoming messages). And I have mentally paced a rut between the blind optimism and harsh realism centres of my brain.

But I made a conscious decision to take the weekend off from worry. There is no harm in that, I think, since as far as I can tell the publishing industry pretty much ceases to exist outside of the Monday-Friday 9-5 bracket. Ther’s no point in stressing about responses that won’t materialize until Monday anyways. I think this will become my weekend rule, as long as I’m still playing the waiting game.

But now it’s Tuesday, and I’m back at it in full force!

The worst part is, I haven’t heard back from the NYC agent who requested a partial MS. Or maybe it’s the best part. I don’t know. She was so quick to respond to my query, I have to assume she’s on the ball with her emails. So I could convince myself that, since she didn’t reject my partial with equal readiness, that perhaps she’s actually considering it. Or, it’s just been relegated to the virtual slush pile and her assistant hasn’t gotten around to sending out last weeks rejection letters yet. I like the sound of the former, though. Let’s go with that.

Maintaining the positive-thinking vibe, I also have another agent who is willing to look at my work. As far as I can tell, she doesn’t represent science fiction, but she’s willing to look at it anyways because I have connections. Well, one connection, really. But in this industry, that one connection could very well be my wheat-free bread and butter. Let me explain:

Back in my uni days, I worked on the Canada Council for the Arts Writer’s Series as a part of a research assistant gig. I was responsible for picking up visiting writers at the airport, showing them around campus, promoting their readings, and just generally schmoozing. I actually got paid to schmooze writers. And at the time, I didn’t think anything of it. It was a job. And I foolishly thought that my “education” was going to be my meal ticket. There were a dozen potential connections to be made, and I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity! I was too busy trying to write clever Critical Theory papers to worry about networking, that shit was for business students. Right? (Eeeediot…)

Now, I wish I could hop into the old DeLorean and go back to smack some sense into myself. But that’s besides the point.

The point is, without knowing I was doing it, I did manage to forge one valuable relationship during the Visiting Writer’s Series, with our Writer in Residence. It took me a little while to realize that, although it’s been almost 5 years, he might still be interested in helping to develop new Canadian authors. So, I nervously considered my options. I could stumble around blindly, and rely solely on online writer’s forums for my info into the biz. Or I could reach out and ask for help.

Asking the help of a professional writer that you knew for one semester 5 years ago, who is not being paid by the university to help you anymore, is kind of intimidating. But this is important to me. So I gave myself that little “how far are you willing to go?” pep talk. You know the one. And, after about half an hour of hulk-flexes and yelling at my reflection in the mirror, I magically grew a pair.

I got back in touch with him and, to my amazement, he was excited to hear from me. He offered to help me with my query, take a look at the MS, and to show it to his agent. Seriously. Right now, he’s looking at my synopsis before he sends it and my sample chapters to her. It’s terrifying. Wonderfully terrifying. And I’m incredibly grateful that I did reach out.

If I can give one piece of advice to aspiring writers it’s to get out there and meet people in the publishing industry. Join your local writers’ guild (I just did that, too), take a workshop, visit the Writer in Residence at your nearest college or university (even if you’re not a student, they’re usually open to the public), and get involved! You never know who you’ll meet who might be able to give you a leg up once you’re ready to take the next step. And from what I’ve read, one good connection can be worth hundreds of hours of querying.

So while I’m sweating out the wait for a reply from Ms. NYC Agent, I have Ms. Canadian Agent’s response to look forward to. Even if she’s not interested in it, I think my “connection” will warrant some feedback.

Real live agent feedback. My Precioussss.

So get yourself out there, my would-be-writers. If I could go back and do it again, that’s what I’d do. But, in the absence of a DeLorean, I’ll have to suck it up and start now. It’s never too late, right?