Publishing Update: Why there haven’t been more Publishing Updates…

When I first started this blog, I intended to use it to document the experience of writing and publishing a novel. I was frustrated at how difficult it is to find information on what this process looks like. I didn’t know what to expect and I knew there were a lot of writers out there who were equally discouraged by the lack of open communication on the subject.

I think I started off on the right track. I blogged about the endless querying, the nightmare of waiting, the inevitable rejections, the scraps of feedback… But as the process dragged on the time between my posts dragged out. I now realize why there is so little information out there about getting published. The experience is so draining, you lose the will continue. You begin to feel like you are just going to end up with a detailed account of your failure to be published, rather than a helpful how-to for other aspiring writers. It begins to feel like an exercise in soul-sucking futility. I admit it. I gave up. On the blogging, at least…

After breaking down and paying a professional editor to pick my manuscript apart, I underwent a heavy rewrite. I cut over 20,000 words, more than 50 pages; the surviving scenes were cut apart and reorganized to improve pacing. What I ended up with felt like a completely different novel. And I had to treat it as such. I had to start the whole querying process over again.

I would love to be able to say that the second time was easier. But it wasn’t. You think that the hard work is writing the novel itself. But the writing is the fun stuff. I know, I know. You’ve heard that before. But I don’t think anyone who is writing a book really takes the time to enjoy it. You’ve got your eye on the prize, the final product, the big shiny book deal. Maybe that’s part of the reason that the querying process is so disheartening. It’s like running a race; you see the finish line ahead and give it all you’ve got. But when you get there, you realize you still have another three laps to go and you just want to curl up in a ball and die. Or maybe that’s just me.

I sent my reworked manuscript out to the few agents who had shown some interested the first time around, letting them know I’d fixed the issues they’d had with the original. None of them responded. I realized that the pitiful one-liner “feedback” I’d received from each of them was likely just dressed-up rejection. Only one of my original queries had elicited real, concrete feedback. And that was the editor of a small science fiction imprint called Bedlam Press. It was actually his feedback that prompted me to hire an editor for my manuscript in the first place. So to hell with agents. I sent it back to Bedlam.

And they signed me! The Timekeepers’ War will be coming out this summer. I’m working with the artist on ideas for the cover and waiting for the final changes to be suggested by the editor. It’s going to be a lot of work getting my name out there and promoting my first novel, but I feel confident knowing I’ve got a great team behind me. Again, I find myself at the finish line only to discover that the race has only just begun.

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!

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.


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?

Success!: First Tastes

Ok, so after much fretting and rewriting, I sent out another batch of query letters. This time much shorter and (hopefully) more concise than the first batch. I’ve been sending out a couple a day all week. And guess what?

I just got my first request for a partial manuscript!

Cool. Very cool indeed.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, self (does this imply a schizoid personality?). This is just the first of many thresholds that must be crossed before we reach the first-time-novelist’s Holy Grail–the publishing deal!–and each one is more harrowing than the last. Just for fun, though, here’s how success might look:

-write amazing novel, check
-send out enticing query letter to fabulous agent, check
-fabulous agent is properly enticed and requests partial manuscript, check (in this case, the first 50 pages)
-fabulous agent likes what she sees and requests full manuscript, pending
-fabulous agent still likes what she sees and offers to represent first-time novelist, pending pending
-fabulous agent is brilliant as well as fabulous and lands appropriately amazing book deal for first-time novelist’s amazing book, results may vary

I added my own progress report, just to help myself visualize the goal. I saw that on TV once. To the power of positive thinking!

But here’s the thing.

Getting past the query letter stage is an undeniably huge step for me. As it is, I’m sure, for every novelist–regardless what stage of career they are in. Believe it or not, just because you get published once doesn’t mean you’ll get published again. You still have to go through the same process every time. Unless you’re one of those writers who could take a dump in a Styrofoam cup and the NYT would toss on top of the Bestseller list just for shits and giggles. (Someday, Pinky. Someday.) For everyone else, though, publishing is kind of a ball-breaker.


Having an agent read my query and invite a partial submission means that my concept is interesting to at least one reputable person in the business, which is great. Better than great. It’s fan-freakin-tastic! But I’m not throwing myself a party just yet.

Here’s why.

For one thing, my novel can (and is statistically very likely to) still be rejected at any stage in the above process. Even if said fabulous agent likes what she sees in the first 50 pages, she might not like it enough. Or she might request a full and not like the ending. Or she might really like it, but just not feel that she’s the best person to represent it. Or she might have just been bored when she requested the partial and toss it in the slush pile as soon as something more important comes up. Anything is possible.

The possibility of her liking it, through all of the stages, and then deciding to represent me is less than one percent.

Worst of all, is that now that I’ve gotten past that first threshold my novel has to stand up and above the rest entirely on its own merit. No matter how good you are at pimping your work, in the end you have to deliver the goods. At this point, there are no more excuses about wrongly formatted query letters, anemic author bios, or even spiteful interns. She’ll either like my work or she won’t. All I can hope for at this point is that if she doesn’t like it, she might take the time to give me some feedback.

That’s scary!

And kind of exciting. I am looking forward to some real feedback almost more than I am landing an agent. Not because landing an agent wouldn’t be amazing–and ultimately that is my goal, right?–but because this early in the process, feedback is a far more likely outcome. Of course I would like to believe that my novel is perfect just the way it is. I’m sure there are writers out there who would be appalled at the idea of changing a single punctuation point in their capital M Masterpiece.

I, however–believe it or not–do not suffer delusions of grandeur (other delusions, yes). I think I’ve written a unique and entertaining bit of sci-fi fun. And that’s good enough for me! If an agent, or even a couple of agents, feels that my novel has enough potential that it warrants a little extra work, I will drop everything to follow their advice.


I’m even aware that I may have to trim up to 100 pages from the thing to fall into the optimal first-novel length (a paltry 100,000 words, pfft) And I’ll do it. It will change everything, mind you. But I’ll do it. I might even enjoy it. Then again, what I lack in delusions of grandeur I make up for in compulsive editing, so I might just be a different breed of weird all together. I could go over this novel until it morphed into a chicklit mystery series and a paranormal romance and back again.

But at some point you just have to stop. Right?

Now. What was I talking about…

Oh ya. Realistically, this is just the first of many partial requests I could receive. If other author’s experiences are any indication, I may never hear from this agent again. Many novelists generate a lot of interest with queries, partials, and full submissions, and still it takes them years to find the right agent. The one who believes in their book as much as they do.

But it’s worth the work, and its will be worth the wait.

So, I’m not throwing myself a party just yet. I’m just drawing up the plans for it in my Simple Soiree Party Planner app.

How to publish a novel (in theory)

It occurs to me that many of you won’t really know what the process of trying to get a book published involves, and therefore have no idea what I’m rambling about when you meet me in the street or find me rocking back and forth in the corner of a dark room. I thank those of you who have born with me thus far. Your patience has not been in vain; I’m about to say something coherent for once.

From what I have gathered, like an information hunting internet squirrel, there are three paths by which a writer can seek publication. The options go a little something like this:

1. Write a book and Self-publish–either hard copy or e-Book. Hard copies cost money from your own pocket!

2. Write a book and send to small publishing houses that accept unsolicited manuscripts.

3. Write a book, find and agent, have agent pimp your book to bigger publishing houses that never accept unsolicited or unrepresented manuscripts.

Now, there are ways around these rules. It is possible to self-publish a book, be extremely successful (which in the self-publishing world means selling more than 3000 copies, preferably a lot more), use these stats to score an agent, and then land a major publishing deal. Or you can try to find a small publisher who is excited about your work and then try to lure an agent with your pending contract.

Of course, I figure, why sell myself short? I’m going to take soul-crushing door number 3. I have next to no credentials, zero industry connections, I don’t really know how to write a proper query letter, and I have not done my research on appropriate agencies but, dammitall!,  I’m going to wrangle myself an agent.

Really. I actually believe that.
If, for some obscure and unforeseeable reason, this doesn’t work… I’ll just have to sneak into some poor unsuspecting publishing house and hold someone hostage until they agree to print my book. Anything to avoid having to self-publish.

Self-publishing is like going to work, and having to pay for the privilege. I realize that a lot of people do it, and do it successfully, but realistically I know that I won’t be one of them. I have no earthly idea where to start when it comes to self-promotion, tours, book signings, websites, whatever. And have I mentioned that I’m a broke-ass writer?

‘Cause I’m a broke-ass writer.

I can’t afford to self-publish. That’s not to say I won’t be crawling on hands and knees to Author House if all other avenues fail. I want to see my book in print badly enough to pay for it myself, even if it will take me ten years of working at a non-writing job to be able to afford a decent run. Which means The Timekeepers’ War will likely be my first and last novel.

Unless I become one of those annoying “one-novel-per-decade” authors who have the audacity to write series’, foolishly believing that their fans will still be alive when the next instalment finally comes out. Which, let’s face it, I probably will.

Moving on!

What does all of this mean? What the hell do I do on a day-to-day basis?

Well, for starters, yesterday I dusted myself off and got back on the damn horse.

After receiving my first real rejection letter on Monday, I dove straight into the downward spiral of over-analytic self-doubt and self-loathing (we’ve talked about this). So, in order to distract myself from the sense of impending doom, I jumped into the internets. I spent most of the day yesterday reading more “How-to-Write-a-Super-Amazing-Query-Letter” resources, decided that mine was all wrong, rewrote it, and sent out another four. We’ll see if I get any bites on batch two before I start tearing my hair out. What’s left of it.

Trouble is, the standard 6-8 weeks wait is killing me. It’s only been two, and in some cases one, and I’m already checking my email like an obsessive compulsive squirrel…
…that has email.

I’ve tried to limit myself to sending out only a couple a day. Well, 2-5 really. Not just because it’s a lot of work, and I’m kind of lazy like that. But this way I won’t get all my rejections back at once and then try to drown myself in the bathtub. See? Strategic preemptive-self-defence manoeuvring. That’s a thing. Once the form-rejections start rolling in, I’ll still have to force myself to get out of bed every morning just in case.

So there you have it. In a nutshell (will the squirrel metaphors never stop?) this is what it looks like to try to get published. If you’re me. There are probably a lot more elegant guides out there, retrospective success stories and the like. But let’s face it. If you or someone you know is trying to get published for the first time, this is probably a little closer to the truth. You know, unless they’re not neurotic, angsty, depressed, anxious, and/or delusional.

But then, they’re not really writers, are they?

Now, it’s time for me to do some real work. I still have a short story to finish and a newsletter to publish sometime this month. Hopefully this was enlightening for some, and useful to others. Let me know what you think in the comments.