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 Life of a Novel

…my novel, that is.

I thought that, perhaps, I should tell you a little about my novel. Just in case you don’t know me IRL and I haven’t talked your ear off about it already. If I don’t know you IRL, then feel free to tear my ideas apart with no fear of physical retaliation. If you do know me, though, tread carefully…

Just kidding!

I’ve actually gotten to the point where I can accept criticism of my writing and ideas without bursting into tears and/or plotting the demise of my critics. But I would ask that any criticism be done constructively, otherwise I’ll probably just ignore you. Because I’m still a writer. And I will think I’m right unless you prove to me that I’m wrong. So don’t just say “Your story is cheesy goat balls,” because I’ll probably assume that you are the kind of person who enjoys cheesy goat balls–to each his own–and that you just have an odd way of telling me I’m brilliant. But that I definitely am brilliant.

In any case, I let me know what you think. I’m going to include a book-jacket style blurb, and a little theme description. And you can let me know if it sounds like cliched drivel or if maybe I have something here…

Hint: I have something here.

The Timekeepers’ War is gold, people. Science Fiction gold. You ain’t seen nuttin’ writ like dis…

So, without further ado, I give you The Timekeepers’ War by Cat Phillips

Ghost is known throughout the City for her ability to find anyone, for the right price—anyone except her sister, Lyca, that is; but when she is approached, by the most notorious man in the City, to recruit for a war against the Elysian Empire Ghost realizes that her stake in the conflict might be more personal than professional…

Things are looking bleak as Ghost chases shadows throughout the City, until the day she returns to find a mysterious stranger making himself at home in her flat. Lynch, a terrorist—and one of the most feared figures in the City—needs Ghost’s help. In exchange Lynch offers her a chance to make history and, more importantly, a clue to the disappearance of her sister ten years ago. With the help of Lynch, and an enigmatic group of scholars called The Timekeepers, the City is about to be reborn.

But Lynch means war. If she agrees, Ghost must delve deep into the City to discover truths about her world—and about herself—that will change everything she thought she knew. How far will her search for Lyca take her? And will she be able to live with who she has become once she finds her?

The Timekeepers’ War is a character-driven commercial science fiction novel about one young woman’s attempt to reconcile her past with her present in the midst of a post-apocalyptic civil war. Her struggle to find some identity in an increasingly anonymous culture, her fear of intimacy–with Lynch and the ever-intriguing Mirielle, and her guilt over the “loss” of her younger sister make Ghost a character with diverse personal appeal. The Timekeepers War addresses questions about gender and sexuality, humanity, social responsibility, and the importance of history.

I don’t know about you, but I’d read it.

Seriously, though. Let me know if that imaginary blurb makes sense, or if I need to clarify anything. It can be tough to write a summary for something that you already know backward and forward, because you forget that you know “behind the scenes” stuff. And remember that I’m trying to lure and trap and agent, so I need to know if this sounds like something people will pick up and pay for. Because if you don’t think so, they probably don’t either.

Now. That’s The Timekeepers’ War in a nutshell. So let me tell you a little bit about how it came to be:

Once upon a time, in a land far, far, away. There was a young university dropout who had too much time on her hands before her shift at The (Dreaded) Technology Retail Store started, so she entertained herself by drinking way too much coffee at her local cafe (ya, okay, fine. It was a Starbucks. but damn they make a nice dark roast) and writing down whatever came into her silly little head. Somehow, she managed to mold these ideas into a kind of landscape, a world that was real to her if not (yet) anyone else. She lived in that little world for an hour or two before every shift, and even began to imagine the people who lived there.

A part of her became a person who lived there.

One day, she decided that she had to show someone else the little world she had created. So she held her breath and gave the key to the City to her boyfriend, Philip. Although that little world and its people were only 60 pages long, Phil found he loved it too. And for the first time, he realized that maybe his girlfriend wasn’t crazy, and she could be a writer after all (I’m just assuming, here. Don’t you always think “ya, ya, sure you will” when someone you know says they’re going to be a writer? I did. And I won’t hold it against him if he did too, at first)

Once, she even showed a copy to her cousin, Matt, who also liked it. He wrote a spin-off chapter that opened her eyes to the possibilities of the world she had created, and (eventually) inspired the character named Rook–though, in the end, only the name survived.

But the girl had hit a wall, and didn’t know where to go with her little world and its people. She started working longer hours, and decided to go back to school. One day, embarrassed at her attempt to be a “real author,” she destroyed the City and its people, and that little part of herself. She deleted the file, and forgot about it almost completely.

But Phil did not forget. Every day that she spent working at that Dreaded Store, he saw as a day she could have spent writing. And he believed that, one day, she could write full time and they would be able to live the life they had always dreamed of (the life of bush hermits, in case you were wondering). So he kept the copy of the file she had sent to him all those years ago. And, after they had both graduated from university, after they had both realized that the “real world” sucks and that $50,000 piece of paper they had each bought were virtually valueless currency there, he decided that there was only one thing to do.

Eight years after he rescued it, he gave her back the file she had thought long-dead and gone. And he told her that she needed to quit her job and finish what she started. Because he believed in her, and he didn’t want either of them to spend the rest of their lives wondering “what-if?”

So she did. She quit her job (which was literally the most terrifying thing she had done in her whole life, including learning to ride a motorbike) and started writing. She had no idea what she was doing, and she learned a lot along the way. But 9 months later (coincidence?),The Timekeepers’ War had been born.

True story, bro(s).

So, the TLDR is: I have an amazing hubby who rescued my very first novel from the virtual trashcan, forced me to take a year off of work to finish it, and now continues to support me through the process of submitting it for publication. If every writer out there had someone like Phil by their side, there would be a lot more amazing books out there, I think.

But I’m not telling that story just to brag (although I do think I have it pretty good). I thought I should tell that story for everyone who has a creative person in their lives. I thought I should tell you all just how important your support might be to the people you love, who love to create; it doesn’t matter if they are writers or painters or movie directors or designers or mechanics. You could, very well, make the difference between their living their dreams and their working at the Dreaded Retail Store. And that’s a difference that matters.

So, here’s my novel and the tale of how it came to be. I hope you enjoyed it! Let me know what you think of the idea, or if you have any amazing people in your life who deserve recognition. I think next week, I might publish one of my short stories here. So stay tuned, and thanks for reading.

PS I lost Matt’s brilliant spin-off when I deleted my own writing, or possibly when I recycled my old Compaq desktop (with a whopping 64MB of RAM). Either way, I’m a terrible person. He’s an amazing storyteller and his interest in my story gave me confidence in 21 y/o self, and I hope some day he is able to share his own brilliance with the world. Although, he’s just had twin girls, so it might take a while to get back in the game.

Band-Aid Approach?

It’s official.

I have been rejected.

It seems I was tempting fate with yesterday’s post. No less than three hours after I put it out there, I got my first rejection. A form rejection! Or so I assume, as this little note was more than vaguely familiar to me from my internet wanderings. Disgruntled authors everywhere have posted almost verbatim rejection examples:

Hello S.C. Jensen,

Thank you for sharing The Timekeepers War with us.

We have carefully considered your submission. I’m afraid that we are not enthusiastic enough about your query to pursue it further. Because of changes in the marketplace we are taking on few clients right now, and as such have to be very selective about the projects we do sign.

Thanks again for thinking of us and we wish you the very best of luck in finding a home for your work.


Some Agent

Now, my initial feeling was one of disbelief. Really? They “carefully considered [my] submission” in four days, two of which were on the weekend? Every agency I’ve queried stated turn around times of 6-8 weeks (including this one). Four days is pretty impressive. I’m a little suspicious that I didn’t just get shunted into the trash pile after some intern decided she didn’t like the look of my margin formatting.

I also don’t want to set myself up for even greater disappointment in the long run. Still, it’s hard to just lay down and take it. It’s the artists’ age-old battle between ego and common sense, I guess. But if I’m going to do my peers (past, present, and future) any justice, I really have no choice but to put my guns behind my ego. It’s waaaay to early in the game to let common sense get a foothold. I might be forced to quite writing and get a “real job”. Balls to that.

Let’s not get carried away. Some agent has rejected me. There is nothing to do but learn from the experience, right? I figure I might as well share it, too. There is little enough concrete information for new writers out there. If my aim is to discuss my personal experience with trying to get a first novel published I can’t shy away from the icky bits, can I?

As for the experience of rejection itself, right now I’m simply trying to decide whether or not the form letter is a better or worse way to receive a rejection. I’m kind of on the fence about it.

On one hand, it’s impersonal. If there were specific reasons given for said agent rejecting my query, it might feel a little more real than it does right now. It would have been harder, but also more helpful, to receive a rejection that showed some evidence that the intern/agent actually looked at the sample chapters. I would actually be thrilled to receive a rejection letter that contained some real, constructive criticism.

I’ll make that my next milestone goal, I guess. The form rejection feels a little like a milestone, itself. At least it’s some proof to myself that I’m actually doing this. I’ve actually written a novel. I’ve actually put together an author’s query. I’ve actually submitted it to real literary agents. These are big steps, and I know that a lot of writers never even make it to their first rejection. In a way, this is confirmation that I am an author.

Maybe I’ll print it off. Frame it. After I find someone to represent me, that is.

Although a part of me really truly believed that the first agent to read the first five pages of my manuscript would want to sign me immediately, the rest of me knew this was coming. Still, it sucks. But I’m moving on!

Phil gave me an encouraging perspective on the whole thing yesterday, though. He told me that since someone will want to publish me, every rejection letter I receive is taking me one step closer to finding that someone. I’m not sure that his theory stands up to statistical analysis, but I like the sound of it. It totally supports my current egocentric writers-survival-tactic.

What about you? Is there anyone else out there with similar experiences? Horror stories? Success stories? Let me know in the comments section. We writers have to stick together and help each other out, right?

Either that, or we’re supposed to live like hermits and tear each other apart on the internet. I can never remember.

Fear and Loathing…

The artists’ bread and butter, right?

That and alcoholism, depression, and the inevitable night-terrors…

Well, let me just tell you that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Ya, okay. Fine. It sounds shitty when I put it like that. But I’m not the only weirdo out there who read William S. Burroughs, Charles Bukowski, and Hunter S. Thompson and felt inspired instead of horrified. Right? Please tell me there are others other there!

Never mind then.

Regardless of one’s aspirations, for those of us who are new to the writing profession (or new to trying to be professional about it), there is something wholly soul-crushing about these first steps into realm of writerdom. The great cliched emotional roller-coaster of first novels, query letters, submissions and rejections is something impossible to understand without having been there yourself. Really. I thought I knew, until I submitted my first query letter, what that fear would be like. I really did.

But the truth is, until you do it, you don’t know. That looming cloud of impending doom that settles over you once your story–your baby–is out there, a veritable child in the woods… It is so unimaginable that there’s really no point in trying to describe it. You either know or you don’t. And now I know.

I haven’t even gotten my first rejection letter yet.

Right now, I almost feel like rejection would be a welcome, concrete island in this void of “unknown”. Almost. Except really, rejection will crush me. I know it will. I try to pretend that it won’t, but it will.

I have had my manuscript out to my beta-readers, those poor unsuspecting family members and friends who suddenly found themselves in the unhappy position of having to bullshit me for the sake of my fragile “artist” ego. They all came through for me. I have been able to sustain my self-delusion just a little bit longer.

Still. I vacillate, daily, between the two inevitable extremes: “This is going to be the next big SF bestseller, bitches, move the fuck over!” and “How did this POS ever escape my brain and manifest itself on the electronic page before me?!?”

You know what I mean. Some of you.

The point is, the waiting is the worst. Even if the next couple of months have nothing for me but rejection after rejection, at least then I’ll have something to go on. I can decide that the problem is my query letter, or those first five pages, or something else… anything! Anything except my baby.

In the meantime, I’m distracting myself with another attempt at writing some short fiction. I have just submitted my folk-inspired ghost story “Dreaming in Red” to Strange Horizons. And I’m working on another for submission… somewhere else.

Wish me luck, and I’ll keep you posted. Well, I’ll keep you posted whether you wish me luck or not. The onus is on you to check in on me. Drop me a word of encouragement in the comments below. Please! I’d love to hear from anyone who has gone through this before, regardless of the outcome. Also, those who just want to cheer me on. I could use it. Really, I could.