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.

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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.

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.

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.

Sincerely,

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.