My experiences with the writing, editing, and publishing process.
Its almost surreal, this experience I have been going through lately. Well, when I say lately, I mean over the past three and a half years. July 2006-That is when I got “serious” about this writing stuff. I, like many people I know, had always sworn they would become a writer some day. We all have ideas, we all have plans to sit down and write chapter after chapter and create the great American novel. Or at least, the novel that someone might want to read, even if it is just our wives or husbands and maybe the rest of our family members. But honestly, how many of us end up doing that?
I have a friend who encouraged me every step of the way. He was impressed when I told him that I had written a hundred pages, he was impressed when I finished my first draft. He had started his own book, and trashed the efforts, countless times. He could never get past chapter one.
Well, for me, the journey was about kicking myself in the ass and not playing around any more. The disconnect was never after I had sat down and started writing, it had been moving from the idea stage to reality. Once I actually started writing, I never looked back…
Now, please understand, I think it is fair to say that everyone writes differently. You can’t say that there is a step by step process that everyone should take to become a successful writer. Certainly, I can’t recommend On Writing by Stephen King enough. That guy is a machine, and he is a regimented, highly organized writer who keeps to a schedule and perhaps even follows all the rules he has in place for how things are supposed to go. Me? I doubt I will ever be like that.
Some folks I know sit down with an idea and just start writing. It flows from that point and grows from there. They have a general idea in their head where they want to end up but don’t limit themselves by organizing their thoughts too much beforehand. Me? I over think EVERYTHING during the writing process. Let me put it this way: I started writing my novel back in July of 2006 and I believe my first draft was not completed until January of 2008, a year and a half later. Now let me say this: that was not me simply writing and writing. That process involved outlining, revamping outlines, trashing big chunks of what I had originally written, and laboring over individual sentences at 3 a.m. as I tried to make it sound right. By the time my first draft was completed, it was well over 360k words.
Let me repeat that for those of you in the cheap seats: 360k words. Stephen King’s The Stand was originally released with 150,000 words cut from the manuscript. It was still well over 800 pages (honestly, I can’t remember how many pages there were) but my book was about the size of the originally released version of the stand. Now even with my meandering mind could I ever hope to top Mr. King, whose unabridged version sits at approximately 520k words.
So, move forward from my triumphant evening sitting at the keyboard, when I typed out that last sentence and officially announced to friends and family that I had finished my book. It felt like a relief, like I could scratch off something on the bucket list, etc. I was 39 years old at the time and I had written my first novel before hitting that big middle aged landmark. I was over the moon.
Then I started to realize that even with all the editing I had done, all the effort to put together something presentable, that my story was monstrous. I approached a publisher. Someone I had been having a dialogue with previously, because I had been reviewing books they had come out with and they had been so kind as to send me review copies of other books to also review on Amazon. The publisher was more than willing to look at my book, but…and this was a big BUT, could I turn it into a trilogy? The reason for this was because at 360K words, it was far, far, far too large to ever be considered for publication with them. He liked a maximum of 120K words per book, and that was even pushing it.
Sooooo, that leads us to the second part of this process-my efforts to turn my book into a trilogy. Thankfully, that was not as hard to do as I had originally though, because as I started looking, I saw three natural splits in the novel-cliffhanger endings that set up the following segment of my tale nicely. So that was done, along with some more compulsive editing.
Alas, this is where I began to actually learn a few more things about writing that became invaluable to me. The first came a month after I submitted my manuscript to this particular publisher and the gentleman came back and said that he could not publish my book. He was kind enough to provide me with feedback and the key thing I took away from that was this: I was doing a hell of a lot of telling and not nearly enough showing. In other words, I was dumping a lot of information on people and not allowing them to discover the story for themselves.
I thanked that publisher and admitted to myself that he was absolutely correct in his assessment. I also realized that my book was massively over bloated and I needed to mercilessly start to slice and dice it down to what it should have been in the first place.
So my editing journey continued. The publisher had actually suggested I leave this story on the shelf and work on other stuff for a time and after getting published with other novels or short stories, then return to my story later. I had given that some thought but in the end, I couldn’t help but return to the story that had been in my dreams and nightmares now for two and half years at that point. It was the beginning of 2009 by then, and my novel had just gotten rejected by a publisher and as a side note, my job had just been eliminated.
So, I was unemployed and focused on finding a new job. I did leave my book on the shelf…for about a month or two. Then I went at it with red penned zeal. I should probably say at this point that other people were reading what I had written. They had been doing so for quite some time. I definitely took a lot from their thoughts. Mind you, I didn’t change everything based on their suggestions, but having those other folks to bounce things off of was invaluable.
I was bound and determined to get my book published. Let me put that a different way. I did not want to self-publish. Period. A writer by the name of Rhiannon Frater has written a trilogy of zombie apocalyptic fiction entitled As The World Dies. She went the self-publishing route. Her success is well known in the world of zombie fiction. I can’t say that I know Rhiannon personally, but I do know her through the wonderful world of the internet-Facebook and message boards, etc. Her success has been definitely the exception to the rule. Rhiannon has a business savvy and loads of smarts that allowed her to self-publish and create something that was terrific and create something that people have bought. Word of mouth has been a big part of that. That is my plug for her work: go buy her trilogy. Its fantastic.
But Rhiannon’s success is the exception. There are good self-published novels, sometimes by jaded authors who got sick of trying to go the normal route to publishing. They write terrific stories that will really blow you away. But in addition to those novels, you are going to get a LOT more novels that probably were taken out of the oven way too early. That is my polite way of saying that a professional editor would have gone a long way for those folks who so desperately wanted to get published and were willing to do whatever it took to achieve that dream as fast as possible. On top of that, you have to consider how much marketing responsibility you have taken on by becoming your own business entity. Rhiannon was able to do it, but I daresay she is a unique person. Did I write a book so I could become famous and read by thousands or millions? No, but if I am going to get published, I would like to have a company standing behind me with not only an editor, but the ability to effectively market what I have written. They can promote my book in the back of other books they produce, they can take me to trade shows, put excerpts from my book on pod casts, etc. Being in a stable with other authors is also invaluable. I have interacted with a much larger group of people because of my relationship with the Library of the Living Dead. Not only is Dr. Pus, the benevolent publisher, someone who I have gained valuable insights from, but I have also had the privilege of bouncing ideas off of published authors like Tim Long and Steve North. That guys like that (amongst many other terrific writers) are asking for my opinion on what they are currently writing is mind blowing.
Whew! That was quite a tangent, wasn’t it? So anyway, back to my saga. I pulled down my manuscript and started slicing it and editing it about another million times. The end result? About 162K words. At the same time, I introduced myself to the Library of the Living Dead and Dr. Pus, who was so kind as to create a section of his message boards where I could post chapters of my book for others to read and critique. What a difference that made! It introduced me to a lot of people. Folks like those I have mentioned above, including Rhiannon Frater, who has not only been self published but also published at the Library as well. Tons of other writers of both novels and short stories, as well as fans of the genre, were there, supporting me every step of the way.
So after I felt pretty strong about my novel, I submitted it to the Library. But again, at 162K words, it was a bit large, but still could be turned into a trilogy that would make sense and worked quite well. So I spoke to Doc about that and less than a couple of weeks ago, he agreed to publish it as a trilogy.
Once again, I was over the moon and thrilled. But the journey, in many ways, has just begun. Doc is assigning me an editor, who I will become very familiar with over the next few months (and beyond), I am sure. We have chatted about artwork for the cover of the first book, the description on the back, and any sort of promoting that I can do, including creating a website (thus this blog, which is the tip of the iceberg for me). I will be at Horror Realm in Pittsburgh in September, which will be occurring shortly after my book is released in September.
I will likely be talking in detail about my experiences with the publishing process in later blog installments. Its been an interesting ride so far.