I’ve been tagged by Andrew J. Peters to participate in the “Next Big Thing Project,” for which I am quite grateful. I’m not sure I can lay claim to the title of “Next Big Thing,” but I’m a slacker when it comes to self-promotion. Indulge me for a few paragraphs as I play celebrity.
More importantly, I’m supposed to tag several other talented writers to answer the same questions. So check out the end of this post to discover five others I believe you’ll be reading in the near future.
What is the working title of your book?
Andromedan Sons. This could easily change. I’ve never been much good at titles, and rarely love what I come up with. For the record, it’s a book I’m shopping around right now, but I haven’t yet found an agent or publisher.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
I created the main character when I was about 11 years old. He was one of my first ever fictional creations, sort of a blend of Superman, Batman, James Bond and MacGyver, with some original touches. He was definitely a traditional adolescent male power fantasy: handsome and sexy, rich, and with an answer for every problem.
Over the years I’ve had different ideas about how to use him. I finally had an idea I considered good enough for a novel. It’s an action-adventure novel, but it’s also a reflection on how such a figure would fit into a corporatized future America, what that would do to the kind of idealistic person who’d enter the super-heroing industry, and what it would do to the people around him. Continue Reading
The Philadelphia Writers Group workshopped the first two chapters of my book this weekend. Without giving too much away: The narrator, a gay man, is a reporter sent to interview a famous and very attractive hero. He’s more than a little smitten, which the hero notices and uses to his advantage. What surprised me during the review is how many people called my attention to the fact that the narrator was coming across as attracted to the hero.
To be fair, nowhere in the chapters submitted is there anything that clearly states the narrator is gay. The story is told first-person, and his sexuality is revealed through his physical attraction to the hero, and to another character in the scene. It’s not hit-you-over-the-head, but I didn’t think it was terribly subtle, either. I was more than a little surprised that no one seemed to figure he was gay. Instead, they mostly assumed the physical attraction was either (a) a non-sexual admiration, or (b) accidentally coming across attraction.
In no way do I intend this as a slight on my fellow writers. A few of us had drinks after the workshop, and we talked about how straight readers just tend to assume all characters are straight, unless it’s clearly stated otherwise. Even when confronted with what is clearly a physical attraction to another character of the same sex, their reaction was to assume a mistake on my part, rather than interpret the character as gay or bisexual. They also remarked that they also assumed all the characters were white – which both harkens back to the ugly controversy that erupted in response to the Hunger Games film adaptation, and also brings up a science fiction trope that I’ve tried hard to avert in this book.
It’s just a bit fascinating that readers assume all characters are “like them,” even when they’re being fed frequent information that indicates otherwise. Sexuality is something I tend to play with a bit in my writing, and this book is no exception – there are very few characters who can fairly be described as anything but bisexual. After some thought, I’m happy overall with the response I got – if a reader finishes chapter two thinking “this character is coming across kinda gay,” that will only be cleared up in chapter three when he talks a bit about his life.
Anyone reading my last post must be asking that question. Had I chosen to self-publish, my book might already be on Amazon, CreateSpace, XLibris, etc. You could be reading it on your Kindle or iPad right now. Print-on-demand companies could be taking my book to press, and shipping them later this week to eager readers. I could be marketing it online, setting up book tours, and answering questions from readers.
Self-publishing is an increasingly viable route to a successful writing career. There are a handful of authors who became millionaires by self-publishing, and the author currently dominating best-seller lists was discovered by way of her self-published work. I have several friends who have self-published their novels, and one of them has been fairly successful in his sales.
So why don’t I go that route?
Well, first of all, I don’t regard the immediacy as a good thing. As you may have noticed, I’m planning several months of editing before I even go to agents – and that’s after almost a year of rewrites and editing. At any point in that time, I could have called the book finished and made it available for sale and download. No one would have stopped me. I might have even made some money. But it wouldn’t have been the best work I could do. I wouldn’t be proud of it. The majority of my readers would have been baffled and angry, and I wouldn’t be building a base of fans and customers. The availability of self-publishing is, in my view, more of a danger than a benefit.
Ultimately, for me it comes down to business and quality.
Even a very successful self-published book typically only sells a few thousand copies. Those authors who have made millions on self-publishing have mostly done it by churning out dozens of books at a breakneck pace, and moving a relatively small volume of each book. The problem with that (aside from the fact that I’m not naturally prolific) is that the quality of the books suffers.
As much as the traditional publishing timeline is arduous, it is also something of a quality filter. If I have heard and responded to criticism from test readers, if I’ve been accepted by an agent, if I’ve sold my book to a publisher, I can trust that my book is the best it can be. I have to believe in my book if I am going to advocate for it to agents, publishers, and readers – and if I’m doing that for the course of a year or two, through multiple stages of editing, I will believe.
Aside from all that, of course, is the question of sales. Traditional publishing remains the only path to a presence in physical stores, which are still the way the vast majority of books are sold. It’s the only path to any significant marketing push, and the only path that has anyone except me working to advance my writing career. Mind you, I’m willing to do whatever I can, but there is a limit to my capabilities – particularly when I’m also working a day job.
Self publishing is looking more attractive every year, and I understand why may authors choose that route. My view is that traditional publishing remains the best approach for someone like me, who hopes to make writing a career.
First off, I’ve been down this road once before. Between 2005 and 2009 I shopped my first novel to no fewer than seventy agents and publishers. I got a few partial requests, and even one request for a full manuscript, but no one was buying. So I’m by no means under the impression this is a sure thing. That said, I do think this book is better than my first. I’ve learned a lot in the last few years, and I’m crossing my fingers that this book will sell.
In a best-case-scenario, reader comments are overwhelmingly positive, my editing brain fires on all cylinders, and I have a polished, ready-to-market draft in October. I start shopping it out, and within a month (okay, let’s say two months – this is best-case-scenario, not Fantasy Dreamworld) I find an agent who agrees to represent the book. From there we need to find a publisher, agree on a contract, go through the publisher’s editorial process, design a cover, shop the book to book store buyers, print and ship. I’m probably forgetting a couple of steps there.
In all likelihood, the earliest any bookstore would stock the novel I “finished” on June 1 is mid- to late-2013. More likely, if the book sells at all, it would make its way to bookstores sometime in 2014.
That’s assuming, of course, that bookstores still exist. It’s possible the only shelf you’ll ever see my book on is the one on your iPad.
I finished writing my second novel on June 1. Mind you, “finished” is a very relative term. In this case, it means I completed my first full draft. I first thought I’d done this months ago, but when I read through that draft I realized there were a number of major problems, and no reader would be able to make heads or tails of the book. I spent months re-writing, editing, and polishing, to end up with something I still consider a first draft. At least it’s complete.
I wrote the first words of this novel in March of 2008. It was August 2009 when I returned to it as a full-time project. At the time, my goal was to finish the draft in one year or less. It wound up taking me almost three.
The Macro Edit
The next step is what Rachel Gardner refers to as the “macro” or “developmental” edit. I am putting the book out to 5-15 test readers, each of whom I’m asking to complete a read-through in two months and get back to me with comments. What I’m after is big-picture stuff: are there plot holes? Information that’s causing confusion? Characters who aren’t developed? Chapters that drag, or chapters that go way too fast?
I want the stuff you hear the audience talking about on their way out of the movie theater. Once I have those comments, I’ll go back to significant revisions, and perhaps rewrites, to address any problems people had. My hope is to have another finished draft within 2 months of hearing comments, but it’s hard to predict that before hearing reader response.
In the meantime, I’m going to focus for a while on short fiction. While I’m waiting for reader comments, I have two to four short stories I’m going to try to write and two that are complete, which I will be shopping around. I already know what my next novel will be, but I am taking a different tact than I have in the past, and plan to write detailed character profiles and bios before I start into the novel itself. I’ll work on those now, but I’m going to wait to sink my teeth into that book for a while.
What about a publisher?
Once the macro edit is complete, there are still several stages of editing before I start shopping to agents or publishers. I anticipate sending query letters in October or November, which doesn’t thrill me because it’s a busy season for agents. If I can’t get my queries out before December, I’ll likely wait until February. I don’t want to be lost in the annual deluge of unedited first-drafts sent by NaNoWriMo participants or passed over during the busy holiday season.
Incidentally, these are the valuable lessons one learns by reading tons of agent blogs and Twitter feeds.