It's the holidays! Huzzah! So for the next week, each book in the Dragonvein series will be on sale for 99¢. That's the entire series for less than $5. And if you're a fan of audio books, #1, #4, #5 are whispersync enabled.
So you’ve written a few books, had them edited, paid
for a cool cover, learned how to market, and as a result, had a great deal of
success selling them online. You’ve even quit your day job. Maybe bought a
house or a car…or both. Life’s coming up roses. You’ve achieved something
special. Something spectacular. You are
a professional novelist! Moreover, you’re an experienced indie, well
qualified to pass on your wisdom to the never-ending river of up-and-comers
dreaming of emulating your accomplishments.
That’s more or less how I felt a few months ago. For
seven years, I have enjoyed a degree of professional success in indie fantasy.
Not to say I was at the top of the heap. But I sure wasn’t at the bottom. I had
an agent, had made a few significant audiobook deals, and been nominated for an
award or two. But that’s where it stopped. I’d reached the limit of where I
could go on my own. If I wanted to continue up the ladder, I had to find a way
to break into traditional publishing
My agent had submitted several times to the Big Five,
without success. I was perfectly satisfied with my achievements as an indie, but
the game was changing, and I was rapidly facing the possibility of fading away
into obscurity. New indie talent was emerging, and they were hungry, energetic,
and motivated. I’d been working at a feverish pace for seven years, and I’m not
ashamed to say I was running low on steam. This new class of indies half my age
could produce at a rate I simply could not keep up with. And their facility with
social networking made me a horse and carriage to their self-driven car.
I decided that perhaps it was time to try something
new with my stories, so I wrote The
Vale, which is based on the tropes, plotting, and pace of RPG’s
like Final Fantasy and Tales Of. I was aware of GameLit and
LitRPG, but this was different in the sense that it read like a novelization of
a game – no stats, no being sucked into the game world, no other criteria placed
on the genre by its fans. I landed a substantial audio deal for the series,
which basically crushed my chances to sell it to the Big Five. Still, my agent thought
it was worth a shot.
As expected, they weren’t interested. However, an
editor over at Tor (Macmillan) read it and liked it very much. And while unable
to make an offer, asked that they be given first look at my next project. That
alone sent me over the moon. By the way, I saw the lunar lander while I was up
there. Take that, conspiracy theorists! I had a mountain of work to do, but I
didn’t want to waste the opportunity. I had a new series in the beginning
stages saved in a file, so I banged out the first few chapters along with a
synopsis. Tor took a quick look and replied by saying that the complexity of
the world was too much to make a decision without a complete manuscript.
So, defeated, I went back to my indie work and plodded
on, forgetting all about Tor, the book, and transitioning to traditional publishing.
Yeah, right! This is Tor we’re
talking about. As a kid, most of the books I read came from Ballentine, Del Rey,
or Tor. Becoming a Tor author would be the fulfillment of a childhood fantasy. So
I shoved everything else aside and worked like my life depended on it.
After about eight weeks, The Bard’s Blade was finished. BEA (BookExpo America) was about a
month away, and my agent contacted Tor, offering an exclusive look before
shopping it to other publishers while she was in New York. Now, here’s where it
gets weird…in a good way.
For anyone who has been through the submission
process, you know how mind-numbingly, soul-suckingly, nail-bitingly long an
ordeal it is. Aspiring writers can spend years finding an agent just to spend
years more submitting to publishers. Tor seemed excited to read it and told us
that they would have an answer ahead of the convention. While I wanted to
believe this, I fully expected to hear back from them saying they couldn’t make
a decision within the allotted time frame. I had mentally prepared for this
likelihood so as not to drive myself nuts checking my inbox every five
Not only to my
disbelief but to that of every traditionally published writer I know, this isn’t
what happened. Tor received the manuscript on a Friday; on Monday they emailed
my agent, stating they were interested and intended to make an offer. That
alone had me grinning from ear to ear. I had three numbers in mind. What I
would take; what I wanted; and the imaginary number that would not happen.
There was, of course, the chance they would come back with a lowball figure
that I would be forced to reject. That was the nightmare scenario. To turn down
an offer from Tor would haunt me for the rest of my life.
But my astonishment increased when Wednesday arrived
and my agent received a deal memo. It was to the dollar what I wanted. Sure,
there was some tweaking pertaining to rights, but overall, I could not have
expected better. It took a full day for me to absorb what had happened.
Once the contracts were signed, it was time for me to
come to the realization that experienced as I was in the indie world, I had a
lot to learn about working on a Big Five publication. To her credit as both a
person and a professional, Lindsey Hall, Senior Editor at Tor, was
understanding, and she bent over backwards to help me acclimate to new
procedures and expectations. She was always available to talk and responded to
my questions, no matter how silly.
After seven years of indie work, I’d ironed out a
method of production that worked well for me. There is the first draft, of
course, where I give little consideration to prose. This is for getting down
the plot and fleshing out the characters. The second draft smooths out some of
the rough edges. Then, depending on deadline constraints, one of two things
happens. One: If pressed for time, the manuscript goes to my editor, with whom
I’ve been working for five years. He knows my style intimately and can make
additions and adjustment so close to the way I would write I can’t even pick
them out. Or two: A third pass where I give it polish and pay close attention
to detail. From there, I send it to my first editor.
Once I have it back, I give it a read through, then
send it to my copy/line editor and proofreader. She’s fast, and has it back to
me in a few days or a week at most. After another final read, I format it and
then upload the manuscript to the online platforms.
During this period, I’m working with cover artists and
interior designers for the paperback edition. I’m also busy on my social
networking sites, getting the word out and prepping fans for the release. The
details are many, and would take a book unto itself to explain. But from
writing the first page to publication, I can produce a full length 100,000 word
novel in roughly 4-5 months.
On the traditional front, though, things move at a
different pace. The Bard’s Blade is
not slated for release until January 2020. So the first thing I had to learn
was patience. An indie making the transition must understand that this is not
just a business – it’s a BIG business, with entire departments dedicated to
aspects of publishing that an indie manages alone. Where I was the shot caller,
now there were committees. Where I could make a choice and then act on it
instantly, now even the discussions about making the decisions were scheduled
months in advance. But this was not what had me screaming at my computer.
Switching to traditional publishing meant I was giving
up the total dominion I’ve enjoyed over the content of my work. I was not the
only one invested in the story and concerned about how it would be received by
fans. There are good reasons editors pick some books and pass on others. They
are there to pick winners. The books with which they are associated are closely
watched by their superiors and the industry at large. How long will an editor
keep their job after too many flops? In other words, my success is in a real
way tied to my editor’s.
Knowing this did not make it any easier when I
received the first round of revisions. Holy moly! I sat at my desk in a stupor
for…I’m not sure how long. From my perspective, the entire book needed to be
rewritten. Whole chapters – gone. New chapters needed. Even my beloved pointy-eared
elf-like people were to be eliminated. It…it was…genocide! It was also as close
as I came to refusing to go along with it.
But in the end, I set aside my ego and made the
changes. And that’s really what it takes. When you make a success out of any
endeavor, like I had with indie publishing, you begin to think you possess
insights that you do not. You’re surrounded by people looking to you for
answers on how they too can sell thousands of books and quit their day job. It
makes you feel important; wise. Your association with other authors and the
conversations you have can trick you into thinking it’s given you even greater perspective.
But until you have experienced the pride-killing blow of being wrong about your
own work; yelled at the comment box only to lose the imaginary argument; then
looked at the end result of what you did (were forced to do) and grudgingly admitted
how much better it turned out, you really can’t know what it’s like.
That’s not to say my skill sets learned as an indie
were wasted. I work fast as a necessity. When given a month, I’d only need a
few days. When plot issues arose, I was three steps ahead with solutions. And
it wasn’t as if Lindsey took over the book and changed what it was about. It
felt a bit like that in the beginning, granted, but that was just a visceral
reaction, like when an only child has to share a toy for the first time with a
new sibling. I was still the one creating the plot points, shaping the
characters, building the world. But now I had someone helping me stay on track
who could see what I was too close to notice.
I’m still putting out indie books, and will be for
some time. Tor, surprisingly, has encouraged this. But I intend to slow my pace
considerably. Three novels a year for seven years has taken a toll. Now, thanks
to Tor, I’m carrying more tools in the bag, and it’s making it easier for me to
move forward. There’s still so much to learn; curtains to be pulled back.
And for the first time in a while, I’m eager to find
out what’s next.
It’s 2011, and I’m sitting in my living room, staring through
the window, driving myself insane with an anticipation I haven’t felt since I
was a small boy on Christmas Eve. Every vehicle that passes that is not a
delivery truck fuels my frustration. It’s already 7 PM. They promised it would
come today, and there’s only one hour left. But important deliveries are like a
watched pot that never boils until you look away.
I get up and go to the kitchen. But there’s nothing in
there that I really want. I can’t eat. Still I rummage around and pull out a
jar of bread and butter pickles I bought a week prior and had forgotten about. I
consider making a sandwich. Butter pickles do
taste great on a ham and cheese.
At the high-pitched squeal of breaks, I shove the jar
back inside the refrigerator and run to the window. The brown truck with its
glorious gold lettering parked at the curb makes my heart race, and in moments
I’m at the door, beaming a smile, trying not to hop up and down and clap my
hands. But I can’t stop myself. I must look ridiculous. But the driver just smiles,
precious cargo under one arm, as he approaches. This isn’t the first time he’s
made a delivery to someone like me – someone bursting with anticipation over
what he’s bringing. He hands me the box, apologizing, albeit unconvincingly, for
arriving so late. But he’s here, so he’s forgiven. The wait is over.
I tear the box open before I’ve reached the living
room to reveal what I have worked so very hard to see. There it is, in all its
magnificent glory: my first novel. It has been available in Kindle format for a
week or so, and I was truly excited when I saw it online. But this…this is
different. This is tangible. A real
book. To this day, I remember what the pages smelled like; the way it felt in
my hands. I’ve had several memorable experiences throughout my career as a
novelist, but this was the one I remember in the most vivid detail.
I knew so little then about what was in store for me.
We only had one car, and I worked nights. I would walk to the bagel shop three
blocks away and daydream about what life would be like once the world
discovered the brilliance of my work. Yeah. I know how that sounds. But it was my daydream. So I got to be brilliant in
it. Of course, dreams are just that…dreams. They’re not real. And I was soon to
learn this in ways I never expected.
I’ll not bore you with every moment of my indie
career. Seven years of ups and downs, successes and failures, joys and sorrows,
would take a novel unto itself to recount. Indie publishing was in its infancy.
There were few resources, and those available were often prohibitively
expensive. Simply finding cover art was a nightmare. And the stigma attached to
being an indie author hung on us like a stink. We were the poor cousins of
literature, not good enough to be taken seriously by the Big Six publishers
(this was before Penguin and Random House merged). We were considered a bunch
of hacks spitting out trash and taking attention away from more deserving
authors who had gone through the proper channels and adhered to the traditional
process. How dare we bypass the gatekeepers? Who did we think we were?
I recall the spiteful articles. We did our best to
ignore them, but it was hard not to get angry when you read in a major publication
that what you did was not only laughable, but a stain on the literary
community. It didn’t feel that way to us. And it certainly didn’t feel that way
to our fans.
In the end, in fact, it was the fans who kept us
alive. They decided indie was going
to stick around. They became the ultimate gatekeepers. And the world of
traditional publishing hated us even more for it. They shut us out at every
opportunity. But by that time, we no longer cared. Hundreds of independent
authors were making a fine living producing books at a rate traditional
publishing simply could not match. New industries were popping up to fill the
growing need for quality covers, editing and marketing.
Not to say it was without its dark side. With the good
comes the bad. Scammers preying on the hopes and dreams of indie authors
swarmed like gnats. Jerks who used underhanded methods to cheat the system for
a quick buck wormed around, giving credence to our detractors.And there were plenty of writers who thought
indie to be an easy path to fame and fortune. They didn’t understand that success
takes hard work, regardless of the path you choose.
Many of these issues still exist. There will always be
scammers. And there will always be someone out there who thinks they can find
away around hard work. It’s not like the traditional world didn’t have some valid
complaints. With platforms available where anyone with a manuscript can shove
it up on Amazon without having put it through any sort of editing or
proofreading process, the quality – and therefore the reputation – of indie
But much has changed. Traditional publishing has come
to realize indie isn’t going anywhere. More than that, they have discovered
that there are those among us deserving their consideration. There is genuine
talent producing indie work – an entire pool of writers to draw from, with a
pre-existing fan base, who work hard, understand the industry, and are willing
to do whatever it takes to further their career. Where once the mention of the
word “indie” sent their blood boiling, now publishers pause and take a look.
It will be interesting to see where this ends up. As I
make my slow transition from indie to traditional, I feel excited. Not as
excited as I did when I received my first book. But you only fall in love for
the first time once. Nothing ever feels that way again. And that’s all right. I
don’t mind. There’s so much more to come; and as when indie first emerged as a
force in the literary world, I get to see it as it happens. I have the
privilege of being part of a brand new era. So I guess there’s only one thing
to do now.
What is woo-woo? I know you didn’t ask, but I’ll tell
you anyway. Woo-woo is a statement or assertion based on supernatural or
pseudo-scientific beliefs. Renowned skeptic, Michael Shermer, describes the
words of Deepak Chopra as woo-woo. And if you watch their debates you can see
why. However, I don’t think it has been applied to opinions on writing. But
having read Jonathan Franzen’s 10 rules for novelists, I was inspired to offer
an additional meaning for your consideration. Def: 1. (slang) noun. Nonsensical writing advice, presented
as objective truth, based on nothing more substantial than personal beliefs, emotions,
and an overall need to feel special and clever. Too much wine and an overblown
ego can dramatically increase the volume of woo-woo produced. Def: 2 (slang) verb. When a writer is deliberately
vague to appear intelligent and insightful. As with definition #1 wine and ego
are common factors.
There you have it. Writer’s woo-woo as defined by
yours truly. You may or may not agree, but that’s fine. I’m often wrong. You’ll
need to be the judge. So without further ado, I give you (drum roll) writer’s
woo-woo as represented by Jonathan Franzen.
reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.
And we kick it off with a healthy dose of woo-woo.
This is meant to sound as if he has some mystical bond with the reader; some
insight beyond the understanding of mere mortals. It screams, I’m wise! I’m
clever! I possess a level of comprehension that surpasses the reach of the
common rabble. To which I say: whatever, dude.
that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the
unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money.
This particular woo-woo is meant to give you the
impression that a “real” writer writes for the sheer joy of the experience with
no regard for financial considerations. While I agree that you should write
what you love, and the expectation of vast riches when becoming and author is
ill-advised, there is nothing wrong with paying the bills. You are not a sell-out
because you make money. And you are not an artist because you don’t.
3. Never use the word then as a conjunction—we
have and for
this purpose. Substituting then is
the lazy or tone-deaf writer’s non-solution to the problem of too
many ands on the
I read this woo-woo, then I laughed. Use the word that fits. There is no “right” way.
Prose is not an immovable obelisk. It’s fluid. If “then” fits, use it.
4. Write in third person unless a
really distinctive first-person voice offers itself irresistibly.
Ah, yes. I remember this from creative writing class.
The absolutes and objective facts the instructor pretended to know and would
spout off as gospel. It’s pure BS. That said, I refer you to my previous
response. There is no “right” way. Craft
your story however you want.
5. When information becomes free and
universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along
Not sure what he’s driving at with this woo-woo. Because
information is freely available, it’s worthless? Or because information is
available to the common clods, research is meaningless? Ugh!
6. The most purely autobiographical fiction
requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more autobiographical story
than The Metamorphosis.
This is woo-woo of the highest order. I’m beginning to
think he fancies himself the Deepak Chopra of literature. Admittedly, I haven’t
read The Metamorphosis. But I know that saying “Nobody ever wrote a more
autobiographical story than The Metamorphosis” as if it’s an
objective fact is ludicrous. For me, The Lord of the Rings is the greatest
fantasy trilogy of all time. Let me repeat that. For me, The Lord of the Rings is the greatest fantasy
trilogy of all time.
7. You see more sitting still than chasing
This woo-woo is vague and meant to seem wise and
introspective. Sounds to me like something you would read in a fortune cookie.
I did look it up to be sure. It’s his own quote, presumably from one of his
books. I guess he really liked it.
8. It’s doubtful that anyone with an Internet
connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.
And from where does your doubt arise? This woo-woo is
simply an injection of bias without evidence to support his assertion. I’m
beginning to think dude should lay off the wine when he writes on his
9. Interesting verbs are seldom very
More woo-woo straight from the mouth of a high school
creative writing teacher. Again, use words that fit.
10. You have to love before you can be
And ending with mega woo-woo! He went full Deepak with
have none to give other than read books that you enjoy. Learn from the authors
who write them. And do your best to improve your skills. There isn’t a right
way. In the end it’s about finding your
way, your voice, and your story.
The Vale: Behind the Vale, has made it to the next stage of the Booknest Fantasy book of the year contest. I would like to thank everyone who voted. You are awesome. So....I hope you can be awesome again. I need your to help to the finish line. By that I need another vote. And as I have come this far, I'm feeling saucy. From now until Oct. 19th I'm giving away Free copies of The Vale: Behind the Vale. So just click on the links below. And thanks again.