I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions, but as 2013 faded into 2014 I made the goal–not technically a resolution, I don’t think–of finishing the first draft of the book I had been writing. I won’t get into too much detail here on this now–I’ll save that story for a future post–except to say that I had been working on it for a while and had fifty or sixty thousand words written (I don’t actually remember the exact count).
So, with that goal in mind, I set off, eschewing most of my other hobbies–such as reading (that year I only a few books, most of which happened to be about writing, which for those of you that know me is completely uncharacteristic of me), brewing beer, and cycling–to spend the majority of my free time writing–which, between having a full time job and a family, limited my opportunities.
When 2014 came to an end, I posted this photo on Facebook:
I’d made significant progress on my book, but failed to complete the first draft. I considered the year a success because even though I didn’t achieve my goal, my word count was over two-hundred thousand (word count itself it not that important, except that it showed the progress I’d made).
At the beginning of 2015, I had a huge chunk of my book written. I didn’t actually set a goal for 2015, but my initial plan was to finish that first draft. Changes in my job kept me away from home much more than usual, and even though it was bad for my family life, it gave me ample opportunity to write.
By mid-February, with a ton of extra free time, I had written another fifty thousand words or so and completed the first draft of my novel. Yay! Even though I knew I had a LOT of work ahead of me if I ever wanted to realize my dream of seeing it published, I sat back and basked in my accomplishment–I had written a book. From start to finish, a story originating in my brain, from the first ah-ha moment to the THE END was now penned–or in this case, typed.
I took the remainder of February and first half of March off from writing to read some books–having become obsessed with the TV show Justified, and having learned it was based on the novel Fire in the Hole, by Elmore Leonard, I devoured all the books in that series.
In mid-March I began the daunting process of editing the behemoth I had created (final word count came in at two-hundred seventy-five thousand):
(The picture was just for show. I didn’t actually go through it page by page with a red marker. I did the editing on my various electronic devices.)
It was a daunting task. I was about to read through and edit something I had written, some of which I hadn’t read for almost two years! Over the whole process of writing this book, my writing had improved–at least I think that it did–so revisiting some of the earlier chapters made me cringe.
The change in my job that kept me away more than normal was over, so my free time returned to what it had been for the majority of this writing project. I took advantage of the free time I had at work (I’ll explain this in more detail in another post) and at home to editing. It was a slow process. I pushed myself by stealing as much time as I could because I soon realized that at the initial pace I was moving at it was going to take me over a year to do just one edit.
By the first of June, I had made significant progress. I wasn’t done, but I was well on my way–which got me to thinking about sending it out to a publisher.
My book is a fantasy novel. And my fantasy–or dream–was to have one of the premier fantasy publishers publish my book. The publisher I had in mind just happened to accept unsolicited manuscripts (meaning they take submissions from anyone, and not only those represented by a literary agent) so I figured why not. What do I have to lose? I wasn’t finished editing yet, but they advertised a six month response time and only wanted a partial manuscript submitted. So, submit I did. I put myself out there.
I don’t know who I thought I was. To me they were the major leagues and I felt like I could barely play A ball. But I thought that if a major league team has open tryouts (most big time publishers require authors to have a literary agent) it would be foolish to not at least try. Right? Right.
With a manila envelope with my writing in it buried in a slush pile in a skyscraper somewhere in New York City, I pressed on with my editing–after all, should they call in six months requesting the full manuscript, I needed to be ready. By the end of the month I was finished. Woot!
At this point I reached out to a friend who had a connection in the publishing industry. He occasionally reads manuscripts for a particular publishing company and offered to help me out. Wanting to take advantage of every opportunity I had, I sent him my manuscript. He read it, liked it, and gave me a recommendation to the publisher. Sweet! Other beta-readers have previously told me they liked the story so, with confidence, I submitted my manuscript to this publishing company. They advertised a 30 day response time, so for a month, I fantasized about being instantly successful.
Traditional Publishing is incredibly hard to break into as an unknown entity, so for a month I hoped that I would be a rare anomaly. Both my friend and myself believed that the publisher would offer me a contract and publish my book.
I checked my email every day. The month came and went. Then, I finally received an email from the publisher. They said they needed two more weeks. That’s a good sign, I thought. It wasn’t a flat out rejection. So I anxiously continued to wait.
In the end, the publisher declined to offer me a contract. They were very kind and gave me some good feedback. Disappointed, I wallowed in self-pity for a few days and then moved on.
Since most publishers require authors to be represented by a literary agent, I turned in that direction. The basic idea is that you convince them your book is worthy of publication, they agree to represent it, and then it’s their job to sell it to a publisher. I began writing query letters and sending them to various agents that represent fantasy novels. I got a few rejections, but mostly I got silence (which is the same thing). The rejections could have been for any number of reasons. Maybe they didn’t like the story, or maybe they did but they thought the writing was bad.
Then I realized something. It was something I wrestled with throughout the whole processing of writing the book. As I wrote, and the pages began to pile up, I wondered if maybe the story was becoming too long and if I’d be better off splitting the book into multiple books (two, maybe three). However, each time I thought this, I came back to my original goal, which was to write a book. When I set off on this journey, I wanted to write a book. I didn’t particularly want to write a series. I definitely planned on writing more–I now have all sorts of ideas bouncing around in my head set in this world I’ve created–but my original goal was to write a stand-alone novel. However, as I was querying agents, I started reading blogs written by literary agents and something became glaringly obvious to me–my book was too long.
Publishing is a business. Publishers make money selling books. They only want to sell books that they think they can make money on. Printing books costs money. With the price of books being relatively fixed, the bigger the book is, the more it costs to print, so the profit margin per book goes down. Blog after blog told the same story; the ideal length for first time authors–unknown entities and a huge risk for publishers–is one-hundred thousand words (because of the nature of fantasy novels, they can push 120k). As it stood, my book was two-hundred and seventy-five thousand words–well more than double the acceptable length.
There are different components to a query letter, one of which is the word count of the book. I began to wonder if the agents I queried look at the word length first and, if it’s too long, delete the query without even reading the whole thing–let alone reading the summary or sample chapters.
By the end of August, I found myself facing a hard truth. Very rarely are first time authors successful at selling a novel that was a big as mine. I slowly came to terms with the fact that if I wanted to ever see my book published that I needed to split it.
Once I made the decision to move in that direction, I started looking for good breaking points. Fortunately, I found two points in the story that turned out to be what I considered natural places to split it; I felt that the events that occurred in these two locations would make good, intermediate climaxes, with the ultimate climax being at the end of what was now going to be book 3. The first one turned out to be located at almost exactly one-hundred thousand words. Perfect!
With my mind made up, I started the process of splitting it. It wasn’t going to be as simple as cutting and pasting into three different documents, making three novels, but would require some re-writing so that each book stood by themselves as individual books in a trilogy.
For the next two months I worked on what is now book 1. Not only did I do some re-writing to make the first third of the original book its own book, but I did several more rounds of editing (turns out it really needed it). I also made some significant changes to the format of the novel because of some feedback I received on a writing forum (another change I didn’t want to make but knew that in the end it would make the story better).
I finished book 1 in November and started sending out query letters again. I’ve received a couple of rejections and am still waiting to hear from others. In the mean time, I plan on sending out even more queries and am half-way through editing and the re-writing of what is now book 2.
It is now 2016. My goal for this year is to convince a literary agent that my novel(s) is(are) worthy of their representation and publication. I still haven’t heard anything from the original major league publisher I submitted to back in June, so I’m very hesitantly keeping my fingers crossed that my submission finds its way out of the slush pile and into the right hands. In the mean time, I will continue working on book 2 and then book 3.
If, in the end, I am unable to convince anyone to represent or buy my book there are other options out there–such as self-publishing it. But for now, I will keep my sights set on my original goal of seeing my writing published by a traditional publishing company.
Here’s to 2016! Check back for future posts about my various adventures in writing my first book and like my page on Facebook.