Saturday, October 25, 2008

Four Biggie Lessons

I come to grips with the fact that I actually completed a full-length novel. But holding that manuscript in my hands wasn’t even half the battle. I tried writing something close to a novel at least four times before with no progress or just deleting them altogether. Even after spending all those sleepless nights, I had to brighten up and start making some plans. And here were the things I realized during the time of then and now:

1. Read & Repeat - Go back over your manuscript at least 5 more times. Read it frontward, backwards, read it out loud to yourself. This all helps with perfecting your story or it least make it have some kind of sense so that people won’t scratch their heads over it. Have someone you really, really, really, really, really (sheesh! can he emphasize enough!), really, really trust to read your first draft, or the draft that you are comfortable with. You must make sure this person is trustworthy, calm, listens, cares, critiques, is gentle, is critical, is not a bitter writer and will provide pages of notes. There are some well known authors who say show it to several people but that could be risky territory if you ask me. Unless, that is, that you can find several people who encompass all of the above traits. Let the novel leak out slowly. Start with one person. If you are compelled to show more people be cautious. Don't open the flood gates to your own destruction. Perfect example: Stephenie Meyer, 5 books under her belt, showed Midnight Sun to four people she 'trusted very much'. The result: Midnight Sun, unpolished version, accidentally finds itself on a downloading site. Now who knows if she'll actually publish it. Get the picture?

2. Book cover art - Unless you have an art degree, or took some legitimate classes, do not design the cover yourself! I did. And it couldn’t have been a more jumbled mess. You can contact artists through a service or pay someone to design your cover from anywhere to 500 to 1,000 dollars. Once I called an artist whose work I really admired, Chris Mcfrickin' Grath! Talked to this guy on the phone for 30 min. Cool guy. Awesome covers. Expensive but those covers are complete eye candy. But, alas, I was without coin of the realm. If you’re a “brokie” ( a person who counts on pocket change to pay for gas, like me) then you might want to save up or find someone within reasonable price range. If you’re in a pinch, and just think the work speaks for itself, no need to dress it up, then go with a simple color cover with the title and your name. A friend of mine did that and he got picked up by a publisher despite the basic first edition cover. More on that later.

3. Edit the hell out of it - And I mean this in every sense of the word. Edit. De. HELL. OUT. OF. IT. There’s nothing more frustrating, as anyone will tell you, then a book that has sloppy, little or no editing in the book itself. One misspelled or misused word could sink the potential imagination titanic and the reader will put the book down and move on to something else. But, if you’re a who-cares attitude reader, you might pass over those because the story is really compelling. Even in the titan world of professionally published books, I’ve seen numerous editing mistakes in books by such authors as Stephen King, Stephenie Meyer, Dean Koontz, J.K. Rowling and James Redfield. Altogether, five people have edited Mr. Dead Eyes, myself included. The first draft is never the final draft. My book went through 10 different drafts and in all those changes, the story itself changed.

4. Find the perfect route - While some shout either literary agent or go for the gold and send it to a publisher, there is much difference between the two. I’ve sent a few queries out to publishers as well as literary agents. I never even got any rejection letters to be mad over. Hell, sometimes I wonder if my query letters are still on their way there or if it they are stuck under a pile a mile high. I doubt that the postal service works that slow. For a literary agent, you need to be noticed first and you need to have some kind of exposure. It seems that they want you to already be a best-selling author before they represent you. Big name publishers as well are very hard to reel in. There used to be a big stigma around self publishing a novel but it looks as if that fire has calmed down. A lot of first time authors self-published.

Big things to consider.
But they help in the long run.

Meet The Author

Fall 2005.

So, here I was, with my dandy new finished novel. All typed up and nowhere to go. When you think ‘finished novel’ in your head, the words ‘must publish’ jump into your mind really quick.

Through talking with my relatives about the book that I had finished, I learned from one of them that an author lived just across the street from them. Frantically, I made the necessary arrangements to meet this complete stranger. We talked on the phone briefly, set a date to meet, and I was on my way. Originally, I would meet her at her house, but, as it was, she was planning on visiting the local fire station to chat with the boys and hand out some free copies of her first book. It wasn’t far from her house, just four houses down.

After some time of meeting the men who protect us, we decided on a conference room upstairs where we could chat about books. Like a newborn dunked in water cold water for the first time, I was flushed with morbid curiosity about the world of the publishing industry and how, in some way, to scoot around it.

This woman loved writing. She showed me a print copy of her book, which I later bought and read. She also had a second book out dedicated to the memory of the people who bravely stood up and helped when the tragic event 9/11 occurred. Both books had to deal with 9/11. But her first book was fiction, dealing with a couple who meet on a plane and whose lives are changed when they marry, move to New York and how they dealt with life after that infamous day.

She told me how she had tried, time again to send out her manuscript to a few publishers, how she wrote query letters and such. Then, finally deciding that she wanted to tender her manuscript to an online publishing website known as Publish America. From the meeting I collected papers detailing how I would submit my manuscript to them and how long it would take to see my book in print. Not very long. As excited as I was, later on I calmed down, discussing this fact with my most trusted friend and first time reader - my girlfriend.

Publish America was not the way to go. There seemed to be no restrain on their selection or approval rate of the ever-growing titles. Later on, I bought some books to educate myself on what the Writers Market is and how the hell do I mitigate through the slush to find the right path for me?

Some magazines, publishers and online publishers accept an average of 5 to 20 unsolicited manuscripts a year. That only leaves a small window for a new writer to break out and let the world know that they exist.

Publish America has an average of 800 accepted authors a year.

That number concerned me. Through more research I found that the royalties were low and that their services are very contradictory in nature.

But, nevertheless, I sat there, talking to this woman, educating myself on the world of publishing and the backdoor that is self-publishing, which is what Publish America basically is. Or, to put it bluntly, a self-publishing service posing as a vanity publish service.

Looking back, it was good that I didn’t go with them. I was overexcited and easy to swoon, even forgetting that I should get paid a fair amount for the work that I had done. Plus, I was trying to peddle a first draft, which is a big no-no when it comes to writing.

If I was going to do anything right, I had to learn some hard lessons along the way.