Something new for the new year

new years blog image

Happy new year!

Holy moly, I have absolutely sucked at blogging this year. This might be my second or third post? I don’t even know and I’m way too lazy to even bother checking. Anyhow, for the past few new years’ days, I’ve taken a few minutes to ‘burn’ a work that seemed to have died the previous year. I’m not doing that this year. In part because I haven’t actually finished anything new and in part because The Dark Queen of Darkness didn’t die this year. Last year at this time, I was pretty sure that’s what was going to happen. My wife, however, convinced me to just get off my lazy ass and just self-publish the damn thing.

I made the decision to go forward with Self-Publishing back in August as a 40th birthday gift. While this is proving to be a little bit on the expensive side, it’s still cheaper than trading in my car for a faster model or other similarly foolish mid-life crisis activity.

The status so far is that developmental edits are back from the editor (The extraordinary Jettimus Maximus) and I’m working through them. The suggestions she’s sending along are thoughtful, helpful, and very much in-line with my vision for this story. As I write this, I’ve worked through roughly the first hundred or so pages of the book a couple of times. What I’ve got revised so far still needs a lot of work, but I’m liking the changes so far. The narrative does feel tighter.

This is my first time working with an editor for creative work. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the developmental edit. What struck me about it so far is that it isn’t anything like a critique. We’ve all done those and they definitely serve a purpose, but that’s not what this is about. It’s structural and focuses on things like themes and character development, plot and pacing. To be honest, it covers the ground that a typical critique or beta-read is going to miss. Those often recommend suggestions to tighten up your writing or will help you find issues, but won’t necessarily provide you with concrete strategies for correcting the issue or finding larger problems that aren’t obvious.

Sometime in the past, I wish I could recall when or the actual context, I read a blog post posing the question: Do I need a developmental editor? I don’t recall the conclusion, but it seems like it ran something like: It’s a nice to have, not an essential. At this point, I think that my conclusion is that this is an essential cost. No, many of us can’t afford to hire someone. It’s not free, nor should it be, but there are editors out there who will do this for a reasonable price. What’s more, if you intend to sell your book and it’s been well polished, you’re going to sell more copies, thus the cost of editing should pay for itself.

If you’re considering a developmental edit, and you should be, but don’t know who to go to, I would recommend Jette.

In any case, I’ve got a tremendous amount of work still to go on this book, maybe even more than it took to write to begin with, but I’m now convinced that it’ll be money well spent and readers will find this story a page-turner with endearing characters and at least a few laugh-out-loud moments.

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Self-pub vs. Traditional: A Decision

Before I go anywhere with my decision (I’m sure you’re guessing where I landed here), I’d like to pose a quick question:

How do most writers earn their living?

If you didn’t say “Day job,” You’re in a minority. Yes, there are loads of professional writers maybe even one of them will read this blog, but if Twitter is any indication, writers with day jobs outnumber the full-time paid writers by something like six billion to 1. I’m absolutely no exception.

Last winter, the question of ‘making a living’ manifested itself under my bed and set-up shop, taunting me for nights on end. It all started with the comment: “I’d slit my wrists if I had to read much more of this.” As far as professional critical feedback goes, this is pretty much the pinnacle. The comment wasn’t the whole of it though, just the start. The other key part involved the addition of a new project at my day job which meant weekends being basically spoken for. With all of this on my mind, I concluded that not only is the quality of my writing improving much more slowly than I’d imagined, but also that my day job does, in fact, pay pretty well and is important to my family. This led me to the realization that I am absolutely not going to be able to replace a real paycheck with writing anytime in the near future. While I recognize it’s possible to work hard and shift careers like this, I’ve got way too many other responsibilities at this stage in my life for that to be truly practical. All of this led me to the understanding that not only is traditional publishing well outside the realm of possibility for me, I don’t really want to pursue it anyhow.

My logic is this: If I got an agent and a book deal (big fucking if here, I know), but if that’s what I worked to, the best case scenario* is that I’d be subject to deadlines I didn’t set, egos that don’t belong to me, and pressure to produce more or less the same thing I already did that everyone liked so much AND AND AND I get to continue working my day job to feed my family & put a roof over our heads….

Why would I pursue this again? To remove all of the enjoyment from something I like doing without even getting a real pay-check? No, just no. If I’m going to work a second job, it’s going to be on my terms.

This leaves self-publishing. I get the freedom to work with an editor of my choosing, have full oversight and final decision making on cover design, AND I get to choose to publish whatever the hell I like on my own terms. Yes, this is an expensive road and I’m conceding that the financial results are going to be underwhelming, but I think once I start getting my stuff out there and picking up readers, I might make enough to cover my costs and maybe make a bit more to cover the next project. PLUS, if I have to put writing aside for a stretch to deal with life, I can do that on my own terms.

Anyhow, with all that in mind, I’m going to start working with an editor in November to bring The Dark Queen of Darkness into shape. My target release is September 2019. I’m sure I’ll be blogging about that as I being the process of working with an editor and getting set-up for self-publishing.

 


*Yes, there is another best-case scenario, which runs something like “…but J.K. Rowling… and now she’s got more money than the queen!” Okay, yes, that sometimes happens, but I’m not a J.K. Rowling and won’t ever be. I’m going to be Dave S. Koster (and sometimes another pen name), and that guy is pretty sure ‘viral success’ is always something that happens to someone else.

REALITY CHECK – Getting a one-on-one agent review

It’s no secret that writers have big egos. Even when invited to eviscerate someone’s work, I don’t want to do it because while I want to help them, I don’t want to hurt them. Usually, though, the worst ego-bruising events have to do with rejections. I mean, we all get to the point where we’ve finished something and send it off to an agent only to have a short, terse, message come back with some version of “no,” provided we get anything back at all. Normally, these things come without context or explanation. What you rarely get though, on an unsolicited query, is anything more than that. However, if you did, I promise, your ego would be harmed beyond merely ‘bruised’.

Personally, I look at a rejection and wonder, but why? What was the reason that this has been rejected? How can I improve if all I ever get is no?

This fall, I had the opportunity to get a one-on-one review of my work by a big-time New York agent with a big publishing house. To be clear, I paid for this. I thought that having this review would finally get me to the answer of “but why did you reject this?” The goal was to find a compass bearing on the improvement process. Maybe I’d even get a sense of whether or not I was writing things that could be marketable.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t come away with an improvement strategy as much as a recommendation to be a completely different writer. I also cried. And if you’re looking for a reason to ugly cry with sort of minimal collateral damage, this is a really good strategy.

The first piece we looked at was Deep Space. I read about half of the prologue in a group setting. At the time, and especially now, I regard this piece as thoroughly unfinished. Not ready for submission and not ready for beta-readers or in-depth critiques beyond perhaps that first bit. I received the very, very favorable feedback of “That’s fun, I’d read more of that” This comment was followed by some commentary on the contents and structure which I generally regard as productive, but indicates much re-writing. This was 100% in-line with expectations, except for the bit where he handed me his card and invited me to query him O_o. Best case scenario right? (well, yes, but there’s more). After having my ego so rapidly and enormously inflated, what came next was painful and, to be perfectly honest, a little bit humiliating.

The next day, at my appointed time, I went in for a one-on-one on Hexe – at the time, this one was drafted and out for early readers to come back and tell me what’s wrong. Most definitely ready for critique, in any case. I am (was) proud of this work, even after nearly trashing it this spring. It’s got some good humor, it’s got a light fun tone and the characters are memorable. So memorable that my daughter was trying to make Hexe’s castle in minecraft – high praise from her, I can tell you. So, what was my feedback do you think? I have to paraphrase this one, because we spent twenty minutes covering the same ground. “This is really, not very good. It’s solidly one-note and I couldn’t imagine reading this for… How long is it? 120K? no, cut that down to 75K, max…” and it went on. The bits of feedback can be summarized in the following bullets:

– It’s one-note

– Play it straight

– Get there faster, shorten it up

– Make the main character more likable

– and (INFURIATINGLY) The writing itself is pretty good, can’t fault that.

He then spent the last few minutes asking why the hell I hadn’t given him deep space. I told him it wasn’t ready yet, I really wanted the feedback on this one. After hearing the review of Hexe, I realized that even if I sent him Deep Space to have a look at, certainly as it was then, he was going to shake his head and say, ‘nope’. The humor and approach are really similar. I was so certain, actually, that I told him as much right there. He repeated his advice in the bullets above, and reiterated that he wanted to see more.

I feel like this is the worst spot to leave a writer. I don’t even know what to do with the comments. I mean, sure, shorten it up makes sense, but play it straight? That was a choice I made specifically to support the humor and, in fact, to give the satire a little more punch. And one-note? – I’ve been thinking about this for weeks now and still don’t know what it means or how to fix it. What’s more, I walked away with the idea that I’m not very good and that the writer’s voice I’ve finally found isn’t either. To be successful, I have to write like someone I’m not.

The same agent who’d reviewed my work pointed out that there are many millions of manuscripts written every year, and only a small percentage of those ever get to print with fewer yet making it into bookstores. Not only is this environment competitive, the odds of having a story, no matter how good, make it into print and even on to the shelf at the bookstore are a million to one against.

A rejection letter without context is a kindness. The reality is that if you knew the agent’s full reasons for not requesting more, there’s a very good chance you’d throw your laptop into the ocean and never think about writing again. So, next time you get a rejection and ask “but why?” just assume they didn’t like the concept, and keep going. If you hit the point where there is nobody else to query, maybe write something else or simply self-publish then write something else. The real, honest truth is, on average, becoming published traditionally is simply not going to happen. In a lot of ways, it’s the best and most compelling argument for self-publishing I’ve run across yet.

Anyhow, that’s what I’ve got. I’m headed back into my existential funk and clean the kitchen, which will also be critiqued and found wanting. Cheers.