Confessions of an Accidental Self-Publisher: Part 4

My Own Worst Enemy:

Four years ago — and ten years after I started this novel — I finally had it to what I believed to be a publishable standard. Next came the job of writing the dreaded elevator pitch and synopsis. I must admit I did a terrible job of both. Although the elevator pitch had successfully reduced my plot to a single sentence, it was boring. As for my synopsis…

I knew I had to focus on the main narrative thread, but I just couldn’t get my head around doing that. As a result, my attempts were either too much or too little. In the end, I went for the middle road and unfortunately the result turned out to be as boring as my elevator pitch. Looking back, I imagine very few editors or agents got past the first paragraph.

My title didn’t do anything towards selling itself either…

Having said that, it suited my novel perfectly, but it was long and may well have put people off my submission without having to read further than the subject line of my email:

A TRUE HISTORY OF FORSHAM: LOVE & THE INDUSTRIALISATION OF MAGIC.

I still like that title. But unfortunately it was yet another one of those darlings that had to go.

Regardless, this time around I managed to get an expression of interest from a small press publisher, but after a two year wait, I realised this wasn’t going to happen, so I took it back. Life is tough in the publishing industry.

I tried a few more agents and received another piece of feedback: “It’s not quite ready.” And although I was marketing it as steampunk, the fact that one of my characters was a shapeshifter led the agent to categorise it as urban fantasy and they weren’t interested in representing that.

Time to take control, I decided. If I was to get this thing published, I needed to do it myself.

My first job was to get editor Pete Kempshall to do a structural edit. This ended up being money well spent because it not only fixed a lot of rookie errors but also taught me how to organise my ideas into a coherent plan. It was like having a master class with my novel as the focus. Once that was done, I sent it back for a line edit, and finally the novel was starting to look polished. Almost.

This was where Amanda J Spedding came in. As far as I could tell, I had fixed all the internal inconsistencies, eliminated clunky prose and repetitions, fixed grammatical errors; but in the process of doing so had probably created a few more. Not only that, I ended up rewriting two chapters completely, and knew they’d need yet another professional eye.

So that was it! Three edits, by two professionals. At last I felt confident enough to upload it to Amazon.

Confessions of an Accidental Self-Publisher – Part 3

Difficult Decisions…

After much reading and rereading of my multi-rejected novel, I realised it was time to work out exactly what I wanted to do. Give up? Or punish myself further?

Before deciding, I combed through it for the umpteenth time, and gave it my most critical eye yet. There was one particular chapter in the first quarter that, in my mind, was the best I’d ever written. Everything about it seemed to shine: pace, character, world building, description; only to deliver a surprising twist at the end.

I loved this chapter so much, but it was at odds with the remainder of the novel. In other words, it was exceedingly pretty and a lot of fun, but failed to do anything to progress the plot. Was this a “darling”? I asked myself. Should I murder it in the way that has often been advised to aspiring novelists like myself?

This chapter has to go, I decided. It obviously didn’t fit. Nevertheless, the thought of losing it made me not only sad, but increasingly apprehensive. Why discard something I loved? What could I do to make it work? Desperate, I reached for my box of editing patches – looking for any number of ploys to make the remainder of the novel match up.

I got to work, popping in a symbol here, adding a few allusions there. I made my character remember parts of that fabulous scene in dialogue, in flashback…

All quite useless really. After several thousand wasted words, and yet another string of rejections, it was time to face the truth, regardless of how difficult or unpalatable.

That darling had to go!

Fortunately truths aren’t always as black and white as they seem. In the end, I kept that chapter; then deleted the remainder of the novel instead.

So now, I had around 5,000 words of what used to be a 110,000 word manuscript. A good many months later, when the new draft took shape far better than expected, that darling chapter functioned in all the ways it was supposed to.

Looking back, I have nothing to regret.

Part 1: Without Thinking

Part 2: Learning Curve

Part 4: My Own worst Enemy

Confessions of an Accidental Self-Publisher – Part 2

Learning Curve

One of the first things I learned when I decided to write a novel was: “You can’t polish a turd”. Many a time I’d written a story that appeared so unworkable the best course of action was to save it under ‘trash’. This strategy seemed the kindest thing to do.

I have since learned that sometimes turds can be polished; and if you don’t believe me, Mythbusters have already proved it.

Having said that, there really is no point in trying to fix a lacklustre novel by putting all your efforts into buffing it up. To keep it from falling apart, you’ve got to re-mould the underlying structure first.

Flash back to nine years ago, four years after that initial chapter I wrote for my PhD. I found myself faced with one of the greatest strokes of luck a writer could wish for: an agent from London had somehow seen my opening chapters on the internet. The following day, I received a request for the full manuscript.

As much as I wanted to believe this would be my big break, I should have explained, “I’m not sure if I’m ready for that.” But I was way too inexperienced, and although my novel held more than a little promise, my attempts at making it saleable had turned it into an unwieldy, unfocussed dog’s breakfast.

Fortunately, the agent was amazingly generous. He read my novel, then sent me a fabulous critique and an offer to resend. I followed his advice as well as I could, but at the same time made a serious rookie error. Instead of taking the idea of restructuring my novel seriously, I ignored too many interior flaws and added a new layer of polish to the outside instead. In doing so, I effectively set myself up for the first in a long string of rejections.

Although I already knew I had a lot to learn, I now understood there was more to this editing business than I’d imagined. Daunted, I took a break.

To be continued…

Confessions of an Accidental Self-Publisher Part 1: Without Thinking…

Part 3: Difficult Decisions

Confessions of an Accidental Self-Publisher – Part 1:

Without Thinking…

When I started my first and hitherto only finished novel nearly fourteen years ago, I had dreams of it being picked up by a major publisher. Sometimes I imagined an agent would discover me. But the more I wrote, the more I’d see myself as a victim of self-delusion. All too regularly I’d wonder if the best course of action would be to give up.

Not that the prospect of being the worst writer in the world would stop me. I’ve always enjoyed penning stories, even as ten year old when someone – probably my mother – gifted me with a diary. I’d take it up every day after school, and if there was nothing interesting to record, I’d make stuff up.

I decided to get serious about writing back in 2000 when I had one of my very early stories published in Eidolon 29/30 edited by Jeremey G Byrne; and it came with a fabulous cover by Shaun Tan.

Image from Eidolon.net

Back then I wasn’t much of a plotter, at least when faced with a blank page. Usually I’d begin with an idea, then think about a character, conflict, belief, misbelief. I’d drop them into the barest sketch of a setting, add a pinch of world building and let the plot unfold on its own. At some stage, I’d start getting a feel for the big picture and hope that my characters would figure out what to do next. A little later I’d discover an end.

I’m not sure what kind of writer than makes me. Chaotic evil perhaps?

Anyhow, this is how a very early (since deleted) draft of Chapter One of The Eternal Machine materialised; and it was a reasonable chapter because it went towards my successful application to Clarion West 2008. It was also the beginning of the creative component for my PhD that focussed on writing steampunk from the perspective of a fantasy writer.

This was before Steampunk made its big comeback in the late 2000s. I remember talking to people about it and most would say, “Steampunk? What’s that?” Fast forward to four years later when it was time to think about selling my novel and the usual reply would be, “Steampunk? Not again?”

Of course that wasn’t the only reason why I couldn’t make a sale. As an academic piece written alongside an exegesis, it worked pretty well. In fact, it earned me lots of encouraging praise from my examiners.

There was, however, another comment I should have paid more attention to much earlier than I did. One that suggested I send it out for a professional edit. Instead, I spent a few more months tinkering here and there, running it through my writers’ group, then re-polishing it as well as I could.

Back then, there was this interesting place called Authonomy run by Harper Collins. It was a huge online community where writers could post chapters from their novel and then post critiques about each other’s work. If you were lucky enough to rise to the top of the critiquing ladder, you’d get your novel looked at by a Harper Collins editor. The problem was: that ladder was dauntingly long. If it were real it would have probably reached all the way to the moon via Alpha Centauri.

“You’ve got to be in it to win it,” I told myself. Then promptly posted a handful of chapters and started critiquing chapters for others. A week later, when the first of the required trillion steps seemed an inch or two closer, an email appeared in my inbox from a literary agent in London . He’d read my chapters on Authonomy and asked if I’d be happy to submit a full manuscript.

“Would I be happy?” I thought. “How about elated?”

I must point out, I was very, very green back then. A handful of my stories had appeared in small press magazines, but none had received feedback as promising as this.

After I calmed down, I told myself the sensible thing to do was to not believe a word of it. Just to be sure, I googled that agent to check him out. Much to my surprise, he was real.

To be continued…

Confessions of an Accidental Self Publisher – Part 2: Learning Curve…

Book News: The Eternal Machine

The trailer is here…

Thumbnail images adapted from images by: 
Jessicahyde (Adobe), frenta (Adobe) & Atelier Sommerland (Adobe)

After nearly 14 years of writing, rewriting, sending out, waiting for rejections, rewriting, sending out, waiting for more rejections, rewriting, sending out, waiting, rewriting, sending out, waiting, forever and ever…

I finally opted to self-publish.

That was over a year ago, and I realised that if this book was to end up being anything worth finding its way into the world I needed to put it through a professional editing process.

Three times: structural, line edit, and copy edit.

Thanks to these two fabulous Aussie editors Pete Kempshall and Amanda J Spedding that process was most enjoyable, especially now everything has been polished up to a standard I am super excited to promote.

Why has it taken me so long to do this? Why did I get so many rejections? Why am I self-publishing? I’ll blog about that later.

Meanwhile, my debut novel, The Eternal Machine, is a steampunk, fantasy/science fictional alternative reality set in an Australian city where magic and science are equally valid disciplines. It is now available for pre-order worldwide at Amazon, including US, Australia & UK. Currently only the ebook is being offered, but there will also be a paperback as soon as I’ve finished my layouts and the cover is ready.

Here’s the blurb

A woman with the strength to rebel.
A shapeshifter who wears the souls of the dead.
Together, they face a lethal enemy.

Em helped create it. Now she must craft its defeat.

In a city owned by industrialists, Em sells her magic to make ends meet. The extraction procedure is brutal and potentially deadly. Desperate for change, she joins an underground resistance movement to weaponize her magic and stop the abuse of workers.

Meanwhile, a mysterious voice wakes Ruk from a decades-long slumber and compels him to become human. He wants to break free but is torn between his shapeshifter instincts and the needs of the soul that sustains him.

On streets haunted by outcasts and predatory automatons, a new danger emerges – an ever-growing corruption of magic and science. Em and Ruk must put aside their differences and pursue it – each for their own reasons.

What they discover will forever change their lives.

Or end them…

Story in Aurealis #145

I’m super pleased to announce my SF/Dark Fantasy short story, “She who Played for Morrocks” is now available here at Smashwords for AUD$2.99.

The story is about two different species of human who both value music and each acknowledges the other’s sentience. Their attempts to respect each other are muddied by preconceptions, misunderstandings and instinct.

And what a beautiful cover for this issue, by Atelier Sommerland.

Juliet Marillier’s Book Launch

Juliet at Stefan’s Books launching A Song of Flight & Mother Thorn

I love going to a book launch and even more so when it’s for a writer whose work I have enjoyed for many years. When yesterday started out cold and wet, I rugged up, took the train to the city and walked along Murray Street to Stefan’s Books.

Stefan’s books is one of those wonderful independent bookshops that stocks the kind of science fiction, fantasy, mystery and crime novels that I love to read. It’s hard to not treat myself to armloads of books, which I have been known to do more than once.

Despite the inclement weather, the shop was packed with fans. Juliet read from A Song of Flight and Mother Thorn and then answered some questions about her process of writing. Juliet’s friendliness towards her fans during book-signing made for a pleasant experience for all.

Later, Juliet and few of us headed over to a local pub for lunch. A lovely way to spend a Saturday.

Hello Again

It appears I haven’t blogged for 18 months, which is not all that good, but not all that bad either. When I’m not blogging, I’m writing. Now I’ve finally finished my novel — the one that took 13 years to write — it’s time to think about self-publishing it. Yep, I’m going down that road, because I want to and I can. Hopefully it won’t take 13 years.

Meanwhile, I’ve written three new short stories. One will appear soon in the very long-standing Australian magazine, Aurealis, (more details when available). The other two stories are in need of a couple more drafts. Next job is to renovate this website, a little bit each day, to be released all polished up in a month or two.

Writing comes first. Blogging whenever.

Meanwhile winter in WA is well and truly here and the Australian native forest I’ve been planting in my back yard is doing very well. Here is a lovely little grevillea flowering right now. Ignore the tiny black spots on the petals. That could be dirt, or it could be bugs. That’s another job: to go check.

IMG_1310

Surely, It’s Not the End of November Already??

Well, I’m not sure how the almost-end of 2019 arrived so quickly, but I suspect it had a lot to do with the way I immersed myself in my novel this year and finally got it to a standard I’m happy with.

Thanks to my editor, Pete Kempshall I knuckled down to some serious restructuring, fixed a few plot holes and inconsistencies, and ironed out more clunkiness than I’d known possible. Then off the manuscript went to some beta readers who gave me the best feedback. A couple were friends, and one was a guy I’ve yet to meet; and I was astounded by comments like, “I couldn’t put it down,” and “It gave me sleep deprivation for a couple of nights.” Here’s to hoping that agents and publishers feel the same.

It’s a long waiting game, this publishing business. In the meantime I’m starting a new novel, and polishing up a couple of short stories to send out before the year’s end. Perhaps I’ll make it my pre-new year’s resolution to blog more. It seems to be the thing to do when you’re trying to sell a novel. So here goes: back to regular blogging.

Oh, another of my new year’s resolutions for 2020 will be to give this website a facelift.

And Another Year Over…

I’ll never be a prolific blogger, but my plan has always been to keep in touch now and then. I didn’t publish any fiction in the past twelve months, but my hard drive has been filling up with work that isn’t yet ready to submit.

This time last year, I threw myself into yet another major edit of my Fantasy/Steampunk novel with the plan to have it published by 2019. I gave myself three months to get the edits done. They took eight. Then I sent it to a professional editor friend who gave me a face-to-face critique along with a stash of notes. I hoped to need only a line edit (I had, after all spent years editing it myself), but it needed a few more structural edits. Nothing major fortunately, but a few things that needed some time to think about.

That’s the trouble with self-editing. I’m so close to my writing, something that needs fixing can stare me in the face and I won’t see it. Editors are gold. Just saying.

I’ve also got an epic fantasy novel on the boil. Opening chapters for Draft One are done. I’m keen to get started on this again as soon as the previous novel reaches the line edit stage.

Last year was also the year of reading and convening for the Australian Aurealis Award’s Anthologies and Collections panel. I can’t say any more about that until the Awards Ceremony on the 4th of May, but it’s been a fabulous experience, and I’ve learned a lot and enjoyed every moment.

This year, however, I’m planning to take a break from judging. My to-read pile is getting taller and the novel really is my preferred form. Here’s a taste of what’s waiting for me:

Washington Black by Esi Edougyan
Red Moon by Kim Stanley Robinson
The Riders by Tim Winton
House of Sighs by Aaron Dries
The Cup of Jamshid by Andrew Old
Into the Sounds by Lee Murray
Moonfall by Donna Maree Hanson

Plus there’s more staring down from the top of my bookshelf.

My favourite reads for last year that weren’t connected to Aurealis judging:

The Second Cure by Margaret Morgan
Ecopunk edited by Liz Grzyb & Cat Sparks
The Silver Well by Kate Forsyth & Kim Wilkins
Science Fiction and the Moral Imagination: Visions, Minds, Ethics by Russell Blackford.