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.
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…