Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Quick Progress Update

Hopefully I can do this one without rambling too much. Just a quick little note about how everything's going.

The third Cochran Investigations book, Blood Games, is on track to have the first draft finished by Thanksgiving at the latest. It's looking like it'll be the shortest of them so far, but it still might surprise me. I've wrapped up most of the subplots aside from the final acts on them, and am well into act three on the main plot, so hopefully this one is racing toward the finish line.

Once that one's done, I'll be starting on another standalone. This time it's a haunted house tale I'm really looking forward to digging into. The initial working title is Hidden Heart, and if it plays out like I expect it to, it will be less blood and more subtle creep factor. At least that's the intent. I suppose I'll know for sure once that first draft is done.

The second draft on The Journal of Jeremy Todd is finished, and if I get a full manuscript request I'll just have to format it and send it out. I personally can't believe I finished this draft this fast, and I swear I hope to never have to try that again. My brain was hurting by the time it was done.

Since that's finished, I'll go back to the edits on One Last Dance to try and get the second draft of that one done as well.

OLD and Journal are both in the hands of beta readers now, along with Demon at the Window, so I'll be waiting on feedback there before I start on any further drafts of those.

Since I need to take a break before starting the edits on Blood Games, I'll use my normal editing time to try and get Homecoming finished up.

On the submission and potential publication fronts, since the open submission period for Sinister Grin runs until the end of the month, I'm not expecting to hear back from them about Journal until sometime after that. They didn't give a lead time on their guidelines page, but I'm figuring up to six weeks there. Consequences is now past the halfway point in the waiting period on it (December 9 will be 12 weeks, and I could have to wait up to 16), so I'm not out of the running yet. I know the publisher was going through some editorial staff changes in regard to their horror line, so I don't know if that will affect anything or not. I've seen nothing on their site to indicate it, so I have to assume the original wait time remains in effect until I hear differently.

And that's it, you're all caught up! I'll update again once I finish Blood Games, or if I get a publisher response I can talk about, whichever comes first!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Another Wait Begins

I mentioned in my last entry that one of my top 2 publisher choices opened up submissions until the end of the month. Well, now I'm in the waiting game with them.

I just submitted the first fifteen pages of The Journal of Jeremy Todd to Sinister Grin Press for consideration.

I didn't want to announce I'd done it until I was confident that I was going to have the cleaned up version completed before that deadline. Well, since I just crossed the 60% mark in three days, I'm confident I'm going to pull it off. Following the pace I've been working on it, I should have the new draft completed by this weekend. Since I doubt I'll be hearing back from them by then (though I suppose it could happen, since they're only asking for the first fifteen pages from each submission), I should have time to spare.

Why didn't I wait until the new draft was completely done? Simple. My nerves were getting to me. If I didn't do it now, I might have ended up talking myself out of it. Better to do it while the irons were hot, so to speak. Since every person who read over those fifteen pages after I had them ready DEMANDED more, it felt like maybe I had something there.

Or maybe I didn't. I'm always the harshest critic of my own work, and have a healthy dose of paranoia to boot, so I guess we'll wait and see.

If it's a full manuscript request, I'll do a happy dance and send it off to wait again. If it's a so sorry, thanks but no thanks, well, it's not like I'm in any worse position than I am right now, is it? I'll dust myself off and move on.

But for tonight, I'm going to watch the new episode of Arrow and then dream about that hopeful final "yes". I'll face reality when I have to. Isn't that the easiest way to do it?

Heh, and now I hear Aerosmith in my head. Thanks, Stephen Tyler. I think I will dream until my dream comes true....

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Two At Once?

In case you pay attention to the progress meter regularly, you may have noticed that The Journal of Jeremy Todd has been changed to reflect the second draft is starting on it, even while I have yet to finish the second draft of One Last Dance. There is a reason for it, and it's a good one.

This might end up changing some things, too. I don't know yet, but here's what's happening.

When you're an aspiring author who has no money, like me, you tend to shoot for traditional publishing before going the self-pub route. There's one reason for it, one thing that makes the lower royalty rates seem worth it. To avoid paying for an independent editor and cover art. I'm guilty as charged here, though I feel I have to say not once have I ruled out self-publishing as a viable option. But if I can save some money on the front end by taking a little less on the back end, I'm okay with that. I'm doing this because it's what I feel compelled to do, not because I expect to get rich at it. I have a day job to pay the bills; this is just to give me fulfillment in my craft, my life, and help me to make the dream of having people pay to read my work come true.

There's a problem with this, however, and I'm sure I'm not the only author who's come across it. You have to find a balance between quality and that desire that's driving you. It's why I'm willing to pay some money if I have to in order to self-publish. It's why I researched the options before deciding on my course of action should I go that route. I'd go into detail on what my plan is in that regard and why, but it's not relevant to this.

The thing that made me bang my head against my keyboard was that so few small horror publishers are accepting submissions right now (not trying for one of the big five because of that balance I mentioned. Not getting into it here, but Google "Author Royalties Agency Model" or spend some time reading through J.A. Konrath's blog, conveniently linked at the lower right of this page as "A Newbie's Guide to Publishing", and you'll understand). Many of the ones that are fall when weighed on that balance of quality versus desire. I have the desire, they can't provide the quality I want.

Then today I discovered that one of my top two choices (the other being where I sent Consequences), the one that was closed for submissions when I started researching, is now opening their submission channel until the end of the month. That's not a very big window.

In submitting for potential publication, there's this thing called "Simultaneous Submissions". Basically, it means submitting the same work to multiple potential publishers at the same time. Some allow it, some don't. Since there was nothing stating one way or the other on this publisher's guidelines page, and since sending Consequences there as well would feel like giving up on the other one when it's halfway through it's waiting period, I found myself in a pickle about how I should proceed.

Let me go ahead and say there were other factors involved in making that pickle. I'm not getting into them here either, because I'm not going to comment on the situation one way or the other since my gut says one thing, my brain another, and my heart yet another. But there was something I had to take into consideration while I debated with myself.

Ultimately, here were my options:

1. Send Consequences to both and hope one said yes. Fifty fifty odds, right? Or would that be one in four since both companies could say yes or no? I'm not good with calculating probabilities, and like Han Solo said, "never tell me the odds".

2. Withdraw Consequences from consideration and submit it to the other publisher. Like I said, giving up when it's just now at the halfway point in the wait time I was given.

3. Submit something else to the other publisher.

Since I know Consequences has to come out before the Cochran books do, there's only one other option to send. And considering the publisher I'm looking at here, it might actually be a really good fit. Better than the one I sent Consequences to would be.

So I made a decision. I'm going with number 3.

The second draft of One Last Dance is going on hold for the time being, so I can try and hammer out a submittable draft of Jeremy Todd. Technically, since the submission only wants the first fifteen pages, I could just focus on those, send it in, and call it a day. But if they ask for a complete manuscript, then what? I've just screwed myself. So I'm going to polish those fifteen pages and send them in, then polish the rest in preparation in case I get a full manuscript request. Ergo, Jeremy Todd takes precedence over any other revisions in my personal pipeline.

I'm not mentioning publisher names yet because I'm not a hundred percent sure I can pull this off. I'm going to try like hell, though. If I manage it, you'll know about it and I'll give you the dirty details here. If I don't, well, they'll take submissions again at some point, and at least I'll know I gave it a shot.

So here's to hoping, and let's see how strong my desire really is.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Where Did That Come From?

You are seeing things correctly. There is a new listing on the progress meter, it has never been up there before, and it is already listed as a third draft in progress. I can explain.

Back in 2005, I started what ended up being my first original novel. I freely admit I really had no idea what I was doing with the actual writing craft part of it, but I knew it was a story I wanted to tell. I finished it in 2006, a year and a half later, and then filed it away.

Some time passed, and I found myself working in a bookstore in a college town. Someone I worked with there, a lovely woman named Patti, was an English major and agreed to do an edit on the first draft for me. When I got the manuscript back from her, I was floored. Stephen King mentions in On Writing how he reacted the first time he ever saw one of his pieces of writing edited. All I can say is that reading is one thing, seeing is something completely different. And this wasn't even from a professional editor, just someone who knew what they were doing.

Out of the nearly 270 pages I gave her, maybe five did not contain markings of some sort. It opened my eyes to the process, and I was re-energized. I wanted to make this work. I started banking on it, to a degree.

Let me go ahead and say it now: while I thought I understood how the publishing industry worked, I truly had no clue. The other thing I neglected to take into consideration was that the economy was bottoming out due to the recession, and the industry was shifting into eBooks, which were nothing more than a novelty at this point. We won't even touch the fact that I was a first-time, never before published author who was expecting his first submitted work of any kind to be the ticket to fortunes. Bottom line, I was an idiot. But I digress.

I got to work and finished a second draft at the end of 2007. Thinking the book was as done as it could get (hilarious to look back at now, but that was what I thought), I pulled out a copy of the Writer's Guide and queried a bunch of agents. I did get one request for the full manuscript, which I sent off gleefully only to be told they didn't feel passionate enough about it to offer me representation. I know now that it was a polite way of saying it wasn't good enough.

Life took over, I got discouraged, and into a manuscript box and the depths of my hard drive it went.

Fast forward to now.

I sat down and wrote Consequences with the intent of trying for publication through a small press, or doing it myself if no one bit. While working on it, I realized that if I did self publish, there were these things called formatting guidelines to follow if I didn't want it to look like something a five-year-old threw together one rainy afternoon. Several people offered to do it for a price, usually $200 and up, but since I'm not exactly rolling in cash here, I decided why pay for it if I could learn to do it myself with a little work? Only I didn't have a finished manuscript to practice with.

So I dug through my hard drive and digitally dusted off Homecoming. As I worked on formatting, I realized there were parts of the book that weren't that bad. With a little polish, it might even be salvageable. Then I finished Consequences, moved on to Demon and the rest and forgot about it. Sort of.

It sat in the back of my head. See, this was my first, and you never forget your first. So I decided to conduct a little experiment. I was going to teach myself how to edit using Word's "Track Changes" feature, since any professional editor I use nowadays will be using the same method. In doing so, I was also going to see if I could breathe some new life into this old manuscript, maybe apply some of the things I learned in the intervening years and make it something I would be willing to put out there for other people to read and not wince any time someone brought it up.

The first step? Clean up. It took no time at all to realize that I had no idea how to properly format a manuscript, even in draft form, back when I started this one. Since I now use a Word template already set up with the styles I need for new projects, I copied and pasted the entire mess into the template, then spent roughly six hours fixing my old formatting errors. Once that was done, it was time to start playing Doctor Frankenstein.

I decided to go from scene start to scene break: make the edit notes, copy and paste it into a new document, then make changes. I learned a few things in doing this. First, I had no idea how to break chapters properly. Chapter one became chapters one and two pretty quickly. Same for two becoming three and four. I'm sure more will appear as I go, too. Second, there is definitely something to be said for letting something rest for such a long period of time before approaching it again. As I write this, I've got fifty pages into what is effectively the third draft but feels more like a complete rewrite. Out of that fifty pages, I've made 480 edit comments. On some pages, Word has to collapse all the notes because they won't fit in the margin of the page otherwise. Honestly, it's made me a little afraid to see what a professional editor would do to one of my manuscripts that I've already done four drafts on. Excuse me while I shiver uncontrollably for a second.

The third and fourth things I learned I'll put together, since they belong that way. I've gotten better at my craft since that first attempt. To my mind, the fact that I have that many notes in such a short span reinforces that fact. Everything I've changed, removed, reordered, or rewritten has made the story stronger. But that only makes sense, because like any other craft, writing can only be perfected through practice.

Homecoming was not the only thing I wrote in the years between when I first started it and when I developed the work ethic I have now with it. While I have no plans to give those stories the same treatment I'm giving this one (though I'm not ruling it out, either), I have a funny feeling that if I did, I'd be able to see improvement with each successive one. Since I got serious serious about this in July, I've finished four more first drafts and am almost halfway through a fifth. But there's even more than that, if you think about it. I did four drafts of Consequences before I submitted it, and I'm about to start the third for Demon at the Window, and am in the midst of the second for One Last Dance. That means, in a sense, eight complete books, plus two halves (first for the current one, second for OLD), so nine books since July. I'm not tooting my horn about being prolific; just reinforcing the bit about practice bringing improvements.

I have no idea if I'll be satisfied with the final result of this experiment, whether or not I'll call it a success or a failure, but it's definitely been a learning experience. I feel good about it, at least for now. So it goes on the progress meter. If it doesn't work, I'll remove it again. But maybe, just maybe, I'll be able to someday get to see that dream of having Homecoming with a cover and binding in my hands and yours.

Wish me luck!