What it’s Really Like, Part 3: The Cover

Yesterday, I received an email from my editor.

Yes, I still love to say “my editor.”

Anyway, I thought it was going to be my edits, but no–it was cover design ideas. He presented me with two, told me his preference, and asked for mine.

I’ve thought about this moment a lot, even before I made the sale, and I’ve always known it would be a stressful thing.  For one thing, I’d been thinking about possible designs for a while.  Most of my ideas were, I knew, unobtainable. Further, while some publishers will ask the author what they think, the final decision is the publisher’s.  More than one author has hated their book cover.  I was prepared to join them, but hoping for better.

So it was with some trepidation that I clicked on the files. And then I smiled, because both designs were fantastic.

I really loved the artwork on one of them, but it doesn’t quite fit this book’s feel or themes as well as it might.  But the other design is thematically perfect, and dynamic.  It’s eye-catching and has a great tagline.

I’m happy. The design may change, in small or even large ways, between now and finalization.  But for now?  I’m totally pleased.

 

My First Worldcon

So I attended Worldcon 76, in San Jose, CA. It was my first Worldcon; the last one in my neck of the woods was Reno in 2011, and I was not in a good enough financial space to go to that one.

All in all, I enjoyed the experience, but as a baby writer whose book is not even out yet, it was … interesting.

I quickly learned that most of the writing craft-focused panels were not for me.  They were saying things I already knew. The sort of “theory”-based panels were much better, though I didn’t make it into a few of them due to overcrowded rooms.  C’est la vie.

I learned late on Saturday that the head of my publisher was in attendance, and I tried to arrange a meet, just to shake his hand and say hi, but we weren’t able to sync our schedules and get a minute.  Ah well, there will be other chances.

I attended a panel titled “The Revival of Space Opera,” which included among the panelists my Viable Paradise instructor, Teresa Nielsen Hayden.  I wanted to go talk to her at the end, but I didn’t feel like fighting my way through the press, and assumed I’d be able to find her somewhere else.  Sadly, I didn’t, so I didn’t get to talk to her, which I regret.  Teresa’s one of my favorite VP people.

I did learn that going to a con with my pre-teen daughter is difficult.  Tegan is 10, which presents a problem: the child-focused stuff was too young for her, and she’s not old enough to go hang out with teens yet.  So she spent much of her time being bored, though she did attend her first panel on her own at one point, and enjoyed that.  She felt better once her mom arrived on Friday evening, though daughter spent Friday night visiting her Bay Area-based cousins.  Tegan really wants to be my “assistant” if and when I ever do signings and the like, but I think we’ve both decided she’s not ready for that yet.  We’ll see what happens as she gets older.

What I really enjoyed the most about the Con was visiting my tribe members who came to Worldcon.  Through Beth Morris Tanner, who seemingly knows basically everyone in the SFF field, I also met Karen Osborne and Mary Anne Mohanraj, both of whom were delightful and I hope to see more of in the future.  I didn’t get to talk to all the people I wanted to, but that’s the reality of Big Social Events.  Dinner with my VP crew on Saturday was a high point, for sure.  Let me tell you, if you’re ever in need of some great SFF anecdotes, K.G. Anderson is the person to sit with.

I’m delighted that most of my Hugo votes were for the winners, and I gladly give my congratulations to all the winners, even the ones I didn’t vote for.

Now it’s time to get ready for the school year to begin, and keep plugging away on the writing projects I have going right now.

The Importance of Silence and Downtime

I’m not silly enough to assume this is true of all writers, but it’s certainly true of me: I need silence.

Not true silence, the absence of noise, though that is also beneficial.  What I really need is a sort of mental silence–time in which I don’t have to be thinking too hard about other things, like work, or whether my child is screaming for good or bad reasons, or if I remembered to feed her.

The reason I need that time is so my brain can work through story issues.  I can sit, in a hammock, let’s say, staring at the trees above me, blinking but doing nothing else–and in my brain, ideas are being sifted through, sometimes consciously, but sometimes in the “background” of my mind while I’m just processing sensory input consciously.  It’s a weird and hard to describe process.  So here’s an example:

Saturday night, my daughter and I stayed in a motel in Placerville, about a half-hour drive from my home, because we were going out to watch the Perseid meteor shower and I didn’t want to have to drive all the way home from our star-watching spot at the Ice House Observation Plateau to Sacramento at oh-dark-thirty in the morning.  When we woke up Sunday, we got dressed, packed up, and went home, where an hour later, I realized I’d left my pillow–a non-standard, kinda expensive pillow that is literally the best pillow I’ve ever had–in the motel room.

Figuring the gas to get there and back again was less than the cost of buying a new pillow, I went back for it.  I went alone, which was useful.  As I drove, I started asking myself some tough questions I’ve been having a hard time with about The Remembrance War around some of the events in book 2 and some stuff I’m building toward in book 3.

Namely, I had two major questions:  First, instead of getting into a protracted street fight in book 2, why don’t the Zhen simply blast the rebels into the dirt from orbit?   Second, why don’t they shoot Tajen dead when he begins [REDACTED]*?  And, bonus question, why ARE [REDACTED] getting involved with the whole mess in book 3?

As I drove, with nothing to do but let the music on my crappy car radio be white noise while I thought (and steered), I found all three answers.  So I committed them to memory, and then spent some time refining the concepts and pre-composing a few scenes that will help make it all clear–scenes that will fit into the already-planned story arc and scene structure.

That kind of downtime, you see, is precious.  And I don’t get a lot of it in my daily life.  Between work, ten year old child, and spouse, there’s a lot of talking, and a lot of doing, in my day.  And I need the quiet to be able to figure out what’s going on with the story.

Fortunately, once I know what’s supposed to happen in a given scene, writing does not require silence.  I wrote one of the best scenes in The Widening Gyre while sitting in a room with 300 chattering parents and their kids at my daughter’s school, waiting for an event to begin.  I wrote several other scenes in the middle of restaurants or coffee shops full of noise.

So while it isn’t necessary to actually write down words, it is super necessary to figure out what the general shape of those words should be.

And now, it’s time to get back to the writing.  Tajen’s about to make an idiot of himself before the Kelvaki High Council at the worst possible moment.

What It’s Really Like, Part 2: The Contract

A few days after I sent my acceptance of the terms the publisher was offering, they sent me the boilerplate for their contract.

boilerplate is standardized language used in contracts.  Every publisher has their own.  It’s essentially the same thing you’ll see in the contract.  This is where the negotiation happens.

So I read over the boilerplate, and googled like crazy for a couple of days.  The contract lays out what you’re paid, when it happens, and how royalties are calculated. It isn’t the same for all formats–there’s separate rates for hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook, and then rates for remaindered books, and book club editions.

It also lays out how much the author gets for the sale of translation rights, film/tv rights, audio play (as in radio) rights, etc.  Most of those, I imagine, will never be used, but they’re enumerated in the contract.

The contract lays out what happens if I don’t live up to my obligations by delivering the book by the due date (I’ve already turned it in, since it was complete when I submitted it for consideration), and how any disputes between the publisher and I will be dealt with.  I don’t foresee any of that being an issue; it’s all pretty straight-forward.

It all looked great, so I signed it.  I’m sure in the old days this was done primarily via mail, but because the 21st century is amazing, I signed it just like I signed a lot of my mortgage papers–online, via DocuSign.  Thanks to the iPad’s abilities, my finger-signature even looks like my actual signature.  Within half an hour of signing, I got a copy in my email, signed by me, my editor in New York City, and the head of the publisher in London, UK.  I love the future.

Of course, what I know now is that I should have at least tried to hold on to the tv/film rights.  When I signed it I didn’t really care, because in the unlikely event of a film rights deal, I’d get the majority of the money.  But after signing, I learned from a few sources, most eloquently Jen Udden and Bridget Smith, in their podcast Shipping & Handling, Episode 47, that I should have asked for those rights to remain with me, partly for monetary reasons, but also for reasons of control.  Udden and Smith also recommend keeping the rights to graphic novels, and merchandising. They also suggest that if you must give up those rights, try for more than 50% (which I got without haggling, because my publishers are good people). Again, this will likely never come up.  Film deals are exceedingly rare.

I’m not sure how my publisher would have handled that–my understanding is that most of the big houses just grumble and give up the grab at those rights–but, in my case I don’t think I was harmed in giving up those rights even if there is interest further down the road. But it’s a data point new writers should have.

In any case, I don’t actually regret giving those rights up, mostly because the odds of it ever becoming an issue are pretty much against me. But it’s something I’ll keep in mind going forward.

And finally we come to where I am in the process: Waiting. I expect the first-round edits and copyedits in the next 2-3 months.  Publication is tentatively scheduled for March 2019.  I’m working on book 2, which has not yet been signed, and will send off the proposal for it when I’ve got a couple of chapters done (it’s already been plotted and a synopsis has been written).

I’m also doing a lot of research on conventions and other avenues of writerly book promotion.  All while trying to give my kid a fun summer and also plan for the next school year.

What it’s Really Like, Part 1: Getting an Offer

Ever since I got the offer on my novel, I’ve felt a mix of exhilaration and crushing fear.  I thought it might be fun to write a series of posts explaining the process and how I’ve felt during it.  I’m going to call this series “What it’s Really Like,” because when we’re working towards publishing professionally, many of us get an idea in our head of what it will be like, and while I’m only completely aware of my own experience, I’m willing to bet a lot of it is universal.

Despite that universality, however, there are some caveats:

  1. My experience is mine alone. While I know authors who are further along the path of pro writing than I am, some of them significantly so, and many of them have reported similar experiences, there are also some differences that are pretty important.
  2. I am publishing through a small press. By definition, this means my experience will be somewhat different than an author who publishes through a large publishing house, and it will also be different than someone who is working as an indie author, self-publishing their work.  None of these things are better, but they are different.

I’ll post each entry when it’s time, by which I mean as things happen.  Right now I’m in a sort of limbo, waiting for the next step in the process to begin.  So I’ll start by telling how it began–or, rather, how I went from “aspiring novelist with a finished book but no contract” to “author with a book contract.”

In 2016, Flame Tree Publishing, a company that had been publishing themed science fiction, fantasy, and horror anthologies for several years,   announced that they were going to open to novel-length works at the end of the year.  I submitted my novel, The Widening Gyre, on 10 December 2016.

And then I waited.

The response window had been claimed to be about four months, but I’ve been submitting works for publication long enough to know that was not going to be the case.  But eventually, I just about forgot about it.

In March 2018, I remembered I’d submitted the work, and I queried the publisher, expecting that I’d missed a rejection email in spam or something.  But I was informed by a helpful staff member that the book was still under consideration.

Then, on 11 May 2018, I checked my email at lunch.  I noticed an email from someone at Flame Tree, and I could see in the gmail list that it began “Thank you so much for letting me read The Widening Gyre, and please excuse the delay in getting back to you.”

Now, “Thank you for letting me read…” is how pretty much every rejection I’ve ever received began.  So when I saw those words, my heart sank a bit.  But I knew I had to read the rest of it at some point, so I clicked to open it.

The next words were “I enjoyed the manuscript quite a bit…” Now, you’d think that would be a good sign, but I’d had a couple of nice personal rejections (as opposed to form rejections), and some of them began with “Though I enjoyed the book,” so I was still convinced it was a rejection.  But then I read “… and I think it would make a great addition to the Flame Tree Press line…” and my brain went “Wait, what?”

And then the last part: “… And so I’m happy to make an offer for the book.”

There followed some business stuff to let me know the terms of the offer, but at that point my brain was still stuck on “make an offer for the book.”

In my reply, I tried to play it cool in my response, but the truth was I was practically dancing.  My mood had gone from sour in the middle of a bad day with my students to jubilant.  Someone liked my book–the same book I’d taken to calling the damned book when discussing it with friends–enough to buy it.  It’s really the ultimate “Yes, you are a writer” moment.

Next time, I’ll talk about the boilerplate and the contract.

The Panic of Having Sold a Debut Novel

So, I sold the book.  Began writing it in 2012, finished it in 2015, submitted it to the eventual publisher (among many agents and another publisher) in 2016, sold it in 2018.

Now what?

Well, as it turns out, what happens now is I panic.

I mean, not entirely.  But the book is scheduled for release in March 2019, and I’m expecting the edits in August or September 2018.  Maybe later. So now, I write book 2 and hope the editor likes it enough to add it to the schedule.  But… how can I? After all, I’m a fraud and I’ll never manage a book as good as the first one.  Look at these crappy words I’m making!  GAH!

Which is prime, grade-A bullshit, but it’s what my brain is feeding me lately.  I plotted the book out, broke it into scenes, wrote a synopsis, and then wrote 1300 words of the first chapter.  And then I deleted them, and wrote 1900 words that were marginally better, in both craft and structure.

Every pro writer I know has said at some point that they deal with this, too.  They fear not being able to write another book.  They feel the cold and nasty tendrils of Impostor Syndrome. So I know it’s not really unique.  But digging out of it?  It’s not easy.

In fact, the only thing I can think of to do is to keep my head down, ignore the news, and continue to write.  The first draft will be horrible, but the second will be better, and the third better than that.  And hopefully it, too, will become a book.

So for now, I avoid the siren song of video games and movies, and continue to plug away at this book.  I mean, I already plotted it out and broke it; I guess I ought to go ahead and write it, yeah? And I trust that eventually, I’ll break out of this stupid brainspace and be convinced my stuff is worth reading, again.

Stupid brains.

Today’s Task: Plotting

So, while I wait for the edits on The Widening Gyre, I’m busy working on book 2, The Blood-Dimmed Tide.  As you can imagine from the title, book 2 is a much messier book.

Unfortunately, that messiness was in the plot, too.  Some of it I already saw, and some was pointed out to me by a friend who took a look at it.  So today, I spent several hours working on it.

I basically ripped the plotline apart and looked at the constituent parts. Once I had a grasp of all the parts of the plot I needed and/or wanted in the book, I put it back together. While doing that, I realized a few new scenes I needed, and slotted those in, and I also figured out that with the new shape of the story, I don’t really need a secondary POV anymore. I like the character, though, so I’ve kept her as a character, but she won’t be narrating.

Now I’m writing up a synopsis, just so I know the story holds together, and then I’ll get started on the actual composition of the chapters. Once I get a couple of those down, I’ll send what I have to my editor, and find out if I’m on the right track enough for him to sign it, or if I need to go back to the drawing board.  I’m also taking some notes for Book 3, The Ceremony of Innocence, but I’m leaving off major plotting on that until after Book 2 is done.

Book I’m Looking Forward To: Trail of Lightning

I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Anglo who identifies as a Scotsman-in-exile, which is to say I come from a long line of mostly-British-descended people who came here from Scotland in the early days of the US, and I wish they’d all stayed in the UK so I could have been born there.

That said, I somehow picked up a very fierce appreciation of the American Southwest, and the native tribes that live there.  Because of this, I did several classes on Native American literature in college, and read quite a few amazing stories. But in the SFF field where my true heart lies, there’s remarkably little Science Fiction or Fantasy written by Native Americans.

One of my favorite science fiction novels is Roger Zelazny’s Eye of Cat, a story taking inspiration from Navajo traditions. As much as I love that book, though, Zelazny was as white as I am.  He did a good job, but how much better might it have been if it had been written by someone who knew the culture from the inside?

One of my favorite stories this year was Rebecca Roanhorse’s Hugo Award-nominated “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience.”  Go give it a read, I’ll wait.

Good, wasn’t it?  SO MUCH going on there.  Well, imagine how happy I was to see that she’s got a novel–first in a series–coming out this month?  She describes Trail of Lightning as an “Indigenous Mad Max: Fury Road.”

Read more about her book at this link.   (Includes B&N Preorder link at bottom)

Amazon preorder page

Rebecca Roanhorse’s website

On “Leveling up” as a Writer

As an RPG player of long standing, as well as a video game-lover, the concept of “leveling up” is never far from my brain.  When I finished my first year of teaching, I called it “leveling up.”  There’s some truth to it; every year brings new skills, new ideas.  And not just annually; leveling up can happen mid-year, too.

As a writer, I’ve always thought of a sale as the obvious first “ding” to signal a new level.  Then I went to VP, which was a level-up, as I learned new skills and made some valuable contacts (mostly with fellow students, without whom I would still be trying to finish The Widening Gyre.

So, now that I’ve signed a contract, that’s a ding, right?  Right.  And now I’ve reached a new level of enlightenment about writing professionally, right?

Well, no, not so much.

I mean, yes, If I’m being honest, there’s some nifty “taking myself seriously” going on, where I’m no longer telling myself the book is terrible and nobody will ever like it.  But at the same time, now I have all sorts of new problems to figure out.

When my sorcerer hits a new level, he gets some new spells, he learns some new things, and he’s generally more powerful.  But he doesn’t usually end up with a series of new questions, at least not as part of his new level.

But now that I have a publisher, and an editor, and a contract that lays out certain things, I’m worried about new things.  Like… at what point do I add things like a dedication and acknowledgements?  When do I pitch book 2?  Right after I plot it out and write up a synopsis?  When it’s finished?  Or do I wait and see how Book 1 does in the marketplace to see if there’s even a point to writing it?

My editor is saved from dealing with my neurotic BS by the fact that I know he’s super busy prepping for the Imprint’s big roll out of the new titles beginning in September.  And I’m waiting for the edits on TWG before I do anything else.  Get that one “in the can,” so to speak.  But it’s still all spinning around and around in my head.

So.  Level up, but be wary–just like in RPGs, the battles aren’t over yet.

Impostor Syndrome, My Old Friend

One hopes, when one is an “aspiring” writer, that once one gets within sight of being published, impostor syndrome will go away.

No such luck. Here I am with a contract, and the stupid brain weasels are still very much wrapped around my brain.

I just sent in my author homework.  And now I’m utterly convinced the editor and other staff are going to be rolling their eyes, convinced they made a bad deal and they need to do whatever they can to rid themselves of this idiot.

It’s nonsense, I’m sure.  If there are problems with what I sent in, I’m sure they’ll let me know and work with me to fix it.  But even knowing that, I keep expecting the worst.

The thing with Impostor Syndrome is that you can’t let it paralyze you.  Sure, feel inferior.  Go ahead and believe that you’re a terrible writer and nobody will ever like your work.  But don’t let it stop you.  Tell your brain to shut the hell up and get back to work.  Eventually, you’ll come out the other side and recognize the BS for what it is.

And then be prepared to do it over and over and over again.  I do it all the time as a teacher, and as a writer. It stinks, but what else are you going to do?