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 be a lot of it is universal.

Despite that universality, however, there are some caveats:

  1. My experience is mine alone. While I know a few authors who are further along the path of pro writing than I am, some of them significantly so, 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.

The News I’ve been Sitting On

One of the most frustrating things is when something amazing happens to you and you can’t tell anyone. For the past week, I’ve been trying to act like business-as-usual when inside, I’m doing 99,000 consecutive HappyDances.

I kind of want to go on and on before I reveal it, but that would be mean. So: I am pleased to announce that I have sold my novel, The Widening Gyre, to Flame Tree Press, a UK publisher. The book will be published in “mid-ish 2019” and will be available in both bookstores and online booksellers.

I am beyond pleased, here.

A Good Rejection

I just got a great rejection.  I know, rejections suck, but in this case it was complimentary.  The agent said it was a “fun, fast-paced read,” but she just wasn’t “excited enough about the voice” to move forward.

Sure, it’s a rejection, but it’s a rejection that makes me feel good.  A “fun, fast-paced read” was exactly what I was going for.  Book 2 will probably be a little heavier, a little less “fun,” which is by design given the roots of this story.

Anyway, that rejection is the kind I like–it doesn’t hurt, it’s honest, and it reinforces my self-belief.

The Ups and Downs of my “Stage Presence”

On Fridays, I allow a few minutes for students to ask me any kind of question they wish.  Sometimes they ask about real world things they don’t understand, like the current Korean negotiations, Trump’s actions, etc.  Sometimes they’re random questions about the world (many of which could be answered with a fifteen-second Google search), and sometimes they’re about me.

Today, a fairly astute student asked if I’d ever be able to speak as an author, given that I’m shy and an introvert.

It’s a good question, but easily answered: I could do it easily, because I’m a teacher.

Of course, even if I do get published, that doesn’t guarantee I’ll ever have the opportunity to speak publicly; debut authors don’t get book tours, and few people would go to attend an event with someone they’ve never heard of, anyway.

But if I ever did get to that tier of writerly success, I could handle it.  I spend, after all, six hours a day “on stage” in the classroom, and I’m one of the more entertaining teachers on campus. My students regularly comment that they enjoy my sense of humor, my ability to make sometimes dull lessons entertaining, and my willingness to look foolish to make a point for them.

But it wouldn’t be entirely smooth.  Because here’s the thing: With an audience of fans, I’d be fine.  With an audience of authors or editors or agents, I’d be a mess, talking too fast, trying not to act nervous, and generally trying not to fall apart.  While I’m good at talking to students, I’m crap at talking to peers.  I get nervous when I feel judged, and fellow teachers judge far, far more harshly than students do.

The key is that when I’m teaching, I’m performing.  When I’m talking in front of teachers, I’m not performing–they know the tricks.  I’m trying to get to a point where I can turn that into performance, as well, but it’s difficult.

Reporting from the Query Wars

Queried: 38 Agents, 3 publishers
Form Rejections: 30 (28 Agents, 2 publishers)
Requests for Partials: 5 (all agents)
Personal Rejections: 3
Still out: 3 Agents, 1 Publisher

Neither publisher got past the slushers, near as I can tell.  And that’s okay; I expected that.  I haven’t had a partial request since last summer, which is wearing on me, but them’s the breaks, and as a friend has said, it’s basically a numbers game.  40 queries is still in the little league of novel rejections.