Monday, June 10, 2013

Why I did it--Part one

So we're moving in on my one-year anniversary of Self Publishing, and holy shit a lot changes in a year.

I figure it's time for me to write down as much of the full story as I can stand. I've put off doing this (This is like the third edition of this post that I've started) because a lot of it sounds crazy. In fact, a lot of it probably is crazy. But it's my story, and craziness is a part of it.

So what on earth made me decide to self publish my books?  Well, let's rewind. A lot. A whole lot.

I finished my first novel in 2008, a few days after starting my very first job. It was (and is) the story Exiles is eventually going to turn into. And I loved it. I still love it. I thought that it (and the two books that follow it, both of which are written) was the Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread, and that I would get published and I would make lots and lots of money. And there would be a movie. I even had the soundtrack all picked out.

(this is the theme song, for the record:

And yes. I absolutely did have my head jammed that far up my own ass.)

I was twenty two years old. I had no fucking idea what I was doing, I had no idea how much I didn't know. I let it sit for almost a year while I moved to Corpus Christi, a town just big enough for me confess I lived there on the internet. Corpus meant I had access to a bookstore and could buy books on editing.

I did. Several dozen. The only one I can recommend is Elements of Style, which you ought to already own, loyal writer-readers, and Chicago Manuel of Style, ditto. Everything else was very much YMMV. I was lost. I had no idea how to do any of the things these books were talking about, and I had no idea how to ask for help. I know about the Absolute Write Water Cooler (have you bookmarked that yet, Writer-Readers?) from my research on agents, because of course you do that before you have a fully edited book (Protip: No. You don't.) but I didn't have the guts to ask anybody there for help.

So I did what I always (and still) do: I prayed.

And if He did anything, God threw the Absolute Write Water Cooler at me a couple more times, and then got real quiet.

In the meantime, my mother was working over in a little town as a graphic artist for a print shop. A gentleman by name of Dennix Hall came in and ordered business cards. I am mentioning him by name in case anybody googles him, so they can find out exactly how good an editor he is according to this self-published writer. He claimed--and I cannot emphasize that word "claimed" enough--to be a freelance editor, AKA a book doctor, and he wanted business cards to give to all the little old writer ladies in this small town.

My mother passed his card on to me.

I had no idea what I was doing, so a little help sounded just effing stellar. 

It was not.

To put this very politely, Dennix Hall had no idea what he was doing as an editor. He talked a good game about publishing, and given that he knew slightly more than I did it sounded real good. Anybody with enough knowledge to, say, avoid Author Solutions-owned fronts like the plague or figure out how KDP works would be able to pop his facade real quick. Neophytes like me, though, were easy pickings. He had become the freelance editor for a publishing company somewhere up north, in an M state (Missouri, Mississippi. Not Maine, I know that much) and another local fantasy author was using him to edit her books. He also had a collection of short stories and was willing to trade artwork for editing. I'd do his book cover, he'd help me beat my book into something like shape.

I thought "Great deal!" and agreed. Without doing any background checking at all, because that's, like, wrong. You trust people, right?

Ha ha. Ha.

I'd love to say that my first clue was that he lived on his boat, but a lot of people live on their boats down here. I'd love to say my first clue was that he owned no computer and had to make do with the boat house's for everything from internet to basic word-processing (Seriously. What writer would go three days without Word, much as it sucks?) but that sailed right over my head. And what really should have been the biggest red flag was that he had NO INTERNET PRESENCE WHATSOEVER. But at the time I didn't know how to properly background check a flea, let alone an editor, and I was working nightshifts, so I was under-rested, underpaid, and half starved for about two years. Meeting him in the daytime meant going without sleep for over twenty-four hours. I was ripe for this.

He introduced me to Very Nice Local Writer, who needed art done, and Very Nice Fantasy Writer, who needed art done, and I've maintained contact with them. They were very nice people. Dennix was also very nice. Flatteringly nice. Kiss-your-ass level nice, especially about my writing. He loved my writing. He loved every bit of it. The weird-ass punctuation. The bizarre word choices. The fact that it was a very bloated 190 THOUSAND words long. His biggest contribution to my editing process was to advise me to remove the word "was" wherever it appeared. And I don't mean in the deadly pairing "Was doing". I mean EVERYWHERE. This resulted in descriptions like "Her hair. Red." and a manuscript that basically read like it was acted by William Shatner.

Fortunately I had contracted for artwork, not money. Even better, while we were (snort) "working" on the manuscript--our weekly sessions were basically "Let's kiss CW's ass for an hour", something I got sick of FAST, but not nearly as fast as having to pay for his lunch--I was researching editing so that I could keep up with the changes he wanted me to make. I found Anne Mini's  Author! Author! blog, which taught me a lot, and I kept researching agents and publishers (and in the process, publishing) on the AW Water Cooler. And then noticeable red flags began appearing.

Like the time I excised twenty thousand words in one week and he asked me "What happened?". I had to inform him that I'd made it better. I hadn't changed the plot or the dialogue one iota.

Like the time Very Nice Fantasy Author offered me better advice than he'd ever given--I credit her with the piece of POV advice that saved the novel--and he pouted for an hour.

Or the business with Very Nice Local Writer and her cover, which went very well for me, but she was publishing via iUniverse, which even I had figured out wasn't a "real" publisher. I got the feeling that both Dennix and Author Solutions had sold it to her as one. They were going to charge her a THOUSAND DOLLARS for a custom cover, and that's why she hired me for much less. That is, by the way, the last time I will contract with a first-time self published author for cover art. I felt, and still feel, like I robbed the lady blind. There's no way she ever made her investment back.

There was the fact that we were always invited out to lunch by Dennix and he never paid. EVER.

There was the nonsense he pulled with Very Nice Fantasy Author's small-press publisher, which I heard about second-hand through VNFA. Suffice to say that short story book I was doing the cover for? It never happened.

But the biggest red flag was when we stopped working together, I had to redo everything we'd done. All of it. Every choice he had suggested was wrong. Every bit of pacing. But I was confused. He had sold himself as this experianced editor with a couple bestsellers under his belt. There were no bad reports on him on the internet (By now, I was smart enough to check) not that there were any in the first place, and he'd done so much for the Very Nice Local Authors I knew. How could I be closer to right than he was?

Finally I did the first smart thing in the whole debacle and I asked Anne Mini a question about Dennix on the blog. Without mentioning names, I said that my editor was giving me advice that felt wrong, especially that whole "was" buisness, could she give me some advice? She gave me something better: a free review of ten pages. I sent her the pages Dennix had carefully reworked, then sat back and waited patiently for the result. It was educational, brutal and everything Dennix had done had been outlined in three different colors of ink as being wrong.

Which was how I learned the first rule of being a writer: ALWAYS check the track record and ALWAYS run if there isn't one. And never, ever, ever go with an editor who has no computer and who works out of their boat.

To end the Dennix Hall chapter of this story, about six months after our last "Kiss CW's Ass" session, he called me. My mother had told him I'd heard good things back from agents. I had not, but she did not understand this. He called me looking for money because he was about to blow town.

All I remember was that I was half asleep, and that I got really whiny at being dragged out of bed at three PM when I'd only gotten to bed at ten AM after a long, long overnight shift frying doughnuts. And that's the end of the Uninteresting Dennix Hall Saga.

Of course, NOW I assumed that I had all the knowledge I needed to rewrite and sell my Very First Novel and make it big. I didn't even need to invest much time in my day job because it would very soon be my former job. I'd get a big six figure advance, and then that dream movie deal, and then everything would be fantastic!

I worked on my Query Letter, following every rule (or so I thought) that Janet Reid outlined on Query Shark (Again, you've got that bookmarked, right?) and carefully researched and selected my first round of agents. They were all the best of the best. I picked the ones that represented fantasy, that repped the books I had read (or at least, recognised from my trips to Barnes and Noble). I avoided the ones with fees, the ones with bad sales records, the one with no sales records. In my mind, all these agent blogs and submission guidelines and posts on Absolute Write had outlined a Plan, a step-by-step guide to getting published and as long as I followed those rules obsessively, I would become more famous than Elvis.

With brave heart and a WHOPPING dose of over-confidence, I sent my first query letter on July 17th, 2013.

I got my first rejection less than twelve hours later.

Yes. I've saved every rejection letter I've ever gotten.

I cried. Of course I cried. You get rejected, that's what you do. And then I reminded myself it was probably just those damned first couple pages and my inability to write a Query Letter. This was like a video game puzzle. I just had to find the right combination of phrases and I'd win the level.

I was an utter fucking idiot.

I was twenty three years old.

(To be continued)

1 comment:

  1. (Seriously. What writer would go three days without Word, much as it sucks?)

    OfficeSuite Pro is good. But yeah, some sort of word processing software is sorta fundamental.

    Looking forward to the next post on this.