I thought I’d take some time today to talk a little about the writing process as I’ve learned it over the last several years.
When this magical mystery tour began I didn’t have a clue as to what I was getting into. There was a story I held in my chest that was waiting to be told, but I didn’t have an idea as to how to get it out there. Hell, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted people to read it. That story was the seed for “In the Valley,” the first book in my initial trilogy.
So, not having any manual as to how to go about writing and producing books, I started searching the internet for options. Learned a lot of intimidating facts. One was that sending an unsolicited manuscript to a traditional publisher was a sure way for your work to end up in a “slush pile,” where some poor intern MIGHT read more than a page of what would cost you months of work. Then you would probably never hear back from said publisher.
After learning about that, I decided not to go that route. Struck me as a path towards madness. Sooo, I read up on indie publishing. This was more attractive to me because it seemed that yes, you could publish a book on your own terms, and then put it out on a site like Amazon where you have the potential to reach millions of customers… if you could somehow get your book out where people could consider it.
Ran across some more daunting facts. Don’t know if its true or not, but I saw somewhere that the average indie book sells about a hundred copies. I would later learn that this is about right. Also, I learned that indies are notorious for bad editing, layout, etc., and you simply have to pay good money to have your little darling polished and prepped. These bits of info almost scared me off again before I committed a single word to the page.
However, I can be stubborn. As I had nothing to do in the winter of 2014 other than await the judgment of the Army Medical Board, I said “damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!” and started to write. During this period I found out that I lapse into a sort of fugue state while writing- I feel a need to write, it doesn’t stop until the last word is written.
I vomited the book forth, and to my surprise I had a 96k manuscript after a month of intense work. Previously, I had never written anything longer than forty or fifty odd page papers in college.
A mistake I made is that I didn’t have an outline, there was no trace of deliberation, and I only showed my mangle-script to my dad after I had sent it to my one-stop-shopping publisher, CreateSpace.
Looking back on it, the book had serious flaws that could have been corrected before I submitted it. As it was, my editor actually sent me a positive feedback letter after the copyediting was done, but I didn’t have the jack to correct the book with some of what he suggested for a second round of structural editing.
The money wasn’t there, so I had to go forward with what I regarded as a flawed product. However, the many grammar mistakes had been squared away, I had fixed issues with POV shift, and it seemed to be a pretty decent book with an acceptable cover, so I hit the PUBLISH button on the CreateSpace page, and within a day or two the crazy thing went live on Amazon.
It was a proud moment, while it lasted.
No-one bought “Valley” for over a year, other than friends and family. Eventually I grew embarrassed of the book, I didn’t mention it to anyone. I figured I had joined the ranks of the “one-hundred books” club, and my work would sink into oblivion.
Also, I had a personal hang-up about “Valley” that was only obvious to those who knew me well. The book was chock full of stuff that had actually happened, only it was related through the lens of science fiction. The book was somewhat my story, a lot of stuff was too real. My shrink (to whom much is owed) told me that “In the Valley” was an unconscious mechanism for distancing myself from bad events, it helped to place a fictional veneer between the trauma of the past and my life in the present.
Given the above context, I recognized “Valley” as kind of a screwball form of therapy, and I grew content with it as such. If no-one ever read it, then OK. Hey, at least I had completed a book. Many never get so far. Writing as such wasn’t in the cards for me, I walked away from the desk.
But my book was still out on Amazon. It could be found by anyone.
One day, out of the clear blue sky, I received an email from a gentleman up north. He liked my book and he wondered when I would write the next one.
Now, I had kind of left a hook in “Valley” on the off chance that I might consider a sequel. Doing so was something I had seen again and again in fiction, so I had built such a device into “Valley.” However, I had never seriously considered writing a sequel. As far as I was concerned, “Valley” was a one-off, a smoldering garbage fire of embarrassment and failure.
Just because I thought my book was a pretty decent write-up didn’t mean that was actually so. But here was a random stranger asking for more of my writing. And he had demonstrated that he was willing to pay for it. By definition a professional writer gets paid for his or her work. And here was a guy who had dropped cash and was asking for more.
I am still in contact with this gentleman, and he may know who he is when he reads this. Brother, you were the snowflake that started the avalanche. Much obliged.
It was a turning point for me, the late fall of 2015. I made the decision to write a sequel, only this time I would take a systematic approach and I would study the methodology of the best out there. So I started reading, and I found the personal websites of some of my favorite authors. Most websites weren’t that great, but a few were pretty awesome. One author in particular had an amazing website and a whole collection of books. Also, he talked a fair bit about the writing process and how he would tackle projects. Before I ever “spoke” with him, I had learned a lot.
With new weapons in hand and the encouragement of some key actors, I sat down to write “The Captain’s Cauldron,” book two in what I decided would be a trilogy.
More follows some other time. J.