For today’s installment of the Worlds of Wonder blog hop, yours truly answers a few questions about writing:
Can you tell us a little about your first publishing experience?
Back in 1995, I had been shopping short stories for about a year. I was in my final year as an undergraduate and had written fifteen or so stories that I felt were pretty good. Looking back, I realize they were probably immature and ridiculous, but at the time, I believed all of them were great. At that point, I was trying to write mainstream “literary” fiction because that’s what was drilled into our heads in the program. After 36 rejections, most of them form letters with no feedback, I got a call from a guy I knew who was the editor at a small literary magazine at UAB. He loved my story, “You Can Never Tell Anything” and wanted to publish it. The story appeared in their Spring edition and my pay was two contributor’s copies.
A few months later, he called me up and said an agent had contacted him and wanted my number. I thought he was messing with me, but sure enough, a week later, I got a call from a fairly well-respected agent in New York, a guy who had a pretty solid stable of writers. He loved the story, too, thought I had a lot of potential, and wanted to know if I had anything novel length. I was elated and just knew this was my big break, so I sent him the first three chapters of the novel I was finishing. A couple of weeks after I sent it to him, he returned it with a polite note saying he didn’t think it was publishable. Needless to say, I was crestfallen. For a couple of months, I moped around and felt sorry for myself. Then, one day, I decided that I needed to sharpen my skills, so I went back to work and focused on honing my skills.
Looking back today, that rejection from that agent was one of the best things that could’ve happened to me. It forced me to put my ego in check and learn my craft. I was young, naive and immature. If that book had been published, it would’ve been the end of my career, regardless of how successful it became because I wouldn’t have grown as much as I did. Also, in those days, I was fairly self-destructive, and if I’d gained even a measure of success from that work, I would’ve lost myself in a sea of alcohol and been done for. Instead, I got an opportunity to learn, grow, and mature not just as a writer but also as a person.
Which came first for you, the characters or the plot?
For me, everything follows from the characters. Whatever I’m working on, I have to know at least the protagonist before anything else. From there, the plot, back story, descriptions, and anything else in the story grow out of the characters’ realities. To that end, I spend a lot of time thinking about the characters before writing the first word. Whenever I have idle time, I immerse myself into their lives and think about who they are, where they come from, what has shaped and scarred them. I’ve found that the more I do this, the easier the story will unveil itself during the writing. Regardless of how much time I spend thinking about them, however, they always find a way to surprise me once the story gets going, and that to me, is one of the best aspects of writing, that act of discovery. It’s what motivates me to come back to the keyboard night after night.
Do you think you may ever go into another genre?
My next project will be much different. I’m prewriting a near future, urban fantasy, trans-human novel about a mechanically/digitally enhanced soldier. Right now, it’s in the early planning stages, but so far, I really love the protagonist.
What are some of the pro’s and con’s of self-publishing verses being published by a publisher in your opinion?
First, I must say that I’m a big fan of self-publishing because that’s how I re-launched my career. Today, I’m with Seventh Star Press, but at first I was on my own. In this era, we don’t need New York because we have the internet and much better distribution and inventory control through POD printers like Lightning Source. The advantages to it are complete creative control over the process and the opportunity to get your name out there without several years of waiting on the old houses to make decisions.
That said, I know firsthand how difficult it can be. First and foremost, do your research before you even think about it. Understand your production costs, especially if you’re going to have paperback copies. Even if you’re just doing an ebook, I highly recommend hiring a professional artist for the cover and using a professional to layout the text. I cut corners on my original cover, and it set me back quite a bit. Also, you have to understand that there will be a stigma associated with self-publishing. If you can’t accept that stigma and deal with it as a professional, don’t self-publish. Also and most importantly, don’t be so arrogant as to think you don’t need an editor. Grammar matters. Punctuation matters. Spelling for damn sure matters. Pay someone to clean up your manuscript BEFORE it goes to print. This is your name and credibility on the line, and right now, way too many people are putting rough drafts on the market. If you want longevity in this industry, have a little pride in the book you’re producing and don’t show it to the world until it’s ready. Otherwise, you’re killing your career before it begins. The main reason I survived as a self-published author was because the content of The Brotherhood of Dwarves was of professional quality, even though the cover and printing were shoddy. People respected the book because it was well-written, and the reason it was well-written was because an editor polished it with me. I can’t stress rewriting enough.
What is your favorite part of writing?
The readers. Talking to them, listening to their feedback, discussing characters with them, that’s the best part. I love the act of writing, too, but talking to my audience is what keeps me going. I love how passionate they can be about the books. I love when they ask me about particular details or want to know more about this character or that back story. I love to receive emails or comments on the blog. No matter how many times it happens, it’s always exciting. I consider myself fortunate to have such an awesome audience, and I am grateful to each and every individual who has taken the time to read my work. Even the ones who don’t like my style are appreciated because they often give me feedback that can make me better as a writer. To all of my readers, I just want to say, “Thank you.”