Once you have some experience as an author, having a plan for your book from the outset is critical. If you’re a new writer still struggling to produce book one or two, this blog post might be a little premature. Maybe.
I would argue that it’s never too early to learn the writing profession, but I get that inexperienced writers can be overwhelmed with all of the things they are told to keep up with. Do this, do that, build an author platform…no! Author platforms are a waste of time, build your email list instead! No! First master facebook ads! Wrong, AMS is the way to go!
It’s a lot to absorb, and even harder to put into action.
My newest book, Jurassic Jail, The Time Wars Book 1, began life in 1992. AS DID THE TITLE. (The alternate title was Hard Time, but Jurassic Jail was the working title.) I know Jurassic Park came out in 1990 and my recollection is having begun work in the late 80s, but that’s all fuzzy now. Did that influence my title? I don’t think so…the first dated copy I have is 1992 and it was 15k words long then. In those days I wrote very slowly.
Anyway, the idea, the essence of the book, was spectacular. It was so good I couldn’t believe that I’d come up with it. But the idea was better than the writer who thought it up. In short, I wasn’t good enough to write it back then. By the time I got to 1996 or so it sputtered out around 25k words.
When I picked it back up last year I was a different writer. I also had some experience with publishing. I decided that the ultimate publisher for this book was @BaenBooks. (As if that was my decision.) So when the publisher of Baen was announced as a guest at MidSouthCon this year, I made elaborate plans to present it for consideration. My friend Shannon went so far as to paint her sister from head to toe in scenes from my book. Check it out:
Is that Allosaurus on her right thigh gorgeous, or what?
Anyway, it was made known that these things weren’t welcomed. I was pretty depressed by that, although I should have known better. It was all my fault. Acquisitions editors, agents, publishers, they’re all deluged at conventions with wannabe writers trying to impress them, and to this wonderful lady I was just another in a long line of such folk. I should be remiss not to point out that the publisher initiated a discussion as I was signing books and she was very nice, so it was me who violated the rules of how these things are done, not her. Another lesson learned.
However, as this stage of my career I don’t have an agent, for a number of reasons. For one thing, I write the world’s worst query letter, although someone suggested a new one…”Dear Agent, I make a crapload of money selling books, do you want 10% of it?” I had one, once, an agent that is, a very powerful lady who knew everybody who was anybody in the New York publishing world and it did me no good whatsoever.
So much for Plan A, attracting Baen at the convention.
Plan B didn’t work out any better. Without that agent go-between, if I wanted to submit to Baen it would have gone through the slush pile of unsolicited manuscripts…nope, not again. Been there, done that. It can take up to a year and the odds of making it past the slush pile reader are infinitesimal.
That book care of Plan B.
Plan C was to self publish. I’ve learned a lot in two years and, while there is no question that my Last Brigade books were elevated in a major way by my publisher, I also thought I should experience self-publishing a novel. You know, hire my own cover artist, editor, formatter, etc. The downside is that it’s all up to me. The upside is that I get to keep all the royalties.
I had a wonderful editor all picked out, April Jones, and had even sent her the manuscript. I commissioned a cover painting by the incredibly talented lady who painted her sister in the above illustration, Shannon Ortberg. But here I made a critical mistake: I gave Shannon the wrong instructions on what to paint. That’s because I’m not as good at laying out book covers as I thought, a lesson I should have learned two years ago.
But I did learn one big lesson right about then. Or rather, I came to a realization. And that moment of clarity pushed me from Plan C to Plan D. Which is good, because the next plan was Plan 9 and it came From Outer Space.
My publisher, Gunnar Grey of Dingbat Publishing, has become a major part of my writing. Now, I suppose that’s what any publisher should be, but based on the stories of other writers I’m not sure that’s always the case. Quite frankly, Gunnar elevates my writing to a different level.
People tell me that’s the job of any good editor, and I believe them. I’m not saying Gunnar is the only great editor out there. But what I figured out is that, for the moment, Gunnar is my great editor.
Jurassic Jail was problematic, because my original style from the early 90’s bore no resemblance to the style I have now. I had evolved a lot in the interim and meshing the two styles proved a Herculean task. Then there was the issue of the narrative timeline. When you have three or four different timelines to follow in a linear narrative, it can get very confusing. I needed someone I could trust to help me figure it out.
Not to mention the eleven extra scenes she had me write to smooth things out. I didn’t see any of this coming. And then there’s the issue of the cover.
After much back and forth, which is usual for every book I write, we arrived at this cover, of which I am inordinately proud:
Plan D worked. Although the final edits aren’t quite done, I feel confident in saying that Jurassic Jail is a spectacular book. It’s fast, it’s fun, the science makes sense, it’s everything I envisioned back in the late 80s.