Monday, February 3, 2014

Path to Publication, Part V: Crash and Epiphany

By 2007, I had attended the ArmadilloCon Writers' Workshop twice.   I have my "finished" novel The Fifty Year War, and a handful of fits and starts, including Crown of Druthal, which had been moving forward with a snail-like pace.

Because I wasn't working with diligence.  Hell, there were many days in which even the act of opening the Word document was more than I could manage.

I was miserable.

I won't go so far as to say I was clinically or chemically depressed.  I don't think I was, in any sort of official diagnosis.  But I was unhappy, mostly with the fact that I was working a job that felt utterly pointless, and couldn't muster up the energy to do something more pointy with myself.

I had to make a change.

I made some investigations about changing jobs, but I began to realize that was really just trying to put a band-aid over a gaping chest wound.  Something more radical needed to be done, and I had to really interrogate myself of what I wanted and what I was going to do to make it happen. 

So I quit the job.

Radical.  And fortunately I have a wife who, after her initial shock, was very supportive of working out a new plan. You know how most acknowledgements in books thank their spouses?  Truth to the infinite power in my case. She backed me then and continues to back me out of a faith that this was something I really could do. But part of that meant I had to stop being a dilettante about the idea of writing and treat it like real work that I was striving to be better at. 

This involved really starting to investigate how I wrote.  I realized I couldn't just sit and jot out whatever came to mind and see where it went.  That might work for some writers, and if it does for you, great, but it definitely does not work for me.  So I sat down and really worked out the outline of where Crown of Druthal was supposed to go. 

My last day of work at that job was August 2nd, 2007.  The rough draft of Crown was finished by the end of that month. 

And it was a hot mess, of course, but I was fired up now.  I was going to clean it up and sell this, no matter what.

You notice how my announced sale is not for Crown of Druthal?  And how that was almost seven years ago?  Yeah, this is a story of patience, persistence and self-awareness.

Crown of Druthal has some really good bits to it.  It shows a certain degree of burgeoning talent that, in the John-Campbell-at-Astounding era of SF writing, might have found a mentor figure to shepherd it-- or me as a writer-- to the next level. 

I did do my research on agents and publishers, and despite it not being ready (which I didn't realize at the time), I started querying Crown.  My query letter was probably as not-ready, as I didn't get a single response.

But I was fired up, and not about to stop.  Because already at this point, I had realized I needed to think long game.  I needed to think with breadth.

IF I HAD SELF-PUBLISHED AT THIS POINT:  I would have put Crown directly to market.  I was even tempted, looking at services like Lulu or Xlibris.  And given that the responses of both my query attempts at the beta-readers I sought were so tepid, it's best that I did nothing of the sort.  Crown has some good bits, but it's mostly a plotless meander, a travelogue novel where what happens is dictated by where I wanted to take the characters on their tour of the worldbuilding work I did.  A self-published Crown of Druthal would have been a disaster, and I'm glad I trusted those voices (internal and external) that told me not to do it.

BUT DID I LEARN ANYTHING BY NOW?: I was finally getting a handle on how I wrote.  I had dropped any romantic notions of "just sit and write and see where it takes me."  It took me nowhere.  I learned that I needed to come up with an outline, and more than that, started to get the idea that a novel structure with a plot was crucial to writing something dynamic.


Janine Donoho said...

I really like your wife, Marshall, and appreciate your candor. Writing to publish isn't for sissies, my friend. On, on.

Marshall Ryan Maresca said...

Janine: It won't surprise you to hear I'm rather fond of her, myself.

Anne said...

As a writer and former publishing industry professional, I love this series of posts. Thanks for sharing your experiences!