Today I went to a writer’s conference, put on by Bookwise, in Salt Lake City. They’re holding a writing contest, and my novel, Monster Hunter International, is in it. The winner will be announced Saturday.
It was the first actual writer’s conference I’ve ever been to. I didn’t know what to expect, but I came away extremely impressed by what Bookwise put on. I had been expecting maybe a few hundred wannabe writers, instead it was more like thousands. Richard Paul Evans is a remarkably good public speaker. The speakers were excellent, the workshops were informative and entertaining, and I came away a happy wannabe.
Trying my hand at writing has been a fun, but frustrating experience. I’ve always felt the need to write stuff. When I was still in elementary school, I was cranking out really bad fiction at a pretty high rate. Looking at it now, I really was a dorky kid. (and ironically enough, even at twelve, it was obvious from my writings that I had an irrational fear of crustaceans, but I digress)
I barely passed English in school. I can’t spell. My grammar is pathetic. But I’ve always been a story teller. I can’t help myself. I have to write. Even if it doesn’t turn out very good, it keeps me entertained.
My first serious attempt at a novel died a pathetic death back in 2001. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t really good either. (I’ve since cannibalized all the good characters and scenes for the 3rd book of the Nightcrawler Trilogy) Then I quit for a few years. Sure, I had a bunch of ideas bouncing around in my head, but instead I devoted myself to making it as an accountant in the corporate world. Too bad I totally sucked at that. Me and the corporate world aren’t really a good match.
My next novel was MHI. It was spawned by a mixture of my two great loves, guns and B-Movies, and inspired by the quote:
“You know what the difference between me and you really is? You look out there and see a horde of evil, brain eating zombies. I look out there and see a target rich environment.” -Dillis D. Freeman Jr. 11/2/2001
The idea for Monster Hunter International, i.e. my kind of people killing monsters for fun and profit, gelled in my head for a couple of years. Finally one day I read a single line from Sluggy Freelance (the world’s best web comic) and everything clicked into place. That line was: “The dead flirt ugly.” Within a few hours the entire thing was plotted, and it was epic.
I completed the book in record time, 200,000 words in only a few months, was rather pleased with how it turned out, and started to pass it around to various friends and acquaintances for feed back. And I picked people who wouldn’t be afraid to tell me the truth. The single worst thing that can happen to a writer is having somebody lie to them and pat them on the back when in reality they should be told that they just wasted several months of their life turning out dreck. I wanted to know the truth. I’m not one of those damn sensitive artist types.
The reception was very positive. Most of my readers were reluctant at first, because they didn’t want to hurt my feelings, but once I had harassed them into reading, most of them ended up reading the 450+ pages in one or two days. John Shirley blew a test because he had stayed up all night to finish MHI.
So the initial reviews were positive. So I sent it out to more people, including some professionals who I was (sort of ) acquainted with. Shockingly enough, they liked it too, and their advice helped me to polish the book. I was encouraged to publish. Luckily for me, a few extremely talented individuals volunteered to edit my pathetic grammar and mistakes. Pax and Curly are both brilliant proofers, and they kept me from embarrassing myself.
Still hesitant, I passed it around to even more people. The reviews were still excellent, and now I had professional newspaper reviewers telling me to give them the word and they would write a positive review, and bookstore owners telling me that they would be down for cases of MHI as soon as it was available. A game designer wanted to know about the possibility of setting something in my world. Another respected writer wanted to know if he could have one of my character’s ancestors make a cameo in something he was working on.
Then something even more unexpected happened. I had thought that MHI would only appeal to people like me, gun nuts and monster movie geeks, but then my readers started passing it on to friends, relatives, co-workers, and spouses, and the next thing I knew, total strangers were contacting me, wondering when they could buy a copy. It was especially weird to have people I didn’t even know come up to me and start talking about how they loved a character, or how they had cried when somebody else had died. It is kind of hard to wrap your brain around the concept of total strangers sharing something from your imagination.
I’ll be damned. People really liked it.
So, riding high, and figuring that MHI would be an easy sell, I started sending out query letters to agents and publishers, and that is when the fun really began. Rejections piled up, lots and lots of rejections. Some were the regular old form letters, others indicated that they had actually read the query, a few asked for manuscripts. I spent months doing that dance. Most publishers never even responded, as my manuscript sank into their giant slush piles. Several agents actually read the first part of my book before shooting me down. The response was usually something along the lines of Hey, you’re a good writer BUT it doesn’t fit into one genre, or it is too long for a first timer, or monster books aren’t selling right now, or something else like that.
This was frustrating. Why did I now have hundreds of fans, but a bunch of professionals kept telling me that I wasn’t good enough?
Finally, one respected agent replied to me. (a note on “respected”, wannabe writers, please do your research. Anybody can call themselves and agent, don’t mean that they really are, and if they want money up front, they’re scam artists, not agents, RUN AWAY!) This agency really liked the manuscript, and were interested in representing me. I did a little more research on them, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that they represented some of my favorite Sci-Fi and Fantasy authors. There was one hitch, they wanted me to make a few changes, as in, it was too long for a first timer, see, fat books take up more space on retail shelves, so only sellers get fat books, so I need to cut it down to make it sellable.
Okay, fine, I can do that. You’re the professionals, how much do I need to trim?
About a third. 70,000 words should do.
Ouch. That’s a kick to the crotch.
So I did it. I took something that I loved, and I hacked a third of it off. The rewriting took far longer than the writing. But I did it, and when I got done… it sucked. It had gone from being something I loved, into something that I hated. Sure, it was still good, and now it was “sellable”. The agency liked it. I hated it. I called it off. There was half a year of my life wasted.
So I said screw it. I’ll self-publish. Oftentimes self-publishing means that a book is garbage, and no self-respecting publisher will touch it with a ten foot pole, but I was sick and tired of getting rejected, and as far as I could tell, I had exhausted every other option. I told everyone that MHI would be out in a couple of months, and I was ready to drop the packet in the mail. That was a year ago this month.
That morning I received an e-mail from the boss at a major publishing house. And when I say boss, I mean the actual person that runs the place, and when I say major publishing house, I mean, they’re one of the BIG DOGS, as in look over at the book shelf next to your computer, and I would be stunned if you didn’t have some of their books sitting on it. Apparently one of the bookstore owners that really liked MHI wasn’t just a regular bookstore owner, he was the owner of one of the largest independent bookstores in the country, and he had been shocked that nobody had picked up my book. He had contacted this publisher and told them that they were idiots for rejecting me, and apparently he buys a lot of books because right away the publisher wanted to see my work.
So I pulled the self-publication packet out of the mail, and sent a manuscript to the publishing house where I had disappeared into their slush pile a year before without even a rejection letter. The first readers loved it. The second readers loved it, and passed it up the chain with “glowing recommendations”. Then the publisher herself finally read it. She said she liked it, BUT… then came the list of things I needed to change. At least these changes weren’t as drastic as my go around last time, and the changes actually had some literary merit.
I made the changes, and then sent it back. I was told that they would make a decision and get back to me in a month. Then I waited. And waited. And waited. Every month or so I would send an e-mail, only to be told that they hadn’t decided yet, and they would get back to me. I really appreciated such an important person in the writing world to take the time to give me advice, but I can only wait so long.
So now, I’m done. I’m done waiting, and I’m done being rejected by professionals for two years, while I’ve got a bunch of people on a waiting list to buy books. I’m waiting for the results of this writing contest, and win or lose this weekend, Monster Hunter International is getting sent off for self-publication next week. Which means that I’ll actually finally hold a copy of the book in my hands around the end of the year. Once I’ve got an actual ETA, I’ll post excerpts and do a preorder on here.
About friggin’ time… Yes, I know. I’m working on it.
Well, anyway, the conference was great today, and I’ll be there for some more seminars tomorrow. I’ve already done a ton of research about self-publication and promoting yourself, so the ideas weren’t necessarily new, but at least it was validating to be able to say, check, check, yep, did that too. (For example, I started this blog, so please buy my book!)
I do have one comment about the conference, and it isn’t about the conference itself, because Bookwise did a kick ass job, rather, it is about some of the other attendees. If you’re in a hall with about a thousand other wannabe writers, and you’re standing at a microphone to ask questions to a panel of actual successful authors, editors, publishers, agents, and publicists, do you really honestly think the other attendees want to hear the details of your pathetic life? NO! Ask your question, and sit the hell down! BRIEF QUESTIONS! BRIEF!!!!
Let’s see, I could either listen to somebody that’s sold like 140 million books (literally) or I could listen to you prattle on for seven minutes while you try to string a series of words into a coherent sentence that conveys some sort of question, and then you cap it off with a plug for your book and telling the rest of us what your web address is. Dude, we don’t care. We don’t care that your Myspace page isn’t getting enough hits. Let the professionals talk. That’s why we’re here. You, shut up. Professionals, talk about stuff. Got it? And if you can’t explain in under a minute what the hell your book is about, then it probably sucks, deal with it. Either way, deal with it after you shut up and sit down, far away from the microphone.
Whew… I feel better now.
My only other comment about the conference is that Harry Turtledove is a surprisingly tall man. I stood next to him at the urinals today. I’m 6’5” and he had to be at least my height. I’m sure this is absolutely fascinating to you guys, but I was surprised. I always pictured him as being short for some reason.