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Monday, January 20, 2014

Thoughts on "Chasing the Market" or The Next Big Thing

Jim Hine's' fourth novel, Goblin Quest
A writing friend, Carol, sent this blog post by fantasy writer, Jim Hines (author of Goblin Quest--a fun and funny fantasy about a goblin runt named Jig). I'd heard the same advice he gives from agents at writing conferences: "don't write what's hot now because by the time you get your novel published, it won't be anymore." The time from writing to editing, through querying and (hopefully) signing a contract with an agent or publisher, then going through their editing and revisions process, through the production stage, until a novel finally comes out is a lengthy process. Case in point, I'm still sitting on pins and needles over the upcoming release of Ye Gods! in April.

I started Chupacabra (the original title), not to jump on the vampire bandwagon, but as a spoof on the vampire craze. Good thing, too, since we seem to have moved on from vampires, through werewolves, to zombies and who knows what other fantasy creatures. Yet there's still a dearth of chupacabra tales out there (although the beast does turn up in pop culture quite a bit having appeared in episodes of South Park, Bones, The Walking Dead, Animal Planet's Lost Tapes, and The X-Files.)

As Hines points out, the complete process for getting a book published really does preclude jumping on the "hot topic" bandwagon. Here's what the timeline for Ye Gods! publication looks like.

Ye Gods! cover
Fall 2010: Begin writing
Summer 2011: Complete draft 1
Aug 2011-Jan 2012: Editing/revisions, round 1 (self-editing and IWW critique group)
Jan 2012-Jan 2013: Editing/revisions, round 2 (professional editor)
Oct 2012-Feb 2013: Querying agents (1st one via writers' conference pitch). Net result--5 requests for partials, 3 for full ms, no contract
March 2013: Query to Casperian Books
April 2013: Accepted by Casperian Books
April-Oct 2013: Editing/revisions, round 3 (publisher) and layout, cover design, etc
Oct 2013-release and beyond: Marketing, ARCs out for review, publicity
April 2014: Scheduled release date

You can scroll down for the gory details of each phase, if you're interested.

Two additional points I loved reading most in Jim Hines' post are 1) self-publishing can speed up that process, but "you still need to write the thing. And if you’re trying to do it right, you still need to get it edited, get your cover art created, etc." 2) our stories are going to improve;  "the stories we write when we’re starting out are pretty derivative. We haven’t found our own voice and style."  

Marina Melee's cover
By the time I wrote Marina Melee, I'd already written and scrapped 2 novels, a children's book, and a novella. I knew how much I'd improved my craft, and had waited to write that story until I felt I could do it justice. I wanted that to be my opus, my masterpiece, because George's story had personal significance for me. The story came from people and a place I dearly love. As happy as I am with the resulting tale, when I completed Ye Gods! I was knew I'd surpassed Marina Melee in execution.

Hines finishes with a great big of advice:

My advice, for whatever it is or isn’t worth, is to write what you love. Write the kind of stories you want to read. Write things that excite you. Write what you’re passionate about. Chasing trends and writing stories you don’t care about just because you think they’re hot seems like a quick path to depression and burnout.

Right now, I'm working on the sequel to Ye Gods! I know sequels will only get picked up by an agent or publisher if the first in the series sells so my plan had been to move on, write "The Old Putters," then go back for the sequel, The Un-familiar, only if Ye Gods! sold well. But, try as I might, I couldn't walk away. I wanted to know what happens next, not in the general, outlined way it's in my mind, but the real thing (because really, no matter how thorough our outlines may be, when we start writing, our characters still surprise us and take us in unexpected directions.) I'm writing The Un-familiar now, for me. I want to write it because I want to read it. The idea behind the story excites me. For now, that's enough and hopefully, in the long run it will be too.

I finished writing the first draft of Ye Gods!(then titled Chupacabra) in the summer of 2011, then spent the next 5 months editing and running it through the novels critique group at the Internet Writing Workshop. During that time, I attended a conference, so prepared a pitch, synopsis, and query, but only pitched there, knowing I was still in the editing phase. Even at this point, I had a successful pitch and an agent requested a partial, then a full. While she ultimately rejected it, her comments were very helpful in the revision process and I completed the first round of revisions and edits by January 2012.

That's when I hired a professional editor, Rebecca S. Bender. I'd hired her for editing on my first novel, Marina Melee, as well. Rebecca is very helpful and accommodating with schedules. She completed the edits in thirds so I could fit the process into my budget, and so I could correct in advance any consistent errors she found within the first portion--making subsequent edits easier and less costly. I ended up taking almost a complete year going through that process, mostly due to budget and time constraints.

Once I'd completed the first 1/3 of the editing process with Rebecca, I did start to query (as Hines says in his post, getting read from the slush pile can take quite a while. I planned to sub the first, already edited, 10 or 50 pages or 3 chapters or whatever the various agents wanted with the query and complete the other edits while I waited. (An FYI if you haven't read my previous posts on this process, or a reminder if you have: my plan throughout the process was to give myself 1 year to try and obtain agent representation and if I wasn't successful, I would go the same route I had with Marina Melee and go to small publishers, starting with (and hopefully staying with) Casperian. This wasn't due to any dissatisfaction with my small, indy publisher, but because I do still harbor the dream of finding an agent and getting a multi-book contract.)

For Marina Melee, I had only received two agent requests for partials and one of those then requested the full manuscript for review. Neither one panned out. Ye Gods! (originally titled Chupacabra, then changed for a brief time to Gods, Dogs, and Demons, and finally settling on Ye Gods! A Tale of Dogs and Demons) garnered five requests for partials, followed by three requests for the full manuscript. One of these came from my all time, #1 dream agent! That put me over the moon! The comments back from two of those were very positive and offered helpful suggestions. Neither offered a contract. All of these agents requested "exclusive" review for a period of between 2 and 5 months, during which period I could not send further queries. Thus, my total query period ended up extending throughout 2012 and into early 2013. At that point, I sent my complete query, synopsis, and first-50 pages to Casperian Books.

Ye Gods! was accepted for publication in April 2013. Then began the lengthy process of publisher edits and revisions, layout, cover design, etc. Because of some conflicting scheduling, Casperian would not be releasing any novels in December, so Ye Gods! was scheduled for a spring 2014 release.

Total time from completion of draft #1 to release: 2 3/4 years. Total time from writing the very first words of Ye Gods! to release: about 4 years.

1 comment:

  1. A good editor can make a world of difference. And what great advice about not chasing trends, especially when the next thing always seems to come out of nowhere anyway.