The Official Blog of Author Tristan Vick
Writerly Things: Take Me to the Moon! One Part Luck and Two Parts Diligence or How to Sneak into the Publishing Industry Through the Back Door
Some authors have piles of rejection letters for unpublished novels that are slowly wasting away in the corner of their writing rooms. Not me. I have a total of three rejection letters.
So how did a guy like me who hardly submitted a story to any publisher land a publishing contract? How did a guy with zero contacts in the business, who was new to the game and didn't have a single friend in the writing world get hand selected to join the new upstart publishing imprint of the renowned post-apocalyptic and urban fiction powerhouse that is Permuted Press?
But all that luck ... that only came after all the hard work. So, in reality, hard work = luck.
But, also, remember that getting lucky sometimes means being in the right place at the right time, like I was.
But also, hard work.
Here's the thing. The hard work is what counts. Because, the truth of the matter is, I could have been in the right place at the right time but simply gotten overlooked, ignored, or worse -- dismissed entirely.
I hate rejection. Hence my apprehension of submitting to big presses only to await more rejection. Yeah, that's not for me.
In fact, I hate rejection so adamantly that I refuse to put myself into such a situation. I just won't do it. The three times I did, well, I honestly thought those groups were looking for a writer like me. But they had other plans. That's fine. I'm not telling them how to run their publishing companies, but I also wasn't going to put in several years of hard work writing and polishing a story that would end up wasting away in the corner of my room along with a pile of rejection letters. Hell, no!
So I decided to self publish my first fiction novel. I also was very specific in what I chose to write. I did a couple weeks of market research and found out that zombie fiction was selling like hotcakes (or is that crepes?) and I said to myself, why not take a stab at it?
Did I know anything about writing zombies? Nope. Did I know anything about the genre itself? Not really. So this is where my hard work truly began.
A year before I began writing my novel I read as many zombie novels as I could get my hands on. I actually ended up amassing more books than I had time to read, but building a catalog for easy research is always necessary when breaking new ground.
So I read zombies, watched zombie movies, and befriended authors of zombie fiction online.
Then after reading all the zombie fiction, finding similarities in themes, word usage, tone, etc., I decided to take from the best and leave the rest. Basically, I studied what seemed to make a good zombie book and what made a boring zombie book, and I decided to try using only the things that seemed to really work.
I realized that good zombie books had character driven stories. The characters had real goals. Dialog was realistic, and the survival aspect was key to the story. The characters had to be kept moving, so the story had to keep moving, so after every twist a new challenge was presented and the characters would have to overcome these challenges. Eventually, the characters either grew or were killed off. And this is the basic recipe to a good zombie novel.
The bad zombie novels, well, let me just say they were mostly military guys shooting lots of zombies. More military guys shooting zombies. Then some more military guys shooting zombies. 90% of the zombie books are military guys shooting zombies. I didn't want to be cliche like that. That doesn't mean all the books of military guys shooting zombies are bad. Some of them are rather well written, with lots of attention to detail, usually the author has some experience in the Armed services, and that's fine. But the truth is, they still only ever mustered up a story about military guys shooting zombies.
Not very original. A total bore. Blarg! Not this again.
The fastest way to turn me off to zombies is to write a story about military guys shooting zombies. But I digress.
Some people actually like that genre. No problem with that. But there is no denying it is rather cliche. And since about every other zombie novel I read was just a continuation of the same old theme, I desperately wanted to tell a story involving something more original.
Sure, my own zombie novel Bitten has military guys shooting zombies, but they're not at all realistic military -- more like an idealized version of what I imagine the perfect soldiers to be -- so it lacks realism in that department, but I gave them real characteristics, solid personalities, and really this is what drives the stories -- the individual -- not their occupation.
Besides this, my story isn't about the military at all. They're just supporting cast members in a much bigger ensemble. The main characters are all civilians. But they all have real goals. Real hopes. Real desires.
So what does all this have to do with self publishing? Well, when you write your first novel, no matter how long you've spent working out all the kinks, you still are going to need to have another set of eyes go over it. Preferably with a fine-tooth comb.
You see, I made the rookie mistake of publishing my book BITTEN before I had hired an editor. And the only thing anyone saw was a bunch grammar mistakes and typographical errors. Most people aren't very forgiving. If they come across more than three mistakes in one chapter, they will destroy you in the reviews. Upon my first 1 star review, I quickly took my book off sale. I was embarrassed. I didn't want to seem like a hack writer. After all, I spent two long years working on my first novel. I needed it to be perfect.
So I asked around. Who edited freelance for little old Indie authors like me?
I was given a full list of names. And I checked them all out. And although they were all fine editors, I'm sure, only one of them stood out above the rest. This person was Monique Happy of Monique Happy Editorial Services (MHES).
The thing that caught my eye was that almost all of the authors she worked with had great reviews on all of the review sites. Further, many of them had contracts with real publishers, and as such many of them were hybrid authors.
So I hired Monique Happy to edit my novel Bitten. And she did an excellent job. Then I hired a professional cover designers to do the cover, and the rest is history.
Well, almost. You see, here's where Lady Luck struck. Because just as Monique was editing my third novel, the offbeat dark comedy The Scarecrow & Lady Kingston, about a scarecrow that comes to life and joins the L.A.P.D., she had things going on behind the scenes which since has blossomed into an amazing opportunity.
Permuted Press had the novel idea to expand into a broader publishing company. But they wanted to bring on new talent while at the same time not veering too far from their image. So they decided to create an exciting new imprint -- and Monique Happy was just the lady they had in mind for the job.
I don't know the details, but I can assume that the people over at Permuted Press noticed the same thing I did. Monique was working with top notch talent, she had tonnes of clients, many -- like me -- were just breaking into the writing world for the first time. And they probably saw the potential of tapping this new talent.
So Monique started Winlock Press, an imprint of Permuted Press, and she emailed me asking if I'd be willing to publish my Bitten series under the new imprint. I didn't hesitate to say yes. But what really surprised me was that she wanted to bring on my offbeat comedic noir The Scarecrow and Lady Kingston too. Here's where I hesitated.
You see, I had only written one Scarecrow & Lady Kingston novel, but I was planning several more. I loved these characters, they were the best thing I have ever written or created, they were my babies, and I didn't want to sell the rights never to be able to write them again. So I said she could have the series if she let me write and produce the full saga as I imagined it. She wanted to know how many novels that would be exactly. I was thinking of five, but I threw out the number seven. Why seven? It's Lady Luck's lucky number. Monique said, "Yes."
So here I am, contracted by a bona fide press to complete 12 novels (7 Scarecrow & Lady Kingston books and 5 Bitten zombie novels).
But none of this would have been possible if I hadn't done all the hard work of writing the books -- of not being completely satisfied -- and then going out to hire an editor to take my books to the moon and back.
So, maybe in the end it's one part luck and two parts diligence. But let me be completely honest with you, if I would have left my book riddled with errors, if I never went the extra mile to edit the darn thing, if I hadn't hired professional help, if I hadn't clinched my jaw and divvied up the dough to get the professional treatment, and if I hadn't taken the necessary time to find just the right person to do that -- my book would have faded into obscurity long ago.
It would have remained just another one of those poorly written zombie novels which gets read only by a handful of zombiphiles and post-apocalypse junkies, but hardly anyone else. Who knows, it might have even signaled the end of my writing career. The proverbial nail in the coffin, so to speak. Proof that I really was a hack. But I didn't give up. I kept at it. And that's the important part. Keepin' at it, even when everything seems to be going wrong. Just keep at it.
Now, Bitten is getting it's THIRD major release, and it is being published by a major publisher through which it will gain a new life along with a wealth of readership from a fan-base that is already locked in place, and this time there's no stopping it.
Good thing I never gave up.
So here's to the future! And, the moral of the story is, it pays to have your work professionally edited -- no matter how great of a writer you think you are.
By day I am an educator and a cultural ambassador. By night I entertain notions of being a literary master. In reality I am just a family man and ordinary guy who works hard and loves writing just about as much as I love my family. Just about.