Real talk. The writing is the easy part.
I finished my debut novel, Dead Weight, sometime in 2015. I can’t remember when, and I can’t be bothered to look, but it was during those early months and not the later ones. It’s December 2016 as I write this, and the book still isn’t out. Nearly two years have passed.
In all of that time, I’ve written the majority of my second book — more than 70,000 words — and I’m well into my third. I contracted covers for all of these works. I auditioned audiobook recordings. And I edited. And edited. And edited.
My experience with traditional publishing — an industry largely based out of New York, as I sit on the opposite end of the country — is that it’s slow. Not just snail slow, but the formation-of-the-Grand-Canyon slow. It seems to take forever to do anything, even converse, with anybody evenly remotely related to the publishing process.
Here’s what I’ve learned.
First, if you’re going to self-publish, very little of this applies, and go with God. You’re going to need him. There are literally tens of thousands of people on a weekly basis who are writing the next big thing, or so they believe, and they’re all about to flood iBooks and Kindle.
If, like me, you’re clinging to the notion that the old way is the best way, well, prepare for a reality check. You need an agent or publishers won’t even look your way. Not an agent you pay so that they’ll represent you — run from those criminals. No, you want real representation from a reputable agent, all of whom won’t accept a dime until you’ve landed a contract.
Occasionally, I read these wonderful stories about first-time authors who barely lifted a finger for wonderful six-figure deals, and that’s usually the point where I sweep my computer and monitor from my desk and go into a rage dance. (Three or four times a week.) I’m not envious. I’m seething with jealousy, for they are obviously in possession of talent and good fortune beyond my grasp.
My story is one filled with reedits. When I first approached an agency, Dead Weight was 135,000 words. Then, after a back and forth, it was 125,000. Then 115,000. Then 110,000. Then 100,000. And now, 95,000. And that’s still 15,000 words shy of where it should be, by some accounts. Prepare to kill your darlings, as they say. When you’re Stephen King, you won’t need to make those sacrifices, but in the meantime, you have to be marketable, and 80,000 words is easier to sell than 135,000. At least, it sure has been for me.
There is an upside to all of this, which is that as you snip and cut away paragraphs from your novel and down shots of bourbon, holding back tears, you will eventually realize that the exercise isn’t futile, but productive. Dead Weight is, in many ways, a better novel at 95,000 words than it was at 135,000. It’s tighter. And I have an agency to thank for that.
That being true, it’s been two years, and the process is only now nearing completion. You will query agents and you won’t even get responses. You will query others and get rejections. Some will read your novel and say it’s “not the right fit.” Just remember that the people who succeed — not just as authors, but in life — are those who refuse to admit defeat; those who press forward even when the path is totally obscured.