I have a so-called writer friend who shall remain nameless (Brian Keene says what?) who loves to remind me of the fact that this year I turn forty. Forty. Four Zero. That milestone of angst and turmoil, even for the most secure of us … and we all know how stable writer/creative types are. Thing is, this year marks my debut turn as a novelist. Yes, yes, yes. I’ve had short stories, an anthology, and novellas published,* but I hadn’t had a novel see the light of day. Now while I find myself ready to choke the next person forwarding me a headline about the latest pre-/teen offered a six figure book deal, there are some very practical reasons why it has taken me so long to find my way to novel print.
1) Writing is long and hard.** I decided in 1993 to write a novel. I was all of 23. The world was full of hope and I could dare to dream. I finally typed “the end” in 2000. For the record, this is the first lesson of being a writer: writers finish things. When I set out to write a novel, I had NO IDEA how to write one. Sure, I’d read quite a few (and read the Cliffs Notes of many more during high school). Sure, I had thought to myself “this is easy. Anyone can do this. I can certainly do this better than (fill in the blank).” Seven years and 140K words later, I learned that 23 year olds aren’t always that bright.
2) Just because you’ve written a novel doesn’t mean you have written a sellable novel. My first novel is a horror novel called “Strange Fruit.” My second novel is an urban fantasy called “Pantheon of Dreams”. I would tell you the name of my third novel, an African American romance, but my so-called writer friend would join with another so-called writer friend (Wrath James White says what?) to beat me to death with their taunts because I made the mistake of telling them the pen name I planned on using. My fourth novel was a sword and sorcery collab with Steven L. Shrewsbury entitled “Black Son Rising”. My fifth novel is an urban fantasy/crime novel called Knights of Breton Court: King maker (with the sixth being Knights of Breton Court: King’s Justice). There are a few lessons I can take home from my lack of sales.
-One, there are no wasted words. My romance novel will never, no never, see the light of day. However, one of the story lines in it was incorporated into Kingmaker. Just like there were scenes from Pantheon of Dreams that made it into King’s Justice.
-Two, some books have their time. “Strange Fruit” and “Black Son Rising” are simply waiting on the whims of market demands. For example, should a Conan movie go into production, the market for old school sword and sorcery novels will heat up. Also, I still stand by “Strange Fruit”. First time novels typically suck. That’s why God created second drafts. Or, in its case fifth drafts (as it is now down to 90K words).
-Three, while it took seven years to write “Strange Fruit”, it took six months to write “Pantheon of Dreams”, one to write the first draft of “Kingmaker” (yay NaNoWriMo), and three months to write “King’s Justice”.
3) Just because you’ve written a novel doesn’t mean you can sell a novel. It’s one reason why so many first time novelists turn to self-publishing. But, for me, FOR ME (as in the decisions I’VE made for how I want MY career to go), I believe that there are worse fates than being non-published. Plus, if I’d gone the self-publishing route, well, then my so-called friends would be beating me to death with physical copies of a book.
The selling of a book can age a person. Spending time developing contacts, learning the business, finding an agent … all of these things take time. You query a batch of agents, you wait on their replies. You/your agent sends your brilliant, I say, brilliant manuscript to a publisher and you wait on their replies. And that’s IF you can bypass the developmental hell known as the slushpile.
It’s hard to factor in luck or being in the right time at the right place (depending on how your quantum universe works), but I do believe in being prepared for when your opportunities do arise. In short, fifth time’s the charm.
4) Publishing a novel takes time. I won’t lie, Angry Robot has spoiled me on publishing. They’ve been a delight to work with. But here’s another bit of time consumption: they accepted my manuscript in August of 2009 for a book that will be released in March 2010 (U.K. release date). That is a breakneck pace. The contract stuff had been worked out by then (a couple months), but that gives us months to go through the editing process, work up a cover (and allow me to show you this cover again), get my input for marketing ideas, and slotting it in their release schedule. Only then does the novel see the market. And like I said, Angry Robot is moving very quickly. I could very easily be a 43 year old virgin writer.
I say all this to encourage my fellow aspiring scribes of all ages. Writing takes time. Publishing takes time. All you can do is keep writing. You’re never too old to write.
*I also have a so-called publisher/editor friend who shall remain nameless (Jason Sizemore says what?) who loves to remind me that I “ain’t no virgin.”
**THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID! Ok, I’m turning 40, but I’m afraid my sense of humor is perfectly 8 year old boy.