FAQ: What is your publication story? +Annotation +QuotePosted on 03.09.07Categories: FAQ Quote Board Elantris Mistborn People In SF Other Books Conventions Awards
First, Annotation: Mistborn Chapter Twenty-Seven
Second, Quote Board: "Secret princess princess does not need to see her own bare bleeding chest on a man." — Fellfrosch (In our RPG campaign last night.)
Third, I've finished the Mistborn 3 edit! Yay! Now I can finally write something new. Dragonsteel book one, here I come.
Finally, as requested by a reader of the blog, I've decided to add a new FAQ post explaining how I broke in to publishing. Sit back and enjoy:
FAQ: How did you break in to publishing?
I made my first ATTEMPT at a novel when I was fifteen. Tragically, I lost most of it. I wrote it in secret (because I was terrified someone would find out what I was doing and make fun of me—teenagers are so strange) on an electric typewriter. Those were odd computer/typewriter hybrids that looked like a typewriter, but could store material on a disk, then print it out for you. Kind of like a player piano.
Well, my machine used its own format of floppy disk. While I still have those disks, I doubt I'll ever be able to get the information off of them, since the age of the electronic typewriter is long gone. Even if I had a machine, I doubt the information is still good on those disks. It's been some fifteen years . . . It's not a total tragedy, however, because I still have about twenty pages of hard copy from that book. Boy, was it terrible!
My first real attempt for a novel came when I was 21. The book was called WHITE SAND, and took me about two years to write. It was about 600 manuscript pages (300 page hardback) long, and actually wasn't terrible. However, it wasn't great either. I eventually took the setting and rewrote the book from scratch. Maybe I'll publish it some day—I still haven't decided.
Anyway, back about the time when I started the first version of WHITE SAND, someone told me that an author's first five books are generally terrible. This depressed me, but I've long believed in the power of good, solid, determination. I knew that there were other aspiring writers who had more talent than I—in fact, I still have several friends that I'm convinced had more raw ability than I ever did.
I decided that others while might have more talent, I'd work harder than they did. So, I started writing. I finished that first book, then moved on to a second, then a third . . . eventually, I became a writer. Not because I'd published anything, but because WRITING became my life. It was more than a habit, it became what I did and who I was.
Once I finished ELANTRIS—my sixth book—I knew I had something special. About this time, a writer friend of mine (David Farland/Wolverton) gave me some timely advice. He suggested that I needed to start going to writers' conferences. I went to two that very year. The idea with these conferences is to not only gain information about how to write and publish, but to make contacts. I don't think you need to be an 'insider' to get published. However, if an editor can at least meet you and get a face to put with your name, I think it helps you get noticed and perhaps read.
Eventually, I met a newer editor at one of these conventions. He worked for Tor—a company I respected a lot—and had edited some authors I like quite a bit. We talked for some time, and I realized we had similar tastes in books. So, I asked if I could send him something. He said yes. I sent it as soon as I got home.
Eighteen months passed.
As I said, I don't think you need to be an insider to get published. I didn't gain a powerful key to getting published by going to the convention and meeting Moshe. (Indeed, I met dozens of editors, and most blew me off.) Even when I found one who would look at one of my books, that book still went into the slush pile. I still had to feel like I'd been forgotten. However—perhaps because Moshe HAD met me, and felt a little guilty at never reading my book—he eventually did pick up and read my novel. After reading only a small portion, he called me to make certain the book was still available for him to buy.
Unfortunately, by then I'd moved, so my phone number was wrong, my address was wrong, and I'd changed emails. Moshe, however, vigilantly Googled me and found my BYU graduate student page. From that, he called my new number and left me a voicemail. When I got home that day, I received the message that said something like "Hi! I don't know if you remember me, but my name is Moshe Feder. I'm an editor at Tor, and you sent me a book eighteen months ago. Well, I'd like to buy it!"
I, of course, just about fainted from shock. ELANTRIS wasn't the only book I had out for review at a publisher, but I had given up on ever hearing back from Moshe. Plus, as much as I had dreamed about that day happening, it was quite a surprise to actually have it happen.
After that, I called an agent I respected and asked him to represent me. He said yes, and he handled the contract negotiations (His name is Joshua Bilmes—and I highly recommend him.) Those negotiations, and getting contracts, took about seven or eight months. Then, editing the book took about a year and a half. So, overall it was over two years from the time I got the call to the them where I got to hold the book in my hands. But it was worth it.
What's the moral of all this? Heck, I don't know. Work hard, learn the business, write books. It's a coincidence, I think, that I sold my sixth book (after hearing that the first five are terrible.) However, it is an interesting thing to note. Also, when Moshe gave me that call, I was at work on my thirteenth novel! (And I write mostly big fantasy books of 1000+ manuscript pages, so those weren't short books.) I believe that writing is like learning any other art—you don't start out brilliant. If you want to learn piano, you have to play your scales. Those books I never published were my scales. (And I don't think you have to write six books to publish—part of what took me so long is that I wasn't good at marketing myself early on, and I didn't have very good revision skills. Once I learned these things, about the time I finished ELANTRIS, it only took me about three years to get a book deal.)
It wasn't easy. I spent most of that time writing books working a graveyard shift at a hotel in order to pay the bills, go to school, and still have time to write. (They let me write while I was on-duty at the desk.) However, because I spent all that time working, I had a head start when I actually did get published. Some authors publish the first book they write, then have trouble writing a second. Others write first books that 'feel' like first books. I didn't have either of these problems. (Elantris = three hardback printings, fourteen foreign sales, starred reviews in PW and Library Journal, Best SF/F book of the year via Barnes and Noble, best epic fantasy of the year via Romantic Times, yada yada.)
Either way, I spent most of my undergraduate and graduate years as a very sleepy, but productive, writer. I was able to quit the hotel job when I sold ELANTRIS, and now support myself with my writing. And that's how I broke in.