Oops, there was a longer break than I intended due to a computer issue. My new system is up and running, so now I’m back. Last time out I left off with the thought that I started in again on THE FEVER after taking a break to write another draft. That draft was shelved for five years until it became my fourth published novel, THE HAG RIDER, but that is another story. Now, let’s get back to THE FEVER.
I began yet another revision process on THE FEVER and I felt very confident in it. As I mentioned before, previous revisions had ballooned the story to over 130,000 words, but I now had it down to a more manageable 95,000. In late January I felt confident enough to submit my work to a small publisher recommended by one of my NaNoWriMo writing buddies. She’d suggested it the year before but I hadn’t felt confident enough to try, plus that publisher at the time concentrated on their own PDF eBooks. Now they had joined the mainstream and published through a wide range of platforms.
Nothing for a month. Then I got a phone call from an editor. It seems I hadn’t answered her emails.
“What? I didn’t receive any emails.”
I checked my SPAM folder and saw nothing. She finally determined that the problem was on her end. She was calling because she was interested. BUT …
Ah, the dreaded “but” we all hate to hear. There was a major problem. Too much narrative, especially in the section where the main character is preparing for his biggest ordeal. Now understand, THE FEVER is about a character’s singular adventure. It’s a one-person show for the most part. There are minor secondary characters but his lone quest is the entire point of the story. She considered the necessary changes to be fairly trivial and gave me specific chapters to concentrate on.
I had shared the story with a few beta readers and one had complained about the narrative problem. I should have listened to them (listen to your beta-readers!). Another complaint was a minor interaction with a woman he had during one crisis point. It wasn’t believable, several had said. As these thoughts percolated through my mind, I concocted a significant plot revision. I reworked the encounter into a love interest, and the character had someone to work with him during his preparations. This change also facilitated an added twist later in the story, which was also a suggestion of the first beta reader.
It took two more complete revision passes, one to put the changes into effect, and one to make sure all the transitions meshed with the current prose and worked, then I waited for the same beta readers to respond. I’ll never forget the response from one of them. They sent a one-word message. “OMG!”
The editor had almost given up on me, but I explained that in effecting her changes, I had concocted some new plot elements that added a lot to the story while solving the problem she had mentioned. After reading, she said she was impressed. She offered me a contract. It was late May 2015.
Now there are four major paths to getting published. One is the traditional path, where a writer interests an agent or more rarely directly interests a major publisher. For most writers this is just about as accessible as getting a contract to play in professional sports. It is a preferred way, but it’s a long, slow, uphill climb. Second is succumbing to the lure of the vanity press. Big mistake. Don’t do it. You pay and pay and pay and end up with boxes of books in your garage that you have to move to high ground every time it floods. Lately vanity presses try to hide behind a rebranding, calling themselves hybrid publishers. Third is self-publishing. In many respects it costs as much as vanity publishing but you have full control over the end product. You are basically your own general contractor, subcontracting your editing and design efforts. Some do it themselves and many of those give self-publishing a bad rap. Most often your print books are print-on-demand, which isn’t as bad as it sounds and it is good for the environment. The fourth is making arrangements with a small press. Sometimes these seem like vanity presses, but the real key here is that you should never have to front any money. If they want money up front they are a vanity press. A small publisher generally provides editing/cover design/and book design (including uploading for eBooks and print-on-demand), but for a small percentage of the eventual royalties (they use contractors for this). This is what I went with, a small publisher.
The biggest advantage of this was that I didn’t have to front any money. Here’s a dirty little secret in publishing. No matter which one of those four directions you take, your book still has to go through the same journey to publication. It has to be edited and by that I mean not by you. You might be the best editor on the earth but our pumpkin heads don’t work that way: our mind is already translating familiar material and thinking about the next line. Traditional publishers and small publishers use their own people, as do vanity presses, but vanity presses charge you for the effort. In self-publishing you find your own third-party editor, and pay out of pocket as well. This pattern repeats with every other process, including proofing, cover design, and book design. Book design for print has differences from book design for kindle which had differences from other eBook formats. In short, there are a lot of hands stretching out. Traditional publishers bank on you making enough money for them to make it all worthwhile. Small press contractors depend on making a small amount from a lot of books to make it worthwhile. The other two? Well, you pay up front. The thing the traditional presses and small presses know is that you use experience and skill to come up with a good end-product. Vanity presses have your money, they don’t care. Self-published authors, if they are willing to pay for the privilege, can have a good end product as well, but they are prone to skip steps. You can’t skip steps.
So, it’s late May and I have a contract. At first I was told August or September as a publish date, which seemed very soon to me. The contract said July. I called the editor and she confirmed. They had an author pull out and had a hole they needed to fill. For a first-time author, this was definitely going to be a case of throwing the fat into the fire. Stay tuned … more to come (hopefully the computer issues are all in the past.
Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina. Check out his webpage: http://thefensk.com