Tag Archives: publishing

Tom Bissell provides wisdom on publishing

I’m currently working my way – bit by bit here and there – through Tom Bissell’s Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation, and of course, being Tom Bissell, it’s full of good stuff (it’s actually part of why I decided to put together A imageBrief History of the Future). And he has a wonderful passage on publishing and what it does to a writer’s brain that rings so true at the moment, given that I just finished up the second round of edits on Labyrinthian and Ravenfall comes out this month.

It’s nothing I haven’t heard before, actually, but it never hurts to hear it again, given my (perhaps incorrect but I don’t think so) impression that many aspiring authors either think it won’t happen or, when it happens, think it must be unusual.

To indulge, briefly, in further autobiography my first published book has just appeared in stores. The last year of my life – the year of finishing it, editing it and seeing it through its various page-proof passes – ranks among the most unnerving of my young life. It has not felt good, or freeing. It has been nerve-shreddingly disquieting. Publication simply allows one that much more to worry about. This cannot be said to aspiring writers often or sternly enough. Whatever they carry within themselves they believe publication cures will not, I can all but guarantee, be cured. You just wind up living with new diseases.

If one of the things you deal with in your life is mental illness, or emotional disregulation, this process will make that worse in almost every possible way.

And yet I do think it’s worth it, somehow, in the end. At least, so I’ve been given to understand.

A few – though by no means the only – ways of getting your book published

courtesy of Sean MacEntee

courtesy of Sean MacEntee

Given that I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, not just in the context of all the (probably tiresome) fandom-related yelling I’ve been doing, I decided that I’d go ahead and toss this up there. I was also having drinks with some dear friends (who are not writers) recently, and they were congratulating me on books, which was lovely, but it struck me again that they didn’t seem to totally understand a) how little money you can actually make in this business, and b) how incredibly labor-intensive building up a backlist is, and how having four or five novels out there almost never means you can quit your day job. Or how you get four or five novels out there to begin with.

I’ve seen a lot of misconceptions. I’ve seen a lot of people – talented writers, to be sure – who seem to think that basically all you need to do to get published is write a great book and wait for people to come to your door and ask to pay you for it. I’ve seen talented writers stumble or get hurt because they didn’t know the lay of the land before they charged enthusiastically into it. I’ve seen talented writers just pretty much never go anywhere at all. Talent is not enough, and alone it’s not a guarantee of anything. It would be great if it was, but it ain’t.

So here, at least, is my experience and my understanding of the process. It’s not comprehensive, it’s not what will work for everyone, and it’s not representative of everyone’s experience. I’m also not by any means the first person to say any of this. Regardless, here are some things that you might or will need to do if you want to sell a book.

  • Finish it. Seriously. There are situations where a proposed book or a half-finished book gets picked up, but on the whole your chances are made immeasurably better if you have a completed manuscript in hand.
  • Edit it. Having a completed book helps. It helps less if it is, shall we say, rough around the edges.
  • Decide what you want to do with it. Because there are a number of things you can do. Do you want to self-publish? Do you want to send it directly to publishers? Large or small press? Do you want to query agents with it? All of these will require different things from you and you need a plan. Regardless of which route you go – with the exception of self-publishing – I would personally create and compile this packet of submission materials early in the process and keep it on hand:
    • A synopsis (publishers/agents differ on length but the general standard is two to three pages)
    • A query letter (in my opinion, every query you send should be somewhat personalized, but the basic content – one-paragraph pitch, bio, etc. will be pretty much the same every time)
    • A sample of the first three chapters of the manuscript (three chapters or fifty pages is often what’s asked for).
  • Research. You need to know your industry. If you’re self-publishing, figure out what you need to do in order to get your book in the shape you want before you put it out there (editing, cover art, etc.) and how to maximize the effectiveness of your promotion. If you’re submitting directly to publishers, large or small, familiarize yourself with who wants what. If you’re querying agents, learn who the good ones are. Make lists of likely candidates. Read the submission guidelines. Then read them again. Then again, just to make absolutely sure you didn’t overlook anything. Don’t waste these people’s time – they are already very, very busy and it makes them grumpy. And make sure you know what your rights as an author are, what industry standard contracts tend to look like, and what to watch for in terms of not getting screwed over. Because yes, there are people out there looking to screw you over.
  • If you’re going the non-self-pub route, submit/query. You have to do this. Yes, a tiny percentage of people skip this step and get offered contracts without looking for them for whatever reason. The chances that you are one of those people are vanishingly small. If you want publishers or agents to take notice of you, you need to put yourself in their faces. If they don’t notice you, that is almost certainly on you, not them.
  • You will get rejected. Submit/query again. Then do it again. Don’t take it personally, because it’s almost never personal. This is a business. Agents will represent books that they think they can sell; they reject books that they love but don’t think they can sell all the time. Same goes for publishers. A manuscript that isn’t right for one might be right for another. This is why I said to make lists, and I generally recommend beginning at the top and working down, because you’re starting at zero and you have nothing to lose. Just, again: you’ll get rejected. It hurts. Sometimes it hurts a lot. I know, my work has been rejected literally hundreds of times. Many of those stories went on to find homes elsewhere. Suck it up and keep moving.
  • Don’t lock yourself into one way of doing things. There isn’t only one way. Authors who have agents and contracts with publishers also self-publish on the side. Authors who start in self-publishing move on to have agents and contracts with publishers. Authors move from small to large presses and back again simultaneously. Authors sell books without agents. Authors get agents right away and never sell anything without one. Authors change agents. Authors change publishers. Authors publish books with more than one publisher. Authors publish with one publisher for the entirety of their careers. Just because you’re doing one thing now doesn’t mean you will or should continue to do it, or to do it exclusively. What you do will be as individual as you are and no one thing will work best for you all the time. Be flexible; in professional writing, flexibility is survival.

Here are some resources that I’ve found invaluable:

And if you are or are becoming a neo-pro speculative fiction writer (someone who’s sold one or more short stories/novels to reasonably respectable markets and is in the early stages of their career), join Codex, which is a writer’s group. It’s probably been the single most useful thing, career-wise, that I’ve ever done.

So go to it. Just make sure you know what you’re doing. You’ll thank yourself when you’re sitting on a pile of money later.

One more thing about publishing and fandom in general

Because I think it’s important, and it actually has only a limited amount to do with Interlude Press specifically. This is a point that’s far more general, and it’s been bugging me for a while.

Yesterday I listed some of my initial concerns about a fandom-focused publisher, but it wasn’t until I was getting in bed last night that I realized what really troubled me about this whole thing. It’s very small, it’s not the most extreme instance of it that I’ve ever seen, but it’s there and I want to mention it specifically.

In their intro and in their FAQ both, Interlude mentions a particular justification (or rather two related but slightly conflicting justifications) for why they exist:

We believe, deeply, that authors exist in the fan world who deserve a chance to be published. These are authors who might otherwise be ignored by the traditional publishing industry, and who would likely be discouraged from acknowledging their fan fiction roots and receive little marketing support were they ever to sign a contract with a big name publishing house.

Unlike publishers who have recently begun to “recruit” authors of fan fiction, only to discourage them from acknowledging their roots, Interlude Press was developed to honor both the creators of fan works as well as the gift culture they represent.

I just.

Okay, look. One of the things I often have to work especially hard to get my Sociology intro students to understand is that an n of you is not a representative sample of the population, and while your anecdote can serve as a datapoint, it’s by no means one upon which you should lean very heavily. That said: I’ve been active in various fandoms way longer than I’ve been getting paid to tell stories. My fandom identity and my writer identity enjoy a very slim separation, if any at all. I still write fic, and I’m very open about it. I’ve sold five novels, two novellas, and somewhere between 40 and 50 short stories. I’m a member of SFWA at the Active level. I’m very comfortable calling myself a professional writer.

Never in my own experience have I found my fandom affiliations  to be harmful or to block my way, nor has anyone else I know, at least not my knowledge. I’ve heard of publishers “recruiting” from fandom, though I don’t think that word really accurately describes those situations, and as far as I know it still happens rarely enough to be the exception rather than the rule, and if being “ignored” equates to not being “recruited” and that’s the problem at hand, guess what: would that being “recruited” happened to any of us. And there is an increasingly long list of successful authors who write original stuff and are very, very open about where they come from, as well as continuing to be active.

I’m not saying fandom getting in the way doesn’t happen. I’m saying that if it was a common thing, a trend that generally held true, I have to think I would have noticed by now.

This is not the first time I’ve seen a publishing house say something like this, and it’s never good when one does. They may very well be sincere in what they’re saying, but as far as my knowledge goes they’re also sincerely wrong, and this is not the first time I’ve run into this kind of misinformation being slung around regarding what’s involved in actually selling your book. It’s that misinformation that I want to focus on now.

People say “you need the right connections.” They say “you need the right profile.” And people also say that if you’re active in fandom, the mean prejudicial gatekeepers will lock you out, unless you write the next Fifty Shades, in which case come on in, but pretend it wasn’t fic before or something. Interlude is – though their language is not particularly strong – implying this, that the authors they’re working with would be largely unable to sell books elsewhere, despite their talent, because fandom.

People, I have some hard truth for you. If you’re in fandom and you’re shopping around a book, trying to break into the business, and people keep shutting doors on you, it’s not that you don’t have the right connections, it’s not that there’s some super secret publishing code word that you’re missing, and it’s almost certainly not that you’re in fandom. It’s that they don’t want what you’re selling.

I need to emphasize this: There is no big secret to getting published. There is no shadowy cabal of industry gatekeepers locking out the undesirables. If you want to become a professional writer, write good stories and submit them. If you write a great book, fandom will not hold you back. If you write a bad book – or at least, a book that publishers don’t think they can sell – no power in the ‘verse will help you. You also need to be clear on what sector of the industry you’re willing to count as “breaking in”; if you’re content with small presses, there are so damn many options that, if what you have is good, you can often find a publisher relatively quickly (say within a year or so). If you want to get picked up by one of the big NYC houses, guess what: It’s fucking hard for everyone.

You do not need one specific boutique publisher to realize your dream, and if that boutique publisher is suggesting that they’re one of the very few – if not the only – avenues that talented fandom authors have to professional publication, I would be highly skeptical of that claim.

I’m not suggesting that Interlude is lying. I am suggesting that they’re misrepresenting how publishing works. I’m not saying they’re doing that intentionally, but in my opinion that’s what they’re doing.

I realize that at this point it might seem like I’m going on and on about something that really isn’t a big deal, but Interlude represents something that I think we’ll be seeing more and more of, and even where fandom isn’t concerned, I’ve seen these claims floating around, and I don’t like it when authors buy into them, because all too often it results in them getting screwed over, by themselves or someone else or a combination of the two.

If you want to work with a publisher that’s specifically fandom-friendly, it sounds like Interlude might be a great fit for you, so I’d say follow your bliss, man (though I would seriously hold off to see if they’re for real). But if you’re convinced that you’ll never get published elsewhere because of fandom stigma or whatever and therefore have no other good options… Basically don’t think that way because by and large it just ain’t true.

The secret to getting published is to write a good book and submit it. That’s all. It’s not rocket magic. So do it however you want, but do not ever buy into the idea that there’s only one way.

More about Interlude Press: I have some (very preliminary) concerns

skeptical-dog-244x300

Okay, as promised earlier, here are my general initial concerns about the concept behind Interlude Press. Because yes, I do have some. They’re just mine, and they may be and in fact probably are poorly informed – because, as I said, we just don’t know a whole lot for sure right now – but here they are.

  • If this is – in part – an attempt to de-stigmatize fanfiction in mainstream circles, I’m not sure it will work. I actually think it might be counterproductive. The thing is that, as it seems to me, part of the stigma associated with fic in non-fic circles comes down to the idea that it’s done by people who can’t be bothered to think up their own stuff, who are imaginatively lazy, and when things like Fifty Shades and The Mortal Instruments happen, part of the scoffing from certain circles amounts to well what do you expect, they had to pull-to-publish/be highly derivative because they couldn’t think of anything original. You know and I know that that’s total bullshit, but it’s still floating around, and I perceive a distinct possibility that Interlude – to the degree that anyone outside fandom will know or care about it – will not assist in erasing that misconception. I perceive a distinct possibility that it will only reinforce it. And yeah, okay, why should we give a fuck what ignorant fools think about our sandbox, but if this stigma does bother you, I don’t know that Interlude will do much to help make it go away. What will help de-stigmatize fanfiction? Authors of fully original works who also write fic/cut their teeth on fic being very open about it. That’s why I try to do so.
  • I’m troubled by the idea of exploiting an existing fandom audience. Let’s be clear on something from the get-go: “exploitation” isn’t necessarily a bad or a negative or an evil thing. It’s seeing an opportunity for gain and jumping on it. We all do it, to some degree. Interlude seems to view this as a good platform, and they’re also very explicit about respecting the fandom gift economy. I don’t think they’re evil conniving capitalists or anything. I also recognize that there is probably a large contingent of fic readers who would jump at the chance to financially support their favorite authors, and that’s great. But I also think I have to point out that one of the major components of the anger in the Twilight fandom over Fifty Shades was that James was seen to be making use of a good faith fandom gift economy audience for her own personal gain. I am not saying that that’s what would be happening here, just that I think this has the potential to piss people off and create issues for the publisher, among a lot of other things. I’m sure they’re smart people and they’re aware of that, it’s just something that I see with potential for wank. And I’m also just kind of uncomfortable with it for a number of poorly articulated reasons.
  • Crossover between fandom and non-fandom readers is problematic. Again, I’m sure that there will be a lot of fandom readers who would love to be able to support their authors in this way. But I’m not so sure about non-fandom readers. A while ago, it came out that it at least appeared that a relatively well-known name in M/M romance had essentially filed the serial numbers off their Supernatural AU and published it as original stuff. Now, whether or not you think this was okay, it made a number of readers very vocally angry – they felt cheated and insulted. Additionally, there are certain publishers in M/M romance that have dealt with a fair amount of stigma regarding the amount of reworked fic they publish, to the point where some large review sites simply refuse to touch their stuff. While I may very well not be giving them enough credit, I think there’s a sizable contingent who will be actively turned off by this kind of product. Again, why care what ignorant jerks think? Because if you’re a publisher, especially a new publisher, you need money and you need people to buy your books. I just don’t entirely believe that a publisher can survive on fandom alone, though it would be cool if I was wrong (remember Kindle Worlds? Yeah.). And I don’t see a whole lot of crossover readership happening here, though again, could be totally wrong. Yes, Interlude could establish a track record of truly stellar work and change minds that way, but that would take time, and again, that first year or so is crucial in terms of determining whether or not a publisher will stick around. So this could be trouble in a number of ways for a number of people.
  • Copyright. I’m sure this is a concern on people’s minds besides mine, and I’m sure Interlude is in touch with some good legal council. They’re very clear about avoiding problems here. I’m just… I can see it potentially creating issues. Fifty Shades got away with it, but Fifty Shades was a bit of a different situation in a number of ways, and all it takes is one person/entity who’s enough of a jerk to make it a Thing, especially given that Interlude is a new kid on the block and a little kid to boot, and therefore easy to stomp on and thereby make an example of. I’m not saying that I think this is likely or would be successful if it happened, and again, I’m not suggesting that it hasn’t occurred to Interlude, just that it’s yet another thing that makes me leery of the whole situation.

Those are just a few of the concerns that I can articulate right now – I have more and I might talk about them. I really, really don’t want to come across as hoping that Interlude will fail, because I don’t, though I’ll admit to having a lot of gut-level problems with it. But I’m seeing a lot of rapturous enthusiasm on Tumblr, among other places, and it’s like… Guys, hold off on that. Don’t be down on it, necessarily, but maybe be a tiny bit more cautious, because I think we could be treading into a bit of a minefield. There is so much that we don’t yet know and can’t yet know about how this will all shake out. Regular new publishers run into massive issues, and Interlude is potentially facing an entirely different set in addition to those. I’m not trying to be pessimistic here, just realistic.

And I’ll admit to being a bit worried about what this will mean for fandom as a whole. Which, again: so gut-level that I don’t really want to go there. I don’t want to talk about stuff that I can’t make at least something approaching a rational argument for.

So again, we’ll see what we see this summer.

People in fandom have started a fandom-focused publishing house and I don’t know what to think yet

So today this happened.

Basically, a bunch of fic authors/fans, primarily in the Glee fandom, are starting an LGBTQ-focused publishing house that will draw directly on fanworks for its catalog, at least in part. They say these won’t be serial-numbers-filed-off works but instead fic that has been substantially reworked:

Re-imagined works—some of them iconic classics of fan culture—will not simply be published as fan fiction with the serial numbers filed off, but as titles that their authors have painstakingly reviewed, expanded, re-edited and re-envisioned for publication. In some cases, the authors already had these original characters in mind when they first developed these stories for the fan universe. Others redrafted their novels with new characters while staying thematically true to their original source of inspiration.

My initial gut reaction is “eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh.” A slightly more coherent version of that would be profound skepticism.

That said, basically I don’t know what I think about this yet. I’m not sure anyone would be well-advised to know what they think about this yet. There are a few reasons why I think this.

  • It’s new. Which means I feel the same skepticism toward it that I would feel toward any new small publisher. The attrition rate for publishers like this in the first year is not negligible, and generally I would hesitate to submit something to any publisher that hadn’t established a solid track record for more than a year. I submitted to Masque when Masque was very new, but Masque is a digital imprint of Prime Books, which has been around for a while and which I trust. Given how new Interlude is, I just don’t think we can know whether or not it will be a good publisher of any kind. This is compounded by the fact that as far as I can tell, there’s nothing definite about who actually is running the thing [edit: my bad, there actually is, though three people seems like… not many], though they say they have “a team of industry professionals [which] brings decades of experience in traditional publishing (from indie presses to “Big Five” publishers), hybrid publishing and self-publishing”. I mean, I know what that means, but I also don’t know what that means.
  • We don’t know what their contract looks like. This is important. We don’t know what rights they want, we don’t know what royalties they propose to pay, what advance they’re offering if any (this is unlikely though not impossible), or any other details regarding what the legal relationship will be between author and publisher. What the contract looks like will determine a huge amount of what I think. I don’t think there’s any reason to assume that the contract will be shitty, to be clear – especially if the credentials of the people at the helm do indeed turn out to be legit – just that contracts have been points of issue for new publishers before and I’m not ready to assume anything either way, nor would I advise anyone else to do so.
  • We don’t know what “re-imagined” actually means. They do give a basic indication, but it’s very, very basic and it’s difficult to know what it will look like absent an actual product. This will also be a major factor in determining what I think.

Their first stuff makes landfall in July, and after that I think we’ll know a lot more. In the meantime, to the extent that anyone cares about my opinion, I would caution my fellow fandom authors against jumping right on board as soon as submissions open, especially given the excitement and wild optimism that stuff like this seems to tend to generate. Most of what’s on the site is still very vague and incomplete, and there just isn’t enough data yet.

Again: In my opinion there’s absolutely no reason to assume that this is a bad deal. But there’s absolutely no reason to assume that it’s not.

Oh, and (edit): as far as the actual cultural implications of this – publishing fanfiction, reworked or not – I’m really not sure what I think about that, except that on a gut level I’m really uncomfortable with it. But that might have to be another post.

Screw MFAs; we need to tell richer stories.

by Kendra Phillips

badass image by Kendra Phillips

Rahul Kanakia has written an awesome post over on his blog about the tyranny of privilege inherent in the creative writing industry, especially the bits of it centered in academia. Go read that first. I’ll wait.

Back? Great. There isn’t much that I can materially add to this besides a huge PREACH but I like to talk about things that bother me, so allow me to go into some detail regarding why this bothers me so much. It’s not just that it’s obnoxious, all this whining about how hard being a creative type is, and it’s not just that I’ll probably never get a creative writing job in academia since all my published work is lowly genre fiction ( a. why would I even want to be around creative writing people anyway given that I’ve actually met some, and b. I’m also already in academia and I’m starting to keep an eye open for exit strategies). It’s not just that it’s monstrously unfair, this system that privileges a certain way of being a Writer that certain demographics find waaaaaaaay easier to adopt than others.

It’s that it results in a literary culture that is massively impoverished.

The stories we tell describe us as a people, as a collection of people, as a collection of cultures and beliefs and identities. But as a society we’re persistently bound to hierarchy, to systems of power and privilege that benefit some at the enormous expense of others. That means that our stories are bound to the same – the stories of some are privileged and the stories of others are lost in the shuffle. Stories by poorer people, by less formally educated people, by women and People of Color and queer people of all kinds, by people with disabilities and people who are neuroatypical and anyone who exists on the margins. Those stories, if they’re told at all, reach few. Those creative voices aren’t heard. Still.

And our genres are hierarchically valued. There’s literary fiction – inherently worthwhile, true, beautiful, valuable, possessing tremendous cultural capital. It’s a great thing to be seen to be a reader of literary fiction; it’s an even better thing to be a writer of literary fiction and get to whine about how hard it is. Genre fiction is low, unrefined, and the territory of the proles.

Those of us in SF&F know that it’s had its share of major problems with inclusivity. Even now we’re struggling to deal with the under-representation of anyone who isn’t white/straight/cisgendered/male, and the genre’s environment is still often hostile to people at the intersections of marginalized identities. But romance, which often seems to have it even worse than SF&F in terms of general disparagement, is overwhelmingly written and consumed by women and extremely popular, two things that don’t work in its favor.

And horror? How can horror writers ever produce great fiction?

So genre is frequently locked out of the academy. But again, this isn’t even just about genre, but about who can afford the luxury of being heard, of doing what it takes to be heard. If MFAs are a requirement in the academy’s gateways into the creative writing industry, that has some very problematic implications, as Rahul points out:

[T]he fact that MFAs are used as such a gatekeeper in the literary world adds several major biases into the whole pool of literary writers. It excludes all kinds of people can’t really afford to leave their lives for two years to get even a very well-funded MFA: people who have kids, people who have careers, people who discover writing late in life, people with disabilities.

Those people all have stories that deserve to be told. That need to be told.

This isn’t just about writing, even. This is a problem in any academic field, in any discipline, and it’s been a problem since the beginning of those disciplines: Who is producing our knowledge? What assumptions are they operating on? What standpoint are they working from? My field is sociology; what use is our research on race and class and gender and identity if the people doing that research don’t come from a multiplicity of lived experiences? How can we work to overturn power structures if our own institutional structure maintains the status quo of social power?

But this is about stories.

I love stories because they’re fun, because they’re escapist, because they’re beautiful, because  they’re joyful even when they’re crushingly sad, because they give me glimpses of what might be, because they teach me about who I am, because they teach me about who others are, because they have the potential to be uniquely revolutionary.

Stories change things.

But if stories are going to change anything, they need to be vital. They need to be alive. They need infusions of new blood and new knowledge and new ways of producing that knowledge. I don’t see how that’s likely in the world Rahul is describing. When you’re dealing with a system of gatekeeping that produces the same kinds of work from the same kinds of people over and over, then you have a literary world that’s impoverished. You won’t find the truly interesting things there. The people doing the interesting things are, as usual, on the margins, but they don’t get to complain about how hard the Life of a Writer is. There’s no romance in what they’re doing. And if they’re genre writers, even successful ones, no cushy academic job for them, unless – like me – they’re privileged enough to get into the academy another way (and cushy jobs ain’t looking too good there anyway at the moment).

So no, white middle class MFA student – with whom I share at least two things in common – my sympathy is not with you. And I think maybe you need to step aside and let someone else’s story get told.

Especially if that story is about cyborg dragons in love.

(Please allow a plug for a couple of antidotes to this kind of thing: We See a Different Frontier, a collection of post-colonial spec-fic that both I and Rahul have stories in – his is amazing – and the forthcoming Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History. I also have a story in that but that’s not why you should check it out. Look at that ToC. Look at it.)

What I’ve learned so far in 2014

Yesterday I finished doing something I’d never done before: Scrapping 95% of a book and rewriting it from scratch.

Initially I was committed to not doing so at all. I wanted to tell myself that it was about principle – dammit, it was the story I told and it was the story it was going to be – but I now recognize that stance as being augmented with a  jengahealthy amount of terror, as well as a lot of ego. Because it is terrifying, looking back on something you’ve spent weeks and even months on, recognizing that it needs a major overhaul, and diving in. In some ways I think it’s much less terrifying – or at least it was and still is for me – to start something entirely new. Extensive rewriting feels almost like a sadistic game of Jenga, wherein you’re shifting pieces around, stacking and restacking, and one wrong move will bring the whole thing down. Which isn’t true, of course – nothing you can do can collapse a story beyond repair, unless the foundations of the thing itself are just no good – but it still felt like that when I started out, and I wasn’t sure I could really pull it off.

But I was determined to try.

I finished the first version of Fall and Rising (Line and Orbit 2: Electric Boogaloo) last year, and it was a very different book from its predecessor. It was focused on different characters, and it was nastier,  more emotionally brutal, and possessed of some potentially uncomfortable politics. When it was done, I was very adamant that it wasn’t going to get toned down or lightened up – but then I had trouble selling it. And after a couple of rounds of that, I realized that I had to admit to myself that the problem was not necessarily the publisher – as in finding the right one – but instead the book. It was a good story – I still believe that – but it wasn’t the right story. It wasn’t the right successor. It needed to be something different.

It was really, really hard to admit that to myself. But it was liberating when I did, and that feeling of liberation did a lot to blunt the fear when I went back and hacked it to pieces. It remained as I started rebuilding, and it carried me through until I truly began to feel like I was working well inside the world of the book. It was like giving myself permission to take all the work I did and all the time I put into it and declare to myself that none of that mattered.

What mattered was writing the right story.

I didn’t have to hold onto the book just because I worked hard. I didn’t have to hold onto it because of all the time I spent. I sure as hell didn’t have to hold onto it because of some stubborn, misguided idea of what my art should look like. I didn’t have to hold onto it at all. I could let it go and just start (mostly) fresh. It was okay. I was okay.

So yesterday I finished it. For those who care about length at all, it’s about 115k words long, close to the length of Line and Orbit and in fact a good bit longer than Fall and Rising’s initial version. But way more important: I think it’s a better book, and it’s one that wouldn’t have been written if I hadn’t sucked it up and murdered my darlings.

I’d been thinking that the whole murder your darlings thing applied to small sentences and passages and turns of phrase. It does, and I suspect a lot of why I thought that has to do with the fact that I’m still more experienced with short stories than I am with novels. But it also applies on a macro scale. It applies to books, and to massive chunks of books. It would be difficult to overstate how major that was to realize.

What else has this process taught me? Marketability is not a dirty word. Changing something up in order to be able to sell it more easily is not (necessarily) a dirty thing. I didn’t initially start thinking seriously about a rewrite for artistic reasons, I did it because I wanted to sell the damn book and get paid. That line of thinking led me to the realization that I could make the book better, but I might not have gotten there if money weren’t also a concern. I’m in this game because I love it, but also because I want to someday be able to make (at least most of) a living off of it. That’s not something I need to be ashamed of. I’m embarrassed by how long it’s taken me to internalize that, and I’m still working on it.

So mostly what I’ve learned so far in 2014 is that I don’t need to be afraid of those things. I shouldn’t let them stop me from getting shit done. I shouldn’t let my own ego get in the way of producing good work that people want to pay for. I need to continue to work on getting out of my own way.

None of that is exactly new. But I think it’s all good stuff to start the year on.