After the Draft: Episode VII, Michael R. Underwood
Well, it’s Monday everyone, and if you’re here in the Midwest with me, you just got walloped by storms and the temperature dropped thirty degrees overnight.
As a consolation prize, this month’s guest post comes from fellow author and geek extraordinaire, Michael R. Underwood. He’s here to share his story of unusually sudden success, and the extra work it entailed. The journey of Geekomancy is a reminder that there is no one true path to publication, and that you need to be ready for anything. As always, please take a moment to peruse my guest’s websites and blogs, and consider supporting their work. Enjoy!
Michael R Underwood:
From Rough Draft To Pub-Date
I finished the rough draft of GEEKOMANCY, my debut novel, in late November of 2011. I did a quick revision in order to prepare it for a novel contest in at my online writing group. Even as I turned it in there, I knew it was a bloody mess that needed a lot more work. The first round of revisions were big things like “This opening is terrible. I’ll cut and start with the actual character introduction,” and “This can be in 1st person or 3rd, but not both. Bad Mike.”
At the same time, I went ahead and posted several chapters of the barely-revised manuscript on a site called Book Country (an online writing community with strong discussion and critique elements). My intent was to show the book’s entire revision process on the site, to get some extra feedback and give myself additional external accountability.
Little did I know that an editor from Pocket/Gallery, Adam Wilson, would be browsing projects on Book Country, looking for novels to acquire for his list.
In January 2012, I got a message from Adam noting that he’d read the excerpt of GEEKOMANCY on Book Country and saw on my blog that I’d finished a draft, and could he perhaps take a look at it?
This is not a normal thing in publishing. I got really really lucky, and for that, I am very grateful.
But as I said above, the manuscript was a total mess, and I *knew* that there was lots more revision to be done. But Adam wanted to see it anyway.
And when an editor asks to read your full manuscript, You. Say. Yes. (a corollary of the GHOSTBUSTERS rule).
Less than two weeks later, I had an offer for GEEKOMANCY, and a rather early pubdate. Ebooks are much easier to drop into a schedule, since you don’t have to bother with the physical distribution and sell-in process.
To zoom through some steps, I signed with an agent and signed the deal, and moved very quickly into revisions.
After you sell a book or submit a book that’s under contract, the editor gives you an Editorial Letter. They vary in length depending on the work and the editor. The letter gives the editor’s overall evaluation of where the manuscript is, and what big-picture changes they would like the author to consider.
Adam’s main notes included a request to bring more of the Geekomancy magic system into the spotlight, and to zoom in on a sequence where Ree (the main character), is testing out her powers. In the first draft & revision, I just kind of had her leap into the deep end and hope things worked out. Following Adam’s suggestion, I found an appropriate subject for Ree to emulate (Geekomancy allows people to watch a film/TV show they love and then emulate some aspect of said film/show), which in this case was the first episode of the BBC SHERLOCK. That sequence came out really clearly right away, and judging by reader feedback, did exactly what Adam said it needed to in terms of setting the rules and putting some ‘wow’ on the page.
One by one, I took Adam’s notes and went at the manuscript with a mission, my focus targeted to specific efforts instead of being stuck looking at a 90K word chunk of prose and telling myself ‘make it better.’ This, my friends, is where editors are worth their weight in gold. Having an experienced reader who is invested in your success give you challenges on very specific ways to improve your work is an incredible asset.
Shortly after I turned that in, Adam came back and said ‘so…what if we could get this book out for San Diego Comic-Con?’ which was only three months from that point, and four months earlier than we’d discussed for the book’s release.
It meant two incredibly busy and stressful weekends doing the copy edit and then the page proof pass, but with the Pocket Star Production team overclocking their awesomeness, we got GEEKOMANCY out into the marketplace for SDCC, all less than six months after it had sold in the first place.
The whole process was a whirlwind, where publishing is usually very slow. My experience was uncommon, but in this publishing climate, uncommon is getting far more frequent.
If there’s one piece of takeaway from my journey from rough draft to publication, it’s this: give yourself every opportunity you can.