W. P. Johnson

The Road To Publication Part VI or How Did I Get Here?

In Uncategorized on May 3, 2017 at 11:29 am

On June 4th, 2014, I emailed myself the first part of A Song For John, neurotically ensuring I had multiple saved files. It became a routine of sorts. Write a chapter in google docs, proof it, edit, etc, then save it as a document and email it to two different emails. That email marks the date and gives me a record of sorts, and with this, a timeline. So, we are, more or less, at the three year mark since I wrote the first page of A Song For John, contrary to my last “Road to Publication” entry, clocking it closer to four years.

Anyone who’s read this blog or has had the patience to hear me talk about this book knows how much work went into it. When I first started it, my job had lost a bartender and I was working overtime for nearly three months. Yet, I still persisted in getting up every morning at 7 AM to write for three hours before showering and working a double at my bar job. I did this for about three months until the stress of it became too much, prompting night terrors, acid reflux, and full blown burn out. Even my wife was starting to notice. I scaled back my alarm to 8 AM instead, then 8:30, giving myself that extra hour and a half of needed sleep. At work I was a zombie on auto-pilot. None the less, when a new bartender was finally hired and my schedule resumed a manageable 30 hours, I found myself so keyed into this morning routine that I have a hard time sleeping in to this day, waking up around 8:30 even if I’m up until two.

This is the routine that got me to my first draft, a whopping 200K that took me about nine months to write. After that, it took me another six months to cut it down. Then came the beta readers and another draft after that,  cutting it down to 150K (roughly 7-800 pages). At that point, I felt it was as good as I could make it. The pitches went out and I waited, knowing deep down it was a uphill battle to pitch a book that long from a new writer.

Flash forward to April 20th, 2016, and I get my first request of the full manuscript. I was a little shocked, to be honest. An actual agent wanted to see my bloated fantasy book. Then that same week there came a second request. Then… nothing. If there’s anything to being a writer, its the numbness one acquires when dealing with failure. I think Chuck Wendig described it as pounding our heads against a brick wall, uncaring how thick it is with the stubborn belief that, eventually, the wall will lose that battle.

Still, I knew, despite the length, I had something here. Agents aren’t in the business of making friends or being polite. One does not request a book just for the hell of it. These two agents saw the pitch and the sample pages and the 150K didn’t scare them off. I had something special. I just had to keep going with my head against that brick wall. Smash, smash, smash.

Following that came a third agent that asked to see the book, then doubled back saying it was too long. BUT, if I managed to cut it under 100K, she’d take a look. My first two agents were unresponsive (which happens constantly, btw), so what did I have to lose? Having just finished the last of The Eight Eyes That Watch You Die (collection forthcoming in 2018) I mulled it over and thought about how I could take the first two acts of the original draft and make it stand alone. In the end it made the story stronger, setting the stage for book II and III. As many have said hearing about my dilemma in pitching a book far too long: make it a trilogy. Turns out they were right.

Flash forward again, to this past November, 2016. The newly cut version goes back out into the wild. The original agent that requested the cut passed (ouch). The first two agents that asked to see the 150K version are still unresponsive. The wall is not cracking, no matter how many times I smash my head against it.

But then… another agent building her list asks to see the book. Then another. Maybe it’s not night and day, but it seems like an easier sell this time around. Randomly, I do one last follow up email with the first two agents that requested the book, letting them know that I had made these drastic changes to the manuscript if they wanted to see it. The first agent is unresponsive. The second responds, saying some personal things came up but that they’d still like to read the new version if it was still available.

A month later, they offer provisional representation. Meaning, we’ll work on the manuscript, pitch it, and if they can get me a deal, we’ll sign a contract making their representation more official.

The wall cracks a little. Not alot. But enough for me to think that maybe there’s light on the other side. My head hurts, but it’s not broken. And I have an agent.

How the hell did I get here?

I busted my ass. I made sacrifices. I blew off drinks with friends. I slept less. I read more. I wrote ALOT. At one point, I was writing the book on my fucking phone while between waiting tables. I ignored all the fear and anxiety of pitching a project that might possibly go nowhere. I believed in it. I kept doing the work, and every time I felt like maybe I had done all I could, I found more that I could do. And that’s why, now, I don’t know if it’s fair to label these entries, jokingly, as a documentation of how I “wasted my life”. Because I learned so much and have grown so much during this process. I became a better story teller. I think, in some ways, it has made me a better person. But most importantly, I didn’t take any shortcuts because, well, there aren’t any shortcuts. And this is what I would tell the old me and anyone else who looks at a writer announcing a deal they got or an agent they just acquired: if you want this, if you really want this, you have to do the work. And if you want to know what that means and how long it takes… re-read what you just read and the all the entries before that. Because if at any point you think “I don’t know if I can do that for that long a period of time”, then you’ll probably never get there. But if you’re like me, you’re too stubborn to care how long it takes. You can’t be told no. And in that sense, there’s nothing I can say to help because you don’t need it.

That wall is gonna go down, no matter how hard and how long I have to smash my head against it.

See you on the other side.

Until then, here’s to being scary.

 

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