Saturday, March 12, 2005

How to juggle a "normal" life and still find the time to write

I got married in 1994 to my wife Connie, and our son Alex (who's in the picture with me to the right) was born in 1999. After college, I worked at a credit union for six years as a research analyst in the marketing department, then jumped ship to a regional bank as a marketing product manager. I wrote in the evening, on weekends, on holidays and sometimes on vacation. I watched very little television because I had to choose between writing and watching TV, and since books don't write themselves I knew I had to devote the time or I would (a) never get anything finished and (b) therefore never get published.

Yes, it was hard. I've pretty much had two jobs for my entire adult life: "work" during the day to pay for things like utilities and the mortgage, and writing in any "spare" time I could find (which I have always considered my real "work" even when I wasn't getting paid). I tried to write at least five days a week. And I still had to do "life" things like cut the grass and play with my son and spend some time with my wife and try to get out of the house at least once in a while.

But you know what? It paid off. Here's a brief chronolgy of how things played out:

After my first agent and I parted ways, I spent a year or so cutting a crapload of material out of The Amber Wizard, but I just got exhausted with it. I needed a break. I had an idea for a completely unrelated novel called Foreverness, about a fourteen-year-old boy who gets caught up in a war between angelic powers and the nature of God's purpose for us. The idea had been floating around in my head for a while, and I'd been making lots of notes for a couple of months. Finally I decided to take a break from The Amber Wizard and work on this new project. I outlined it in a lot of detail (I start with a rough synopsis of a couple of pages, then keep expanding that until I have a detailed, chapter-by-chapter breakdown), which took something like six or eight months. It was the first time I'd outlined in such detail, and I realized it's how I need to work. I wrote the first draft of Foreverness -- 100,000 words -- in 90 days. The damn thing practically wrote itself. I let it sit for a month, revised it, then started looking for a new agent, hoping Foreverness would get me in the door.

One year and a gazillion queries later, I still hadn't found one. Probably a dozen agents wanted to read some sample chapters, and though they liked it, the comments I got all went along the lines of, "I don't know how to sell this." It frustrated the crap out of me, because of course I could see exactly how to sell it and I couldn't understand how someone "in the business" couldn't figure it out (all writers pretty much think this way).

I ended up shelving Foreverness for a while and went back to The Amber Wizard. Wrote and re-wrote, blah blah blah, then started the agent hunting again. I lucked out when I found Matt Bialer in late 2003, who not only understood exactly what I was trying to do, but whose every suggestion for a change -- even the ones I initially fought -- ended up making the book better. (I would normally find that annoying as hell -- I'm the one who likes to be right all the time! -- but Matt gets a pass since he's such a good guy.) We worked for about five months on rewrites, then he shipped it off.

In the meantime, the bank I worked for had been sold to a larger bank, and I was pretty sure I was going to be laid off when the deal closed in early 2005. I was obviously, for a number of reasons, really gunning for this book to sell. I will tell you that trying to get a book sold in the middle of the summer (this was 2004) is a nightmare. No one is around to read anything -- they're all on vacation, or the person who needs to make an approval for the person who has read it is on vacation.

But on October 1, I got the call from Matt that HarperCollins had made an offer for a three-book deal, and he recommended that we take it.

Like there was a chance in hell I was going to say no!

So what's a book contract look like?

I wish I could tell you. I still haven't seen it. The publishing industry moves slower than [insert folksy Dan Ratherism about turtles in Texas or cold molasses moving downhill in winter]. I hope to have it soon. Matt has apologized and said that HaperCollins has changed some of their standard boilerplate language, which has forced a lot more back-and-forth than usual. But I can't tell you what's in it until I have it. Once I do, I will let you know.

And, unfortunately, until I sign it, I also don't get paid.

The moral of the story: Perseverence pays off. Yeah, it's a cliche. Sue me. I must have sent 60 or 70 queries at least, and I was prepared to send more. If you give up, you'll never stand a chance. Rejection hurts, but there's no other way through to the promised land of publication.

Next post: So what's next with The Amber Wizard? What about the sequels (since I'm under contract for three)? And what happened to Foreverness?

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