I often field questions via email. One of those recently was “how did you first get published?” I thought that’s a good story, one fraught with trolls and many other dangers. It might lend some credibility to my advice, and maybe you can identify with parts of my tale. I’m certain you can all relate to parts of my journey.Through high school, I’d always been an avid reader, and also a bit of a storyteller. I dabbled in really bad comic books and played some RPGs with friends as the GM. I also wrote short fiction for fun, not just writing classes. Fresh into college I started writing a Star Wars story; this was 1998 and hype was big for the first, new prequel in the works. Up to that point, I’d read every Star Wars novel in print (I told you I was an avid reader,) plus lots of other SF. I became super interested in the series after reading Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire series and then started working on my own after his Thrawn Duology came out. My book would come directly after with an original character. I did not intend to write fanfiction and had no idea that was even a thing.
I’d written about 40% of the book (handwritten, mind you, as I had neither computer nor internet) and I looked up Lucasfilm’s phone number and called to ask about the process. I knew nothing about publishing, plus rules were different anyway. Don’t even ask how I located and was able to contact someone there in the industry… in that era, contact information wasn’t impossible to find. I was told that the company commissioned established authors and so the best way to write a Star Wars title was to become a well-known author of SF/F… and so I began brainstorming and looking for completely original story ideas. After looking at all of my older short fiction, none of it seemed big enough for a full-length book and so I began writing a paranormal/fantasy hybrid with an original concept. About two note-books deep I bought my first computer; that helped.
The Kakos Realm took a long time to finish: partly because it was really two books worth of material and partly because I wrote it as a “pantser” who hadn’t yet learned to outline. Although, I’d sketched out where the entire series would go and how I would conclude it. After trimming it down to about 145,000 words I somehow managed to secure a small publisher that was part of a larger small press—mainly because the small press recognized the marketability of fantasy as a genre really hitting mainstream at the time. While they ultimately passed, their smaller wing loved it. Around that time I learned all about the sharks and trolls: vanity presses disguising themselves as legitimate publishers. You can read about my hatred for them and their tactics in my blog. Neither of the two above companies is still around. They were both bought out, and according to a quick search, it looks like that guy ran them into the ground and dissolved them (lucky me, I’d started to learn by then and was able to get my rights reverted before the first buy-out.)
Also lucky for me, I’d learned how much I didn’t know by joining a criticism-heavy writers group. Everything I thought I knew was pretty much wrong. I learned how to edit and write (especially how to kill passive voice and avoid mistakes) from them. I put down the TKR sequel I’d begun and left it to sit for over a decade while I wrote short fiction exclusively for at least 2 years. That was an intentional move so that I could improve my craft on all sides: beginning, ending, plotting, voicing, and then editing and revising.
I was also on the board at one small publishing company, pulled out of active members of my writers’ group. Author JP Dellova’s wife died and he used a chunk of her estate to form a small trade publisher called Marion Margaret Press, in fact, I even designed the logo. MMP eventually was bought out… by one of the other authors on the same board who could turn it into a labor of love. MMP still exists but operates primarily in the UK.
Following that came the dark period. I didn’t write much and didn’t promote much. It became less important to tell people/identify as an “author” to me. part of that was because the market was in the midst of dramatic changes… the other part was a lot of change in my personal life (jobs, relocations, etc.) More on how I snapped out of that funk next week.