Saturday, June 11, 2011

Do You Have A Brand?

   I began writing CANALS in 2004. I dragged myself out of bed every morning between five and five-thirty, booted up an old Windows 95 PC in the spare bedroom, and sat and forced myself to write. Writing almost every day, it took five months to complete the first draft.
   Writing CANALS was an experience I’ll always cherish. I thought I was going to be another Stephen King so I wrote CANALS the same way King writes, in the style he calls “a found thing” in his book On Writing. Other writers call it “by the seat of your pants” writing. I started with a premise but no plot.
   Countless times I sat at the computer, when it was pitch black outside, with no idea what would happen next. I’d force myself to type something, just to get started, and then an idea would come and off I’d go, galloping up to the next roadblock. It was thrilling.
   I edited the manuscript a couple of times and thought it was ready for primetime. It weighed in at 200K words. A bit long, I know, but I’d read many King books that were twice that and I like long reads.
   Sure my book would be snapped up by an eager publisher, I dreamt of large advances, book tours, appearances on The Tonight Show, and a vacation home on Maui. Most of all, I dreamt of a full-time writing career. I’d be like Dean Koontz and buy a house overlooking the ocean, with a writing room on the third floor.
   Out went the query letters, printed in 1200 dpi on fine stationary. I got an early hit; they asked for three chapters! The rejection letter must have been in the mail the same time as the sample chapters. I thought later a new intern likely asked for the pages as the info I had on the publisher said they didn’t publish books longer than 90K words.
   I received about twenty-five rejection letters, most tenth-generation photocopies--tacky and impersonal. One publisher sent a nice letter stating he liked the concept and was interested but the manuscript needed editing. The story “told” more than it “showed.” I had no idea what he meant but by then had given up. The digital file was backed up to a USB drive and the printed manuscript was banished to a shelf in the garage.
   Never at any time have I thought CANALS wasn’t a good story. I just thought I was a lousy salesman. Which I was.
   I was sure it was the genre; few publishers and agents list an interest in horror. And check out the bestseller lists, you rarely see a horror book in the top ten.
   Four years later I decided to write another book, this time a thriller. In fact, I told myself I would stick with the genre. Instead of wanting to be Stephen King, I now wanted to be John Sandford, my favorite thriller writer.
   I’ll save the story for my writing THE MIGHTY T for another day.
   I queried for THE MIGHTY T. While waiting to hear back from agents and publishers, I thought I’d resurrect CANALS now that I thought I knew a lot more about writing. Sure it’s length was a hindrance to it being published, I edited with a heavy hand and got it down to 145K. A lot of bad bloat was cut, words and scenes that added little or nothing to the plot.
   I queried for CANALS again, even tried to reconnect with the editor who’d written the personal letter. He was no longer there and Google had no idea where he’d gone.
   With an impressive pile of paper rejections, and a few megabytes of email rejections, for both manuscripts, I was discouraged and dejected. This would’ve been late 2009. I knew little about ebooks then and nothing about self-publishing other than I’d read agents and publishers look down their noses at writers who self-publish. Why I was concerned about what people who had no interest in my work thought of me is anyone’s guess.
   Then, in February 2011, I found Smashwords and eventually Jack Konrath’s blog, which I devoured. I bought Konrath’s philosophy, as well as John Locke’s, on how to successfully self-publish. I have a two-page crib sheet from a few Locke blogs and interviews I’ll throw up some day. Very enlightening.
   I decided to publish on Smashwords and chose to publish CANALS first. It would be my practice book. Once I learned the ropes I’d publish THE MIGHTY T and yank CANALS. Remember, I’d chosen to be a genre thriller writer; I thought it would be bad for thriller readers to find a horror book with my name on it.
   Is there a point, Everett, or does this post ramble on forever?
   The version of CANALS I published in March, 2011, while far better than the version I tried to get publishers to buy, was inferior to the version that’s now for sale. The editor was right: I had way too much telling and not nearly enough showing.
   Here are my points:
1. CANALS shouldn’t have been published in March. It’s not fair to ask people to pay for something that’s not polished. I apologize to the people who paid for that version, all five of you.
2. I’m flip-flopping on the “I’m a genre writer”. I’m currently writing a second Grant Starr thriller but I have no idea if I’ll write nothing but thrillers after that. This flip-flopping has me troubled. I’m not convinced it’s good for marketing.

   Here’s my question: If you’re a writer, have you defined your “brand”? Do you think having a brand is even important? I think it makes marketing your writing a lot easier.