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Guest Post: Steve Dullum’s Odyssey of the Abecedarian – Part Four

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For anyone who missed Part Three you can find it here

Hi, it’s me again. Time to wrap up this odyssey that is the process of writing a novel and trying to get it published, because by now you’ve probably reached your nausea threshold and are about to quickly turn your head away from the monitor and aim for the printer. That’s probably best, as the monitor is crucial to your Internet activities, and who prints nowadays anyway? If you can keep the chunks down for a little longer, and if you have the desire to inflict yet additional torture upon yourself, I promise to keep this brief.

I left off last time with a little rambling about finding a literary agent, which is the first step for most writers if they want to be published. And by published, I’m referring to traditional publishing, with your book finding its way to the shelves of your local bookstore. You must find an agent who is accepting unsolicited queries and who represents your genre of writing. No easy feat there. After many hours of digging online and scouring how-to books, I compiled a short list of agents who might be interested in my novel. Great, now what?

Next is the query letter, which is your three-paragraph moment of triumph where you captivate the agent with your story, explain a little about yourself, and show why your book is exactly what the agent is looking for. Need advice on how to write it? No problem, just buy one of the thousand books on the subject. Or better yet, check out the multitude of writer’s forums. Turns out, for every hundred people explaining how to do it, you’ll find a hundred different opinions. You write it this way because that’s what one expert said, and then you read from another expert that the way you wrote it is the wrong way. Rinse, then repeat, and watch your hair clog the shower drain. So the best I could do was settle for something that wasn’t completely wrong. Finally have an acceptable query letter (or at least one you think doesn’t totally suck)? Great, now what?

Next step is to write the synopsis. Same conundrum with this wonderful instrument of suffering. A synopsis is essentially a condensed version of your book, and it must highlight all the key characters and their motivations, the essential parts of the story, and it must tell the story from beginning to end, all the while capturing and showcasing the same writing style as your novel. So now let’s take that 350 page whopper and tell it in one page. Oh, and there are a million different opinions on how to do it. Piece of cake.

I sent off numerous submissions and didn’t always get a response. When I did, they usually went like this: “Thank you for considering SoAndSo Literary Agency. While we enjoyed reading your novel, it is not the story we are looking for at this time.” The motivation to continue pulling my hair out dwindled. I have no animosity for agents. They receive thousands of submissions a month and make their living only by selling books to publishers that they believe are going to sell a lot of copies. It’s tough work for them as well. Publishers only want books that are going to sell big time. The industry has changed so much over the last ten years. If you’re not already an established writer, you’d better have the next “The Hunger Games.” It’s also possible that my novel just wasn’t good enough. I can accept that. Nevertheless, needless to say, I stopped trying for some time. It was just too time-consuming and mentally draining, and I like to think I have a thick skin.

So there I was with this manuscript sitting on my shelf and collecting dust. I believed in it fully, and still do. While perhaps not great, I’ve done my share of reading, and I think it holds up. It’s a nice little suspense novel, and I’m proud of it. But by that point I’d just lost the energy to keep trying to get the establishment publishers to take a bite. I never gave up on it though. I always knew I’d try again someday, but I thought that maybe the next time I’d go the digital route.

Flash forward a couple years and now the eBook scene is heating up. Self-publishing used to be called vanity publishing, and with that comes a certain negative connotation, but by then the do-it-yourself method was becoming mainstream and increasingly legit. More and more people were buying Kindles and Nooks or reading books on their iPads. So I dabbled in that a bit, researching how to do it, and quickly found the same frustrations as going down the traditional road. There are literally a million different ways to self-publish. And if you do go it alone, then you’re entirely responsible for all the marketing…that whole “platform” thing. I started noticing more hair twirling around the shower drain.

Then one day in the mail, I received a brochure for a company specializing in publishing indie novels as eBooks. Not only would they distribute my book to all the various online booksellers, but they would also help design a book cover, and I could host my own website with their sister company, HostBaby. All for a reasonable onetime upfront fee. Sounded like the answer I was looking for. No more guesswork, I could jump right in and get something going with my book…finally. So that’s what I did, and even though it was a lot of work and required significant trial and error, I’m grateful that I went that route. Otherwise, I’m sure The Spiral would still be collecting dust.

About a year after publishing The Spiral digitally, I decided to pursue my other dream of holding my novel in my hands. Amazon’s CreateSpace seemed the logical choice. This too was tricky and required a fair amount of research, but the process went smooth. I opted to design my own cover because I wanted total control over that. I could envision exactly what I wanted the cover to look like, but to convey that in an email to a design pro wasn’t going to work. Finally, a box arrived in the mail. Inside was my proof copy, and I couldn’t have been happier with the result. Then came my box of 20 complimentary books. I selected two pristine copies and they are now happily at home on my shelf. Dream come true.

There, that’s the abbreviated account of my writing and publishing odyssey. I can tell your eyes are getting heavy and you’re beginning to nod off. I don’t blame you. This is pretty dry reading even for me. But thanks for hanging in there, I appreciate it. I often hear that a “real” writer would write even if no one ever read their work, and even if no copies were ever sold. I get that, sort of. For me, the joy of writing comes from knowing that my efforts might just give someone a little entertainment, an escape from reality, even if for a short period of time. That’s where the reward lies.


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