Friday, March 21, 2014

Got that Publisher, My Journey from There to Here

It took some doing, but there it is: a publisher with a contract for my book, "The Zombie Axiom." And not just that one book, all three books in the "In the Time of the Dead” trilogy. 

Imagine that!

Man, what a process it was...
- cue dreamy music, full of harp strings and faraway glances to a starry sky- 

It all started long, long ago in a faraway land...
- needle scratches across vinyl-

Well, not really, it was actually only a few years ago in Northern New York, but doesn't, "long, long ago in a faraway land" sound better? I think so...
-okay, start the music again, ah screw it, that music sucks-

Anyway, it all started long, long ago in a faraway land with some great advice from a learned sage. Now, we've already been over the faraway land stuff and the long, long ago stuff, so who's this "learned sage" fella? That ladies and gentlemen, is an easy one...
-drum roll please-

The guys name is Murray Tinkelman. 
"Ah," you say, "I see," you say, "Exactly who is this Tinkelman?"
Right, I can see for those of you outside of the realm of illustration or art or coolness, you would probably not know who he is. For those of us into illustration and art and coolness, we know he is this amazing illustrator, a wonderful teacher and art historian, and we know that he's excellent at dispensing short barbs of advice that stick and welter and then grow into something good. 
At least that's what happened with me. 
You see, I had decided to get my Masters of Fine Arts degree in illustration, and I started nosing around for programs that would allow me to continue working from home while I did this because, let's face it, I had a wife, a kid, and a house. I wasn't about ready to go some university and live in a dorm, go to parties, and bars, and... waitaminute what was I thinking? That sounds like fun! But no, no, no, I had responsibilities darn it. I'm an adult!  
Ahem. Finally, after much searching, I had found a program that I thought was a good fit only to find out it wasn't actually a good fit at all, too much design, too little illustration, too tight around the waist. 
That's when I found The University of Hartford's Low Residency MFA (link here: The University of Hartford MFA) , headed by a professor I had at Syracuse University, the aforementioned Murray Tinkelman. While there, I busied myself with drawing and painting, painting and drawing- basically doing all the things you do while taking art classes. In the midst of all this drawing and painting, there was, of course, the writing of papers. It was here, in the writing of the papers, where Murray dispensed one of his barbs of advice in my direction. In this case, it was something like, "You're really good at writing. I've been teaching for (insert incredible amount of years) and you're one of the top two or three people I've had who can write so good. You should keep writing." Something like that.  To me that was huge. In case you haven't guessed it yet, I really respect this guy, and to have him tell me that was quite startling. I took it seriously. 
The barb had stuck. 
Shortly after, it began to welter. I was a good writer? Hmm… I thought about how I’d always loved books. I love the smell of them, the beauty of the covers, the feel of the pages, the way they could lift you out of wherever you were and drop you wherever they were. That love is what got me into creating the art for them in the first place. So, if I’m good at writing, why don’t I write one! Why don’t I write my own novels, paint the covers, and throw in a handful of internal illustrations to round them out.
Why don’t I?
And then I did it. I wrote a book. I did a bunch of illustrations. It took a couple of years, but I did it. When it was done, I thought, "Now what? I've got this manuscript and these illustrations, what the hell do I do with all of it?" Excellent question. From where I stood, I could see two different paths: the self-publishing route and the traditional route. To me, the traditional route held more appeal. It was the way I had always seen it done since I was a kid. Why not give that a shot first? Float my book the traditional way, you know, find an agent, get a publisher, and then, I don't know... repeat with the next book. If it doesn't fly, go with self-publishing. 
This was good. I had a plan. 
The first step was getting a literary agent. So I researched, I wrote one page summaries, I wrote two page summaries, I wrote five hundred word summaries, I even wrote five sentence summaries. I was so sick of summaries. Then I wrote query letters, query letters upon query letters. Query. That's a funny word. I said it to myself so much that it stopped meaning anything. Query. Querying. Query. Queried. After that, or during that, I got kinda confused with all that summary writing and repeating of "query" to myself, I sent all that stuff out. 
And I was rejected. 
For three months I was rejected. Don't get me wrong, as an artist I know rejection. I've received my fair share of, "Thanks, but no thanks" replies. Here, though, it was different. I mean, since I was a kid I've always drawn pictures, and I've always had people giving me their opinions on them, be they relatives, professors, or art directors. I had developed a thick skin from all those critiques. But this form of expression, this writing business, was new, something that was still sort of fragile, where if it took on too much water, it would just sink. In short, getting rejected for my writing seemed to suck way more than getting rejected for my artwork. Weird, I know, but there it is.
Anyway, I was rejected. Poor me. 
There I was, thinking I really should stop all this useless writing and querying and hand-wringing until, one day, I got an email from an agent who wanted to see my manuscript.
Okay, what?
That's right, someone wanted to see my work. How cool is that?! With bated breath, I sent it out. He read it. He liked it. We signed a contract. Just like that I had an agent. Wow! How validating is that? It felt great!
Yes, it felt great. Right up to the point when the rejection started again. A years’ worth of, "Sorry, this isn't the right fit for us." Ugh. 
My agent and I had a conversation at that point. We decided that, because the publishing market was changing so much, it was no longer a big deal for publishers to take on a title that had been self-published. In fact, if it's done well, it might even serve to show them how great the whole package is... the words, the cover, the images inside, not to mention the marketing end (including the Facebook page, Twitter account, Amazon Author Page, reviews, all that stuff).
I was convinced. Plus, I was tired of sitting around on all that work. I wanted to see the thing done. If I had to do it myself, so be it! 
To that end, I arranged a Kickstarter drive and used the cash from that successful fund raiser to pay for an editor, a website redo, and marketing expenses. I then put the book together, did a great big ole opening, complete with a social media blitz and a kick-ass book launch party, and I stuck that thing up on Amazon for the world to see.
It was done. It looked great. People bought it! I started to get some reviews in, and people liked it! It felt great.
Still... I hate to say it, but anyone can self-publish. Really. Anyone. What I really wanted, what I really needed to truly feel that my work was professional, was a company behind me, one that was willing to say that my writing was so good they would publish it. That’s it, pure and simple.   
Then it happened. A publishing company we queried got back to us and said they wanted to take me on board. I wrote before how validating it was to get an agent, remember? This was way better.

And as it stands now, I’m still sort of there, basking in the joy of feeling like my writing doesn't suck, windmilling in the sun, in the middle of a field of daisies, arms widespread, head back. Well, maybe not that last part. That would be… weird. But, dang, it feels like that. It’s a good thing right now. Of course, ask me six months from this point and you may get a different answer. I don’t know. Maybe not. I’d like to believe it would still be that way, that the barb had gone in and had made something good that lasts. Stay tuned. I’ll tell you if it does.