I meant to get this post out on Wednesday, but I’ve been neck-deep in the Superstars Writing Seminar 2017 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I’ve spent the week with about 120 different authors, while I work with a couple of buddies (Josh Vogt and Ramon Terrell) in the seminar bookstore and catch up on some book design work in between sessions. As usual, I’m trying to multi-task and mostly gaining ground.
However, that’s not what I’m posting about today. Today is an abject lesson on the importance of having other people read your work before you send it to an editor or publisher. As some of you know, my primary WIP (work in progress) is the first novel for the Aradio brothers’ Colt the Outlander IP.
When I was selected for the project, one of the early decisions we made was for me to submit a fairly detailed outline to the brothers before working on the prose. In several early creative/project meetings, we’d talked about some general and specific story ideas, as well as a few setting details that R.C. Aradio wanted included so that he could work on arctic-style illustrations. I thought it was a great idea, so I worked up a general story-line and presented the outline to them.
Let me take a moment to tell say that as a writer working for someone else, I strongly recommend you insist on providing an outline when doing a work-for-hire project. The last thing you want to do is invest a month or two cranking out fifty thousand words and then find out after they read it that you’ve gone down the wrong rabbit hole. Save yourself the time and do whatever you can to keep your employer happy as early and often as possible.
So, once they reviewed the outline, which they gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up to, I hunkered down over the keyboard and cranked out words. I’ve done both pantsing and plotting when working on a project, and I can make cases for both. However, I must admit that having the outline helped make the writing go more quickly. I started submitting four chapters at a time to them… right before Thanksgiving. About 5 weeks later—smack-dab in between Thanksgiving and Christmas—I’d put nearly fifty thousand words in their hands but, understandably, hadn’t heard back.
That’s about when the nail-biting started.
I haven’t met too many creatives who don’t struggle with self-doubt. I’m as prone to it as the next, if not more so. Add to that the simple fact that this is my first work-for-hire project, and you can imagine how challenging it was for me to keep my head on straight. Up until now I’ve only written for myself, submitting projects or riding the wave of being involved with WordFire Press. I’m the first to admit that I’ve benefitted from my involvement with Kevin’s imprint and the travelling bookstore. So, for the first time, I was writing something for a specific purpose and for guys who were paying up front for the job.
No pressure, right?
Now set the wayback for two weeks ago; I hear from Dominic Aradio. He let me know that they’d gone through the chapters and wanted to have a meeting to discuss them. He said we’d need about two and a half hours.
Did I mention that I’ve never done a work-for-hire before. I heard “two and a half hours” and freaked right the hell out. Dom still doesn’t know this, so Dom, if you’re reading this post, I realize now that you nailed the timing perfectly. In my head I though “Oh, god! I’m gonna have to rewrite the whole thing.”
So, four more days of nail-biting got me to the phone conference. We’re all on this conference call and I’ve prepared myself for a slash-and-burn event of gargantuan proportions. I opened the file he’d sent back, and we started going through their comments one chapter at a time.
Minor things… small bits here and there that were great suggestions for character names or weapon and tech details… a few bits about characterization… and that’s it. We even skimmed over a number of chapters because there wasn’t anything they wanted done to them. I don’t know if they picked it up in my voice, but I was tap-dancing in my chair. I was excited when they first handed the project. I was more excited when they approved the outline. But to hear them go through the prose, tell me they dig it, and find that I’d hit the mark on so much of their vision of Colt the Outlander was both a delight and a validation. Creatives need that, and I sure as hell got mine on this phone conference.
So, everything was going great, and I’m grinning like an idiot, and R.C. chimes in with, “There was one thing….”
I heard the other shoe drop. The tap-dancing in my head stopped dead, as if someone had cut the strings on a marionette.
I won’t put a spoiler in here, but it’s worthy of mention. About halfway through the chapters I’d sent, Colt is talking with an old shaman in an arctic cave. The scene opens with Colt waking up buck naked and wrapped in furs. When the shaman walks in, there’s this really neat dialogue that takes place, full of history and song and the pathos of a people betrayed and defiled.
R.C. mentioned to me that the three of them had talked about the scene and really enjoyed it. It was captivating and drew them into the moment of two warriors bonding in the darkness over a glowing fire. And then R.C. asked the others, “Hey, this conversation takes about what, thirty minutes?”
The other two chimed in, “Yeah, about that.”
“Well, isn’t Colt just sitting there with his junk hanging out?”
“Errrr…. yeah…. Yeah, he is….”
“We may want to have Quincy change that….”
Let me add that I have a great alpha reader and a troupe of wonderful beta readers. I read over that seen a number of times, the early readers went over it, and even two fo the tree IP owners went right past this bit. Out of all those people, only one person caught an item that very easily could have gone to press and ended up the topic of a a blind-siding interview question a year or two from now.
Hence the importance of having people read your stuff before it goes to the publisher.
I’d written a scene with a big guy sitting in a frozen room in a pretty severe state of undress. The remainder of my conversation with IP owners was scattered with the four of us cracking jokes about blue things and shriveled party hors d’oeuvres.
The bottom line here is that the Colt project is going really well, and I hope to have the remainder of the book finished this week. I’ll be able to do one more pass from start to finish, flesh out a few details, and make sure all of the IP owners’ requests are attended to. Then, it’ll go back to them for final review and probably one more pass of revisions. After that, we’ll be green-lighted to go to submit the publisher and, hopefully, straight into production.
All I can say is that 2017 promises to be my best year ever. Colt will come out, I’ll be writing book 3 of The Blood War Chronicles; I’ll be writing a book that I hope to place with a specifically targeted agent, editor, and publishing house; and I’ll finally be tackling Dios de los Muertos, the long-overdue sequel to Chemical Burn. I also have designs to finish Curse of the Devoted (here’s a nod to Mary Villalba); and there may even be a few bigger surprises if the gods of fame and fortune decide to smile upon me.
Here’s to 2017, and if you’re writing, get thee some beta readers.