Here’s what has happened to No Name Key so far:
I am dead center of a very steep learning curve particularly when it comes to promotion, self promo that is.
So aside from the kicking and screaming – here’s what I have, where I am and what I have learned after successfully completing No Name Key, my first novel:
First write a great book, as great a book as you have in you to write.
Love the book you have written.
Workshop this book and/or get a group of first readers – and I don’t mean friends and family but people who are not afraid to tell you the hard stuff; READERS who love to read and do it often. Make sure yours is not the first book they have read in a long time, or the first book in the genre you are writing. If you are lucky, your readers are also writers.
Take criticism seriously, especially if the same issues are brought up by multiple readers. Stay open.
Find a fabulous editor. I had two, both of whom I recommend highly.
Harry DeWulf of Dense Words provided me with a meta-view of the work, within a few weeks he sent me a critique indicating places that the story could be improved. Later, I had a very satisfying Skype conversation with him to discuss loose ends and ideas. He lives in Paris, so this was the only way to have a face-to-face. I was relieved to discover that he really got it. In fact, he told me things about it that even I didn’t know. That’s Harry, a really smart English guy who reads 3-4 books every “fornight.”
Then he coughed up his secret weapon, Laurie Skemp and she went to town on the manuscript. Laurie bills herself as a “editor, or proof reader” and you would be wise to take advantage of that before she realizes how good she is and adjusts her incredibly low rates accordingly. Laurie is able to differentiate between voice and grammar because in my (and most writer’s) world, often the two compete. For Laurie, grammar almost always wins. For me, not so much, but admittedly, more than before. Sometimes I claim poetics, but far less than I used to. Let me give you an example of what I mean:
My initial sentence:
Late August and No Name Key was so deserted she swore she could hear the damp bodies of insects hatching, warm water lapping against the spongy shore.
By late August No Name Key was so deserted that she swore she could hear the damp bodies of insects hatching as warm water lapped against the spongy shore.
Laurie is nothing if not thorough.
While the editing is going on, create a great cover. I didn’t, I waited too long, adding time to the already lengthy process. Preferably, find a cover designer. I didn’t. I created a watercolor and took pictures of No Name Key, finally settling on a shot of a tangled everglade that Sean used to shadow the painting of Elle, my main character. To me, it suggests that she is wearing a crown of thorns. I like the eerie feel of it, but only time will tell if this cover works.
After the book has been edited, give it to 4 or 5 readers whose opinions you respect. Allow for enough time to have them read it all the way through. Do things for them, whatever they ask.
Redo the beginning (almost always), chop, enlarge, add, subtract. Think about it some more.
Back to the editor for another polish, incorporating (some, up to you) changes that your readers and editor have suggested.
After is is as good as it can be, send polite requests to people (the harder they are to ask, the better) to read your masterpiece and provide you with a BLURB about the story that you can use on your back cover. Go to people who are so credible, you are afraid to bother them. Ask. Well-respected writers are good, newspaper editors, Kim Kardashiam dujour, whoever.
At this point it’s up to you. Seek an agent, or go it alone or try to get an agent then go it alone. Or go it alone and then get an agent.
But even with a agent and a publisher, you still have to do plenty of stuff. One of the hardest working writers I know is traditionally published but he arranges his own readings in NYC, Dallas, Key West, Miami all by his lonesome. He gets his books in front of an incredible amount of people. This is a tough business and I don’t think anyone really likes arranging the back end; anything other than writing the actual book is difficult and tedious. So here’s how I am tackling it:
ONE CRAPPY THING A DAY. It’s a good day if I do ONE thing to publicize my book, because no one will find it if you don’t tell them it’s there. Today I am querying a library to see if they are interested in my doing a reading. Then I get to go back to writing my new book.
I can’t do more than that, it’s too overwhelming for me. But it is incredible how much gets accomplished in a month if I do that one thing every day.
It’s been a while and a lot of work has been done to get the book out. Let’s see – two years so far. I hope to streamline the process and have another book out within a year. So far I am about 15k into the next, so it is possible.
Blog, mail list, ask local bookstores, libraries, galleries for a readings. Ask for reviews, go on blog tours. But that’s a topic for my next post because I am not quite there yet ….