Thursday, July 5, 2007

Welcome to Hextacy

Yes, that's right, I've finally started a blog. The purpose of this site is twofold: 1) to offer updates on my fiction and academic writing, and 2) to post information on writing and publishing in general, academic minutiae, tomfoolery, and generally to do whatever the frack I want. Often, 2 will prevail over 1. Wait. That doesn't sound right.

My first novel, NIGHT CHILD, is due out next Spring. The cover isn't ready yet, so I've substituted this cool image. Why? Because it's got bloody hands on it, and in my book, that's pretty sweet.

For more info on the novel, visit my website: HERE

Also, my academic book on Farscape hits Canada in five days:



You can already order it from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com, and soon, so very soon, it will be on Canadian shelves at Chapters/Indigo. To learn more about this sweet, sweet book, visit the I.B. Tauris Website.

People who love me will buy this. Multiple copies. It's that simple.




Now, here's a question I get asked fairly often:

"How did you publish your first novel?"

So I thought I'd tell the story for those who are wondering. Hopefully it helps.

Let's begin at the beginning. I started writing 'seriously' when I was about 10 years old. By seriously, I mean that I actually thought I might publish something. I printed out numerous prologues and first chapters on my parents' dot matrix printer. Ah, those were good times.

When I was fifteen, I sent a complete manuscript to Tor Books in New York. Yeah, that's right. I was crazy even then. I figured--I like it, maybe they will too. Of course, the book was mostly just my friends and family placed in a fantastic situation (why were the sorcerers wearing jeans?), and I didn't understand the concept of the slush pile. But I was actually reading Writer's Market at around 14 years old, so I wasn't completely in the dark. 2 years later, I got a polite form rejection from Tor. I didn't care that it was a form letter--it had the fucking Tor imprint on the letterhead! I was completely psyched. And, in the meantime, I'd published a poem in a small literary journal, so things were looking up.

Flash forward. Since I wasn't sure what to do after graduation, and I hadn't hit the NYT Bestseller List yet (why the f not?), I decided that I should take some college courses. A psych course here, an anthro course there, nothing serious. Don't ask me how, but through some horrific mutation, this transformed into an English degree. Then the English B.A. morphed into an M.A, and the M.A, like the Blatant Beast in Spenser's Faerie Queene, transformed into a howling PhD in Literature. I still don't know how it happened. I think I was drunk.

Over the 10 odd years I spent in university, I kept working on different novels. I wrote variations on the same story for a few years, and finally, while taking some personal time (i.e., crazy nervous breakdown from my field exams time), I decided to rewrite one of my drafts as a forensic-style mystery. I did a lot of research. A lot. I took a course in forensic science. I read everything available to the general public, and then started ordering books from university libraries. Grisly stuff. But so, so cool. I read articles in the Journal of Forensics. I say all this because that's what doing research meant to me. Total immersion. There's nothing greater than becoming totally and unhealthily obsessed with something that will probably have no practical value for you.

At the same time, I was also writing my dissertation, which was based on the work of several contemporary fantasy writers. Two of them in particular, Chaz Brenchley and Lynn Flewelling, answered my emails and were extremely supportive. Lynn suggested that I query some agents, and after shamelessly cribbing from her sample query letter, I sent out my first queries. The formula was simple:

Paragaph 1: ms title, length, word count, status (completed), looking for representation

Paragraph 2: provocative question, blurb about plot, significance of book

Paragraph 3: publishing history, why xyz agent, publisher, etc., offer to send complete ms

I used the 2006 Literary Agents Guide. There is also a website for registered American literary agencies that provides email addresses and info about each agent. I sent off about 20 queries, and got a few positive responses. Three agencies requested more material, but ultimately passed on the book. One agent asked for the full ms, and liked it. We worked together for a bit editing the ms, but didn't sign a contract. Eventually, the agent politely declined the book. It was heartbreaking at first, especially since I'd already done a lot of editing. But, in the end, the agent made the right choice for both of us, and I knew that I had a stronger book as a result of the work.

The changes were big, but simple: it was all about motivation. Why did each scene matter? Why would a character subject herself to a 10 pg exposition-fest? What momentum drove each scene forward? The agent helped me learn how to create tension, and that was invaluable.

I sent off another round of queries, and one of them went to Lauren Abramo at Dystel and Goderich in New York. Why did I submit to her? Honestly, I saw her picture on the Dystel site, read her profile, and thought: she seems cool. I'd like her to read my book. Later, through a freak coincidence, I would discover that she went to school with the daughter of one of my colleagues and mentors. Small world. He confirmed that Lauren was a great agent and a fantastic person. So I felt comfortable working with her.

Lauren read the ms in about a week, called me twice, and then I had a contract with Dystel. Holy fuck. After 17 odd years of writing, it happened that fast. But getting a contract didn't mean that the book sold magically the next day. It's not like in the movies. Lauren had some editorial changes of her own, and then she sent off the complete ms to 10 publishers. We waited. The rejection letters started trickling in. They were more personalized, more specific, but they were still rejections. After about 4 months, Lauren sent the ms off to 6 more publishers, and we waited some more. All told, it was 6 months before we heard from Ginger Buchanan at Ace/Roc. And that was a very, very sweet day. It rocked my face off, to be honest.

I'd say that it took 1.5 years, from the time I finished the ms to the day that Ace bought it. So it was a process. But everything is.

Hope this helps those of you out there who are still plugging away. And I am too, since once you make your first sale, you're already editing the novel, working on book 2, doing publicity, and trying to promote everything by yourself. It's a job, most definitely. But a really cool one.

Questions? Comments? Email me at jbattis@sfu.ca, and visit my website HERE

2 comments:

Erin said...

Any word on Australian release dates for any of your books?

Have a lovely day! :-)

jes battis said...

they should be the same as the uk release date, which was April, I think