Edward L. Cote is joining us today! You should go on and enjoy him now. He's a nice guy who got pushed back by my family crisis and he has good things to say! :)
So Ed, get on with it! :D
Looking Back and Looking Ahead
It's been about a month since we wrapped up work on the Twelve Worlds anthology project and I'm at an important point of my own. I'm publishing my first book, Violet Skies, around the end of May.
The anthology was an interesting project to work on. I had some exposure to things different from what I usually read, and I hope I learned a thing or two. It was really something to see it all develop, especially since a project of that scope and nature was, for most of us, outside our experience. We had to form our processes and rules as we went along. The most important part of it all was meeting and working with the other authors. I have established relationships with colleagues that will last for years to come.
That's looking back a few months. I can also look back as far as twelve years. I had the first tiny seed of Violet Skies in my mind as early as 1999. Over the years it grew, and I would come back to check on it now and again. In 2009, I decided that I would finally get serious about this thing. I would sit down and, as they say, “just do it”. I solidified and codified. I poured over my notes and added to them. I fleshed out the setting and its history. I got to know the characters a little better, and I realized that in their own way, they had always been there.
In 2010, I finished the first draft and started looking for publishers and agents. I figured that I could do some polishing while I waited for them to get back to me. That turned out to be a mistake, for two reasons. First, the book at the time was not nearly ready. It was too short, too rough, and too raw. Second, as I've learned since, Violet Skies is outside the comfort zone of a risk-averse industry.
Yes, Young Adult books do sell very well these days, but I was bucking every trend. Instead of a paranormal romance set in a rainy American city, I have a coming of age tale set in an agrarian city-state ruled by a 600 year old Magus. Instead of vampires and werewolves, I have wizards and swordsmen. Instead of the thousand page tomes, purple prose, unpronounceable names, and ensemble casts common to the fantasy genre, I have novellas, clear prose, simpler names, and a small cast.
I made those choices deliberately, and I am still convinced that they can pay off by giving me access to an untapped market. For every person who has told me all the reasons why they don't read fantasy, there could be ten more who feel the same way. Maybe some of them will give the genre a try when presented with books that do away with many of those obstacles while keeping the essential nature of the genre intact. Lowering that threshold and the level of investment it takes to get into the Violet Skies series could also appeal to teens and busy people of all ages.
However, convincing creatures of habit that I had a point, using only a query letter, proved to be very difficult indeed. I collected enough rejections to see the problems. I even found a few agents who would not accept queries for novellas to begin with. I was a contender for a publishing contract at a small house, but I did not make the cut. I'm pretty sure that the length of the book was the deciding factor.
I was at a difficult crossroads. I knew that I couldn't force the books so far beyond their natural length, and I didn't want to combine them. I considered shelving the project and trying something more traditional, but I didn't have any compelling ideas along those lines at the time. I considered quitting writing altogether. Either way, I couldn't abandon something I'd already had on the back burner for so long. Something important to me. I felt its time had come.
Then, a friend sent me an email with a link to Joe Konrath's blog. I learned that while I was making my own transition to writing professionally, publishing itself was making a remarkable, rapid, and historic transformation into a fundamentally new industry.
It was through that blog and this emerging self-publishing community that I met first Derek J. Canyon and then the other Twelve Worlds authors. Ironic perhaps, that I'd be more alone if I had insisted on the traditional publishing route.
At first, self publishing presented another way, a door opening where others had closed. Now I feel that it's the only way for most writers, especially new and emerging ones. At this point I probably would not take a contract with an agent or publisher even if offered one.
Which brings me to where I am today. I have a story, Iron in Shadow, published in the Twelve Worlds anthology, and I'll have my first book published in a matter of weeks. I know that getting sales and building a fanbase is a long and challenging process, but I also know I can do it. I've had setbacks to be sure. I always will, but I'll get past them and learn what I can.
I want to have the second book out for Christmas, and I might still pull that off. Maybe in a year or two I can make a living at this. I have an opportunity that I did not have even a few years ago. The Twelve Worlds anthology is something that we could not have done even a few years ago, but we came together as peers and produced something very good for a very good cause.
Going back to the big picture, I do see this as a time of opportunity, even as it is also a time of upheaval. I think that as the middle men and gatekeepers recede, readers and authors can come together in ways that we couldn't before. In the coming years we will see changes not only in the economics of publishing, but the dynamics of it as well. As authors we now have control over our own work, and are free to experiment with different material and forms. As readers we are free to decide for ourselves what we want, and we are the arbiters of quality, not some distant gatekeeper. Already we see the resurgence of short stories, and soon serials as well. So maybe the words “fantasy” and “novella” can be used in the same sentence. That can't be the strangest good idea. Eventually someone will surprise us with something we cannot yet foresee.
Publishing has a bright and wide open future. Somewhere in that future is a place for a young girl named Taya Mindaerel.
Edward L. Cote,
Author of Violet Skies
JEM Sez: Somebody surprise us, you say? I have an episodic-novella-length-series, the third of which dropped today... ;) Maybe one day I can be a poster-child for novella-length stories? Wouldn't that be nice :D