The writing was initially going well but after getting about halfway into the story things seemed to take a turn for the dark, dreary, and depressing worse. I was trying to force the story into situations it really didn't want to go, and I was trying to incorporate a rather large cast of characters that mostly didn't seem to want to be there. In what was supposed to be a fun, irreverent romp I had managed to have my characters kill a platoons worth of soldiers in a Kenyan jungle, perfectly innocent characters had slit throats, and my demonic protagonist had blown up a convoy of soldiers with a handful of bombs made from coconuts. It was shit. I had about 50,000 words at this point and I realized I only had one chapter worth saving and even it needed rewriting - and that was the first chapter.
The one chapter I had seen so clearly at the beginning that it made me rather sad to realize that it was actually rough as hell. I shelved the book for a few months, once again feeling like a hack, but the idea wouldn't let me go. I felt like I had the beginnings of something fun and I wanted to see it through. I trashed all but the bare bones of that first chapter, but otherwise I started from scratch. It wasn't a fast write since I was working on it in my spare time off of my real job, but this time it felt like things were flowing more naturally.
With only a few exceptions, the story came out pretty much effortlessly. Even the handful of points where I struggled with the story, it always ended up being me that was the problem and not the story. I learned to let go, something that's hard for me in real life, and just let the story go where it needed to - even if it wasn't where I wanted it to go. In the end I had to abandon a few ideas I had wanted to incorporate, make some choices I didn't want to with characters, and just have faith that somewhere in my subconscious I knew what I was doing.
Finishing the rough draft felt like crossing the line of a marathon in a personal best time. And then it was time to edit. I hate, hate, hate editing. Where writing feels like playing with finger paints in art class, editing feels like complex math while staring at a strobe light. I was never good at math in school - or staring at strobe lights. Despite that I spent a few months struggling through a few rounds of self-editing and beta reads. I finally reached a point where I couldn't edit anymore. It's that artist's concept of trying to realize when you're doing more harm than good by touching up painting one more time or adding one more detail. I don't consider myself an artist in that pretentious "I paint with words" idea, but a lot of the bad habits and insecurities are the same. I finally reached the point where I thought the book was the best I could make it. It felt like it was time to start looking for an agent, get the book with a major publisher, and let their editors do the rest of the leg work. That's when the rejections started.
When it came to finding an agent I knew rejections came with the territory. It wasn't a surprise and I wasn't really worried. For a while I printed out all the rejections, 99% of which were form letters, with the intent of covering a wall with them and then taking a picture of me in front of it with my newly published book in hand. Eighty three submissions later, most of which went unacknowledged, and I was running low of self-esteem. I had gotten about a dozen requests for partial manuscripts, and a small handful of full manuscript requests (including a few upgrades from partial to full).
Then I got an email from a young, upstart agent stating she was interested in the book but needed to think about it over the weekend. I knew it wasn't a yes, but it was the closest I had gotten to a yes and it felt just the same. I was trying to stay grounded and kept the potential yes to myself. The Monday following that weekend I got an email from a different agent within the same agency letting me know the agent that had been looking at my manuscript left the company, and the industry altogether, and that she was going to pass on it. I was a bit confused and really angry. At that point I stopped submitting queries to agents. Despite trying desperately not to get my hopes up I had definitely done so and then had them dashed in an unexpected but equally devastating way.
I wish the story ended with me taking a few days to get over the disappointment, finding new purpose and a renewed drive, and landing that dream agent, but the truth is I gave up after that. I just gave up. I stopped sending out queries, looking at things to make my book better or more attractive to agents, and mostly gave up on writing in general. Something that I had done most of my life for fun and to help keep me sane I had now almost completely abandoned. To say I was a bit disenchanted is an understatement. Over the next year I would entertain the thought of trying again, or very briefly consider the idea of self-publishing, but for the most part dismissed the urge. I didn't have any interest in going back into those querying trenches and self-publishing felt like admitting defeat. Over that year of doing anything but writing and becoming a published author I started seeing a lot of the tools and options to self-publish become easier, cheaper, higher quality, and with less and less stigma. There wasn't any one thing I can pinpoint that made me finally reconsider self-publishing but I inevitably did. Once I was serious I sought out an editor and got really lucky that an artist I had long admired was surprisingly reasonably priced and willing to take my idea for a book cover and make it into a pretty awesome reality.
I won't lie and say that self-publishing has ended up being a dream come true; at least not yet. I'd still love it if I were traditionally published and could focus on writing instead of putting in full-time hours being publisher, promoter, accountant, personal assistant, and any number of other jobs all while still having to hold down a real job to pay the bills. The truth is, except for having the backing of a big publisher to get trade magazines to take me seriously and easily getting into brick and mortar bookstores the job is probably pretty close to the same as that of any mid-list author and those complaints are really just wishful thinking. Although it means putting in more hours and a longer than desired delay between writing projects I no doubt have a faster turnaround time than a traditionally published author and should I ever find success it will be by my own hands and I'll get to keep a greater percentage of the rewards. With any luck, actually a lot of luck and hard work, a year from now I'll be writing about my 2nd book and becoming a full-time author. Until then, I write...
Thanks to Adam Ingle for sharing his story and for getting his book out there for everyone to read. The road is tough, but with a bit of perseverance you can get your thoughts out there.