Traverse City is not a bad place to write and relax from over a long weekend. Enjoy your Labor Day!
Over the rest of this summer, I’ll be putting the finishing touches on a short horror story called Consumption. I’m excited for you all to read this, and I have a feeling it may be pretty divisive so I’m really looking forward to your feedback, both good and bad! It’s a far cry from Convergence, both tonally and genre-wise, but still firmly rooted in the speculative-fiction category.
Coming in at nearly 12,000 words, this is a dark, adult piece that revolves around six guests who have been invited to a blind twelve-course tasting meal. Of course, they have no idea what they’re in store for, nor do they realize the true nature of that peculiar tasting meat plated before them. Not until it’s far too late, at least. I think it’s a pretty fun food-gore monster mash-up, although you might not want to read this one on a full belly…
You can find more about it on this page, and while you’re there feel free to sign up for a FREE Advanced eReader Copy of Consumption. I only ask that if you do sign up, please leave an honest review when the story launches in the fall. I’m planning for an October release and hope to send out the ARCs in late September/early October time-frame, at least two weeks prior to the eBook’s official release.
Stay tuned for more news soon! I’ll be revealing the cover art later this summer, a few looks behind the scenes, and getting the official release date locked down. In the meantime, you can read the official description, check out an excerpt, and, of course, sign up for your free early release edition here!
And, if you want to try out my work for cheap right now, Convergence is still on sale for only 99 cents for a few more days. Time is running out, though, so be sure to get your copy ASAP!
For a limited time, the Convergence eBook is on sale for only 99 cents!
You can download this Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarterfinalist and Kobo Next Read Selection for less than a buck.
After the sale ends July 19, the regular price of $3.99 returns. Until then, you can buy my sci-fi thriller (perfect for fans of Barry Eisler, William Gibson, James Rollins, or Michael Crichton, IMHO) at these fine merchants:
And if none of those etailers are your preferred vendor, the book is also listed in the Smashwords Summer Sale, where you can save 75% of the usual $3.99 price by using the code SSW75 at checkout. That offer is good until July 31.
After you’ve bought and read it, please leave an honest review at the site you’ve purchased from. They can help a new author like me tremendously, and let future readers know if the title might be worth their time.
Or, you can post a review at Goodreads, too!
Whatever you choose, whether your review it or not (but please do consider it), just know that your help and patronage is greatly appreciated and I thank you for your support.
You can find out more about my sci-fi thriller here.
Facebook has become a bit of a headache lately, with the service opting to focus more heavily on filtered feed content, advertising, and promoting paid posts over basic updates and content.
As such, I started dabbling a little bit with Google+ recently and figured it might be a good time to post a comprehensive list of all the various ways you can find me online. It’s always nice to hear from readers, so hopefully those of you out there will connect and engage.
You can find me here at this blog, obviously: http://michaelpatrickhicks.com. You can subscribe to the site or follow by e-mail over on the right. Feel free to check out previous blog posts in the archives and drop a line in the comments at the bottom. There is also a Contact button in the upper menu that you can reach me at. In the future, I expect to be making greater use of my mailing list, so feel free to sign up on the upper right-hand side, or by clicking here.
Anyone of these options is a great way to stay up to date, and I’ll have some big announcements on future works in the coming months that you won’t want to miss!
Now that I’m neck-deep in editing duties for the rest of the summer (year?), I thought it a good time to talk about my approach to mining my awful first drafts for something a bit less reprehensible.
The ability to edit your own work is an empowering tool, but don’t dare to think that your own skills, single-handedly, are enough. Unless you have a ridiculous command of grammar, sentence structure, plot development, and character arcs, treat your own edits as nothing more than a first pass and then hand the manuscript over to the professionals.
You need multiple sets of eyes going over your work multiple times. When you’re editing, you need to be merciless, but, odds are, you’ll still be wearing your kid gloves and harboring some reticence over what scenes should be trimmed (or cut altogether) and how clunky the dialogue may be. You need a trained word-murderer on your side who lacks compassion and pity. That’s how final books are made – with tears, blood, and booze, on the wrong side of a pointed blade in a dark, stanky alley, next to the rotting corpses of dead beatniks.
So, editors, yeah. They’re pretty damn vital and very helpful.
When I’m writing the first draft of any work, I’m aware of the crutch-words I lean (way too) heavily on. The whole point of the first draft is just to get the story down and produce the work in full. Finishing the damn thing is the only goal a first draft has, and, by nature, it is going to suck. It will be imperfect and crass, but not impossible to salvage. You need to get some distance between yourself and that first draft. I tend to let the work sit for a while, maybe a month, before returning to it for the second draft. This gives me plenty of time to forget about the story and come back to it with fresh eyes, and as a more critical reader.
Now, one caveat – when I say I’m aware of my crutch-words, I mean I have a vague notion of what they are in general. It’s always a bit of a surprise when I learn how frequently I rely on any given crutch-word in that first draft. Sometimes, I even discover new ones depending on the nature of the work at hand. But, that’s why it’s a first draft.
While the work is festering, I’m working up a spreadsheet of known crutches and tallying up those heavily used filler words and constructs. You’ll have your own crutches, of course, and likely you’ve got crutches you aren’t even aware of (but a good editor will certainly make you aware of it!). After working with a content editor for CONVERGENCE, I came away with a much stronger grasp of my deficiencies as a writer, so I have a better idea of what I need to watch out for and what needs to be weeded out. Below is an example of one of the spreadsheets I keep between first and second draft for my own first-pass edits. This will be modified again between draft 2 and 3 when my editors come back with their notes, but it’s a solid place for me to begin. It’s also a measurable illustration of progress, in addition to the lovely red marks, slashes, and notations of Word’s Track Changes (another very valuable tool that I highly recommend using).
|Draft 1||Draft 2|
The numbers for some of those words and constructs, such as ‘there was’, ‘there were’, and ‘it was’, are still pretty high in draft two. I’ll be able to knock them down further as I go through the second draft and continue my first-pass edits, and further still with the help of a skilled line editor. With a handy thesaurus, a bottle of Jack, and a straight razor, I’ll be able to tighten things up even more. There’s no easier way of getting rid of shitty “There was…” sentences than by slashing and burning the whole damn page away. Or you could just, I dunno, figure out a more active construct for your phrasing. Whichever.
Another big stumbling block for me is the dreaded infodump, which is throwing a hell of a lot of dense information at a reader. It was a sticking point in earlier drafts of CONVERGENCE, and my content editor helped me overcome a lot of these problems. I was only vaguely aware of how serious the problem was as I worked solo on the first few drafts, but wasn’t quite sure what to do about it. Of course, the biggest problem was in thinking that all of it was necessary to tell the story even though I knew it was problematic.
So, side point: trust your gut instincts and look at your work critically. If you get a tingling sensation telling you something isn’t quite right, then get to the bottom of it. Figure it out, manipulate it, see how things flow by deleting stuff. While it’s important for you to know the world you’re crafting as a writer, the reader doesn’t necessarily need to know every little detail. Odds are, your manuscript is a lot more flexible than you realize. This is also where that old adage of Show, don’t tell comes into play. Say your characters are walking a long distance in that epic fantasy behemoth you’re writing. Are you better off writing about their blood feet, starving bellies, and drop-dead exhaustion, or do you want to tell the reader that from Point A to Point B it is 111,578,357 kilometers and attempt to describe, in excruciating detail, soil composition, the shape of every freaking rock and plant along the way, the contents of each person’s rucksack, Bloshnarfrog’s love of pickles and how many rotting teeth he has, and the 11 millenniums of history between those two points? Be judicious, but also be smart; try to put yourself in the reader’s head and ask yourself, does any of this shit really matter to the story I’m serving?
OK, back to that infodump problem. Naturally, it turned out all those little details I was throwing in for page upon page? Damn near all of it got edited right the hell out of the manuscript. What little was left was more evenly distributed, broken up with dialogue, and heavily modified. So, if you read my book and found yourself frustrated by the infodump…be glad you didn’t read an earlier, unedited draft.
Infodump was big on my mind when writing EMERGENCE, and, given the nature of first drafts, I wasn’t quite sure how untamed it would be. It didn’t take me too long to discover how bad it was and to set about correcting it. A part of me thinks I wouldn’t have known to really be on the lookout for it if not for my previous hurdles with CONVERGENCE. Instead, it was at the forefront of my mind, and I was determined not to repeat some of those same huge mistakes.
And there’s the good news – editing is a cumulative, educational experience.
A few years ago, I had taken a copy editing course and was able to apply some of that knowledge to my own writing. While it helped, my own efforts paled in comparison to a professional editor. Before submitting my work to Red Adept, I’d probably gone through three or four drafts of CONVERGENCE and had read through it multiple times, marking it up and making lots and lots of changes. The sample edit I received from Red Adept when shopping for an editor contained nearly 250 revisions in a 1,000 word sample and 25 comments/notes in four pages of material. This bit of evisceration was humbling and entirely helpful. So, again, I must stress the importance of having a professional editor on your side.
I learned a lot just from that sample edit. Notes from the content editor and line editor made my weaknesses even more apparent, and gave me a great place to begin making corrections to build a stronger manuscript.
Those notes from CONVERGENCE helped me get through the first draft of my short story CONSUMPTION, and built a very solid foundation in preparing my first-pass edits on EMERGENCE. Of course, those notes are only a starting point. My new manuscripts are very different beasts than CONVERGENCE, and each will have their own unique flaws and problems and wrinkles that only an editing pro will help catch and correct.
Much like the first draft, the second draft’s goal is not to create a perfect, final manuscript. It’s only to get closer and closer to a far-flung, likely unreachable, ideal. These are baby steps of varying sizes. Even with some short-hand knowledge of the editing process under my belt, I know there is still a long road ahead of me before I can say this book is finally done, but I will, at least, be just a little bit closer.
This past weekend, I took a small break from editing the first draft of my second novel to work on a short story whose kernel of an idea demanded immediate attention and then blossomed, nearly fully formed.
In between having a new water heater installed by my awesome brother-in-law and trying to get our overgrown yard back up to snuff after lots of rain (and during the course of said lawn work, I managed to twist my ankle…), my weekend was filled with a ton of writing. I think I hit some personal bests pounding out this bit of fiction, typing up more than three thousand words each day.
Then, last night, I got hit with some kind of stomach bug or a severely upset stomach. Anyway, it waylaid me for Monday and forced me into taking a sick day from the day job. On the other hand, despite feeling like crap, I managed to finish up the story and topped out at over 4K, so definitely a new word count record for me.
And, I managed it despite the “help” of my frequent collaborator.
I also hewed pretty closely to my proposed ten thousand word limit, with the story topping out at a smidge over 11,000.
I’m not ready to say too much about this short story yet, other than to tell you it’s not a science fiction piece and it has nothing whatsoever to do with my novel, CONVERGENCE. Nope, instead, this one is a straight-up horror gore-fest, (and a horror story that I haven’t seen approached in a manner quite like this, but if I’m wrong, I’m sure I will hear about it), so consider yourself warned. There is a fair amount of editing to do on it, particularly since it’s currently a very rough draft and with much of it written in a sickly daze, but hopefully I can release it by the Fall. Look for more details in the near future!
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to have some more hot tea and a nice bland tortilla.
A few months have passed since I last checked in here with the status of CONVERGENCE and its path to publication. The reason is simple – I published it!
Now that my novel is out in the wild, I thought I’d use this post to explore some of what’s happened since the novel went live on all major platforms toward the end of February. Some of this information has been scattered in previous posts and interviews, so this is a small attempt to collate a lot of that stuff into a single post.
First, though, a little bit of background. In October 2012, I submitted my book to Harper Voyager during their very rare, very brief open door digital submissions period. A few months later, I tossed my hat in the ring for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013, where I placed in the quarter finals and wound up with a glowing Publisher’s Weekly review.
I attempted to use this achievement to land an agent, initially intent on pursuing a more traditional path toward publication. Unfortunately, after many a query I only collected a small handful of rejections and was entirely ignored by the rest. As summer approached and Harper Voyager was still reviewing submissions, mine among them, I decided to begin exploring self-publishing options. I hired an editor and cover designer and polished the manuscript, giving it a pretty swift kick in the ass with lots of revisions.
December 2013 rolled around, and Harper Voyager promised to respond to all remaining authors regarding the status of their manuscript by the end of January 2014. I’d been patiently waiting for some word from them, and when their self-imposed deadline passed I decided to take full control and responsibility of my work and go all-in as an independent author-publisher.
CONVERGENCE released Feb. 21, 2014. For what it’s worth, I left my manuscript with Harper Voyager until late April, hoping to hear something — anything! — from them, but saw little point in continuing to wait. They’ve gone radio silent, near as I can tell, but it’s no longer of any matter to me and I formally withdrew my manuscript from the running (although I haven’t even received confirmation or acknowledgement that they actually did).
In the three months since it’s release, my book has earned a few solid reviews on Amazon, as well a very positive A+ review from Melissa The Book Lady over at Must Read Faster. It’s even built up a minor bit of traction on Goodreads and is making its way onto people’s to-read radar. I did a giveaway on LibraryThing and had over 50 people sign-up for an eBook copy (for the record, this is 50 more people than I had anticipated).
CONVERGENCE was also chosen as a Kobo Next featured title for Science Fiction & Fantasy reads, and was displayed in their weekly newsletter at the start of May. It rocketed up the charts pretty quickly in Canada, and netted me my first sales outside North America.
All of this, however, is not to say that CONVERGENCE is a raging blockbuster success. It isn’t. If it ever is, it likely won’t be for quite a while. These are minor, albeit wonderful, milestones that I hope will continue to accrue and grow over time.
Selling my own work has provided a modest bit of income and my writing is allowing me buy a tank of gas here and there. I think that for a first-time self-published author, that’s about the best you can expect. And the key to being a happy first-time self-published author is to have zero expectations.
Every month since CONVERGENCE released, I have fully expected to have zero sales. Then, when I do earn a sale, it’s a victory. And when those sales build into double-digits, well, it’s a freaking giant rush! Every single sale counts and means something. I’ve reached a new reader; I’ve given somebody new material to enjoy, and hopefully they’ll like it enough to post a positive review, visit this site often, join my mailing list, and check out my next book when it releases (more on that bit of news soon!).
My only regret is that I didn’t embark down this path sooner. It’s a common complaint among the indie author crowd, but only because it speaks to a larger truth. All that time spent querying for agents and waiting for replies, or letting so much time lapse that I flat-out gave up on receiving any reply whatsoever, feel like wasted months. My book wasn’t selling while it was sitting on my hard-drive, going nowhere. I was too busy waiting on others, and that’s never a good place to be.
Would an agent have been a validation? Yeah, sure. But being a quarter-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 contest was a validation. And the glowing Publisher’s Weekly review was a HUGE validation. Those two things combined were enough to get me thinking of self-publishing. The more I tried to go the traditional route, the further I was lured into going indie. Now that I’ve heard back from several readers and reviewers, I’ve gotten all the validation I really need.
That’s the second key component for me. I misinterpreted where on the spectrum, exactly, that my work needed to be validated. It turns out, I did not need validation from New York agents or executives in publishing houses. Those folks are just middle-men, a means to an end. By controlling my work and being able to deliver it directly to my customers, I’m hitting the truly necessary people in a quicker, more straight-forward manner, and that’s you, the reader. Readers are the number one priority. Writer’s don’t always need agents (with some exceptions, like negotiating film rights or foreign rights), but they do need readers. I don’t need validation from a bunch of suits in nice offices who weigh my work against their bottom line. I do need validation from my readers. And, right now, I have it, and that is beyond awesome. As I said during my IndieView interview, the ABNA, PW review, and, now, my readers are a much stronger endorsement of my authenticity as a writer than some New York power-broker would be. Conversely, how much validation would there be in having an agent and waiting a year or two or three for your book to release, or even having an agent but not a publishing house? It’s important, in that traditional path, not to put the cart before the horse and presume that the former automatically gets you the latter. By selling my work directly and having heard back from several readers directly, I feel like I’ve arrived as an author. I write, I make money from it, and, ergo, I am a writer. As the great Stan Lee once said, “‘Nuff said.”
Except for the matter of producing more work. I’ll be letting out some news later about what comes after CONVERGENCE, but I do recognize the importance of building up a body of work. That’s one of those things that can only happen with time, and each writer has a different pace and workload or lifeload to grapple with in order to produce. CONVERGENCE is selling, but it’s not breaking any records. And that is OK!
My advice to any other potential or current newbie indie authors out there – don’t focus too heavily on the now when it comes to your sales. Better authors than me have noted time and again that this writing gig is a long con. Build up your catalog of books and the sales will follow. CONVERGENCE is doing all right, but I bet it’ll be doing even better when I have three or four other books out there to draw in more readers, simply because I’ll be casting a wider net. I’m just one guy with one book. But when I’m one guy with ten books? Well, by then I’ll be ready to smack any fool in the face for calling me an ‘overnight success!’
I haven’t sold millions or even thousands of books. But, I have sold – which a year ago seemed unfathomable. Even more unfathomable was selling my work to readers in foreign lands, and yet now I can say I’ve sold in Canada, Australia, Singapore, and the UK. I’ve even gotten highlighted on a few other blogs and Facebook groups, and did a couple interviews (check out the Press & Accolades here). And I did it independently of the traditional model; no agents or publishing houses needed.
To go back to that issue of validation for a moment – readers aside, there is no greater validation as a writer than producing a professional product and being able to control it whole-cloth from start to finish. Keep in mind that writing, ultimately, is a business. By hiring your editors, cover designers, and book formatter, you are in direct control of your book and have the final say on the end product. You are assembling your team with the end goal of achieving success and putting out material on par with the Big 5 publishers. But as an indie author, you have more control and more flexibility over how that end product is presented. Going the traditional route, you likely have zero say in how your book is designed and distributed. As an indie, you control distribution, you control art work and design, you control pricing. You decide your final sale price and control promotional efforts. If it sounds like a lot of work, well, yeah, it is. Like I said, it’s a business. And it is completely worth it. Do it properly and avoid cheaping out where you can, and indie publishing becomes one of those scenarios where the rewards outweigh the risks.
I knew all my life that I wanted to be a writer. While I got to dabble in journalism for a few years, I always wanted to be an author for as far back as I can remember. I had a goal of being published by the time I hit 35. Well, I did that.
My very first attempt at becoming a published author was in my twenties, and there was no other method beyond the query process. Whatever infantile form of self-publishing existed at the time was a joke and a non-starter. If anything, it was a brilliant way to ensure your work never got read by anybody. Thankfully, times and technology have changed drastically, and those changes have given creators and content producers greater control over their work.
Now, I can say with a certain degree of confidence that by the time I’m 36, I will have two novels to my name with more on the way. And to top it all off, to borrow from The Chairman of the Board, I did it my way.
[Keep reading: Part V]
Not much to say today, but there are a few links worth sharing if you’re amenable.
- Earlier this month, I took part in The Writing Process Blog Tour (henceforth renamed The Speculative Fiction Blog Hop, but original post remains the same here). After some further discussions amongst us blogger, Heidi Garrett began compiling a central archive site for these posts. In addition to our process posts, there’s also going to be some giveaways, excerpts, info on new releases – all good stuff, I assure you. So, go check out the Speculative Fiction Showcase. My tour post has been re-posted there, AND, as if that weren’t enough of a reason to check out this new site, you have a chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card. You’ll also find some info on new eBooks from Heidi, Jennifer Ellison, Kevin Hardman, S. Elliot Brandis, and Jason Gurley.
- Speaking of Elliot and Jason – I did a quick review of Elliot’s book, IRRADIATED, a few days ago and my thoughts on it are right over here. Feel free to skip the review and just go buy this book. If you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic literature, you’re in good hands. And Jason has a new release coming up in June titled ELEANOR. Word has it, if you have not already joined his mailing list you should go do that immediately. Like now-now. Trust me. You’ll be in for a great surprise in the coming days. You’ll also get a free copy of his short story THE LAST RAIL-RIDER immediately. I read this one over the weekend, and it’s a fun, funky bit of post-apocalypse with a unique ending. I dug it.
- Indie Author Land posted their 50 Self-Published Books Worth Reading guide. Although CONVERGENCE did not make their final cut, I’m humbled that my book got any votes at all. There’s some great suggestions in their list, though. And, while you’re there, check out the interview I did with them in April.
I made a brief mention regarding seasteading in CONVERGENCE, and readers will get to pay a visit to one of these marvelous locales when EMERGENCE releases.
Much of this inspiration came by way of The Seasteading Institute, but now comes news of China’s plans to build a floating city. Check out the link below, via Dangerous Minds, for information on their initiative. Whether or not it actually comes to pass is pure conjecture, but the images do showcase some lovely design work and gives a you a brief glimpse at where some significant DRMR action will be taking place next year.