Almost exactly eight years ago, I sat down to rock my baby to sleep and fell into another world. I stayed inside it all day, envisioning characters and places that kept calling me out of ordinary life and into a dream state. It was probably the one hundredth (or even one thousandth) novel idea I’d had in my life, but this time I vowed that this book was going to be the one.
When I sat down to write the novel that became Dark Depths, I had no idea the tortuous journey I’d embarked upon. I just knew I’d had a brilliant idea for a story and that if I didn’t write it, I would never be able to look at myself in the mirror. I was a brand-new mom, and I’d entered a point in my life where I knew I needed to be true to myself if I wanted to be any kind of role model for my little bundle of joy. For almost seven months, I spent every baby nap creating the first draft of my first novel, and I was truthfully, blissfully happy.
Editing it was far more painful. A move ate several portions of the book; a failing computer ate a few more. After a long time sitting on the project, I finally reassembled the story in a new framework, chopping out major characters and species and ideas–all good stuff that I plan to recycle in a very different novel. This new novel was less than half its original size, and at 65,000 words, one of those lengths that most publishers won’t touch with a long stick. I workshopped its first chapter at the Orycon Writers’ Workshop with little hope in my heart.
But my pro reader (Orycon pairs up two workshoppers and two “pros”), who worked at a very small press, loved the first chapter and asked for more. I subbed the book to the small press and it was immediately accepted. My editor also loved the book and did only minor line edits. The cover art was created. A launch date was picked. I sat waiting for close to nine months.
And then in April, my small press closed. My book, quite luckily, returned to me. I was gloomy. I had written three other books since writing Dark Depths, but this book was special to me. I wasn’t willing to self-publish, but the thought of the book sitting the rest of its life on its hard drive was remarkably depressing. I thought about editing the piece into a more YA-friendly work, but I hadn’t yet gotten around to such a task when Carrie Cuinn of Dagan Books asked if she could see the project.
I sent it to her, thinking that at the very least, she might have some good feedback. After all, Carrie had critiqued some of my stories before, and I trusted her taste.
What Carrie suggested was far more exciting than a YA revision: she imagined my book–small word count, amnesiacs, witches, melting horse-man and all–released as an illustrated novel. She sweetened the pot when she told me she planned on using Galen Dara’s illustrations (I already loved Galen’s work, knowing it quite well from Rigor Amortis and her illustration for my piece “Spring Migrations,” which ran in Little Death of Crossed Genres). I couldn’t say no, and it was a much sounder financial offer than the original press’s deal.
Dagan’s been busy the last few months, putting together some serious anthologies, but Carrie will begin her line edits in January. Right now, I’m revisiting the work, which I haven’t looked at in about a year and a half. I’m over halfway through and am surprisingly pleased by what I’ve read. This book is fun!
What I’m most excited about is Galen’s response when she starts reading the book. I can’t wait to see her visions for the project and I hope we can share some snippets as the work progresses. I’m pretty sure that this book will be a one-of-a-kind fantasy adventure, neither graphic novel or purely words, but a novel fully manifested in its visual experience.
Out of this rather long process, here’s the little I’ve learned about novels and their care and feeding:
- The novel you set out to write might not be the one you wind up with.
- Multiple drafts can only help a project.
- Not every project is a good fit for an agented submission, but before you self-publish or settle on a particular micropress, be sure your publishing choice gives you a product you’re proud to sell.
- If you start having bad feelings about your publisher, pay attention to your gut. Research all your options; you might not be stuck with your publishing situation.
- Publishing is a slow process. Your project is just one of many, and there are only so many staff members who can only work on so many projects. Your book is in a long queue.
- If you can work with qualified friends in a professional manner, you are a lucky person. Jump at the opportunity!
- Treat everyone involved with your book in a professional, respectful, and friendly manner.