Ire Has a Home

I finally signed a contract. Ire will be the first book of a trilogy written for Tor. The first book is tentatively scheduled to be published in late 2020, and the other two books will follow shortly thereafter.

Working with Tor is something of a dream come true for me. I grew up reading a lot of fantasy novels, and the Tor name has always been synonymous with the kind of book that’s not just enjoyable, but that can transport you to another reality. The Wheel of Time is a series that influenced me profoundly as a young man, and continues to be almost canon to me. The Recluce series provided example after example of realistic people living realistic, (mostly) honorable lives. More recently, Tor authors like Brandon Sanderson, Brian Staveley, and many others have continued that legacy in their own ways, and now I get to add my name to that list. I’m ecstatic to have my work published, but being a Tor author means a great deal to me even beyond that.

I’ve got a lot of writing to do, and a good while until my work sees the light, but I’m stoked about the path I’m on and the people I have on my side. Huge shout out to Matt Bialer for guiding me through the process and putting in years of work with me to get this deal.

Ire is going to be awesome.

 

-Scott

Finishing Books and Other Stuff I Like

I just finished my book… again. There will be plenty of tweaks to make still, but I’m starting to look forward to when my agent will submit the manuscript to publishers. It may still be quite a ways out depending on how we feel about the current state, and there’s no way to know how it will go. But here’s one author’s account of how the process went for him.

That type of contract would be a dream come true. It will allow me to make writing my primary pursuit sooner rather than later, and start pumping out books like crazy. I hear of authors like Sanderson and Larry Correia writing 2-3 books per year, and that sounds freaking awesome. I’m fairly certain that I can produce at or near that level if the finances are there to free up the time.

I’m doing what I love, obsessed with quality and success (ask my wife, apparently it gets old), willing to put in silly amounts of work, I signed with a great agent who not only knows the book business but is a great resource in improving the quality of my work, and most importantly: my wife is incredibly supportive. No matter what, I’ll make this work, and in five years I’ll have a solid writing career and several books “on the shelves”. The quality of the upcoming contract really just affects the number of books I’ll have on the shelves in five years, and how quickly I’ll be able to dedicate a large number of hours to writing all of the books that I’d like to write.

— Okay, now to ramble about some stuff I’ve enjoyed lately —

Speaking (or typing?) of Jay Kristoff, he’s an awesome person and everyone should check out his books and his blog – if you enjoy nerdy writing blogs. I received his latest book Illuminae as a Christmas gift (thanks Molly) and I’m really enjoying it so far. I’ll rate and review when I finish.

I feel extremely fortunate to have an awesome agent – Matt Bialer – who provides valuable feedback on my manuscript. I honestly don’t know what the “norm” is for agents, but he’s great. Assuming that one day aspiring authors read this, I’d highly recommend submitting to him. I hear his junior agent Lindsay Ribar is also awesome, but I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting/corresponding with her yet.

George R. R. Martin – So I’ve intended for quite a while to get actual reviews of his books up, but haven’t found the time. Wife, Baby, my book, work, and actually reading for fun (I’m still an addict) have all taken precedence. I’ll write an actual review someday, but for now let me just say that George is so damn good at what he does. All of his acclaim is very justified. I held off reading them for years because I figured that people only liked them because of the HBO series, and because he takes like 6 years to write each book and I can’t handle another multi-decade “wait for it…”marathon like the Wheel of Time ended up being. But I read the first book and was hooked. They are SUPER not family friendly, especially later books, but holy cow that old man can write. His world is believable and incredibly well thought out, his characters are “real” and unpredictable, and the storyline is somewhat predictable as an overarching plot, but everything in between is up for grabs. So if your soul can withstand a little (okay, a lot of) horrible language, check it out. ESPECIALLY if you watched the HBO series. I haven’t watched it but I guarantee the books are better. They are like the Bible for writers who want to learn how to handle a true epic fantasy series with tons of POV characters. Yeah yeah, I hear you bitching about how “nothing happened” and “all my favorite people died” and “the last two books weren’t as good”. Well, shut your mouth, because this crazy old man just did the literary equivalent of dunking over every other epic fantasy author ever, and sadly that includes Robert Jordan, as much as I still absolutely love the Wheel of Time. (Yeah, that’s right. I dare you to get that picture out of your head now. George RR Martin dunking on you. Flamed-out suspenders and goofy hat and all. And probably unholy amounts of belly sweat like this.) Even after killing everybody we cared about, YOU STILL KEPT READING, and you WILL buy the next book(s). He owned you/us. Pwned, even.

Phew, okay, breathe. Last, but certainly not least, Larry Correia. I saw him at Salt Lake Comic Con and thought he seemed like a pretty cool dude. And he pronounces his last name like “korea” and I’m pretty sure he knows he’s saying it wrong – it’s (Co – Hey – Uh) and you know it. Say your name right, LARRY! Own it, man. Anywho, that’s why I even remembered this guy. I’m not super connected with the fantasy world and still haven’t heard of a lot of great books/authors, but honestly I’ve been burned on a lot of books I’ve picked up that turned out to be really bad, though other people inexplicably like them. I won’t be specific about any of them, because that’s rude. Okay back on track. Long story short, Larry Corriea is an awesome writer, and the first book of his Monster Hunter International book is free on Kindle. Go get it. Now. Sure, his prose isn’t “refined” and he doesn’t “follow all of the rules” and his plot lines are “predictable”. But he is SO GOOD at building a good story, with great characters, and most of all – he KILLS at emotional and fast paced fun-readin’. And apparently this dude lives in my home state. I’m hoping to run into him and talk shop someday.

Alright, that’s enough for today.

-Scott

More Editing: Cutting the Flab, etc…

I can’t believe it’s been almost five months since I last posted on the blog. Not much of consequence has happened in that time, however, so I suppose the lack of activity here is justified. I’m not going to write a blog post just to write a blog post. But now I’ve re-submitted my book to my agent (Matt Bialer), so I’ll tell you a bit about what I’ve been up to.

I’ve spent nights and weekends for the last five months editing my book more. Much of the editing was spurred by Matt’s suggestions, and I’m very pleased with how things have turned out. I’ll try to hit on the major points that I’ve taken into consideration when editing through this last pass. Perhaps any writers reading this will find my approach and/or Matt’s advice useful.

  • Deepen the story – My agent called this “dropping more breadcrumbs” and this was one of my favorite pieces of advice he gave. With my first several drafts, I was so excited about the story surrounding my main character(s), that I missed the opportunity to build a deeper, fuller story by giving a peek into what other characters, particularly the “bad guys” are doing.
  • Cut the flab – My original manuscript was 684 pages long in standard manuscript format. My goal was to cut that down to 625 or even 600 manuscript pages. The primary reason was to improve the pace of the story, as this series (and particularly this book) are meant to be very action oriented, exciting books. The secondary reason for cutting is that apparently, publishers are more open to shorter books from first time authors. As a general rule this makes sense – fewer pages to edit/print, less money that goes into producing an uncertain product. But the strength of the work is my primary concern, and I hope that it will speak for itself.

It was very difficult for me to balance the need to cut scenes that didn’t advance the plot whilst retaining insights into the world and characters, but in the end I believe I succeeded, and it was the best thing I could have done for this book. My story-deepening (see bullet point above) bulked my story up to 720 pages or so, but from there I managed to cut the manuscript down to 669 pages. Not quite my goal of 600, but it was a net cut of over 50 pages after my additional scenes were written, and what’s left behind is a great story told with strong writing. (Though I may be a bit biased)

  • Development of secondary characters – This is an area that gave me a bit of heartache with Book 1. I really like my cast of characters, and each serves a purpose in the first book and in the story arc I have planned for the series/trilogy/however long this ends up being. However, in an action oriented book where I’m trying REALLY hard to allow readers to get to know and love my main character, Emrael, I find it difficult to develop secondary characters without giving them their own POV and page time, which would only serve to make my book even longer and slow down the pace. In the second book that I’m writing right now, I’ll be introducing more robust POVs for secondary characters and secondary story lines just because of the nature of the story progression as currently outlined, so I’ll be battling to keep the pace of the story strong while juggling multiple story lines. I’m shooting for about a 75% share of page time for Emrael in Book 2. I’d estimate his page time at around 85-90% in Book 1, so it’s not much of a reduction in his page time.

Last thoughts:

I continually evolve as a person and as a writer: my environment changes, my emotions change, the seasons change, etc. Consequently, I could hang onto this book forever, making changes and believing that I’m improving the book. Therefore, I won’t be upset when I get a contract with a publisher and they have their own feedback that will set me up for more editing. I want this book, and every book I write, to be the best it possibly can be.

That said, I’m very pleased with the state of the book as it currently exists, and I think you’ll like it too. I’m hoping to get it into your hands before too long. And by “before too long” I mean sometime around 2017. I still don’t know exactly what publishing timelines look like or when my book will be ready for that step. Fingers crossed.

-Scott Drakeford

Agent Success – Matt Bialer

Mr. Matt Bialer from SJGA will be representing my first novel, IRE. I am elated to be working with him, as he’s the agent I’ve targeted from the very beginning.

An awkward 2 minute conversation back in 2013 was the turning point that led me here.

The story begins way back in 2012 when I got serious about writing my perfect book, and making it a bestselling novel/series. Being the obsessive optimist that I am, as I wrote I also researched the process of getting published. And if one wants to be published by a traditional publisher (the books you see at Barnes and Noble, for example), you need an agent. Preferably an agent who knows what they are doing.

I compiled a short A-list and a longer B-list of agents to query when ready. I have another post about general characteristics I looked for in an agent. And then in 2013, I found out that the World Fantasy Convention 2013 was going to be held in England, and a few of my A list agents were planning to attend. On a whim, I told my wife that it might be nice to go to the conference and visit her extended family in England. To my surprise, she agreed.

In October of 2013, Kailey and I arrived in Brighton, England after much lugging of luggage in “the tube” and a train. I was very much looking forward to meeting Mr. Bialer, but didn’t know how or when I’d have that opportunity because the conference didn’t have pitch sessions or many official opportunities to meet agents. Luckily, one of his clients (Patrick Rothfuss) happens to be a favorite author of mine, and was at the conference as well.

Kailey and I attended every event Rothfuss was involved in (and even ran into him on the street), and we got lucky. Matt was loitering about outside of Pat’s reading session with a few other people. I ambushed him. Though he surely had more important people to talk to, Matt was kind enough to talk to me for a moment, and he gave me his card when I asked if I needed to win the Writers of the Future contest (like Pat did) for him to be interested in representing the book I was writing.

At that point I thought I was a few months away from submitting to agents. Well, 18 months or so later, I did submit. I sent my book to Matt as an exclusive query because I was so set on him. To my surprise, he responded immediately, asking me to contact him again if I didn’t hear from him. Most agents, including Matt, have an 8-week period during which they’ll consider your work, and if they are interested, will contact you; if not, silence is to be interpreted as a ‘no’. So I waited approximately 8 weeks (a little longer, because my wife and I had a little girl during that period), and contacted him again. Matt allowed me to send my full manuscript at that point, and approximately 2 weeks later, he responded again.

I was just about to enter an important meeting at work when I saw his response saying that he wanted to represent my book. I don’t think I heard a single word in that meeting, because my mind was racing with excitement and ideas born from Matt’s analysis of my book.

This is a good spot to point out that Matt’s email was a solid indication that he is everything I have hoped. He gave me some insight that will prove to be very valuable and will make my novel a much more enjoyable read. And when I had a follow up call with him, I was further convinced that he is a person who not only knows his business, but will be great to work with.

And so it is that I will be working with Mr. Bialer.

It’s happening.

-Scott

Beta Readers

This has been a very big month. Early this month, I finally sent my manuscript to a small group of beta readers who had expressed interest in reading my book and giving me feedback. I’ve only received detailed feedback from one beta reader, but the opinions so far from those who have finished the book has been positive. It’s a very good feeling to have other people enjoy something that took so much time to build and write.

I chose to use 7 or so beta readers, all people I trust to give me honest feedback. They are also people who are at least passingly familiar with the fantasy genre and can thus give a solid opinion on how my book will be received by fantasy readers. Perhaps most importantly, I’m lucky to have beta readers who are extremely intelligent people who will be able to offer detailed insight as to why they did or did not enjoy the book and it’s various aspects.

I’m now just continuing work on the second novel in the series as I wait for more feedback from my readers. I’m also working on perfecting my query letter that I’ll send out to literary agents as soon as I feel the manuscript is in top shape.

-Scott

Book Progress Update 12/9/14

I’m doing my last read-through edit before sending to beta readers. I’m on page 260/684.

I’m willing to bet that at least some of you reading this are thinking something like, “Scott sucks at writing books. Why does it take him so long?”

Writing a book is quite interesting. And by interesting, I mean hard. Mentally, emotionally, and even physically, it’s a lot harder than I anticipated.

I’ve read of authors whose first draft is also their final draft. When I started writing five or so years ago, I thought that seemed doable. Now, however, I think that’s amazeballs. My book has gone through at least ten drafts already, though I don’t work linearly and keeping track of distinct drafts is therefore difficult.

I love lists, so that’s how I’ll summarize how my drafts have gone, and how I imagine the future ones will go:

  • Initial concept
    • This involved a lot of brainstorming, day dreaming, doodling, etc.
  • Outlining
    • I am not a fan of extensive outlining and support material. I have hundreds of pages of info on my world and characters, but they are not cohesive at all. I ended up with the equivalent of a five page outline of the plot lines, maybe a page or two on each character, and I went to town.
  • First Draft
    • Hooboy. This was actually a lot of fun. When I put fingers to keyboard, I found satisfaction. It’s really a neat thing to find something you love and unleash yourself.
  • About a thousand random changes
    • I killed characters. I deleted characters. I completely changed the setting of my story. I changed character relationships. Some changes were calculated, and some just felt right. But Jibbers Crabst, I changed a lot of things.
    • These changes slowed me down. A lot. It was kind of demoralizing, but in the end, I felt like I got it right.
  • Damn it, I still didn’t get it right
    • As I wrote, some things were bogging me down so badly that I “backlogged” things to a future-edit list. I had to go back and fix a lot of things.
    • This felt more or less like fixing up a favorite car. I knew it would be worth it, But hey, my engineering degree was basically five years of me doing hard things that I didn’t want to do, so I was well prepared.
  • Read-through edit (where I am right now)
    • At this point, I’ve edited most parts of my book several times. This is because the edits from my list (see above) were not minor, and generally consisted of me editing major elements that spanned the entire book. I’m still changing hundreds of things in each chapter that bother me as I read through. Style, grammar, flow, and consistency are the largest culprits.
  • Beta reader feedback edits
  • Agent feedback edits (post coming on why I feel an agent is in my best interest)
  • Editor feedback edits

There you have it. I’m sure my process will change over time. I sure as hell hope that I’ll get better at it with each book I write. But even though it was a ton of work with no sure payoff, it feels really good to have completed (mostly) my first book.

-Scott

Book Progress…10 months Later. Revising/editing process, and so on.

Well. For the 20 or so of you who have read my previous posts and are reading this, I regret to inform you that didn’t meet my goal of having a manuscript sent to agents by the end of 2013.

I have a bunch of awesome excuses as to why, but the most relevant reason I use to defer accountability is that I didn’t stop Book 1 at 125,000 words. Draft 1 stopped at 170,000 words. Draft 1.5 is currently at 167,000 words after some editing.

That’s 670 pages in Word when using standard manuscript format. I don’t feel too bad about taking two years to write that much, time constraints considered. Remember complaining about a 20 page paper in college? Yeah. I win.

In fact, that’ s probably at least as long as most Dissertations…though to be fair, I did get to fabricate my entire novel. But let’s be honest, most crap coming out of Universities these days contains almost as much fiction as any fantasy novel. Cry-baby PhD candidates.

Anywho, revising a manuscript is a much more complicated process than I anticipated. I had talked myself into believing that I could just do one read-through, editing as I went, and I’d be good to go. But, the story keeps evolving, and now I have 3 or 4 pages of a bulleted list of edits to make. Before my read-through revision.

I’m loathe to even attempt a guess at when I’ll finally have my book into the hands of beta readers, much less when I’ll have sent queries out to my preferred literary agents. But, I can’t help myself, and ever the optimist, I’m going to set a goal of querying around the end of the year.

That means that most of the people who take the time to have read this far will likely read some form of my book this year, which is pretty cool.

Stories about World Fantasy Convention 2013 and ramblings about traditional vs. self publication to follow shortly.

-Scott

Review of “Act of War” by Brad Thor

I’m going to – finally – get back into blogging about my book (Draft 1 is done, I’m editing and should submit to agents soon), but for now I’m re-christening the blog with a quick review of Act of War by Brad Thor that I posted on Goodreads.

I’ll stop back in a few days to recount the last year or so of writing that I haven’t blogged about, including: meeting Patrick Rothfuss and two of my dream agents last October in Brighton, England, finishing Draft 1, the editing process and much more.

 

Act of War (Scott Harvath, #13)Act of War by Brad Thor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really like Brad Thor and his motivations for writing his thrillers. I love the plot of this book…every plot point is well thought out and realistic, not a “gimme” for his characters.

However: while this book still did its job and kept me reading all the way through, I’m not sure that would have been the case had it not been for the trust Thor had already built with the other Harvath books.

In this book (as in the last 1 or 2), action is often sacrificed for plot explanations or info dumps, and pacing takes a back seat to pages-long sermons. Though I agree with most of the libertarian patriotic leanings, it’s a little misplaced and obvious at times. And I felt that the POV drifted a few times, resulting in some confusion as a reader.

In brief, it’s still a great read for Thor fans, but I wish he would concentrate a bit more on his tradecraft or get his editor to actually look at the manuscript before publishing. Heck, I’ll edit it, Brad.

-Scott

500 Pages (125,000 Words)

Well, “Life” happened, and my writing pace has slowed down considerably. Not so long ago, I had hoped to be done with not only the first draft of my manuscript by now, but with my preliminary edits as well. I had hoped to have the manuscript in the hands of a few trusted alpha readers.

Alas, several factors have thwarted my plans. First and most importantly, my story didn’t like being held to the 450-500 page limit I had so foolishly tried to impose on it. My manuscript currently sits at 500 pages even, and I’d be optimistic to guess that a final page count would be near 550. A more realistic (albeit likely still naïve) guess would be somewhere between 550-600 manuscript pages.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Readers that will be buying my book in the future will be getting more story for their money. The story is more fully developed and has some cool scenes that I hadn’t planned on including.

However, “the powers that be” are supposedly looking for epic fantasy stories in the ballpark of 125,000 words or less, which translates into 500 pages or less of manuscript. I don’t blame them one bit for this guideline, either. They have very good reasons to ask for a smaller manuscript from a first time author, as longer books will generally need more work to become sale-able, meaning longer books as a general rule will net them less profit.

This will make it harder for me to convince a smart, business-minded agent that my book is one they want to represent. But the thing that matters most to me is that my book is the best it can be, and I believe that will speak much more strongly in my favor than “the right word count”.

The other “Real Life” factor that has slowed my writing is that I have recently found a new job. I am incredibly excited about the change, and as far as “jobs” that aren’t my dream job of being a career author go, it is probably as awesome as I’m going to find. But as many of you likely know, there is a considerable time and stress investment that comes with not only working full time but in finding a new, better job opportunity.

Here’s to chasing our dreams and to the struggles that happen in the background. I’m reinvesting myself in writing, and I promise I’ll have a book for you guys to read before too long. My new goal is to finish my first draft and preliminary edits by the time I go to the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton England at the end of October. I’ll also do my best to keep you updated more frequently.

-SD

100,000 Words

This is a personal victory post, plain and simple. I’m patting my own back, and it feels great. This past week, I reached the 100,000 word (400 page) mark on my manuscript.

In the grand scheme of the publishing game, it’s a small victory, but perhaps the most important one to me as a writer. 100,000 is a good looking number, I tell you what, and it represents a lot of hard work, and a lot of personal breakthroughs. The only personal achievement that will feel better is finishing the novel. Everything else that I hope will follow will be an effect of my personal accomplishment.

For years, I sat in the group of dreamers. I was fascinated by the idea of writing my own book. I can remember trying to draw my own “fantasy world map” as far back as my early teens. I soon gave up, cursing my lack of creative abilities and resigning myself to pursuing “normal” disciplines like math and science.

Many years later, after completing a mechanical engineering degree and constructing a nice “normal life” for myself and my amazing wife, I returned to my dream of creating something fantastical. I brainstormed and daydreamed and researched for months, years, but again seemed to come up short on Golden Ideas. I struggled to discover an interesting character cast. I labored to draw up a plot that followed the appropriate form according to writing experts. I toiled, studying writing books, trying to read novels in a new light, hoping to glean the secrets of writing a bestseller. I wanted to learn all of the secrets before I invested enormous effort into writing a book.

December 26th 2012 was the day I gave up. I threw all of my tedious outlines, maps and character bios on the table and put my pen to paper. Fingers to keyboard. Whatever.

And today, I can proudly proclaim that I’ve written my first 100,000 words of cohesive work. I couldn’t be happier.

What I’ve discovered over the course of these past seven months in which I’ve dedicated myself to writing is that for me, the creation process is almost entirely composed of hard work and is manifested in a very different form than I had anticipated.

I’ve found that I am capable of profound creativity. More creativity than I had ever dreamed. My novel has taken shape as I’ve freed myself from formulas and tables. I’m in love with my characters. My plot is exciting. The world is soooo cool. None of it is perfect, but I’m damn proud of what I’ve done.

And you know what? My back-story and outlines haven’t gone to the trash. In breaking out of the cage of being strictly an “outline” writer, I not only opened myself up to some exciting discovery writing, but my outlining ability improved. What I failed to recognize before is that novels are a living thing, and mine needed the freedom to grow. I have changed my story and my characters more times than I can count, but they are real, meaningful changes with purpose and direction.

The point of this post, if there is one, is that each of us might benefit from liberating ourselves from any arbitrary label, stereotype or method. Try new things. Create something. Find that thing you love to do most and get to work changing your world.

-Scott