So the book is out, and it’s even selling! Not heaps, but maybe enough to get some traction. There’s so much to learn with this journey, formatting and such, I’m still figuring a lot of things out.
Which is to say that it’s no different from any other part of this whole deal. I had to figure a LOT out. But I had a lot of help too. People that took time from their own lives and projects to read my stuff all the way through and then give me their thoughts on it. In my early days with this site, I made some wah-posts about putting the first few chapters up on critique sites, and the inevitable shit-splatterings that followed.
Some NOT thank-yous
I’m not saying I’m one of those odd little snowflakes that gets told fifty times they can’t sing yet insist the judges are wrong when they embarrass themselves on Australian Idol. When I got criticisms that felt… sincere, I took them to heart. When one “critter” had a problem with Every Single Paragraph of the first chapter, I started to question if I had any writing skill whatsoever. But when he was getting after me for things like, “Right here you mention the Guard. Why doesn’t Jatz just go to the guard?!? This doesn’t make sense.” I started to figure out that maybe patience wasn’t a virtue and maybe my book wasn’t something he’d like.
Which is fine. I never set out to write books everyone liked. Just you. I hope that you like them. And you over there who just happened by. I hope I pique your curiosity and you end up enjoying something I’ve written.
Anyway, all that’s a long-winded way of saying that I had some detractors that made the early-goings of Feedback Gathering quite difficult. For starters, nobody would read it all the way through. I sent the manuscript to no fewer than 10 people (agents not included) and none of them read it all the way through. If they did, I never heard about it. I mean, sure it had it’s issues, but was it unreadable? If so, why couldn’t they tell me? One person, a notable voice here in the Writing World of Western Australia, gave me the vaguest feedback imaginable and pointed out one random word I should change. Their entire email was 2 sentences totalling 17 words.
One manuscript swap ended with me loving their novel and them telling me that they got to Chapter 20 but couldn’t read any further because they found a word offensive. Completely ignoring the context of the word and the character using it. Completely ignoring the fact that a quick Googling shows that the word is potentially considered offensive in America but mostly accepted everywhere else, especially in Australasia regions. Completely ignoring the fact that refusing to read a manuscript and woke-scolding the author isn’t anywhere near as powerful as simply pointing out that the word is potentially problematic and suggesting I remove it or change it. That left a sour taste in my mouth.
I removed the word. Because it’s just a word and I had no investment in it. I found another way to convey that the character was describing sexist bigots without using any words that someone in the US might find offensive. That person who took such offense though, will never know about it, because they’re too busy putting books down and running away in protest than doing the actual work of activism and trying to change things for the better. Whatever.
So those are the people I don’t wish to thank. They were only helpful in showing me that this wasn’t going to be easy. That no matter how good you think your writing is, somebody’s going to shit on it, and inviting them in and being vulnerable about it is the going to end in heartbreak.
Some Actual Thank-Yous – Early Readers
On to the people I DO wish to thank. Curiously enough, the only ones to read it all the way through and give feedback, they all seemed to actually enjoy the novel. None of them shit on it or took it apart or told me that parts where problematic or any of that. I wasn’t even married to any of them, thereby forcing positive feedback!
My pseudo-step-brother-in-law, one of my best mates from High School (though it took me far too long to actually see that) was the first person to read my very first draft. And for that, he is a champion. Because it wasn’t very good. Too much this, too little that, loose plot threads and forgotten/ignored characters. He battled through it, seemed to enjoy it, and cheerfully and dutifully filled out all of the feedback forms I had at the end of every single chapter. I can’t thank him enough. But I still won’t let him win at Chinese Chess.
Katherine [surname redacted – if that is even your real name] was hugely helpful in pointing out things that I hadn’t fixed because I thought it’d be too much work. I really, really wanted to just write a novel and then have everyone think it’s perfect so I didn’t have to edit, redraft, and nearly completely rewrite it. But books don’t work that way.
“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” – Terry Pratchett
I told myself the story and I liked it, and I think it’s a good story. But there was a LOT of work to be done to make it so that it was a good novel. I had sneaking suspicions about some things in the first few drafts, and Katherine was intrepid enough and kind enough to dutifully make notes on everything she found, all the way through. She ended up finding, and exposing, many of the things I’d subconsciously worried weren’t up to snuff. And I’m pretty sure that despite all the various characters and traits, she loved Dom the most.
Then I went on a bit of a break from THE COUNCIL to write the sequel, THE UNHOLIES, and it felt really good to get back to the first book with some fresh eyes. But my eyes were too fresh, and I realised I wanted to change a lot. So many of the characters that were in the original and then really blossomed in the sequel needed a better and more-fair treatment in the first book. The ones that we know survived anyway.
Beta Readers – Round Two
Then I waded back into the critiquing of THE COUNCIL, and gathered up some of the horror stories aforementioned. I waded through a Reddit thread and found a random that was willing to read the MS and have a go at feedback and potential audiobook! Will was awesome, pointing out nearly every kloodgey sentence or dodgy plot thread. Hell, he’d even point out repetition of a phrase or description that were chapters apart. The guy was, quite literally, my editor. He was amazing. And he seemed to like the book enough to narrate the entire first chapter, which astounded me. I hope I can get back to him and entice him to try a semi-Australian accent someday, especially before he gets discovered and becomes too famous to talk to me any more, because that dude is one sharp, talented cookie.
So I fixed up as well as I could and prepared for deployment on Amazon’s KDP. I ordered a physical copy for my daughter to write notes in the margins and we stayed up late a few nights while she helped me with some plot threads (she also loved Dom the most). This proved invaluable to what I consider a product worthy of public consumption. I wouldn’t know to call it “finished” but I’m happy enough with it.
I still held back though. I still wasn’t sure, and nobody seemed to LOVE it, they just found fewer and fewer things wrong with it. I waded back in and did a few more “manuscript swaps” and even though I dutifully wrote detailed-feedback on my end (for novels I both liked and found lacking) I only heard back from one. Vickie has already finished several novels and found a literary agent in her own right, and I felt out of my league at first. But she was more than amiable and wasn’t precious at all about my feedback on her novel, then turned right around and loved my book to bits. She was the final straw for me to get this thing published because my fragile ego finally had validation.
I vowed that even if the only sales were to my parents, I’d get this thing launched. Lo and behold, people are buying it! Vickie even picked up a physical copy and I’m flattered that she shared it with her granddaughter who loved it too (both also picked Dom as their fave – unexpected!).
Best Damn Cover Designer in the Biz
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank Claire from Booksmith Design. She may not have read the book but she read through every novel-sized email I’d send about what I wanted for a cover. Friendly, professional and attentive, I absolutely cannot recommend her highly enough. She is the real deal and I’m absolutely honoured she was willing to work with me to such detail and with such aplomb. Humble, talented, unassuming, I really feel lucky that I was able to work a deal with her. She made this feel like a real and actual NOVEL and I can’t thank her enough.
The Real Pros
I’ve sent a few emails in my day, and I’m always overjoyed at the ones that write back. Of the authors that I’ve reached out to, I’m overjoyed that some of you not only wrote me back, but we’ve maintained conversations. Augusten Burroughs, you were my first real-life inspiration. Thank you, from “the redneck hockey player”. KM Weiland, thanks for always taking the time for whatever inanity I send your way. And huge, giant thanks to Robert Swartwood, who not only takes the time to answer my emails, he provides invaluable advice and genuine inspiration in the publishing journey. I feel like if I have any chance at success in this gig, a huge part of that will be thanks to Robert’s advice. And holy shit, can this guy write! Better than Lee Child, and I will cage-match with anybody that says different.
I would be completely remiss if I didn’t throw in a huge Muchas Gracias to my family. Wifeage and I spent countless hours on the back patio, drinking wine and watching the moon and talking about characters’ names and plot holes. She’s always happy for me to be the Ideas Man, and she’s happy to keep me in line by pointing out potential pitfalls or just about any conceivable problem that might arise. Any mishandling of delicate subject matter, meaning anything in the book that’s not cis-het, middle-aged, white, western-cultured, privileged male (which is most of it) is entirely my fault, and would have been done against her advice, haha.
I want to also thank my oldest son and his long-time girlfriend who would listen to me babble on and on about my world-building while giving her driving lessons or taking her home after a weekend visit. They were both helpful with feedback and ideas and I’m so grateful.
My youngest son has been right here with me nearly this entire time. He’s always by my side, no matter what, and has patiently waited by the door, ready for a promised-trip to the park while I had to finish Just One Last Scene. He’s played in the sandpits or swingsets for hours while I revised and edited, he’s bounced on the trampoline while I’ve plotted and outlined. I want to thank him for just being wonderful.
And my daughter, who read this thing in physical form and instead of filling the margins with notes or issues or callbacks, she just drew pictures of things that affected her, both good and bad. She was instrumental in fixing several glaring plot problems and I thank her with all my literary heart (and my real one too!). She’s responsible for a fair bit of character design too, and even if those drawings/sketches never make it into the books, I keep them in my mind, always.
So that’s it*. Thank you all you wonderful people. You’ve been big pieces in my journey, and I appreciate you all, so much.
* Probably not even close to everyone I should thank, heh, but this is all I can fit in this post!
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