Wednesday 29 July 2009

Trios: The Third Sign, by Gregory A Wilson: Getting Published

My thanks to Gregory A Wilson for this candid account of his route to publication, and for persisting with this series despite my hopeless lack of organisation! Contributions from Greg's editor and his cover artist will appear over the coming weeks, and if you'd like information about his upcoming readings, convention appearances and other events, just take a look at his website.

The road to publication has always been a long and winding one, as every aspiring author knows. But modern market circumstances and a crowded, competitive field has now made that road even longer and more winding than some might realize, and navigating it to its end now takes more than a good idea and good execution. It takes a bit of luck, a lot of persistence, and an overabundant amount of patience.

I started writing my first novel, a work of epic fantasy entitled The Third Sign, in 1996—or at least the first couple of chapters of it. But as I usually did in those days, I got buried in a host of responsibilities and let it go. Six years later I graduated with my doctorate in English, and wanting a break from academic work I went back to those early chapters, revised them substantially and this time, having learned in the process of writing my dissertation that I could actually finish something I started, stuck with the book until it was completed—which didn’t happen until the summer of 2004 (I moved, started two new teaching jobs, and got married in the interim, so I was a little busy!).

When I finished the novel I breathed a big sigh of relief; I knew there was more work to do, but figured the big job was over. I got my Writers Market books, got familiar with Jeff Herman’s agent lists, and started querying agents, ten at a time, adjusting my query as I went. Nearly eighty queries later I took a step back and took stock of my situation: a number of partial manuscript requests, a few fulls, and a couple of very near misses—including one agent with whom I had discussed a number of aspects of the manuscript before she finally decided to pass, not (according to her) because of the quality of the book but because epic fantasy was “oversold”; she told me she had seriously considered taking on my book anyway, but ultimately decided the market would have been too difficult. At that point I was stuck—I could either put the novel in a drawer and forget about it, going on to something else, or I could go another route.

One year later I attended GenCon, the largest fantasy, science fiction and gaming convention in the world; it had a significant writing track with a number of well-known authors, editors and publishers in attendance, and at a small press panel I ran into one of them: John Helfers, editor (recently nominated for a Hugo award) at Tekno Books, which handles speculative fiction acquisitions for Five Star, an imprint of Gale Cengage. John was interested in my book, and I liked what he had to say, particularly his point that the reason the market for epic fantasy books was allegedly “oversold” was because people kept buying them! So in January of 2006 I decided to submit the manuscript to him. We went back and forth a few time discussing revisions and the like, which I made; I resubmitted the manuscript in early 2007, and in late 2007 he made the offer. I accepted in early 2008, and here we are, only a few weeks from publication in 2009.

I’d be lying if I said I was happy with the incredible time delay in this business. There’s a lot more work involved with getting a book in print than simply writing and revising it, though I believe those have to be your primary tasks: I’m a writer, not a salesman or marketer, and it’s important for me to keep that in mind. (The best thing I can do to sell my first book is write an even better second one!) And the time lag from initial conception to actual print—in my case seven years, thirteen if you count my first dabblings with the book—can be discouraging when you want nothing more than to share it with a larger audience. But I’m very happy that I didn’t abandon the book, or accept the idea that it just “wasn’t meant to be.” Getting this published has opened a number of doors for me in terms of future novels (I’ve already completed a second book and am working on a third) and an editing project, and I’ve been fortunate enough to receive a number of very positive pre-publication reviews thus far. I’ve also been very happy with Five Star in particular; they’re a smaller but well-respected press which has handled a number of prominent authors in the past, and all of the people I’ve worked with there have been both professional and supportive (including the two others who have contributed articles to this series, my editor John Helfers and the cover artist, Joshua David McClurg-Genevese). None of this would have been possible if I had fallen prey to the temptation to self-publish, or even worse to go with a vanity publisher; I was warned away from those options very early in my career before I could ever seriously consider them, and it was an important warning.

Ultimately, despite the difficulties and setbacks, the opportunity to share publicly a world I have long imagined privately has been well worth the time and effort. I’m excited about the prospects for both this book and my future work, since my intention is not simply to write one book but to build a career, and I feel fortunate to have been given that chance—but I think the moral of my story may well be that publication by a reputable press is not the result of divine intervention or random chance, but rather hard work and patience. And the opportunities are out there, if you’re ready to take advantage of them.


SeanPGuzman said...

Congratulations Gregory! It's always a great thing to see someone get their tried and true works out.

Keep up the good fight, and good luck with your next book.

Gregory Wilson said...

Thanks, S.G., and thanks to Jane for running this series. I hope others find the story useful as well!


Jane Smith said...

Greg, this is such a great piece and I'm so grateful that you wrote it for me. It provides encouragement to all sorts of writers out there and having read the other two pieces in the series, I know that there's plenty more good stuff to come.