Perspectives of a Writer and Musician

Issues related to writing, publishing and playing jazz music: One man's muse.
by Al Stevens

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Location: Florida, United States

Saturday, December 01, 2012

The Saga of a First Novel

The Shadow on the Grassy Knoll has taken better than five years to come to publication.
    The premise and story began with an idea as most stories do. I knocked around the tale of a second assassin who was on the grassy knoll, how he became an assassin, who he worked for, how he wound up on the knoll that day in 1963, and what happened afterward.
    For several months I worked on the story in my head as I made long automobile trips. I'd run plot ideas by my bored wife, who'd always nod and look out the window, and I'd recite dialogue to myself.
    Then, one day about three years ago I started to put hands on keyboard and words into Word. My goal was to have the book published in time to ride the crest of attention that I think the assassination's upcoming 50th anniversary will generate.
    I am no stranger to writing books and having them published. I have in the past 25 years written and had published about two dozen computer books. But my only experience with fiction was with a few short stories, two of which were actually published in magazines, the rest of which languished on my website.
    With a completed manuscript in hand (on computer, actually), I employed the help of a local fellow author who has served as a writing coach for other authors. Carol Jose read  and told me what was wrong with my book. It all boiled down to the realization that I didn't know my ass from ninth street about writing novel-length fiction.
    I took most of Carol's criticisms to heart and did a lot of rewrite. I read books about writing fiction. At the same time I recruited several beta readers from AbsoluteWrite, an online gathering of writers, and got many valuable suggestions from there.
    In the meantime, I sold the story to a small publisher. The contract they submitted was questionable, so I asked some of the AWers about the terms. My book-contracting experience had all been with non-fiction and big publishers, and I didn't know what was acceptable in today's fiction marketplace. The experts all said the same thing. Run, don't walk. Away.
    In another meantime, I wrote another novel, Nursing Home Ninjas.
    I sold the grassy knoll and geezer-lit books to a small e-publisher, but we had a falling out, and I backed away from that deal, too. (Ninjas has since sold to Five Star Mysteries and will be out in February.)
    In yet another meantime, I wrote and self-published three detective novels, two books on ventriloquism, and two of my back-listed programming books.
   Tempest fidgets, and as all those meantimes sped by, my November '13 deadline was zooming near, and the few submissions I made either got rejected or were to publishers who could not make the deadline. I had a little over a year left, and it takes longer than that when you take the traditional pathway to publishing.
    One of those rejections changed everything. I had submitted to the same editor who had accepted my Ninjas book, and she rejected it with some major criticisms of the work. It was an epiphany. There I stood with a project in hand that two pubishers had bought, one of whom who was highly-respected in the industry, and I thought I had a sure-fire winner. But this simple rejection pointed out Godzilla-sized problems in style and presentation and sent me into a major rewrite.
    At this point, getting Grassy Knoll out on time with a commercial publisher was out of the question.
    So, ta-dum, I decided to self-publish.
    That was no walk in the sunshine. The work involved in doing a proper and serious job of self-publishing is almost overwhelming.
    Cover design, editing, proof-reading, e-book formatting, print editon typesetting, setting up a small imprint, getting ISBNs, accounts for KDP, Smashwords, Pubit, Kobo, Lulu, and CreateSpace, and coordinating what got uploaded to whom, what needs fixing, what's already available, what ought to be on the website, and I don't know what-all. Whew.
    Well, it's out there. Click the link at the top of this article to see what you think. I'd love to hear your reactions. After I've slept a while.


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