Struggling over uneven ground, I leapt across huge footprints in the mud, and stumbled on a dinosaur. I think it was a diplodocus: definitely vegetarian, otherwise I wouldn’t be around to tell the tale. But, as soon as I reached my cave, I painted symbols on the walls so future generations might understand my world.
Okay: a tall tale. But I really have been writing for a very long time.
Publication? A simple term for a complex topic. I’m self-published, with some success. I’ve a romantic thriller, Breaking Faith, available as a paperback and an ebook, and another five ebooks. I’ve contributed to other anthologies in print and as digital books.
But, when I started my current project, a fantasy trilogy, I really wanted the help and support of a traditional publisher. Several publishers and agents received the usual samples and obligatory letters. Those who favoured me with a response suggested, often in couched terms, that the subject matter was a little too radical for them. No surprise: many traditional publishers are conservative in their views of what is or isn’t suitable for their readers. That readers in their millions frequently prove them wrong seems to have little effect on their outlook, however.
The first 2 books are written and ready for publication. The third, however, was still in the creation stage and I was being distracted by various other things, making it take longer to write than I’d hoped. So, I registered for NaNoWriMo and used that public commitment as a motivational tool to finish the first draft of the last volume. Knowing you have a target to reach is really quite encouraging. When I started, on 1st November, I’d already written some 111k words. I expected the final MS to reach around 210k and my target was to complete that in the month.
As often happens when you’re a ‘seat-of-the-pants’ writer, the book took its own turns and actually ended slightly sooner. It currently stands at 194k words, but that will change when I engage in the editing task, during which I’ll remove extraneous passages and add description and atmosphere. (I tend to concentrate on story when I write the first draft, and add the ‘mood’ details during editing, which makes that process as enjoyable as initial creation for me).
By good fortune, I was introduced to a new independent publisher via my writing group. Fantastic Books Publishing is a fast-developing venture run by Dan and Gabi Grubb. Having met them, I had full confidence in their ability to publish my book in the form I hoped to see.
Our collaboration started with an invitation from them to contribute a story to an anthology of contest winners in a competition they were running to encourage authors of speculative fiction. I sent them a copy of Rebirth and they accepted this, with delight, as a professional example of the genre. Fusion was published and has sold well.
My fantasy trilogy, as is usual in the genre, is very long. Each of the 3 volumes exceeds 200k words. I suspect this is another reason for the rejections from publishers and agents, along with its major theme; the hypocrisy inherent in most religions. But, I’m a storyteller, not a preacher, so the theme is merely the engine enclosed within an attractive body that drives the reader through adventures physical, emotional and spiritual as the quest at the heart of the books roams over imagined lands. The characters are all flawed (what human being isn’t?), but even the wicked ones have some redeeming quality. There’s humour, myth, action, battle, love, sorrow, death, sex, exotic setting, and a touch of magic as the story unfolds. I wrote a post on how I came to develop the imagined world, accessible here.
Dan and his editors loved the first volume, and the synopsis for the whole series, and took it on with enthusiasm.
Obviously, the fact that I now have the entire trilogy written is a real boost for the publisher: so often in the genre, writers promise readers a trilogy only to run out of steam before the books are finished. I’d no intention of doing that to my readers, and made a conscious decision not to attempt publication until the 3rd book was in the process of being written.
Initially, Dan was intending to publish in time for Xmas. However, due to a slight breakdown in communication (my fault!), we managed to mangle our ideas about a suitable cover. A quick phone call sorted that, but giving the designers more time to produce a new professional cover, we’ve decided to release book 1, A Seared Sky: Joinings, in Spring 2014. This whole exercise, with Fantastic Books Publishing, has been a joy. I’ve posted a Q & A session on publication with Dan on my blog and you can access that here.
Earlier, I said I was introduced to my publisher through my writing group. We’re a disparate collection of published writers who meet in the small seaside town of Hornsea. There, we read out our work and give and take comments from each other. The atmosphere is both friendly and professional with an emphasis on honesty couched in positive terms. In other words, we don’t trash each other’s work, but we do give honest criticism: the intention is always to arrive at something publishable. I use the group as my beta readers; an essential part of the process for any writer wanting to be published. But I also have the great advantage of having a supportive wife who has a very good understanding of grammar and spelling. Valerie has an excellent memory. I use her as my penultimate editor, as she spots typos and those odd grammatical errors that escape me, and she recalls the story in the detail necessary to recognise inconsistencies in plot and character. Together, we make a great team. She, and the beta readers from my writing group, ensured I kept on track and have enabled me to reach the point where I could approach a publisher with confidence that the MS was ready for publication.
About Stuart Aken
Born, against the odds, to a widowed mother in a neighbour’s bed and raised in an old railway wagon perched on a crumbling cliff, Stuart Aken has been writing for many years. He is currently engaged in editing the third volume of an epic fantasy trilogy, the first book of which, A Seared Sky: Joinings, is due to be published in spring 2014. A writer who refuses to be handcuffed to any one genre, he’s written in the fields of romance, thrillers, sci-fi, humour, horror, erotic lit and, of course, fantasy.