Slamming on the Brakes

Last week, I was ready to jump on the self-publishing bandwagon. My story was good enough, I thought. I’m ready to be done with this Paladin business and move onto Uriel.

A lot can change in a week.

On Tuesday, I spoke at length with an editor whose publishing company was considering my manuscript. He had read my first five chapters and a two-page synopsis.

“Here’s what I’m not following,” he said. “What is the main conflict in your story?”

“Well, there are lots of conflicts,” I replied. “But the big one is the tension between the Paladins and the Uriel, and the eventual realization that the High Commander is evil.”

“That’s what I thought,” he said. “And what role does Sam play in this conflict?”

I had to think about it for several minutes. “Um, well, the High Commander wants her dead because Braeden loves her, and that affects his ability to control him.”

“Okay. But that’s Braeden’s story, not Sam’s. How is Sam central to the conflict?”

I racked my brain for an answer, and found none. “I guess she isn’t.”

“Yyyeeahhh…that’s a problem. You’ve got a serious flaw with your plot.”

Goddamnit, he was right. “That’s not an easy fix, is it?” I asked.

“No. No, it’s not.”

It wasn’t the only thing the editor said needed fixing. My world building? Hazy at best. My exposition? Far too much of it. And my similes? He didn’t pull any punches–my similes, at least in the first five chapters, are atrocious.

“I actually like your writing,” he said. So there was that.

The sad thing is that as he explained to me the why behind his criticism, I saw that he was right in every regard. The similes, the world building, the overabundance of exposition — those are, if not easy, at least doable fixes. The plot, on the otherhand, needs a serious overhaul, and there’s just no getting around that. I feel like someone just took off my blindfold.

So what does that mean for Paladin? It means a massive, massive rewrite, and for starters, it means I have to completely reconfigure my plot. I now see that Paladin is fundamnetally flawed–and before I even think about publication, I need to fix it. It will be a tremendous, time consuming, and likely frustrating endeavor.

Some of you who like Paladin might be balking at this decision. Don’t change it, you might be thinking. It’s good the way it is.

When I say I’m going to rewrite Paladin, I’m not going to change everything. While I recognize now that it has serious issues, I still don’t think it’s terrible. I’m proud of my character development and I love the romance between Braeden and Sam, and the dynamic of the trio. I want to preserve as much of that as I can. That plot line — the romance thread — is the most fleshed out in the novel, and while the details may change, those relationships will not. I won’t allow it.

I don’t want to abandon the original plot completely — nor do I want to make Braeden the main protagonist of the story — but unless I can come up with a way to make Sam central to the Paladin/Uriel conflict, I’m going to have to make very significant changes. Basically, I need to come up with a better reason for the High Commander to want to kill Sam. His motives in general need to be clearer, but his main motivation should be to destroy Sam. I have yet to figure out the why of it — but it essentially means there needs to be something special about her, beyond the fact she’s a female wielding a sword. She needs to be the Harry Potter to the High Commander’s Voldemort.

It’s almost like I’ll be writing a story about Sam, Braeden and Tristan in a parallel world. I can’t decide if I’m excited or sad about it. On the one hand, I feel like I just realized my diamond earings are cubic zirconia. I’m reminded that I’m an amateur writer and that my dream of being published is much further away than I imagined. In that sense, it’s disheartening.

On the other hand, this is my opportunity to do Paladin right. I’ve learned a lot about writing fiction over the past 15 months, and if I can just figure out the right plot, I think whatever I come up with will blow the original out of the way. If Paladin had strong world building, a strong plot and strong characters? I believe it would be a force to be reckoned with.

For those of you who are appalled by the thought of such dramatic changes — and they will be dramatic — you can rest easy that for now, Paladin will remain as it is up on Wattpad. You can read it anytime. However, I would ask you this — what is it that makes you like Paladin? If I had to guess, it would be the characters and the romance. The other stuff, you could take or leave.

You see, now that I’m a year-and-a-half into writing, it’s no longer enough for me to be good by Wattpad standards. I have good syntax and I can write snappy dialogue…but that isn’t all it takes to be a truly great author. I want to write a book that Publishers Weekly could review and find nothing but positive things to say (okay, I might be pushing my luck there, but a girl can dream).

I owe the editor a new plot outline this Sunday…and hopefully brilliance will strike before then. Pending his approval, for the next few months, I’ll be slaving away on the new and improved Paladin. That might disappoint some of you…it means Blue Sun will be on hold, and Uriel won’t begin being written for a long, long time. I’ll try to keep updating my blog, or perhaps write silly little fun stories, since I won’t be providing you guys with any new content otherwise. I hope you don’t forget about me! I will continue to be on Wattpad with disgusting frequency, so it’s not like I’m disappearing from the earth. But I wanted to let you guys know what an enormous undertaking is ahead of me. I will end this blog post with an unsatisfactory onomatopoeia:

Le sigh.

Struggling with Tragedy

I wanted to write a post about writing, about publishing, about editing. I have an update on that front, and I try to treat this blog not as my personal diary, but as a place to share my writing journey specifically. And I will share my editing/publishing update. But it will have to be in another post.
Three days ago, two bombs went off in Copley Square in Boston, MA at 2:50 pm ET. I was in my office when it happened, several cities away, worrying about a client crisis that in retrospect, wasn’t much of a crisis at all.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the Boston Marathon bombing since it happened. I’m not inspired to write, I’m having problems concentrating at work, and I find myself fighting back tears at totally inappropriate times.
I don’t know why I’m so affected by this tragedy. It’s objectively upsetting, but there are lots of tragic events that are upsetting. When soldiers or innocent civilians die in warfare, that is upsetting. When people die in a natural disaster, like the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, that is upsetting. But none of those tragedies felt personal.
The Boston Marathon bombing feels personal.
I do not live in Boston, though I know several people who do. My former colleagues work in an office on Boylston Street, which runs through Copley Square. My college roommate and her boyfriend live in downtown Boston, and her boyfriend ran the marathon on Monday. He’s a serious athlete and a talented runner, and finished well before the blasts went off. My former colleagues are rattled but fine.
As many of you know, I’m a New Yorker, or I am as of three years ago (I’m originally from a snooty town in Connecticut, for those of you who care). Boston is the closest big city to NYC, and I’ve been there often; in fact, I was there two weeks ago on business. Jon Stewart, of Daily Show fame, described the relationship of our cities best:
…New Yorkers and Boston obviously have kind of a little bit of a competition. Often, the two cities accusing each other of various levels of suckitude. But it is in situations like this that we realize it is clearly a sibling rivalry, and that we are your brothers and sisters in this type of event. 
 These bombs did not go off in my city, but they very well could have. Everyone’s aware of that–if you go to Grand Central, the train station is crawling with uniformed men and women carrying serious-looking guns. There are cops in NYPD blue at every intersection. It could have been us, and we are afraid.
Two Novembers ago, the runners in the New York marathon came over the Queensborough bridge and passed through 59th Street. I’m not a runner — in fact, I loathe running — but I came out to watch as a spectator. I live right around the corner from the bridge, and the marathoners run through here every year. It’s either mile 13 or mile 16 (I can’t recall which) — the middle of the race, and far from the most exciting — but there’s an amazing energy in the atmosphere that’s indescribable. There’s a relationship between the spectators and the runners, though we are strangers to each other. And though I may not be a runner, I am always inspired by the men and women who push their bodies to the limit. I’m a powerlifter myself, and I imagine that crossing the finishing line of any marathon is as incredible a feeling as lifting hundreds of pounds. It’s not just the endorphin rush; it’s the sense of accomplishment. 
In writing fiction, the experts say to give the antagonist a motive. Nobody’s pure evil, they say. Every evil act must be rationalized. But then something like the Boston Marathon bombing happens, and I cannot fathom a possible rationale. If I were the editor of this story, I would call for a rewrite. This atrocity is too evil, too illogical, I would say. It doesn’t make any sense. Don’t murder the 8 year old child, the beautiful, smart young women with their futures ahead of them. Your readers won’t be able to bear it.
Perhaps the reason the bombing feels so personal to me is the advent of technology. During 9/11, we saw the towers burn and collapse from afar. The screams were muted, the dead and dying out of sight. 9/11 felt personal to me, too, but I knew people who worked in the World Trade Centers, and my father was scheduled to leave on a plane from NYC that day. I could see the smoke from the pile of rubble where the towers used to be from my hometown beach across the ocean.
But thanks to smartphones and social media (thanks might be the wrong phrasing), anyone can relive the horror of the Boston Marathon. There are countless videos of raw footage on the internet, personal accounts and eyewitness photos.You can watch the orange fireball burst through the crowd and you can hear the sonic boom of the explosion. You can see the trail of blood across the sidewalk and you know the faces of the victims, and you’ve seen up-close shots of their missing limbs and shrapnel-torn bodies.
I’m still grappling with my feelings about the whole event. I’ve both lost my faith in humanity and regained it. Lost because I wanted to believe that humanity was not capable of such pointless evil. The Boston Marathon is a truly global event, attended by runners and spectators from around the world. The bomb did not just strike Americans that day; it struck people of every nationality. One of the three people who died was from China, attending Boston University to pursue a graduate degree in statistics. All of China mourns her loss, as do we. The world mourns with us. I don’t know what the bomber’s intended outcome was, other than to strike fear into our hearts. But to what end? The Boston Marathon is supposed to be a joyous event, a celebration of the enormous potential of humanity. Why would anybody want to ruin that? The man or woman who did this to the city of Boston is not human, no matter what is in his/her DNA. 
But something amazing happened in the midst of all this tragedy. Cops, bystanders, amateurs, ordinary people became heroes in the wake of the blast. When a bomb goes off, the logical reaction is to run away. But these heroes ran to the aid of the victims who were caught in the blast. They removed debris and fencing out of the way in record time. They made makeshift tourniquets out of waist belts and clothing and used napkins from Starbucks to staunch victims’ bleeding.  Those tourniquets saved lives, doctors at Boston hospitals said. Uninjured runners, who’d already run over 20 miles, kept running all the way to the hospital so that they could donate blood. So many volunteers donated blood that the Red Cross tweeted “thanks” and said they had sufficient supplies to treat every bomb victim.
One of my favorite pictures from the marathon is of former New England Patriots (to my non-American readers, the Patriots are one of the best football teams in the NFL) player Joe Andruzzi rescuing a woman who could no longer walk.
These people, these heroes, are a testament to man’s potential for good. They restore my faith in humanity. It is cruelly unfair that the actions of one evil human (although perhaps more if this is a coordinated act of terror) can offset the goodness of so many others. I try to avoid profanity in this blog, but here I think it is warranted: I hope they make the fucker who did this pay.
I’m sorry for the off-topic ramble, but as much as I want to share my latest Paladin update, I had to write this first. It’s somewhat cathartic to put my pen to paper (or my, er, keyboard to MS Word). This blog will resume normal programming tomorrow when I give you another very big update on publishing/editing Paladin. Thanks for bearing with me on this one.

Forging a new path

Once again, I owe you all an apology for taking such an insanely long time to write a new blog post. To those of you who blog every day AND write your story, kudos to you. You’re a far better [wo]man than I.
I tend to write these things in a sort of stream of consciousness, since I don’t really have that luxury with my attempts at novel writing, so bear with me. My thoughts are not entirely organized, perhaps because I’m on the precipice of a very major life decision.
Those of you who follow me on Wattpad/stalk my news feed (no judgment — I assure you I stalk yours) may have seen a few of my comments back to readers regarding self-publishing. And those of you who read my last blog post probably sensed that I was at least considering self-publishing.
Well, this article in Salon sold me on it. In his aptly titled article, “Self-Publishing is the Future — and great for writers,” Hugh Howey, a very successful self-published author–or Indie author as the cool kids call it these days–talked not just about his journey to success but shared stories of many other successful self-published writers. And he shared some pretty interesting insights:
Your book might be in the top 1 percent of what readers are looking for — whether by the magic of your plot or the grace of your prose — in which case you are far better off self-publishing. You’ll make more money sooner, and you’ll own the rights when it comes time to negotiate with publishers (if you even care to.)
Do I think Paladin is in the top 1 percent? I don’t know, but I’m hoping that the number of reads I’ve gotten on Wattpad are an indication that it might be. Howey then goes on to say:

If, on the other hand, your work isn’t in the top 1 percent, it won’t escape the clutches of the slush pile. Your only hope in this case is to self-publish. Which means there isn’t a scenario in which I would recommend an author begin his or her career with a traditional publisher. 
Wow. That’s a pretty bold statement to make. And he goes on to back it with a lot of logic. You can keep a greater share of the royalties. You can price your book at whatever you want–dirt cheap, if that’s what you think will win over readers. You don’t have to deal with the stodginess of traditional publishing.
The book that Hugh Howey found success with was not his debut novel, and maybe mine won’t be either. Success in publishing these days, at least in the Indie community, is very dependent on your book going viral. It’s hard to predict what will and won’t go viral. A good story helps–that top 1 percent Howey mentions–but it also comes down to timing and sheer dumb luck. Maybe Paladin won’t be a huge commercial success…but maybe Uriel will be.
I’m going to be honest–if Random House came to me tomorrow and said, “Sally, we want to publish Paladin”, I’d jump on the deal in a heartbeat. But as there’s a slim chance of that happening, I’m starting to think that self-publishing is not so bad an alternative. At the end of the day, it may be my only option–and better, I think, to keep writing, to keep improving, to keep learning, than spend my days twiddling my thumbs, waiting for an agent to get back to me (if any agents I queried happen to read this post, please do get back to me!).
Do I think that all 50,000 readers who read Paladin from start to finish will buy my book, even if I price it at 99 cents? Do I think that even half will purchase it? I’m a realist–the answer to that is no. I don’t anticipate that publishing Paladin will start paying the bills–although I do hope some of my readers decide to show their support, either by purchasing a copy, writing a review, or simply recommending it to a friend.
So here’s my game plan. Over the next 3-4 weeks, I’m going to be editing the crap out of Paladin and formatting it for publishing as an ebook on Smashwords and Amazon. I’ve got the talented Hayley John, who made my cover for Blue Sun, painting me a custom cover (the Paladin cover I have on Wattpad I do not have the rights to publish). I’ve written an extended epilogue, and if I have time, I may write a bonus scene or two. I’m also going to attempt to figure out how the heck to market this thing. If, by some miracle, an agent gets back to me with interest during that period of time, I will put my publishing plans on hold. But from here on out, I’m going to move forward as though I’m aiming to self publish Paladin during the first week of May.
This isn’t an easy decision for me, but I think it’s the right one. I’ll keep those of you who are interested abreast of the publishing date – hope you’ll buy a copy!