For 20 years I’ve been kicking around the idea of writing a novel, which is something an awful lot of people who make a living off the printed word flirt with doing.
And after the legislative session ended in June, I had a choice to make, given that the next couple of months were going to be pretty slow. Did I want to take some time off and go on a vacation, something I haven’t done in forever, or was it finally time to stop thinking about writing a novel and actually do it?
For some reason this time I actually did the latter, and I’m ecstatic I did. Writing this book has been the most fun I’ve ever had as an adult.
I’d been researching the practical considerations of fiction writing for a while. What I found out was that there is no better time than the present to be an author. Fifteen or 20 years ago when I first thought about getting into the fiction business (initially when I was considering it I was the publisher of Purple & Gold Magazine, which covered LSU sports, so as you might imagine the subject matter of a novel back then would have been a little different), it worked very differently. You’d write a manuscript, then you’d put together a query letter and send it off to a bunch of literary agents and hope one of them would agree to take you on, and if one did he or she would then pitch the manuscript to publishers in hopes one would express interest in signing you.
The odds of that happening were pretty meager, and it seemed like a pretty bleak likelihood of being discovered. So I was dissuaded from diving in to fiction writing, and while in the intervening years I kept coming up with ideas for a novel and occasionally turning those into notes, it remained an idle thought.
But what changed was a book I picked up on Kindle. Hugh Howey is a super-successful author who got his start by self-publishing ebooks on Amazon. The catalyst for that success was a book Howey wrote called Wool, which is set in a post-apocalyptic future in which the Earth’s surface is uninhabitable and the people who are left are forced to live in underground silos where it’s a constant fight to maintain the machines making the environment in the silos habitable, and so on – and within that setting the story is actually a murder mystery. It isn’t really my genre, but Wool had gone viral because its readers were so hooked and so evangelized.
Howey actually did something interesting with Wool that in a conventional book publishing format you couldn’t make work but with ebook and Kindle publishing you absolutely could. Namely, that he published the first part of Wool as a novella of 75-80 pages or so. That went viral, and after a few weeks of it percolating and developing a hungry fan base, he then dropped the second part, and the third, and before too long he was publishing the entire story as a full novel. By then it was a bestseller and he was a successful author, and when Howey then published a pair of sequels to Wool he had a hit series and a fortune as an author on his hands.
That proved to me the publishing industry had changed, and you didn’t really need to get signed with a publisher in order to make some sales as an author. And when I real Howey’s author blog, which is a fountain of information on the execution and business of fiction writing, I really started thinking there was potentially a good opportunity to finally cross the threshold and become a fiction writer. Howey actually says writers shouldn’t sign with a publisher unless a sizable advance is offered, because most of how books are marketed these days involves the author doing most of the work. Amazon pays 70 percent of the revenue to the author for content priced under $10, which is typically what you’d price an e-book; no publisher pays that. And what’s more, Howey says signing with a publisher is the last decision you get to make as an author – once you do that they make all the decisions.
Armed with that understanding of the business, and Howey’s admonition that the most important element of the writing process is the ironclad commitment to finishing the first draft all the way to the end of the story, I sat down on a Saturday morning in June to write a story I’d been daydreaming in my head for a few weeks.
And the next Sunday night, eight days later, I’d finished a 165-page first draft of a novel called Animus: A Tale of Ardenia. It’s an epic fantasy novel, which is a genre I actually really am not crazy about. But it fits, because the story is set in a place which is not the real world and this novel is the first in a series of four I’m planning on writing.
After I finished the first draft, I took four days off from working on it – but the next Thursday night I say down again to work on it, and by that Sunday night I was done with the first round of rewrites. The book was now 260 pages.
I then repeated that process, and a week later the second rewrite was done and it was 291 pages. A week later it was 305, and then 319. Along the way I’d been proofreading for typos and grammatical errors, and collected help and input from a number of folks who agreed to read it.
What I noticed, though I did get a lot of constructive criticism and some good suggestions for tweaks to the story, along with lots and lots of “catch this typo on page 87,” was a whole lot of “Hey, that’s a really good story you’ve got there.” One reader said it’s a cross between Game of Thrones and Atlas Shrugged. Another said he can’t wait to read the second book. A third said this has all the makings of a tentpole HBO or Netflix series.
These were all friends of mine, so I was pretty cautious about the praise. Friends will tend to butter you up and not want to bust your dreams, so you’ve got to be a little suspicious about positive reviews from the folks who know you if you’re an author.
But then the professional editor I hired, who I’d never met before, got the book and started sending me suggestions on edits. He did a lot to improve the writing, but all along I kept asking him what he thought I should do with the story. He told me not to touch it, that he’s a big fan of it and it should do well. And then the graphic artist I hired to do the cover art, read it so he could get an idea what to draw. And despite saying he’s not a big reader – he’s a visual guy and goes more for movies and TV – he was hugely enthusiastic about the story and full of ideas about a cover.
That’s when I knew this was really a worthy project and that it had some real potential.
So last week, we finally finished everything necessary to publish the e-book version and it’s been uploaded to Amazon. We’ve taken a few pre-orders, and the novel is all set to go live for a Kindle download on Tuesday. Later in the week a paperback version should be available. And sometime in October the audiobook version, which is being voiced over by longtime Baton Rouge talk host Kevin Gallagher – who, if you’ve heard him on the radio, you know has the perfect voice for something like this – will be out.
And sometime next month, I’ll be getting started turning the 38 pages of notes I’ve got on the second book into a first draft of a sequel. Which I’ve been wanting desperately to do ever since I sent those 319 pages to the editor.
It’s a fun feeling to take something on that you get so much enjoyment out of. Hopefully, if you read Animus, and gosh darn it you surely should, that enjoyment will radiate. I’m told it’s a real page-turner (which it was my intention for it to be) and that the characters are fun.
So what is this thing? Essentially it’s a rescue story.
In this other world where the story is set, there’s a big continent on which are two countries. One, Ardenia, is essentially a Gilded Age U.S.A. or Great Britain, while the other, Uris Udar, is a savage, barbarian place with every societal bad habit you can imagine and then some. As you might imagine, these two societies don’t get along so well – in fact, they’ve been at war off and on for as far back as anyone can remember. But about 25 years before our story began, there was a major outbreak of war the Ardenians won in a major way – so much so that they figured their massive technological advantage and corresponding military firepower differential had put an end to the conflict in any meaningful way going forward. So much so that they began settling the lush territories that had been a no-man’s-land between the two countries for hundreds of years.
That no-man’s-land became a very prosperous agricultural hotbed in the intervening time, and as the story begins it’s the home of the Stuart family, our protagonists, who’ve build the makings of a great estate in the new territory.
But as the story begins, the Udar, who you probably won’t like very much, arrive on the scene with trouble in mind. Bad things ensue, and a desperate scramble to save the victims commences as the ages-old conflict flares up once again.
There’s a Facebook page for this thing, and a website at TalesofArdenia.com. I’ll have periodic updates here at The Hayride about the book and its sequels – because this is, as I said, more fun than just about anything else we’ll talk about on this site.
And to those of you who’ve thought about doing what I’ve done, let me offer some words of encouragement. Do it. Even if it doesn’t end up selling – as of now, though I’m tickled about the number of pre-orders it’s received, I have no idea if this thing will make me any money – writing a novel is still one of the coolest intellectual exercises you can engage in.