AUTHOR’S NOTE: Shortly after Mortom was released, I wrote this article (for a writing forum) sharing the story of how Mortom ‘came into the world’. It was targeted toward aspiring authors, so for those unfamiliar with the publishing process, here’s a bit of background on how things work.
For an aspiring writer, the dream scenario is this:
• You write a query (a letter describing your book) and send it to a literary agent
• They’re intrigued by your book idea and ask for sample chapters
• They like the sample chapters and request the entire book
• They read the book, fall in love with it, and sign you as a client
• They sell it to a major publishing house and then you’re rich and famous
Here is a more accurate description of what usually happens, or—at least—what happened with me.
. . . . .
PAGE TO PUBLICATION
When I put the finishing touches on my novel last year, I was beyond excited. Everyone was gonna want this thing. After all, I had just completed the most clever, original, thought-provoking piece of fiction ever molded. Literary agents were going to hound me day and night, and my boss at the day job was going to freak when I tossed my keys on her desk and quit on the spot.
As you might have guessed, Reality quickly reared its ugly head.
“Not at this time. . .”
“Work has potential, but. . .”
“Not the right agent for this project. . .”
That only made me more determined.
I reworked my query letter and tightened the first chapter. Needless words like THAT and VERY were eradicated from each page. Commas were added, deleted, then added again. My wife quietly set tea outside my office door, afraid to knock. I was a madman on a mad mission.
The rejections continued . . . but this time with sporadic bites of interest.
Whenever I saw “Please send me the first chapter for review” or “Send a synopsis of the work,” it felt like I had won the lottery. Now I was on my way. And if my boss was lucky, maybe I’d give her two weeks instead of just bailing. Maybe.
A month later I was still at the day job, more depressed than ever. I so wanted to give up and abandon the dream.
Instead, I chose to dig in and fight harder.
Query letter, rewritten from scratch. Did I really need so much exposition in the first chapter? Nope. Was chapter two even necessary? Delete. Now we were cooking!
Emails and stamps at the ready, I again joined the fray.
And everything changed.
David Baldacci’s agency wrote back: “This has potential, but it starts too slowly. Speed it up, and make sure something big happens in the beginning!”
I tore into that first chapter as if my life depended on it. This time my wife knew better than to try and bring tea—she avoided my office all together. I barely left my computer over the next 12 hours.
Finally, everything was in place. It was brilliant. Magical. I anxiously returned her email and waited for a response.
A few days later I received these bittersweet words: “This is much improved, but I have to pass as I’ve taken on a new project since we last corresponded, and I don’t have time for two new clients.”
I had no idea if she was being honest or just polite, but I didn’t care. I already had a bite from another agent. This one wanted the first 50 pages and a synopsis, so I knew they meant business.
Fingers crossed, I dropped my materials in the mail and held my breath.
The rejection arrived a week later. “I read the novel with interest, and was hoping to love it, but I’m afraid it didn’t fully resonate with me. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, but it’s a good example of great plot and terrific character development.”
Bummer. But at least they took the time to give some feedback.
So did I run out and get a copy of Gone Girl (to try and figure out the secret formula)?
As a matter of fact, I was halfway out the door . . . until I got an email from Gillian Flynn’s agency, asking me to send them my book for review.
Umm . . . that last agent just told me write more like Gillian Flynn, and now her agent was interested in my book? I didn’t even realize I had queried her agency.
Regardless, I was beside myself. They liked the query letter! They liked the first 50 pages enough to want to see the whole book!
I allowed myself to take a breath, because surely this was it.
My fate was decided two weeks later in two sentences. “Thanks for querying us. Several of us took a look, but in the end, we felt it wasn’t the right fit.”
Did I eventually score a killer literary agent, who helped produce the book you see before you today?
Nope. But I also refused to give up.
Instead, I poured myself into research, contacted an independent book publisher, and set the book loose on Amazon. And from there, I was off and running.
Mortom will probably never sell a million copies, win a prize, or be on any bestseller list. But almost every week I get messages from people, saying how much they enjoyed the book, and how they can’t wait for the next one.
And in the end, isn’t that all an author really wants? To be read?
I was so determined to go the traditional publishing route that I almost lost sight of that. I wanted an agent. I wanted a big advance. I wanted to see my work on the shelves of Barnes & Noble. Securing a literary agent became the goal, instead of the means to an end. I was prepared to let Mortom languish on my hard drive . . . simply because a few agents said it wasn’t good enough for them. But I didn’t write it for them; I wrote it for me.
Releasing Mortom has been one of the most amazing, bizarre journeys of my life—one that will stay with me long after sales have dropped and my book has slipped into obscurity. I truly feel blessed, and I hope everyone ends up with their own success story to share.
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