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Black Gate 4

My Book Deal

Back in November of '09 I mentioned that I’d discuss how my book deal came to be, and I’ve realized since that it’s a tale of connections. The deal itself reads anti-climatically, which is why I delayed posting about it. I finished revising a book, I gave it to a friend, he showed it to his editor, I got an offer, I talked to agents of two writer friends, agonized about which agent to select, then chose one. See? Boiled down, the process sounds simple; after all, I’m just one of those lucky guys who wrote a novel and showed it to a friend, then got a book deal after just a few weeks from the first pro who looked at it. Easy as pie, right?

 

This account of events manages to miss a couple of things. The deal happened fast – if you leave off the year of drafting, and that I knew the characters of the novel so well because I’d been writing short stories about them for nine years. Then there’s the fact that before this book deal are twenty preceding years of sending other novels out to publishers and agents and collecting rejections... I honestly am not sure how many novels I’ve written before this. Sometimes they’d been rewritten so many times that each draft was a completely different animal (and one that still got rejected). It’s taken me a lot longer to get here than I would have liked, but I have to say, I appreciate it so much more than I would have if I’d just fallen into it. Apparently I'm not a fast learner, but I am really stubborn.

 

Nor should anyone reading my story gloss over the importance of friends. I didn’t just happen to have a friend, Scott Oden, who had multiple book deals, an editor, and an agent. It’s not as though Scott’s my next door neighbor. Scott gives a fine accounting of how we became friends here and it's illustrative of an important point. Writers should not be islands unto themselves – they should reach out to kindred spirits. If I had remained in my writerly cave, I would not have a book deal.

 

When I appear in an anthology I try to read the work of the other authors, and if I find like-minded spirits, I drop them a line. I do the same if I’m reading some reviews I like, or a novel I like. I write the author an e-mail. Sometimes they don’t respond. Sometimes they do and we exchange a few cordial notes. Sometimes we become occasional pen pals, and sometimes there is so much commonality we become friends.

 

Someone once accused me of running a deliberate campaign to promote myself, but I'm not that mercenary, and no one I've become friends with this way is stupid enough to be tricked by a social climber pretending to be their pal. While I’m basically an introvert, I’m pretty social for a writer, and I get lonely. Writing, hell, I guess any art I can think of, is a lonely business. When I see someone doing something I admire, I want to reach out and tell them, and maybe pick their brain a little. It’s good to exchange notes with other writers. How do they go about it? How do they wrestle with the demons, meet their deadlines, get so many words a day? What writers inspire them? How did they learn about this trick or that… you get the idea. And since I write sword-and-sorcery or heroic fiction or, at the least, stories with adventure, when I first started seeing print it was hard to find other short fiction writers with a similar aesthetic because so few magazines were open to that kind of thing. I wanted to meet other people who were as into this kind of thing as I was. As a result, some of my dearest friends today are people I met because I wanted to compare notes with like-minded folks.

 

In short, or in long, then – become part of the community if you want to become part of the industry. Read the authors and reviewers and reach out to people you respect, or with whom you feel a kindred spirit. And keep writing.

Comments

Congrats and a nice account :-)
Thanks!
"When I appear in an anthology I try to read the work of the other authors, and if I find like-minded spirits, I drop them a line. I do the same if I’m reading some reviews I like, or a novel I like. I write the author an e-mail. Sometimes they don’t respond. Sometimes they do and we exchange a few cordial notes. Sometimes we become occasional pen pals, and sometimes there is so much commonality we become friends."

This is exactly what I do as well. It's great advice.
Thank you. it seems a good thing to do, doesn't it, to read your fellow writers?

I used to think there was a kind of magic wand that got waved, and younger Howard might have heard about this guy who got a deal because of a friend and thought it unfair. So I decided to spell it all out. Maybe those other folks out there who are like I once was will understand faster for reading how it worked for me.

Of course, there are multiple paths up the mountain...

Um...my question here is--how does one NOT deliberately promote oneself? I mean, if you're not deliberately promoting your books, then what kind of author are you, really? If the person is accusing you of making friends to help your book, well that's just simple networking. That's what you *do* and you don't have to justify it. As you said, some people become acquaintances and some become close friends, but it's the nature of the business to network and find your tribe. I think that's totally natural and I'm glad you're doing it.
Your criticism of my accuser is just -- after all, in this business one needs those connections, needs every sale one can get to stay in business, because very, very few of us are at the J.K. Rowling end of things where we don't need every possible sale to keep doing what we love. There's good ways to go about making connections, of course, and bad ones, but I'd like to think I have the social decency and acumen to go about it the good way... and I have to say, in the case of contacting fellow authors, frequently those on the same publishing tier on my end, it really had been about finding commonality. I'd guess that's where a lot of us are with it, which is one of the reasons we're on this livejournal thing.

(Anonymous)

Hey Howard!

One of your best posts.

I'll never forget how I first met Howard Andrew Jones. You did exactly what you described above - wrote me an e-mail to let me know how thrilled you were to discover Black Gate magazine. I think this was in 2001? The e-mail was eventually lost in my hard drive crash in 2004 (or I'd dig it up to quote it), but I still remember it vividly. Among other things, you clearly wanted to be a part of the magazine, saying "I want in -- bad."

In your post you make it sound as if polite, appreciative letters will help you connect to people in this industry. That's true, but I get those all the time, and they're not always memorable.

I don't think you're giving enough credit to the sheer enthusiasm, drive and humility you showed in your early letters. I was tremendously impressed -- so much so that when we finally met at the World Fantasy Convention in Minneapolis, I joked in the Black Gate forum that I expected to meet someone 8 feet tall.

After your first few letters, you followed through on your promise to break into the magazine -- sending a host of reviews, non-fiction articles, and fiction. We published your first review in issue 4 (Summer 2002), your first feature in issue 6 ("A Century of Sword & Sorcery," Fall 2003), and the first Dabir & Asim tale in issue 10 (Spring 2007).

Anyway, just wanted to set the record straight. Don't expect to emulate Howard Andrew Jones by sending a few polite letters to Gordon van Gelder. Personality counts too. :)

John O'Neill
I'd forgotten how hungry I was. I had much more spare time back then, or more energy. Maybe both. I can't imagine doing that now, but I'm glad you remembered that in a good way rather than in a crazy stalker way.

Most people are disappointed that I'm only 7 feet tall than 8 feet tall, John, so I get that a lot.

Okay, really I'm more like 5'9". Maybe people expect me to look like a Cimmerian or something since I dig sword-and-sorcery so much. The only time I ever feel or look tall is when I'm standing next to my sisters. You can definitely see the Welsh blood in all three of us.