Wednesday, September 28, 2011

My Personal Path To Publication - Stephen King

My guest today is author Stephen King.  Probably you are thinking not THE Stephen King, and you would be right.  But he is pretty much just as cool.  In fact, his name is sort of why we met.  Clearly, if you know me by now, you know I had a bordering-on the-criminal kind of obsession with THE Stephen King, so when I found Stephen on a facebook group, I HAD TO friend him.  Then when I found his blog and starting reading it and some of his writing, I began to realize, the fates were not accidental in his name.  Not to mention, he does have the coolest named blog out there.  Now, mind you, don't think with a moniker such as his he isn't already facing a pretty serious amount of pressure, but I believe he is quite talented, and you will too.  Now, we just need to convince the publishing world.  Stephen is still poised to receive that magic call.  While he waits, let's check out his journey so far.

1.   How long have you been writing?
Depending on what you're asking: long time, or not long at all.  With a real name of Stephen King, it was my greatest desire to stay away from writing fiction.  For the past several years as a Dean, though, I've written tons of stuff, including multi-thousand-page accreditation applications and both policy and disciplinary correspondence of all sorts.  Is that writing?  Of course it is.  It's not creative, certainly, but years of technical and official writing have taught me a great deal about word flow and grammatical structure. 

I've only been writing creatively for several months.  I tried a NaNoWriMo back in 2007.  I began by buying all sorts of fancy pens and notebooks as well as a few books on writing, and then I went to work with a novel idea.  I failed.  I got halfway in and realized I was writing another version of Ender's Game.  Now, I like Ender's Game, but the world only needs one instance of it.  Instead of fixing it I quit, and I stayed in a "quit" status till February of this year when I decided it was time to dust off the writing hat again.  Since then I've completed a novel and a novella, and I've also completed early drafts of another one of each. 
2.   Are you published and if so, how long have you been a published author?  If not, what’s your plan?
Nope, not yet.  It's funny that you ask about my "plan" as though I had one.  Originally, I'd planned to write a book, send it to an agent who would, of course, fall all over himself to sign me up as a client, and he would hand the manuscript off to a publisher who would read it overnight, send me a contract and a six figure check, and toss it onto bookstore shelves post-haste.  Yes, I know that doesn't happen to most authors, but I'm better than most, right? 

That's what I thought, anyway.  The current plan, if I withhold my giggles long enough to call it that, is two-pronged.  First, with the novel, I'm continuing the joyful activity of sending out queries, as many as possible as fast as possible, to garner as many rejections as possible before the James River Writer's Conference in early October.  Hey, if I get a yes that's great, but by now I know better than to plan on it.  At JRWC I managed to get my name in the hat early enough that I'll be meeting with an agent, and a great one at that, in one of her One-on-One slots.  That should be a defining moment.  If she says "meh" I'll give up entirely, at least for the time being, on traditional publishing.

The second prong of my plan uses the novellas and, if the agent in October says "meh", the novel to become self-published.  I'm lucky, in that my past experience has taught me how to run a business (which being an indie is an example of) and how to market.  Books are different from colleges in the marketing, of course, but there is plenty of information out there to help. 

 3.   Which route did you choose for becoming published, the traditional route, with an agent, the “indie” route, going directly to the publishers yourself, or deciding to self-publish?
I started out with the notion that traditional publishing is the only legitimate way to get a book out to the public, because that's the route with access to the bestseller lists, the bookstore shelves, etc.  It was also the route I knew of; to me, self-published works seemed to only be done by people who didn't qualify for publication the "real" way.  Shows how little I knew of the indie world, doesn't it?  I'm still trying to find an agent, because if nothing else the agent helps build an author's career and gives contractual advice, and once I become rich and famous it's the agent who will negotiate my speaking engagements.  Meanwhile, I still want at least one book to be traditionally published because I want to be a member of SFWA and they don't currently accept self-pubbed authors.  With my luck, of course, by the time I become traditionally published they'll change that rule.  

 4.   How long did it take you to write your first novel?
See, that's why I started a blog about the process early on (  It wasn't that I figured my exploration of the writing craft would make for particularly gripping reading; it doesn't.  I did, however, hope and pray that someday somebody would be interested enough to ask me something relevant like you just did.  Now I can just go to my blog and figure it out.  The first blog post was on 2/28/2011, and it reports that I'd started "a couple of weeks ago" and was up to 32K words.  Then there's the post on 3/20/2011, titled "Finis," in which I describe the indescribable (yeah, it's kinda silly) feeling I got when I tackily wrote "The End" at the end of my 68K-word novel.  Incidentally, as nice as it felt to type them, those words are gone, now, bled to death by an unamused editor's pen.  

Then again, the answer to your question is a bit more complex than my previous paragraph suggests.  I finished my first draft in about five weeks.  That's a rockin' speed, by the way; it's by no means record-setting but it's not bad either.  Then I started the second half of the novel, appropriately named Book Two (now RotG: Ascension), and by the end of May had 87K words written in it and "The End" typed on its last page.  I set that aside and started the process of revising Book One (now RotG: Cataclysm) to be something somewhat decent.  I even coined the term "decrappifying" to most accurately describe what I was doing to it.  By late June I was done to the point where I was comfortable letting a pro look at it, and so I sent it off to Debra Ginsberg, my editor.  She returned it to me with some great comments by the end of July, and I got busy reworking it.

August 21, then, I sent out my first query.  That's six months and one week, ish, between first using the New command to create the Word document and reaching the point where I considered it a complete work. 

5.   How long did it take you to publish it?
Still working on that.  Traditional publishing, the route I've chosen with the novel, is rumored to take anywhere from several months out to "Oh, God, I'm gonna need Geritol by then."  The novella is really quick to self-publish, or will be once I'm satisfied that it's ready.  Then again, there is a lot of really bad self-published stuff out there, largely due to the speed at which you can push it out.  I'm taking my time to do it right.  Target date is October 1, 2011.  

6.   How many times did it get rejected before it got published?
Still counting.  12 rejections so far.  That's nothing compared to a great many others, as I constantly mope about on my own blog.  Many people get 60 or even over 100 rejections before they get a yes.  

7.   Describe your worst rejection letter.
I haven't gotten one that was negative, really, if that's what you mean by "worst."  I did get one that acknowledged being a form letter yet contained a grammar error, which seemed pretty silly to me.  

8.   Describe the best news you ever got in your writing life and how it felt.
My wife liked the draft.  If I never, ever get published, that's still enough of an achievement to make me smile.  

9.   What’s the worst piece of advice you ever got?
Well, when I was a young boy, pulling the trigger on a BB gun with it pointed at another kid (the neighborhood bully, of course) was a pretty rotten piece of advice, but we all lived through it, and I'm betting you're not asking about that anyway.  I haven't really gotten any bad advice that I know of that related to writing.  Some of my beta readers suggested some things that I didn't agree with (one guy, for example, told me to remove the Atlantis chapter from my book) but I just thanked them for their input in those cases and moved on.  

10.   Now, tell us the best.
From Strunk & White, transmitted to me first by Stephen King (the other one) in his marvelous book On Writing: "Omit needless words."  

11.   What’s the one thing you would want an aspiring writer to take away from your personal path to publication?
Don't quit.  Don't quit revising.  Don't quit learning the craft; writing isn't something you can learn to do by watching others do it.  Once you have something, don't quit pushing it.  The first few rejections make you feel like a complete failure, trust me.  Move past them.  Don't ever quit.  Oh, and don't quit your day job.  

Stephen doesn't have a book cover, but he did provide the following blurb for his Work In Progress:
Book cover: under development
Book:  Undercover Truths, by Evan Koenig (pen name)
Release date: 10/1/2011
For details, see

A science fiction novella set in a world where sovereign nations no longer exist, and where all nuclear power generation has been centralized into the Colony of America, Undercover Truths tells the fast-paced story of Stacy, the young reactor director, battling off an attack by environmentalists with the help of the colony's Governor and his strange assistant.  Station and surrounding population safe again, Stacy turns her attention to determining who is behind the attack, and the answer surprises both her and her Governor. 

I'm excited to see the finished product and can't wait for October 1st!  Thanks for sharing with us, Stephen...we'll see you around your blog!

Here's how to connect with Stephen:
Evan Koenig

Author Return of the Gods: Cataclysm, and Undercover Truths
For news, bio, and release data, or to purchase books:
E-mail contact:

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