I feel it became a little bit of a joke, my getting published. Not because it wasn’t happening, but that I did not take the step of submitting to anyone for several years. All the way through my teens and a good bit of my twenties I held back. ‘When I finish this draft, I’ll submit.’ But, of course, just like in any art form, and in any artful project, you can always find something else you can change or make better. Invariably, I found something that I needed to correct. They were never ill-advised alterations. Each change was a betterment, in each iteration I learned something new, both about my characters and story, but also about how I writehow I can write to a higher quality.
It all changed when I had an accident, three years ago now. I had a traumatic brain injury, which I detail here. I lost some memories and had to regain my short-term memory. I couldn’t read for a while, as I would not remember the beginning of the sentence by the time I got to the end.
If nothing else, I became incredibly mortal. I have no memory of the incident, nor of the days following it after my coma, in which I spoke with family members and medical staff. It was not the fact that I nearly died that affected me strongly, though obviously it did have an impact, but it was that it happened without my knowledge. I had my brain cracked open and did not know. Because of the swelling, my eyes were pushed too far forwards to allow my eyelids to close, yet I do not remember when they had to moisturise my eyeballs. Probably for the best, on missing both of those memories. It is not that trauma put the memories behind a firewall to keep me safe from the images and feelings, but that the brain was unable to make the memory, as it is a process that requires time. It seems only logical to conclude that I likely would have slipped away that night without ever knowing. It led me to believe that death, by anything other than naturally means, would be a blank. If you are hit by the car, if you are knifed on the street, you might never remember it and your death would be silent and without you being present, unable to raise a hand in protest.
To say that it put everything in perspective would be an understatement. In many ways, and on many fronts, following all rehabilitation and help, I adopted the philosophy of ‘fuck it, I may be dead next year.’
So, I went threw a redrafting. With being out of work, my ability to form memories largely restored, and a renewed passion for writing, I poured myself into it. In three months I redrafted and sent it out to one or two agents. One of them sent back feedback, something I have been told is not common. To that date, I had received no guidance or feedback, but nor had I sought any. I took this feedback, agreeing on all of what they said, and then redrafted again.
Elle, the girlfriend of my friend, turned out to be a fantasy lover and jumped at the chance of reading it for me, offering valuable advice and feedback. She was the first fantasy aficionado to read it and it was a huge lift to the ego, having for years being rather negative about my skills and about how people saw the genre.
Agents were one of the main reasons why I abandoned the regular publishing route. Most of those agents who dealt with fantasy, seemed to do so as an after-thought. Oh, and maybe fantasy, they seemed to say. The turn around on a submission was also farcically long. Two months, maybe more, until you got a response, if you got a response.
‘Why don’t you self-publish?’ people said. I had quite a negative view of self-publishing. I saw it as the last chance of authors who had failed in real publishing. It was at the Dublin International Literature Festival, at the How to Get Published day, that my mind was changed. One of the panels was of agents. They gave wonderful advice but did not make it seem any easier. I learned that getting an agent is only the first of many steps. An agent would take it to an editor to sell it. The editor, if he or she believed in it, would then take it to a meeting of all the departments in the publishing house, and would have to sell it to them, showing that it would be successful. This is far from a foregone conclusion.
Another panel consisted of those who had self-published, sold well, and had been taken on by a publisher then, the product proved, the author shown to have skill. I investigated Kindle and found that it was free to publish. Why the hell not, I thought.
I enjoyed having it all in my own hands, making decisions based on research and advice, rather than waiting for someone to tell me I am good enough.
I do have to admit that I miss what I believe I would get from being with a publishing house. Firstly, editorial skills, for which I have to pay to acquire, would be provided. There would be established printers and distribution channels that would work away without my needing to initiate. There is also a certain stamp of approval that I believe I would get by ‘being accepted for publication.’ Whether it flops on the shelf or not, being accepted by a team of professionals as being good enough, is something I very much wish I had.
I likely abandoned the regular route a little early, only sending it to six or so agents. I don’t regret it though, moving to self-publishing. Each step has been gratifying, an accomplishment. They are skills that will serve me well when I publish the second in the Hourglass Series, knowing what I need to do and getting to the end process far more quickly.