09
Sep
10

The Pregnancy of Elephants (annotated)

If anyone ever tells you that the process of publishing a book is like an elephant pregnancy, you tell them they’re dead wrong. It’s actually like FIVE elephant pregnancies back to back.[1]

As my debut novel THE NATIVE STAR just hit bookstore shelves a little over a week ago, I thought it might be fun to go back through my old LiveJournal posts to remind myself of the path it traveled to publication. Having done so, I find that “fun” is probably not quite the word to use. “Harrowing” is maybe a better one. And “instructive” is the best of all. I’m recording this for every writer laboring toward that first sale, that first publication—that first whatever—who has ever thought, “I must be crazy, I must be doing something wrong, it shouldn’t be taking this long!!”

Well I’m here to tell you, it takes a long time to make a baby elephant. And it takes even LONGER to make five of ‘em. So sit back, relax, and try not to cringe in horror as we hit the instant (hah!) replay button:

I first mentioned the book on my blog on 1/3/2002. As are most writers who are enthralled with a shiny new project, I was full of starry-eyed optimism:

So this is my first post of 2002. Whoopee. I may be somewhat less attentive to my LJ over the coming months because I am writing quite a lot on the new novel (a lite magical realism romp set in 1876, for those keeping score) and have been spending every second of spare time on that instead of on LJ.

I spent most of January and February on an epic writing binge:

1/15/2002:

Every spare moment has been spent writing on the novel. I’m up to 130 pages (woo hoo!)

1/23/2002:

300 pages, double spaced, 12pt courier, 1 inch margins. 50,000 words. Still lost in my alternate version of the 19th Century.

Indeed, I was writing at such a fast and furious pace, I took a whole week off from work to write on the book:

Monday, Feb. 5 – 282 pages (55,588 words)
Monday, Feb. 11 – 351 pages (71,757 words)
A very productive week. It’s all about the words, baby.

By the end of February (2/21/2002) I was trudging laboriously toward the finish line:

Now I’m in the hard slogging.

I have to write the last few scenes where all the darling little furbelows and fripperies that I’ve left dangling throughout the book have to be gathered up and tied together. I have a pretty good idea of how I’m going to do it, which automatically puts me ahead of the game (especially compared to some of my other novelistic forays, where I came to Chapter 20 and said … “well, shit, NOW what happens?”) , but it’s like executing a complicated french braid—the hair is slippery and there’s just so many pieces of it wisping around. Once I get all that done (oh, Lord) then comes the big polish. It’s all very rough right now, and is full of little memos to myself along the lines of “insert brilliant description of the wharves of San Francisco in 1876 here.”

Urgh.

Must … finish …

The exact date I finished the novel is not recorded, but I expect it was sometime in March. So, keep that fun fact in your mind. The first draft of the novel was completed in March 2002. Once the first draft was finished, I sent it around to the writers’ groups I was in at the time and got lots of good feedback on it. I revised and rewrote. Sometime in 2003 I deemed it complete enough to start submitting. I sent the first few chapters to the late Chris Bunch who gave me some ideas for fixing up the prologue to make it more exciting. I took his advice (of course I did!) and he liked my revisions enough to ask his editor if I could send the book to her.

7/16/2003:

Bunch got me an in with Jennifer Heddle [of Roc.] I am to send her the MS of “Native Star” asap. Marked “Requested Materials”, no less! This is enormous! I can actually send something to an editor at a major house marked “Requested Materials” and not have it be a baldfaced lie! (not that I’ve ever REALLY done that, but I’m sure every writer has THOUGHT of it …) Now we play the waiting game.

The book sat at Roc for a few months, until finally I heard something back on 1/20/2004:

Anyway, the news is that last week, Jennifer Heddle contacted me and told me that while she wasn’t into Old West stuff, she’d passed the book onto another editor who’s going to give it a look. An editor to editor pass … that’s gotta be good.[2]

While I was waiting on Roc, I wasn’t letting any moss grow on this rolling stone. I was out looking for agents.

4/22/2004:

Hey, I got a letter from Lucienne Diver at the Spectrum Literary Agency today! She’s willing to take a look at my series package. Which is cool. Except now I have to actually put it together. Well, that’s not exactly accurate. Book One is solid as a rock, nothing left to do there but sell it.[3] I’ve got half of Book 2 written, but more importantly, I’ve got a detailed chapter-by-chapter outline for it. But she wants an outline for the rest of the series, and that’s going to take a little work. I’ve got a broad, sketchy idea of what I want to do in Books 3-6, but since this is an “alternate history” series, and since it advances through time and reinterprets actual historical events in the light of the existence of magic, I have to actually think through what the Russian Revolution would have been like if one threw magic into the mix. Or the Cold War. Or the McCarthy trials. Or the advertising scene in New York the 1950s. It’s going to be hard to write good solid outlines for these books without putting in the research. So I guess I’ll just have to keep it all very high level and figure out the details later.

But those concerns aside, this is pretty encouraging. She’s the first agent I sent a query to, I’ve heard so many good things about her, and she works for an agency which is well respected.

Now we play the package-preparing game. Then we play the going-to-the-post-office game. Then we play the waiting game.

(Aw, the waiting game *sucks*. Let’s play Hungry Hungry Hippos!)[4]

But the road to becoming agented, like the course of true love, never does run smooth. A couple of months later on 6/10/2004:

I also got a reply back from Spectrum Literary Agency today.

Lucienne Diver said that she “love[s] the world” I’ve created. She says the novel is “different, fresh, and well-written.”

“Clearly, you’re a very talented writer,” the letter goes on to say. So far, so good.

Then it goes on to drop the proverbial hammer:

“That said, the narrative didn’t seem to have quite the drive, fast pacing and overarching menace that would keep the pages turning late into the night.”

Sigh.

Well, at least the blow was blunted by the good news from F &SF yesterday. And she did recommend that I send it to Jennifer Jackson at the Donald Maass Agency, which I will now proceed to do (it’s always nice to have a name to drop when you’re making contact – “so & so suggested I send this to you”.)[5]

While history (or at least my blog) does not record when Jennifer Jackson rejected it, I seem to recall that it was a pretty generic form rejection. Which left me feeling like I was way farther away from my goal than ever. But I kept at it. One of the agents I’d targeted was Ginger Clark, then at Writers’ House. After licking my no-love-from-Jennifer wounds for a while, I sent it along to Ginger. I got my first rejection from her in June of 2005, with an invitation to look at the book again if I wanted to do a rewrite. This sent me into stormy turmoils of newbie author despair on 6/25/2005:

Ginger Clark likes the way I write, but not what I’ve written. But it’s not all bad news. She’s invited me to revise and resubmit. I hate revising. TNS is so ingrained in my head now that I don’t even know how I’d begin to revise it. It’s like, I’ve been over it so many times, it would be like trying to revise “The Cat in The Hat.” Any change just wouldn’t feel right. So what the hell do you do? I think I’ll write something new and just scrap the fucking book. No, I won’t really do that.[6]

Ultimately, I located a pair of big-girl panties and executed the rewrites as she requested. By the end of the year, a revision was on her desk. After a few months considering the rewrite, she rejected me again, suggesting that I tighten some stuff up in the last half of the book, and again offering to look at it again after additional changes. I had another private hissy fit. But I took comfort in the fact that I seemed to be getting closer. Then she asked for a synopsis of Book 2 (now titled THE HIDDEN GODDESS), which I sent. And all the while, I continued to freak out. Now, however, the subject of my freak-outs had moved on to nonsensical shit like whether people would still be interested in reading historical fantasy WAY IN THE INCONCEIVABLY DISTANT FUTURE, LIKE SAY IN 2010!

11/16/2007:

Sigh. Trying to stay positive and focused … I sent Ginger Clark the synopsis for book 2 a week ago (Friday?) and she said she’d read it over the weekend and get back to me on Tuesday or Wednesday … well, Tuesday and Wednesday passed, and now it’s Friday, and I don’t got no news to take to Orycon, and … I’m just chewing my nails. I’ve been waiting so long already! It’s wait wait wait. I want Ginger to take me as a client, and I want her to sell my goddamn book, because it’s going to be a year to two years before I hold a fucking book in my hand and if she doesn’t fucking hurry up, the time will have passed and people will be sick of historical fantasy …

AAAAAAAA!

Deep breath. Deep breath. Keep the crazy on the inside.

And I did keep the crazy on the inside, people. To my credit. It’s only now that I’m sharing it with the world.

In December of 2007, I traveled to NYC on business and met with Ginger. And, lo and behold … SHE OFFERED TO REPRESENT ME! It was a singularly sweet moment, but not without it’s annoying caveats:

I went over to see Ginger Clark, and she said, “I’d like to represent you.” Which was pretty exciting, but then she said “And I want you to cut 5k out of The Native Star” which was slightly less exciting, but I can cut it all out of the front. I know I can. Chapter 1 is 7k words … I can get it down to 5. That’s 2k right there. She also wants some taken out of the train ride. I just have to look for fat (even fat I like) and get rid of it.

Sigh.

I promised her a revision by February. I’ll probably get it to her sooner than that, but at least I have 2 months. I wanted to avoid the holidays.

In February, I sent the revisions to Ginger as promised (I am nothing if not punctual.) She took a couple of months to read them, and by May of 2008 she deemed the book was ready to send out. Finally, things really started moving.

Jun. 9th, 2008:

Today is a red letter day. I received word from my agent that Juliet Ulman at Bantam has made an offer on my novels — she wants to buy them both. We haven’t heard back from any of the other editors yet. If we do, it will go to some kind of auction situation. If we don’t, we still have an awesome offer on the table.

This is the day I’ve been waiting for since … 1990? 1989? Since I had a novel to sell? And it feels good. But like revenge, it doesn’t really change anything. Life goes on, onward and upward.

But what would a red-letter day be without a bit of hand-wringing from me?

I have been waiting for this day for years and years. And yet here it is, and it doesn’t feel like I’ve gotten to the mountaintop, it feels like I’ve just seen how much more there is to climb. It’s not a discouraging feeling, precisely. But I thought I’d be more thrilled than this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not *unthrilled* … it’s just that this didn’t hit me all at once in a blast, it was one email, then another, then some banter … and it all built up into a book deal. And then it was like, “OK, we’re done, we have a deal” and I’m like … oh! Well! Good!

6/28/2008:

I just got off the phone with Juliet, and she is just as cool as everyone says she is. I am so excited to be working with her! (I mean, look at the awesome writers she works with: Barth Anderson, Tim Pratt, Eliot Fintushel, Greg Van Eekhout … the list goes on and on.) She gave me a quick rundown of what to expect from the publishing process. The first book will probably be coming out in Spring ’10, which means we won’t actually get started working until early ’09. Which seems an eternity now, but I have lots of stuff to work on between now and then, and I’m sure it will go faster than I expect.[7]

I signed the book contracts on Sept. 8, 2008. Six years after I completed the first draft of the book. And yet, the journey was by no means over. It would still be 2 more years before the first book came out. On November 20, 2008, I got the bad news that Juliet Ulman (who had acquired my book) had been the unfortunate victim of a round of layoffs. But the good news was that I had a new editor, Anne Groell. But the bad news was that she was going on maternity leave and wouldn’t be able to get started on my book until she got back. So I sat down to play the waiting game again. By this time I was getting pretty good at it.

The rest hardly bears reporting … there were copyedits and pageproofs, wranglings about the title for Book 2, but finally we got to the place where we are today. The novel ultimately hit the shelves just a couple of “seasons” later than originally predicted (the original pub date was Spring ’10, I ended up with a Fall ’10 release … considering all we went through, not too shabby.) I have copies that I can hold in my hand and love and hug and call George. It wasn’t fast, that’s for sure.

But like any elephant momma can tell you, it was certainly worth the wait.


#


[1]]The point being, of course, that elephant pregnancies take upwards of two years to come to term. Those poor, majestic beasts!
[2]]It wasn’t. The editor she passed it along never got back to me!
[3]]Ahem. As you’ll see, not everyone (*coughGINGERCLARKcough*) agreed with my assessment. And looking back, I am so goddamn glad of that. THE NATIVE STAR in 2004 was a far less accomplished product than the book that ended up being published in 2010. It’s called gestation for a reason, people!
[4]Yes, I was sick of the waiting game all the way back in 2004. Which just goes to show, you’d better learn to like the waiting game.
[5] It may be “nice” to have a name to drop, but it didn’t help much in this case.
[6] Once again proving the benefits of psychotic persistence!
[7] It didn’t, actually.

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14 Responses to “The Pregnancy of Elephants (annotated)”


  1. September 9, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    Well, you certainly worked hard for this book! I had no idea it had been in the works for so long.

    Thanks for sharing this. We don’t often see this side of publishing, but the fact is, writers spend most of their time waiting for things to happen at various stages. As long as we write while we wait, it’s all good, and you wrote some phenomenal short stories over the last ten years.

  2. 2 mkhobson
    September 9, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    A very good point, Eugene … throughout all those years (and it was actually eight, not ten as I’ve been saying elsewhere, I don’t know why my math-brain has suddenly decided to jump ship) I wasn’t just sitting around fretting privately in my Livejournal. I was keeping myself profitably occupied while fretting privately in my Livejournal!

    Stay busy, never give up, and keep the crazy on the inside. Simple lessons, but hard to learn!

  3. September 9, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    Thanks for sharing your journey as harrowing as it was. Believe it or not, this post is a hopeful one from the other side because it means that just because a few years have passed doesn’t mean the novel is out of the game…well, unless they really won’t read historicals in 2011 ;).

    Cheers,
    Margaret

  4. September 9, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    This is hilarious and amazing and scary!

    Thank you so much for sharing.

    Ginger Clark has the first 50 pages of my ms (-:
    (Yes, I stalk her regularly on Twitter where I am constantly tempted to reply to her tweets but
    am attempting to be cool so refrain. Mostly. That’s how I found out about you!)

    Congratulations on your success,

    Mimi

  5. 5 mkhobson
    September 9, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    We writers have a bad habit of using our creative brains to creatively torture ourselves, don’t we? I remember being utterly nerve-wracked in 2004 when “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell” was hitting it big … I thought it would just spoil the market, historical fantasy would be glutted, my book would never stand a chance …

    But as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I couldn’t be happier with the way my publication story ultimately played out. My book is coming out during a period of really strong interest in historical fantasies — interest that just wasn’t as strong two or three or five years ago. It’s all a matter of faith and fate! You have to keep one and trust in the other! (Or something like that.) ;-)

  6. 6 mkhobson
    September 9, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    (Post #5 was for Margaret, by the way. Why don’t we have threaded comments on THE MAGIC DISTRICT again?) ;-P

    @Mimi: Good luck with Ginger! She is a fantastic agent and worth every morsel of angst I suffered during the revisions she requested. Her input made THE NATIVE STAR into a far better book.

  7. September 9, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    Perhaps I should write a will leaving my MS to my daughter just in case it takes too long to happen in my lifetime. I am happy for you! Congrats on your novel reaching the book shelves!!! How cool is that? VERY cool. Here is a tribute to five elephants!

  8. 8 Deb
    September 9, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    Um…wow. Your journey sounds a lot like mine, though I’m still agent hunting (had one; we parted amicably; I rewrote the book-completely; starting over; cue, violin music). :)

    Good on you for remaining true to you, and your dream.

    Take care,
    Deb

  9. September 9, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    I figured it was for me :).

    A suggestion…if you have access to the WP admin, check under discussion and make sure threaded comments is checked. Even if the theme supports them, without that setting, you’ll have nothing.

  10. 10 mkhobson
    September 9, 2010 at 10:27 pm

    @ Margaret: Aha! I do see the place where threaded comments can be turned on. I will, though, wait and ask the other members of the blog whether they have any objections to turning them on. Personally, I detest non-threaded comments but there may be some reason for keeping them that I don’t know …

    @ Deb: Thank you! And good luck with your journey.

    @Carol: Well, it worked for John Kennedy Toole (albeit in a reverse order to the one you propose …) ;-) Good luck!

  11. September 10, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    Great post! Thanks for sharing. I think it’s really really easy (especially in the euphoria of finishing something so huge as a whole novel) to think that it’s all going to be smooth and quick. I’m going to be pointing people to this post from now on when they ask me what the process is like.

  12. September 13, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    I bet your book is better for all the time you had to wait and the revisions you had to do. I have seen only one other book that took so long to get published and that’s the Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I have no idea how the first versions of it look, but the final product is excellent, at least that is my opinion (and it seems that a slew of others agree). So congratulations on your persistence. It’s nice to know that it can pay off, even when you refuse to give up on a story that others may not have thought worthwhile in the beginning. I am wrestling with that myself. I refuse to give up on a story I’ve been working on for a few years and it may or may not be psychotic of me, ha ha. Who knows. I guess we’ll see. I have ten more years to decide :)

  13. September 13, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    P.S. The cover is absolutely gorgeous. Nice!

  14. September 23, 2010 at 11:30 am

    Thanks for the luck!

    I appreciate the note, just saw it.
    Today you’re a voice in my revision wilderness! (-:

    Best,

    Mimi


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