Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Black Gold, Texas Tea

I like to view myself as the Jed Clampett of the LDS Publishing world. Here was a man who knew nothing about the oil business, never intended to get into the oil business, and didn't really know what to do once he got into the oil business.

One day, about four years ago, I was shootin' at some food, and up through the ground came a'bubblin' contract. (I can imagine that, conceivably, this story could come across as arrogant--"ooh, look at me! I published without even trying!" Please don't take it that way. I'm as amazingly bodacious at writing as Jed Clampett is at divining oil. It's luck, pure and simple. I'm merely telling this story because it's interesting, and, well, I don't have anything else to write about today.)

I've discussed before how I got into writing: I hated English class in high school, my brother always loved it, one day I told him I had an idea for a book, he told me to write it, the end. But here's the story of how I got published.

I'd been attending my brother's writing group for about a year. They were all working on fantasy novels, and at the time, so was I. It was this really stupendously-awesome novel about elves and dwarves, but (and here's the money-maker!) it had World War Two technology. So, in other words, it was a story about World War Two, except the Nazis were elves, and there were some goblins in South America. This book was lame. Seriously, it took lameness to the city limits of Lameopolis, driving in a lameosine. When it reached to the county line, it vomited all over the pavement.

The reason? Because I knew a lot about World War Two, and knew just about nothing about fantasy. Interesting sidenote: Brandon Sanderson was in this group (the same Brandon Sanderson who now publishes with Tor and Scholastic, and employs three burly men solely to carry his paychecks from the mailbox to the front door). When I was first invited to the writing group, I asked my brother what to expect. He said "they'll want to know about the world you've created. They'll want to know some of the backstory. Brandon will want to know how the magic system works." And I thought: "How the magic works? Doesn't the wizard just wave his hand, and stuff catches on fire?" Because, my friends, my knowledge of fantasy consisted entirely of Lord of the Rings and the occasional episode of Xena: Warrior Princess.

So, eventually a major point-of-view character in my book sat down on a rock and shot himself in the head (seriously!) because I had no idea what to do with him anymore and wanted to end his part of the story. Shortly thereafter, I stopped attending the writing group.

I decided to take the advice of "write what you know". It's cliché advice, yes, but at that time I was swimming in ignorance, and wouldn't know a literary cliché from onomatopoeia.

So, I wrote On Second Thought. It took a long time, as I slowly figured out how to write. Despite producing a 85,000 words of lameous lame (to the max), my writing group had really taught me a lot. It was very easy for them to teach me about common writing mistakes, as I presented them with so many clear examples. "See this here?" they'd say, highlighting eighty percent of the chapter. "You can't do this."

On Second Thought was, by no means, a masterpiece, but it turned out moderately decent. And, since my writing group had all been rabid to get published, I figured that's what I probably ought to do with my book.

But who to send it to? I hear lots of stories from other authors about their subscriptions to Writer's Market, and their conventioneering, and their networking, and their online chat groups. All of these people research and discuss and, when they get ready to submit, they make very calculated decisions. Here's how I did it: my wife was reading a Jennie Hansen book. I picked it up, looked at the spine, saw Covenant Communications' logo, and said "Works for me!"

Well, that's not entirely all. I knew the book was similar to the stuff Robert Farrell Smith writes, so I ruled out Deseret Book, figuring they wouldn't need two humor writers (who write fish-out-of-water stories about small towns in New Mexico). (Wait a minute...)

But that was it. The extent of my market research. I printed out the book, wrapped it in a couple of rubber bands, and stuffed it in a big envelope. Covenant had a couple questionaires for authors to fill out, and none of the questions really seemed like they applied to me. I tried answering the best I could, but finally turned toward the flippant side. On the question "Can you make any guarantees about this work?", I replied "If you eat five pages of this book every day, and nothing else, I guarantee you will lose weight."

Done. Book in the mail. Three and a half months later I had a contract in hand.

Luck, my friends. Dumb, stupid, idiotic luck. My editor told me, a few years later, that at the time they were looking for a humor author. The timing was perfect. Perfect, and irrationally lucky.

So, here I stare at the screen, trying to end this weekly blog, and I just can't come up with a thing. There's no real conclusion I can come to, seeing as how no amount of advice I give you will help you retrace my steps, other than: be lucky. Perhaps my conclusion should be: timing is everything. Or: publishing is just one big crapshoot.

For now it's time to say goodbye to Rob and all his kin,
and they would like to thank you folks for kindly droppin' in.
You're all invited back next week to this locality,
to have a heapin' helpin' of their hospitality.


At 8/30/2006 10:30 AM, Blogger Keith Fisher said...

I always wondered how on earth you got published :)

Seriously though, You under rate the many hours you spent in trial and error, learning the craft and finding out what works and what doesn't. You are also very talented. You have the ability to make others laugh at themselves while they relate to your experience.

I admit getting published is for amost everyone, Dumb luck. thanks for the advice.

At 8/30/2006 12:22 PM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

I could almost hate you for not getting a file of rejections like the rest of us, but you're too nice of guy, dangit.

Luck does play a part, but in my experience, writing groups are the real key--and you did that.

At 8/30/2006 1:07 PM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

Yeah, the writing group was critical. Despite the fact that I churned out some serious garbage in that group, it also taught me more than any English class I'd ever attended. (The key, though, was that it was a writing group full of serious authors, who were seeking careers in writing. It wasn't a support group, or a pat-each-other-on-the-back group. They tore my stuff apart, but I learned a ton.)

Oh, here's another thing that illustrates my luckiness in getting published: the first creative writing class I ever took was after my first book was accepted for publication. I figured, at that point, that if this was going to be a viable career path, I'd better figure out what I was doing.

At 8/30/2006 1:14 PM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

And while I'm on the subject, now that I'm done with The Counterfeit series, I tried to go back and write another lighthearted romantic comedy in the same vein as On Second Thought. I found that I just couldn't match that style, because the style of On Second Thought is so screwed up. I wrote it before I really knew what I was doing, and even though I still am happy with the book, I can't bring myself to write like that again. Weird.

At 8/30/2006 1:33 PM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

I don't know how much luck had to do with it, Rob -- you're seriously funny. You can't bluff your way through that.

At 8/30/2006 8:40 PM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

Okay, now I'm depressed. Or chastised. Or scared. Or something. I was lucky enough to be published on the first try, too, but I've still never taken a creative writing class nor figured out what I'm supposed to be doing. Just ask "anonymous" (the spineless lurker; he knows who he is) if you don't believe me. He once pointed out that that I had eight adverbs and three POV changes -- all on one page. Big sigh. How glad I'll be when that book goes out of print...

Anyway . . . Fantastic post, Jed. I loved it!

Just call me Granny and get me a rocking chair!


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