Monday, August 24, 2009

A Writer's Journey To Publication

I’m happy to welcome my friend and debut author, Lisa Brackmann, to Over Coffee. We’re part of the famous, or infamous, depending upon your opinion at the time, Writin’ Wombats. I’ve watched many of our group receive contracts for publication, including Lisa.

I know the road to publication isn’t easy. Most writers are so focused on getting published, they rarely think beyond that. What happens when you get an agent? What happens once the book is sold? We think we work hard on our novels prior to publication, but what about after?

Lisa shares a bit of her journey to publication with us. Some of this was previously published on her blog, The Paper Tiger. Lisa also agreed to answer some of my questions which you will find at the end of the article.

Writing a novel is a lot of work. Okay, I've known that for a while. I've written a few. This last one, the one that got me an agent and then a deal, took so much time and effort that I'd joke it was written in dog years. And that it was trying to kill me, I was pretty sure. That last bit might not have been a joke.


The part that I'd only previously known on an intellectual level is that getting published is also a lot of work. I mean, this should be obvious, and I sort of knew it, but until I went through it, I didn't actually know it.


All of the sudden, you're getting paid for your work. And people are depending on you. Your agent. Your editor. Your PR person. An entire infrastructure. You've signed a contract, and you have to deliver, quality work, on time. There are hard deadlines. Publication schedules. Catalogs for the upcoming season. I think that's the first time I really absorbed that the whole thing was real, when I downloaded Soho's catalog, read all of the book descriptions, the author bios. Wow, I thought. I'm going to be in one of these. Me and my book. Shit.


There's the book itself. Editorial revisions. Line edits. A galley proof yet to come. And then there's everything else that comes with being an author in the modern world. A bio. Photos. A new website. Marketing ideas. Where am I known? Who do I know? How can I help my own chances of success?



It's that whole notion of thinking of yourself and your work as a product, as a brand. Most of us writer types are introverts, and we can all fulminate against this cultural trend of marketing uber alles (and I have), but this is the reality. It's a part of our job, as authors. And if there's one thing this whole experience has brought home to me, it's that being a published author is a job.



Well, duh, right? And I've taken that sort of workman's approach to my writing in general for the past few years. A writing book I've often recommended to people suffering from creative blocks is Steven Pressfield's The War of Art. It's a little repetitive and has its metaphysical aspects which may or may not be helpful to a lot of people. But one of the basic messages I appreciated very much is, you have to think of your creative work as a job. Meaning, you can't wait around for the Muses to inspire you. Because what's the first rule of a job? You show up. Whether you're inspired or not. Whether you want to or not. Eventually that kind of discipline rewards you with productive output.



It worked for me, anyway. I'm not one of these writers who has to write, who churns out thousands of words at a sitting. It takes a lot of effort for me, a lot of the time. Ultimately I'm happier when I'm writing than when I'm not writing, so I make myself do it, whether I feel like it or not.You can carry over a lot of other things from thinking of your writing as a job.

You have to work with other people. At times you have to put aside your ego and listen to what others have to say about your work and accept their criticism. You have to distinguish between trivialities and the things that really matter to the integrity of your work.

This experience has given me new sympathy for publishers—and agents—and the reluctance they might have to take on debut authors. Though I think if you write a good book, it's pretty clear that you have some discipline, still, there's always that risk that a new novelist isn't going to be able to work to deadline, or work and play well with others, that she might be a big pain in the ass, and not worth the investment of time and money. Because that's the other thing you need to understand, if you don't know this already: agents and publishers are making a significant investment in you, of their own time and potential income.



Me, I take a lot of pride in my craftsmanship, and as I've gone through this process, I've realized that I also take a lot of pride in doing a good job. In getting the work done right, on time, or even ahead of schedule. This is a job that I really enjoy. One where I show up. One that I might even be good at. I like that.


  • How long you've been writing with the view to getting published?

I've always taken my writing really seriously, but it's hard for me to determine when I became serious about being published. Early on I wrote some prose mostly for fun that got me some publishing interest, but I was too embarrassed to follow through with it. For a long time I focused on screenplays and teleplays, but they were pretty idiosyncratic and strange for the most part. Even though I'd tell myself I wanted that career, I wondered about my seeming inability to make the necessary compromises in what I was writing to have it (the one time I did a screenplay project for hire, I really didn't enjoy the process very much).

I then wrote a novel for fun, just as a way to keep my writing chops up, while I focused on that spec screenplay that was going to earn me six figures. I found out that I really liked writing novels way more than spec screenplays, so I kept going with that. I actually had some publishing interest in that book as well, but I always figured it was a serious long-shot (500 pages long! Sort of unclassifiable, semi-steam punk speculative fiction without any elves or dwarves!), and I gave up on subbing that when the editor who had liked it somewhat eventually passed. So ROCK PAPER TIGER was the first novel I wrote where from the beginning I had getting published in mind. And then, of course, the early drafts turned out weird and unclassifiable!


  • How long were you shopping for an agent. Did you get many rejections before Nathan Bransford took you on?

It felt like forever, but it really wasn't that long. I think I had five or six passes before I tried Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown. But I was already pretty discouraged. The responses I'd gotten from agents (when I got personalized responses) were contradictory, and I was convinced that I'd written yet another unclassifiable, unsalable, weird book.

I only tried Nathan because, when I was about to throw the book in a metaphoric drawer, one of the members of my writing group suggested I try him - "He has a blog, and he likes novels set in foreign countries." I did my research on what he was looking for - something which I strongly urge anyone who is querying agents to do rather than just sending out queries en masse - pounded out a new query letter over a rather large glass of wine, and sent it off.

  • Once you were accepted by him, what did you have to go through to strike the deal?

Nathan felt that my book had a lot of potential but needed some revisions before it was ready for submission. He had a direction in mind and offered to reconsider the MS if I wanted to rewrite along those lines. I agreed with his critique - he really echoed things that I'd suspected but couldn't see as clearly as I needed to do the work on my own. So I did a series of rewrites with feedback from Nathan, who in addition to his agenting savvy is a great editor. By the time we got to a certain point in the process, when it became clear that I could get the book where it needed to be, he offered me representation.

I know that some writers might be wary of doing so much work with no guarantee of a contract at the end, but I think this was a really great way for both of us to test out the author/agent relationship and see how we worked together. Believe me, you want to have a good working relationship with your agent when you go through revisions and then the submission and publication process! And I'm sure that agents feel the same way about the writers they sign. It's a marathon, not a sprint.

  • How did working with an agent change your perspective of publishing?

Working with Nathan and then being signed by him and Curtis Brown was life-changing for me. I do not exaggerate, corny as it sounds. I felt validated for my writing in a way that I hadn't before. Here's someone whose job depends on recognizing talent and whose income depends on making smart choices about who he signs.

For me, long accustomed to writing stuff that was too eccentric to sell, it was a huge confidence booster, and another big step in being able to separate myself from my work, to see it as a product, not some deep reflection of my soul or what have you. That may sound a little crass, but it's absolutely necessary to have that attitude to work as a professional author. You have to learn how to accept criticism without it taking it so personally.

  • I know you love things Chinese. You've been learning the language, you've visited China many times. How much influence has your studies of/love of China influence your writing of Rock Paper Tiger?

Well, most of the book is set in contemporary China. That was a sort of commercial calculation on my part - I knew that people are interested in China, and that not that many American fiction writers have used modern China as a setting. I felt that I had the familiarity to write it with some authority.

China is a fascinating place it's a lot of fun to drop in some of the surreal details that are a part of the daily scenery there. (as an aside, I look for those details in any location I set a book - I'm planning a California road trip novel at some point, and believe me, there's plenty of surrealism here to go around!)

  • Can you tell me a bit about the story itself?

Iraq war vet Ellie Cooper is down and out in Beijing, trying to lose herself in the alien worlds of performance artists and online gamers. When a chance encounter with a Uighur fugitive drops her down a rabbit hole of conspiracies, Ellie must decide whom to trust among the artists, dealers, collectors and operatives claiming to be on her side – in particular, a mysterious organization operating within a popular online game.

  • When will Rock Paper Tiger be released?

June 2010, by Soho Press - who have been an absolute pleasure to work with. My editor, Katie Herman, did an amazing job on my book - and the care they've taken with things like the cover - have I mentioned how much I love the cover? - it's been a great experience. Also one that has really changed my perspective on what being a professional novelist is all about. Which is pretty much the topic of my post!

  • Lisa, thank you for taking the time to answer a few of my questions. I loved your article. It makes sense and gives an insider's view of what happens once you've been sold as well as choices you have to make for your career as a novelist.

I wish you the very best with this book and can't wait until I can read it!

*~*~*~*~
Lisa Brackmann has worked as an executive at a major motion picture studio, an issues researcher in a presidential campaign, and as the singer/songwriter/bassist in an LA rock band. She's lived and traveled extensively in China. A southern California native, Brackmann currently splits her time between Venice, California and Beijing, China.

http://papertigertail.blogspot.com/

52 comments:

~Sia McKye~ said...

Lisa, welcome to Over Coffee. I'm so glad you were able to visit and share with us your book and your journey!

Other Lisa said...

My pleasure, Sia! Thanks for having me! It's a little late at night for coffee, but I'm thinking about a glass of Cabernet.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Coming right up. In fact, I just finished a very nice glass of wine. :-) Which is probably why I'm having problems right now keeping my eyes opened, LOLOL!

Plenty of coffee, tea, and munchies for the morning though. :-)

Sherilyn Winrose said...

Congratulations Lisa. You've made the journey with grace and most certainly are deserving of a magnificent run.

Other Lisa said...

Thanks, Sherilyn!

I have to say something about the biographical note - it was drafted when I thought I was going to be taking a job in Beijing. I don't think I'm doing that now, though I plan on being there for a few months later this year. For a storyteller, I have this real thing about saying things accurately. ;)

Tonya Kappes said...

Lisa thank you for taking the time to tell us aspiring writers your journey. It shows how classy you are. I love how you admitted you aren't a writer who can crank out thousands of words and your not one of those who HAS to write. It takes a lot of courage to say that among so many writers who live and die by the keys, pen, paper etc.
Thanks for telling us your story.

Houston A.W. Knight said...

Sia and Lisa,

This little coffee/wine chat couldn't be more timely...I'm at this point in my career and like Lisa, I write "out of the box" type books.
Not an easy sell to make when it comes to Agents, they play it safe most of the time. I can only hope one day I find an agent that wants to work with me as yours did, to help me (through advice) bring it to where "they" want it and then
sell it to the market.

I agree with you about being willing to do the work. I would do this in a minute, after all that's what I do...I write! I can fix, change and rewrite if they only say what they want done....I'll do it. The key is finding an agent who will take this time to work with you at this point in your career.

Glad to hear you did. I'll cross my fingers and keep the hope one day it'll happen for me.

I loved this article! Thanks girls!
Hawk

Jamie C said...

Congrats, Lisa! I can't wait to read your novel and loved watching this whole process unfold over the past year. I'm so glad you found an agent who gets your work.

For every published author, there's a unique story as to how they got published. Love your story.

Kat Sheridan said...

Sia, I love all your interviews, but this one is my favorite. Lisa has a remarkable ability to look deeper, and a amazing facility with words--it's these things she brings to the table that are going to make Rock, Paper, Tiger a hit. I just feel it. The cover is gorgeous, as well! And you forgot to mention--Lisa is not only a member of the famous/infamous Writin' Wombat group, she's our founder, known fondly as Queen Lisa. I'm so glad her work-her very hard and beautiful work--found an appreciative and smart audience in Nathan and Soho. And I'm jumping up and down to get my hands on a copy, having read other things of Lisa's (and Nathan, if you read this, ask Lisa to hand over that steampunk behemouth--I mean, how can you not love a novel that includes dirigibles??) Lisa, you know I'm sending all best wishes for a huge payoff for all your hard work.

Sorry I missed the wine last night--perhaps instead of coffee this morning, I'll have a mimosa!

Jill Lynn said...

Lisa, may this be the first of many bestsellers!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Yes, I did forget to mention that Her Majesty aka Lisa, is the Queen Wombat. Hey the animal kingdom is much more complex than people realize.

mmmm, Mimosas...

Sisters-in-Sync said...

Good morning Sia and Lisa,

I think calling it a JOURNEY is the absolute best word to describe this whole process. The JOURNEY takes us on a long and winding road with several twists and turns. This is probably the hardest job out there but by far the most rewarding. I"ll retract that slightly...it's second only to raising children.

Barb aka Elle J Rossi

Helen Ginger said...

That sounds like a fascinating book. It's one I'm definitely going to look for. Since I just turned in the manuscript for a book on Game Programmers & Artists, this would be right up my "interest" alley at the moment. Plus, I know nothing about China.

Helen
Straight From Hel

Judi Fennell said...

LONG LIVE THE QUEEN!

Who's also a Lieutenant in Wild Blue Under then promoted to Captain in Catch of a Lifetime - of the dolphin regiment! :)

Lisa, the bio is perfect for the genre and that picture is AWESOME!! Way to go!

Sheila Deeth said...

Cool. I'm heading off for my coffee now and will re-read this when I get back - not often I reread blogs, but I really enjoyed following your journey here. (Wish I could really follow it too:) but I'll follow your advice at least.)

Other Lisa said...

Thanks for all of your kind words - and if anyone has any questions, feel free to ask! I have to go to the dentist shortly but will be home after, glued to my laptop, because, well, I have work to do...

Mmm....that coffee smells deee-licious. Mind if I help myself to a cup?

jrafferty said...

Lisa, Sia, fine article. It's a tale of having a dream and perseverence. I love what I've read of Lisa's writing and look forward to reading Rock Paper Tiger.

James Rafferty

readwriteandedit said...

Lisa, your photo is fantastic! So glad you included it here.

Sia, thanks for sharing this view of Lisa's journey. I look forward to getting her book in my hands and enjoying her beautiful writing.

Dana Fredsti said...

Excellent interview, Sia and Lisa! And I LOVE the new author photo!!! And I'm in agreement that you should send Nathan the ...ahem... trashy novel, as you used to call it.

Other Lisa said...

Nope. That one's staying in a nice, comfy drawer!

Bob Sanchez said...

This is a great post, Sia and Lisa. The book sounds fascinating.

Bob Sanchez
http://bobsanchez1.blogspot.com

~Sia McKye~ said...

Dana, I loved the photo. I think it makes Lisa so pretty and she looks classy. Very cool for an author pic for now.

Bob, thanks for stopping by.

Okay, Lisa. Here's a question:

Rock Paper Tiger. Did you come up with that title as a variation of rock paper sissors? Only a tiger would be a hell of a surprise.

Other Lisa said...

Boy, let's see...I know that a couple of folks in my group kicked around either the "Rock Paper Scissors" idea or the "Paper Tiger" - which is both the name of my blog and an old expression back in the heyday of China's more ideological communism ("American imperialism is a paper tiger"). And I just thought, well, that would sound kind of cool together.

bryngreenwood said...

Lisa, I love the squinty Cali-girl photo outside your shack-by-the-sea!!

As someone who was privy to the back and forth of the editing dialog before Lisa signed with Nathan, it was pretty obvious to me that the book was going to sell, even when Lisa was feeling doubtful. Basically, Lisa worked her ass off and Nathan totally *got* the book on so many levels. Inevitable happy ending.

Other Lisa said...

Hahah! That photo looks more like me in my younger days, fer sher. But I swear it was taken just a month or so ago. Hooray for the magic of photography!

Other Lisa said...

Oh, and I have to add...the day of the photography session, naturally I woke up with my left eyelid all swollen. And zits. And you know, shouldn't I be past the age of zits?

Other Lisa said...

Annnd...one more thing (I really should have made this all one comment but I think the afternoon coffee I had is finally kicking in), Bryn and the other members of my wonderful critique group, the Lurking Novelists, all had way more faith in me than I did!

Jill Lynn said...

Hey,I want to hear more about the trashy novel :-)

Other Lisa said...

It's long, Jill. Very, very long.

~Sia McKye~ said...

I vaguely remember that about America being a Paper Tiger. I really like the title. It cracked me up when I considered someone doing a rock paper tiger and their surprise when a tiger appeared. I flashed to Rocky and Bullwinkle--hey Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!" He pulled out a lion instead. "Oops, wrong hat." yah I have a warped sense of humor. lol!

~Sia McKye~ said...

I don't suppose you want to sorta hint which metphorical drawer you hid it in, do you? lol!

Other Lisa said...

Heh - well, RPT only lived on my computer, so it would not have gone in a real drawer (though now I have the line edited version on a hard copy). The Behemoth - I do have some hard copy versions of that in a real drawer (or box) someplace, but I think the really up to date version lives only on my hard drive (and of course on various backup devices).

ptbertram said...

Lisa, I always find it fascinating when someone has such a grasp of another culture that they can funnel it to us through the eyes of a character. I am looking forward to reading your novel. I get such a kick out of the thought that you "accidentally" went to China. What an adventure!

bryngreenwood said...

The Behemoth! I think that's an awesome new nickname for the "trashy novel." (Since for the record, there's nothing "trashy" about it. Lisa, I think you're someone who assumes if you *enjoyed* writing a project, it must be trashy.)

Other Lisa said...

Yeah, Bryn, it has to hurt! Heh...

Even scarier is Son of the Behemoth. Okay, so I have a strange idea of fun.

Other Lisa said...

Pat, one thing I did do - I'd never assume that I "know" Chinese culture with the depth of a native (or even someone who lived there for a long period of time) - so that's one reason my narrator is an American - you're seeing the setting based on how she sees it.

ptbertram said...

Still, I think it's wonderful to know another culture even to that extent. I'm not even sure I know our culture!

Sherrie Super said...

Wow, thanks for all the insights, Lisa! I could really relate to the whole idea of introversion and writing as a job. There's a lot of terrific information here.

And btw, I love your photo!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Really, could someone not native to Chinese culture understand it? It's very complex--even those things that appear simple are far from it. But I do think having an American viewing and filtering everything is smart. It will also help those who are Eastern Culture challenged to understand things and be able to place them in a semblance of perspective.

Other Lisa said...

I also think...rather than trying to explain things, I usually take an observational approach with what I write. I mean, who understands our own culture, really?

~Sia McKye~ said...

That's true too. We have so many diversities within ours it would be hard. Which is why having someone in an observation mode intregral to the story is a help. We can also process through what they are seeing and feeling.

Anonymous said...

Great interview.

Bhawana Saxena

VA said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
VA said...

Typing before coffee is a bad idea. See deletion above.

Lisa your story is inspirational. No luck, dedication and hard work, albeit combined with a healthy dose of talent is what got you published. Thanks for sharing it.

The photo is sooo SoCal. Love it!

Dana Fredsti said...

And I STILL think you should pull out the trashy novel. I love it.

K. A. Laity said...

Of course Dana would say that (but I agree). Great post -- all the things you never think of when you're just writing. It's a shock to be asked about your ideas for marketing. Huh? What? I'm just a writer... Unfortunately, in the current climate with its ever-expanding legion of books and authors, it's hard to be heard over the crowd.

Conda V. Douglas said...

Excellent interview and Rock, Paper, Tiger sounds like a fascinating read.

Judith Mercado said...

Congratulations, Lisa. Your story inspired me to keep trying to get published. I too write about a difficult-to-fit subjects. It's good to know I can still believe in the dream.

MA Fat Woman said...

I'm looking forward to reading your novel.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Lisa, *waves* I'm a bit behind on my blog reading this week. But wanted to say this book sounds fabulous and I can't wait to get my hands on a copy.

Sia, thanks for the great blog~

Cheers!
www.nancyjparra.com

Jeff Abbott said...

I was lucky enough to get to read this novel a couple of weeks ago (to give it a blurb) and I think Lisa has a bright future. I enjoyed the novel a lot and wish Lisa all the best with it.

Karen Walker said...

Lisa,
Wishing you so much success on this continued journey. THanks for sharing it with us. It gives one hope...
karen