Today I have author Matt Betts on my blog. In his guest post, he discusses the frustration and hard work it took to get his debut steampunk novel, Odd Men Out, published.
I have a fun workshop that I do at science fiction and writers conferences. It’s called “How I Wrote My Novel in 6,543 Easy Steps”. I go through exactly what it took for me to get my steampunk novel, Odd Men Out, published. No, it didn’t really take me quite that many steps, but it felt like it.
OMO started out as a short story called “The Safest Passage”. I worked hard on it, polishing it and editing it and eventually submitting it.
It got rejected a number of times, and it was usually a ‘good’ rejection. You know, the ones from kind editors that see something in your work and encourage you, making great suggestions? The common critique I got was that they wanted more, and the story should continue. One of them suggested they wanted to see it as a novel to really flesh out the characters. Who was I to argue?
I put aside another novel I’d started, stopped submitting the short story, and began writing a novel. I didn’t outline, but had a running idea of what the next several chapters would contain. From there, I just followed my instincts as to where everything should go. I understand in writing circles this makes me a ‘pantser’-someone who writes by the seat of their pants. That’s as opposed to a ‘plotter’-one who makes an outline and plans everything out. I’m not sure how I feel about that designation, but it fits, I suppose.
The writing took a good year or so, and then edits and critiques took another four months. Submissions to agents and publishers took another four to six months. I ran into a similar problem with this round of submissions to the one I had with the short story-I got a lot of really ‘good’ rejections, chock full of wonderful advice.
I know. Poor Matt, getting advice on his work from professionals.
Problem was, the advice was contradictory. One agent would tell me they loved the opening and I lost them after that, the next would tell me they hated the first chapters and it didn’t pick up until far too late. Whenever I got specific advice from one person, the very next respondent would give the exact opposite about the same item. I took it all to heart, but I was really just flailing wildly as I tried to rewrite.
Eventually, I spoke with an old friend, Heidi Ruby Miller. She was the new editor of a soon-to-be-launched line of science fiction called Dog Star Books. And she wanted to have a look at my novel.
I was excited, but the book was in disarray. I’d been chopping it up and reworking it to meet all the advice I’d been given. At that point, it resembled a car engine with all the parts laying around and the chassis up on blocks. So I contacted some friends who agreed to take one last look at a recent version for me. They offered great advice and I spent time reediting it. I cut out about five thousand words, making the novel leaner and more action-oriented.
Dog Star Books liked it and took it on. There were rounds of changes, but they weren’t nearly as tough as I’d feared. In the end, the thing that made the novel work, in my opinion, was the amount of edits I put into it. I had written two novels before this one that didn’t really go anywhere. I think they suffered from my willingness to let something go as “fine” rather than really making it the best it could be. I did more rounds of edits on this book than I did on my previous two attempts combined. It wasn’t stubbornness or vanity on my part in those early attempts, I always knew that I could use improvement; I think it was a fear that my work couldn’t be improved. “I just put months of my life into this book, what if I put more into it… and it doesn’t help?”
I managed to turn my thinking around on this and now I see “I came all this way. If I don’t work until I get it right, all that time was wasted.” It’s made all the difference in my attitude towards my writing and especially towards my editing.
I’ve wondered if other authors ever had this problem or one like it. A lot of writers have a fear of failure involved with their work, some people don’t even write because of it. What’s your greatest fear involving your own writing?
The Civil War has ended but not because the South surrendered, instead it’s on hold while both sides face a new enemy—the chewers, dead men who’ve come back to life. Cyrus Joseph Spencer didn’t fight in the war and couldn’t care less about the United Nations of America that resulted from it. His main concern is making money and protecting his crew from all manner of danger. But when tragedy strikes he’s forced to take shelter onboard a dirigible piloted by the U.N.’s peace-keeping force. It’s soon apparent that many more dangers are lurking and Cyrus must decide whether to throw in with strangers in a desperate bid to protect the country or cast off on his own.
Matt Betts was born in Lima, Ohio, some years ago. Lima is just a stone’s throw away from several other towns with excellent throwing stones. During and after college, Matt worked for a number of years in radio as an on-air personality, anchor and reporter. His fiction and poetry have appeared in numerous magazines, journals and anthologies. Odd Men Out is his first novel.
Matt currently lives in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and sons.