For most people, what I am about to describe can only be categorised as an Editing Nightmare, but for me, this was blissful. Most of the way, at least. Tough as nails torn from Helheim's corpses, but blissful too.
Last time, I told you about the path I took to get a literary agent. After reading that, you probably thought that was the end of my struggles, didn't you? haha.... hahaha.... yes. So did I.
Let's get some basics clear first:
Getting a literary agent is NOT a golden ticket to get published. It's certainly a huge step towards that goal, but the work does not end there.
This will be a tale about the steps that were required of me to get published.
As a kid, I was often led up the well-travelled steps to the library. I would wander among the books, sit among them, flipping through pages and pages of exciting adventures - some, yet too difficult for me to read.
The libraries of my childhood occupy a fond part of my memories, and they do not stand alone. When it was not the library, there were frequent visits to bookshops, and sometimes I'd be privy to the exciting adventure of walking up the three large stone steps to the antiquarian where books lay upon piles of other, thicker, older books. Titles long forgotten, each book waiting eagerly to be picked up by a new adventurer.
As a writer, I hope for the chance of walking into an unknown bookshop in an unknown town, preferably on a rainy day, drying my hands on my jeans before daring to reach up towards the filled shelves and pull out a book.
A book with my name written in gold letters across the front. The book has been flipped through. Half-read, maybe it even has a few pages bent to serve as bookmarks, signs of past readers, intending to return and finish the tale.
That is the future I wish for every book I write. A life lived travelling from shelf to shelf. Its worn cover will tell the life it has lived. Bent corners from being read on the train, the bus, and hurriedly stuffed away into a bag as the reader gets off.
My book will hide crumbs between well-read pages, and dog hairs from pet-owning readers. Certain pages will smell of sunscreen from having been read on the sunny lawn outside, while other pages will be struggling to hang on, for they have been flipped through so often. It will have travelled in suit-cases and handbags and pockets. It will have travelled the world.
Someday, it may even find itself being carried up the three large stone steps to my beloved antiquarian.
There, it will find its place, among hundreds and thousands of other great adventures. It will hide among them and enjoy the worn smell of other books that have lived long lives full of love. Until... a hand reaches up, eagerly. A new reader.
That is the fate I wish for my books.
Therefore, even in this technological age, there was never any doubt in my mind that I had to go the traditional route.
So, back to the literary agent (getting one was the first step, remember?).
Hopefully the agent has signed you because he or she believes in your story and book, and hopefully they also want to help you improve it with some nudges in the right direction.
My agent was so awesome that he did more than give me some nudges.
At our first meeting we discussed how to improve the story, so obviously I knew that some editing would be required, and I was all up for it, but I think we're all going to be pretty surprised to learn just how much editing.
I sent him a general synopsis of the series, a list of changes I was going to make to the first book, which reflected what we talked about in our initial meeting, and also the 200 pages I had of book 2.
Then I began editing. In February (2 months later), I was done and sent him what I had.
Soon after that, I went back to writing book 2, because the wait to hear back was slowly killing me. I do not have many patient bones in my body (if any). Sad truth about being a Viking. I'm quick to bring the axe out.
(the axe strokes do also help with editing though)
So, about half a year goes by and then my agent has looked it through and says that he is really pleased with my edits and he doesn't think we will need to do more than one pass at it before we're ready to query publishers.
Some months pass as I start to receive his edits in chunks, and then....
Sometime during that year, we made the call.... The very difficult call....
My book 1 and book 2 needed to be one book!
My first book was called Runes and was 233 000 words long.
The second was called Northern Wrath and was about the same size....!
When I had originally begun to write this epic story, I had intended for the plot that now spanned two books to finish in the first volume, but as I began to write, the world continued to expand and more characters continued to pop their heads through the door. The story quickly became much too large for one volume, so I split it into two.
Still, it was obvious to most readers that the planned plot was not finished. The ending did not feel proper, because it was more an interlude than a true ending.
My first book NEEDED a proper ending.
And I had written the proper ending, it was just 230 000 words further ahead than I had planned, sitting firm at the end of book 2 instead of book 1.
The solution was clear.
My agent did not like to say it, because he knew the kind of crazy work that it would imply, so he told me we needed to find a way to make the ending of book 1 feel more satisfying. We really brainstormed, but nothing seemed quite good enough.
Even to me, the best option was plain. No one wanted to say it, but we were both thinking it.
Eventually, I said: "let's just do it."
As such began the huge work of joining two enormous books into one.
By the time I had joined the two books and cut out as much as I could, we were sitting with a 300 000 word epic!
Now the observant reader will note that... 230 000 + 230 000 =/= 300 000....
The observant reader would be correct. When I joined the books , I also threw out more than one fourth of what I had written in this epic series.
It was totally worth it.
The series was saved by this one monumental decision.
The book became much better for it. Although it was a long and dire process.
You'd think that was the worst of my road to get published... ha..!
300 000 words is incredibly long.
My agent assured me that if length was going to scare publishers away, they would already run as soon as the first number wasn't 1.... even 200 000 would be too long.
So we began to work on a synopsis for the series and once we were happy with that and with the state of the first book, my agent sent out the whole thing to a short-list of select publishers who had expressed an interest.
This happened almost 2 years after I signed with him (1 year and 11 months after, quite precisely).
At this point, what we were presenting was a completely different book from what I had originally submitted to my agent, but a much better one too.
I set out to continue my writing journey and began to write the second book (for real now). As I did this, I again worried about the length of it all, but my agent gave me the best advice:
"Really what you should do is write the best book you can, and we'll worry about word count when we have to."
We received a few early rejections, but other editors took longer to reply. There was some mild interest. Editors seemed to enjoy the writing and characters but all commented on the length.
Remember what I told you earlier about my patience..?
Yes... I was itching to pull forth my axe again. Progress on book 2 was going slower than I would have liked because I was so pre-occupied. It was like querying for agents all over again.
The general consensus from editors was that the novel was too long and that the story took too long to progress.
So, what does a sensible Viking with an axe do...?
It was time to cut out one third of my novel!
Yep! I was about to rip out 100 000 words.
Which for most people, is already a full novel.
Regardless, I took up the task and made it my new purpose.
It took me a month to cut my novel down. That's how brutal I was. How eager to use my axe. And tell you what... It was actually fun.
Each time I cut something out, I felt a sense of thrill and euphoria. I could see my novel improve with each axe-swing. I began to discover narrative opportunities I had never uncovered before. It was like discovering the world I had created through a whole new and exciting venue.
After this huge amount of work, 6 less thrilling months passed as I was waiting for my agent to get to it. We scheduled almost weekly skype meetings where he would give me feedback chapter by chapter, and that was fun and meant there was constant progress.
In the meantime I finished book 2 (the proper one), and did my first edit of that one too. Then I plotted the third and final book and began writing the epic conclusion.
In January, we submitted Book 1 to Publishers, again. This was a little over a year after our first submission. Last time we had gone for a short-list of publishers and this time we sent it out to our long-list and a few who had expressed interest in seeing it again.
Then, the waiting game returned. I hate that game, so I tried to distract myself. I buried myself in the writing of the final book in the trilogy. Despite how excited I was about the novel and my story, it was often difficult to focus.
I wondered if I would ever get the first one published and if I was wasting my time writing book 3. Maybe I should write something else?
No, I repeatedly told myself. The novel was out there, with editors. I just had to learn to be patient. My agent believed in it. His name was plastered on it too. We had worked so hard on it. Someone would see its potential just like my agent had. I had to keep believing in it, and continue to tell my story.
If I needed to look at other avenues or start writing something different, my agent would tell me. I did occasionally ask, and he insisted that the best for me to do was to keep writing, so that's what I tried to do.
Suddenly, a day in June, my agent wrote an e-mail telling me to go on skype ASAP.
An editor was interested.
The interested editor soon came with an offer for the book and asked how much I had of the rest of the series.
At that point I had a full second draft of book 2 that I sent over with a synopsis of the series. I also had 120 000 words on book three. My agent assured me that Book 2 and the synopsis would be plenty.