Saturday, September 5, 2009


Both readers of this journal know that as part of my effort to practice this craft, I have here posted now six chapters of a long-overdue novel I've taken to calling 'Fire & Ice'.

It's long overdue because I actually wrote it nearly twenty years ago. To be fair, I didn't actually write the novel, but while working a perfectly boring job as a receptionist while starting my 'career' at the University, I had enough free time between answering the phones and opening the mail to bang out an outline for twenty four chapters. I called it a 'step-sheet' for lack of a better term. To me it was not a simple outline, but a step-by-step telling of the plot. All that was missing, I felt, was a bit of narration, some description, some dialog and voila! Novel!

Right? Right.

Well, twenty years later, with the burst of hypergraphia brought on by Pierre's death, after about a year of nightly scratching in my journal and practicing short prose and silly rhymes on Facebook, I felt it was about time to really roll up my sleeves and see if I couldn't just make it happen. After all, it was--is--all worked out. Just have to fill in the gaps.

Right? Right.

To do this I set up a project. I made a plan. I decided to write a chapter a week for six months. If my math is right, that would be all twenty four chapters. I'd have a fully written novel. Well, fully written except for editing. But one step at a time. Write first, then edit. If I start thinking about the whole thing, I won't get anything done.

Right? Write!

To be honest, I haven't actually kept to the schedule, since I think it's been about twelve weeks since I started and I only have six chapters written, but I think that it's better than no writing at all for twenty years.

All that writing, even if it was only a small piece of the imagined whole, began to add up. Soon I had more than twelve thousand words. Both readers know this, yes? Yes.

That's actually a significant number, as it turn out, for last week I encountered something that has changed the way I look at writing and perhaps the way I actually get published.

Readers may know that the process to get a book published is a closed one. Publishers do not look at what they call 'unsolicited' manuscripts. In order for a manuscript to make it into print, it has to be brought to the editor's desk by an agent. Publishing houses make use of many agents, relying on the pile of manuscripts they bring in to provide the list of titles that will make money for them in the coming months and years. They call it the 'slush pile'.

Harper Collins, which is a UK-based publishing house, has decided to make use of the internet and the whole social networking 'phenomenon' to provide a way for authors--new and old, published or unpublished--to, as they say, "Beat the slush pile." It's a web site, called Authonomy.

The way it works is pretty simple. In order to register for the site--and make your book available for reading and comments--you have to have written at least ten thousand words. While this sounds like a lot, it's just about a third or even a quarter of a 'regular' book, so it means that while you don't necessarily need to have a finished work, you must have enough written to qualify you as a 'legitimate' writer.

By that I mean that one simply has enough accumulated words to
a) consider oneself a 'writer' and
b) have enough written enough to appreciate the effort required to call oneself the same.

Writers are also readers on the site, and books are ranked according to their popularity, or the number of people who have 'backed' the book. It's sort of like the star rating system used for music or food, except that the ratings are also tied to what they call 'talent spotters' or people who have the knack for picking the best authors early.

Then, at the end of each calendar month, the top five books are submitted to the actual publisher's desk at Harper Collins (UK) for consideration alongside all the others in their current 'slush pile'.

Of course, it's not a promise to publish, any more than having an agent get your work in the pile is a promise to publish. It is one more path up the mountain, so to speak. It is a very big mountain, on that we are all agreed.

On the downside, it can be argued successfully that this sort of handicapping system--that is meant to vaguely resemble the algorithms that Google uses to determine page rank and relevance--results in comments and recommendations that trend toward the positive.

In other words, the whole effort can be perceived as little more than a beauty contest.

In large part, on this site, how one's book ranks depends on how much 'networking' one does with the other authors. And since there is very little serious criticism from 'fellow' writers, many works get a lot of attention even though they are not really quality writing, or even publishable.

My own work, Fire & Ice, falls into this category. Because the subject has already been covered in the current best seller list, there is no real likelihood that it will actually get published. But that hasn't stopped it from becoming fairly popular on Authonomy.

When I put it up on the site, Fire & Ice ranked at the very bottom, of course, somewhere around 3,500. But within a week, it had already rising 2000 spots, and in two weeks, it's gone to number 467.

For the two weeks that it has been on the site, Fire & Ice has gone to number 15 on the weekly list, and if you sort by thriller, currently it is number five. Yesterday it made it all the way to number one in it's genre! It's back down to five today because as more books enter the system and their ratings rise, other ratings (mine) will fall.

Right now, though, on Authonomy, Fire & Ice is rising, and fast!

Keep in mind, though, that was just for the week. In in order to make it to the 'Editor's Desk' as they call it, my book must be one of the top five for the month.

With that caveat in mind, I have been enjoying the 'success'. Here are a couple of the things that people have said, for example:

One of the most polished pieces of writing i have seen on here for a long while. I was sucked into the story without being aware of an author! Only the characters. I love your description.

Just loved what I read of Fire and Ice. Superb prologue and smooth prose. Unlike some books on here, I was straight into yours without even thinking. The contrast between the prologue and ch 1 is marked and engrossing; the tense, acrimonious exchanges between Glen and Hyde make great reading. Your descriptions of Hyde eating were totally gross!
I love mystery tales like this, and Fire and Ice feels like it will be up there with the best.

So you can see that there is a trend toward cream-puff reviews. I have nonetheless gotten some very valuable advice and specific points to edit. the result has been a re-write of the first six chapters that has not only improved the work itself, but the quality of my writing as a whole.

So, even though this is mostly just an exercise at the moment, I am profiting by it. My second novel, tentatively called "Eighty-Sixed" is already on the drawing board.

In case you missed it above, here is the link:Fire & Ice


bc said...

So where does it go after #1? To the publisher? Whatever... It all gets pretty exciting! I agree with the comments, and I already know the author!

valgal said...

yes - we get autographed copies ...or tellings around the dinner table for free!!! and the 10,000 words?! riiiight, we will not keep count.