Today, I got an invoice from Disney's royalty department, so I'm pretty sure I'm going to get paid within a week. It will be good to have the money. My contract divides my advance into three equal payments for each book. What I just got was the signing advance for each book (i.e. I got one third of the total amount). In the future, I'll get a total of four more payments. One on final approval of each book, and one on publication of each book. The money isn't exactly enough to live on (at least not in Berkeley), but it's nice to have.
Another thing I got was my first round edit letter. It's fairly substantial. But I had heard from many other authors that you always get lots and lots and lots of edits, so I was prepared. In the end, reading through it wasn't a very traumatic experience at all, because I had already mentally prepared myself to make some substantial edits. In the end, I think I'm pretty capable of doing what needs to be done, and I have enough time to do it (they want me to turn around these edits by February 2nd). However, who knows? Maybe these are my fatal last words.
In other news, I bought a tuxedo and a new suit today. I am going to look so dashing, you have no idea.
Also, I've been reading hellllla books. I'm almost finished with Liane Moriarty's The Husband's Secret. Apparently this is a super-duper bestseller in the women's fiction category? Like a mega-bestseller: Gone Girl big. I'd actually never heard of it until it showed up in my Amazon recommendations, which just shows how you how divided the literary world can sometimes be.
It's a quiet domestic drama about three women in Australia who are facing different problems with their husbands and families. I enjoy all the parts that are just about people talking and feeling. However, I kind of don't enjoy all the suspense or thriller elements. In particular, the central thread of the novel (the eponymous 'Husband's Secret' feels very flat and very contrived to me). The secret feels like it belongs in a different novel; it's too flashy and doesn't really seem of a piece with the concerns of this book.
I sold my novel this past May, maybe six months ago? When a publisher makes an offer on the book, the acquiring editor sends you a fairly detailed offer memo that contains details on the size of the advance, the royalty rates, the rights they want to buy, and what percentage of the money from sale of subsidiary rights will accrue to you (i.e. if they sell the right to put out, like, an audiobook version, then how much of that money do I get). Everyone told me that when you sell a book, it takes a really long time for the contracts to come through, which did kind of perplex me. The offer memo seemed, to me, to be so detailed that I was like, what else is there to talk about?
But apparently there are a lot of things to talk about. I'm not saying I understand it all, but from what I can tell, it all hinges on the specific wording of various clauses of the twenty page book contract that forms an actual set of legally enforceable obligations on both sides. And there are lots of fiddly little bits of language in there that need discussing. Like, what happens if they decide not to publish the book? What happens if I don't deliver on the second book? What happens if the company goes bankrupt? What happens when my book goes out of print?
So what I'm saying is that for the last six months, my agent has been hammering out the details of this contract with the people at Disney. For most of this time, I assume it was sitting on the desks of very busy people as they handled other things. Anyway, this all resulted, about a week ago, in an actual contract, which I signed in quadruplicate and sent back to him. Now, it's being sent to the publisher or the vice president or someone at Disney for their signature. And, at that point, the sale will be final.
It always felt really odd to me that in publishing you announce deals (and turn down other peoples' offers) before the deal is actually final. But that's how it goes.
Anyway, with regards to the actual disposition of my book, Enter Title Here, things are also a bit up-in-the-air, since the editor who acquired my book left her job at Disney in order to take up a new position at Little, Brown. That, in turn, means that my book isn't really going anywhere until Disney hires someone new to replace my acquiring editor. Which they seem to be on the verge of doing. So, you know, progress.
Without a 9-to-5 job or any exciting events in my life, I've been forced to fall back on sharing emotional intimacies with near-strangers in order to get conversations going. As a result, I was talking to an acquaintance a few days ago about life, and I was saying, "Everything is great. But I just have this persistent feeling like I'm waiting for something to happen…"
And they, in true California fashion, were like, "Yeah…isn't life just like that, though? You're always waiting for the next big thing. People are never satisfied to live in the moment."
"Yeah," I said. "But it feels like it's more than that, somehow. It feels like something really big is about to happen."
And then I realized, oh, of course. I'm waiting for my book to come out. Duh. I mean, there actually is this major event that is looming on the horizon. And, for the first time in my writing career, it feels like I'm waiting for something that's about more than just ego. Truth be told, I'm not sure that I benefit much, in terms of social status, from having a book that's actually out. Once the book is out, then it becomes the past. And the past is fixed and, hence, much less glorious-seeming than an idealized future. Right now, I have all the social status of the debut author, but without the possible downside of being a failed debut author. So in terms of position, there's not much to be gained from the actual release.
But there's something else. This is the first time that someone's actually going to read and pay attention to something that I wrote. And by 'someone' I don't just mean the anonymous and, to me, unvisualizable audience of about 5,000 people who read science fiction short stories. No. This book will be read by actual people. People I might meet. People who will spend an afternoon or an evening with it. Teens who'll read it at 10 PM when they ought to be finishing up their math homework. College students who'll read it, as I once read books, when they're drunk and it's 2 AM and everyone else has gone asleep and they can feel all the loneliness of the world bearing down upon them. Twentysomethings who work all day at jobs that they don't enjoy and then come home and watch four episodes of Law and Order on Netflix just because they don't want to bear the burden of thinking and then, for a few minutes before they fall asleep, try to read something, just so they can still feel like they're people who actually read. Thirtysomething women with young children who are stuck at home all day and trying to figure out some way to stretch their minds and maintain their sanity during the few moments that their babies are asleep.
I'm sure that I'm coming off like a megalomaniac here. That's not my intention. I'm not saying that my book will change their lives. Or that it'll be a bestseller. But it'll get read. Somebody will read it. At least a few thousand people. I know that from the few anthologies I've been a part of. Books, physical books--even really minor ones from small presses--get way more readers than short story magazines do. So yes, it's not unreasonable for me to think that more people will read this book than have ever read anything I've ever written in my life. And, what's more, that they'll spend more time with it and it'll matter more to them than any work of mine has ever mattered to anyone.
And that's a really new thought for me. Somewhere in my journey as an unpublished writer, I developed a double-consciousness. I learned to respect my own abilities and to see them as something that might someday receive some respect…but at the same time I never really believed that my current work in progress, whatever it might be, would even sell…much less actually be read.
Now there's a decent chance that that will happen. And that, to me, is much more exciting than anything that's likely to happen today or tomorrow or next week or next month. Which is why it's no surprise that it feels like my whole life is being held in abeyance.
Lisa Yoskowitz at Hyperion has bought World English rights to Rahul Kanakia’s debut y.a. ENTER TITLE HERE, in a two-book deal, at auction. Pitched as Gossip Girl meets House of Cards, the story follows over-achiever Reshma Kapoor as she launches a Machiavellian campaign to reclaim her valedictorian status after being caught plagiarizing. Publication is set for fall 2015. John M. Cusick of Greenhouse Literary brokered the deal.
I've been writing and submitting stories for about ten and a half years. For the first six of those years, I had very little success. And one of the major notes I'd get back on my personal rejections was, "Your main character was too unsympathetic."
And that always bothered me, because, to me, the characters were not unsympathetic. To me, they were just people, doing their best to make their way in the world.
About five years ago (it was in the spring of 2009), I got a "We didn't sympathize with this character" rejection that drove me over the edge. It sickened and annoyed me so much that I took to my bed like a sickly Victorian maiden. I couldn't believe that I had so drastically failed to communicate my vision.
On that day, I was so lost and so filled with despair. I felt like I was simply repeating the same mistakes over and over again, but I had no idea what they were or how I was supposed to fix them.
But one thing I decided was that maybe the short story wasn't the right form for me. Maybe the novel length was what I really needed if I was going to bring my characters to life. So I decided to write a novel.
And eighteen months later, I finished one. In ALL THE MORNINGS BETWEEN YESTERDAY AND TOMORROW, an entire city is doomed to repeat the same day (it's like Groundhog's Day, if the entire town had been aware that the day was repeating). I meant it as an existential tale about how to find meaning in life when your actions don't really matter.
And the book sucked. It was just really confusing and illogical.
So I wrote another novel. That book was THIS BEAUTIFUL FEVER, which was a young adult novel about a gay teen with self-image issues who lived in an alternate version of America that had fallen prey to a disease which made people inhumanely beautiful (even as it slowly killed them). It was a novel that I wrote in a white-hot fury, over the course of eight days, and it was a book that contained so much of me. I polished that book up and wrote a query and sent out that query to 93 agents (and four publishers).
(In the meantime, I wrote a third book. BOOM was an adult-market science fiction novel about a massive economic boom that's sparked by the discovery of an infinite supply of [uninhabited] alternate Earths. The novel was, for various reasons, pretty terrible. Again, the problem was incoherent worldbuilding).
John really did believe very strongly in the book. He gave me some excellent comments, and we went through three rounds of revision on it. He pitched it hard to editors and, after arousing a fair amount of interest, we ended up going on submission to five editors in October of last year. By mid-December, all of them had turned it down. In their comments, many said that the main character struck them as too unlikeable.
In the normal course of events, I'd have revised THIS BEAUTIFUL FEVER and we'd have sent it out on another round of revision. But I really wasn't excited about doing that because, honestly, I'd stopped believing in the book. Although I'd absolutely loved the book for a long time, I eventually got to the point where all I could see were the gross deficiencies (and, yes, incoherency) in its world-building.
And we didn't have to revise it or send it out because, in the interim, I'd written another book: ENTER TITLE HERE. This is another book that came out in a blind fury. I wrote almost 80% of it while I was on a 21-day family vacation in India and Sri Lanka. (The nice thing about going on vacation with my family is that we always leave plenty of free time during the day for doing work on your computer.)
ETH was a departure for me in many ways. I really don't think I could have written it if I hadn't started this MFA program. Before I came here, I'd written maybe 3-4 realist short stories in my entire life. I simply didn't have the first idea about how to construct a realist story. But after being on the ground for a semester and reading my classmates' work, I started to get a sense for it. And then this book came out of me (since writing it, I've written three other realist novels).
Anyway, I absolutely loved (and still love) ETH, and I always believed that it was going to succeed. When TBF was getting rejected left and right by agents, I said to myself, "Well, that's okay, because ETH will definitely get me an agent."
I feel like I'm too close to the submission process to really talk about it right now. But I will say that it was incredibly nerve-wracking. I discovered new levels of anxiety. You know all those posts a few weeks ago when I wrote about how sick I was? Well, all those stomach upsets were 'just' anxiety. Which was a bit shocking to me. I couldn't believe that it was possible for me to manifest an entirely new physiological reaction to a common emotional state. I honestly think that this submissions process left me feeling more anxious than I have ever felt before in my life.
Which is interesting, because I didn't feel nearly as anxious when the last book was on sub.
Anyway, the book sold. I am very happy about the deal. When we spoke on the phone, I liked the acquiring editor, Lisa Yoskowitz, quite a lot, and I look forward to working with her.
I feel extremely grateful to my agent, John Cusick. He put an immense amount of time and effort into getting me to this place. Not only did he read and comment on six drafts (divided between two books), but he also just sold the hell out of (both) books and aroused alot of interest in them. When you consider the actual sums that he stood to make from the sale, it almost doesn't seem worth it. There are definitely easier ways to make that amount of money.
John was also the one who believed in me and saw potential in the manuscript that 93 other agents (and five publishers) didn't think was so hot. More than anyone else I've encountered in my writing career, I feel like I owe him something. He deserves much more than the actual amount of money he's going to get out of this.
Oh, and I also owe a ton to Valynne Nagamatsu. She did not have to contact me out of the blue and offer to put me in touch with John, but she did. It was a totally uncalled-for bit of proactive thoughtfulness, and I hope that I'll someday manage to be as gracious as she is.
Anyway, as I've slowly been telling people the news, many of them have said something to me like, "You must be so happy" or "You must be so excited."
And...I am, but I'm also not. I'm definitely excited and happy, but I am not more excited and happy than I've ever been in my life. The whole submissions process involved a lot of anxiety and strong emotions and sleep loss, and it sort of sapped my ability to feel positive emotions. Furthermore, all the good news came in little spurts (one offer here, then another offer there, the auction is starting, bids are coming in, etc). So whereas my friends and family experienced the news in one big moment*, I actually experienced it over the course of about three weeks.
But one of my writer friends did manage to get at the core of my emotions. She said something like, "Oh my god. You wrote that book. And they're going to publish it. They're going to publish something you wrote."
I feel like a wizard who's spent the last ten years trying and failing to summon a demon. I knew that I was on the right track, because sometimes there'd be a little spurt of flame, and, once in a great while, a little half-formed imp would appear. But I still felt like I was so far away from actually producing something. And then, one day, I came in and etched the pentagram and made the hand motions and recited the words, and then the room suddenly filled with smoke...
To me, the most amazing thing about this whole process is that I've finally managed to interest someone in one of my 'unlikeable' characters (and believe me, Reshma is one of the most unsympathetic protagonists I've ever written). I almost can't believe that, after so many years of being at the fringes and acquiring rejections and achieving half-successes and then sliding back down into failure, I actually managed to write something that makes people experience an emotional reaction that is somewhat close to what I intended them to experience.**
*My absolute favorite part of the submissions process was telling my mom that I'd gotten an offer from a big six publisher...and that another publisher was interested...and that we were probably going to go to auction. Watching her eyes get wider and wider really drove home, for the first time, the enormity of what was happening.
**Of course, one thing about talking to so many editors was that I also realized a number of ways in which I didn't succeed in my aims. But whatever. I got close enough to sell the damn thing.
Tweaked a few scenes, changed a few transitions, reworked some awkward stuff. Oh, and I also added a sex scene. Yes, that's not a comment I ever thought my agent would make on my young adult novel: "Instead of fading to black, there should be a sex scene here."
That was honestly the part that I spent the most time working on. I know that teens have sex, but I, personally, never had sex while I was a teen. I didn't even really have sex in college. But whatever. It's not a real sex scene, actually--I just fade to black at a slightly later point in the scene.
But anyway, the long and short of it is that I am done working on this thing. If some common thread arises from the editorial rejections, then I might revise in response to that. And if it gets purchased, I will undoubtedly have to do tons of revisions. But, in some weird proximate fashion, I am done with this thing.
Well, as we ready this sucker for submission, I am left to go through this manuscript one final time. This time, my agent went so far as to actually print it out, circle the typos, and mail it to me for correction (the manuscript arrived in an envelope that'd been torn open sometime during the shipping process). So I'm left to go through the 250+ pages of this thing for one last time (well, actually, if it sells I'll probably have to go through it another ten or fifteen times).
I really like this book. I was telling a friend of mine that I am literally 100% confident that it will sell. And she told me, "Well...it's good that you like it, but that seems like a dangerous belief."
And it is dangerous. I know it's dangerous. There've been many times in my life when I've been 100% confident that something would sell, and in almost every one of those cases, the work has failed to sell. And I know, intellectually, that this book is not a slam dunk. I know that most of the editors that see it are going to reject it. And I know that if one editor can reject it, then it's possible for every editor to reject it.
It seems like the prevailing style amongst modern writers (well, the good ones, at least) is to display meekness and diffidence. Every extremely successful writer that I know is always saying running themselves down and expressing surprise at their success and talking about how they don't feel like they deserve any of their sales. I don't understand that at all. I've never felt like an impostor.
That's why I keep moving forward. I believe in the work. I believe it's worthwhile, and I believe it ought to be out there.
You know, it's true that I am writing these YA novels now. And it's true that those have a different tone and feel than the novels that I (try to) write for the adult market. But I am not conscious of using any lesser degree of artistry in their composition. On the contrary, they contain more of me, and are more deeply personal, than the adult works. I definitely didn't write this book for the money, or because I just wanted to be published. Well, I did write it for those reasons. But not just for those reasons. I think this book contains, in full measure, whatever artistry I have it within me to put into prose. And I really want it to sell.
Just finished proof-reading Enter Title Here and sent it off to my agent. There's a decent chance that he'll request more edits, but I feel confident in saying that at this moment, in my mind, the novel is done. If I wasn't currently represented, this is the point at which I'd begin writing my query letter and synopsis and assembling a list of agents that I'm interested in. You obviously have no reason to trust me when I say this, but this novel is extremely good. Given that, I thought it might be interesting if I broke down exactly how much time I spent writing this novel.
This analysis is possible because for the past eighteen months I've been keeping notes on two things: a) how much time I spend writing each day; and b) what I spend each day working on. Since I started ETH a little bit more than a year ago, this is the first time that I have a complete start-to-finish record of all the time I've spent working on a book.
I got the idea for ETH on July 17, 2012, but I didn't work on it for another 5 months (though I did spend a fair amount of time visualizing it). I began drafting it on December 18, 2012 and finished the first draft on January 18, 2012 (hey, exactly one month!). The second phase of revision took place over 5 days in May and 4 days in September. This involved cleaning up the novel, tinkering with some of the characters, eliminating inconsistencies, and cutting about 10,000 words. I sent it to my agent in September and got back comments about a month later.
The third phase of revision began on December 7th and ended yesterday. During this phase, I made four passes through the novel. First, I went through from top to bottom, looking at every chapter, scene, and paragraph, asked myself, "Does this belong here?" During this pass, I cut about 16,000 words. Then I made a second pass where I addressed the specific comments made by my agent. Then I made a third pass where I went through and tightened all the sentences. This resulted in cutting about 7,000 words. And, finally, I went through the novel backwards and had the mac's text-to-speech software read out every word so I could catch any typos or dropped words. During this phase, I also did a final check for internal inconsistencies and stuff that I needed to google in order to make sure it was true*. And then I emailed it off.
In total, it took 165 hours of work over 60 days.
In terms of hours of work, here's a pie chart with the final numbers:
There you go.
I'm not saying that this is the best way to do it or even that I will necessary do all my other novels like this. In fact, perhaps this is simply a horrendous way to do it and I am leading you all stray. But this is certainly one possible way to produce a relatively good-looking finished novel. Now, everyone knows that you can write a novel in a month, but there's always the implication that if you write a novel in that short of a period of time then you're going to need to spend months, or even years, on revision. The major thing I'd like you to take away from this post is that there's no reason why revision has to take such a loooooooong period of time. In this case, my writing time was about 50% drafting and 50% revision.
Anyway, in case you wanted a chart that details writing days rather than total hours, here it is:
And here is the raw data table (note that halfway through, the title changed from Study Machines to Enter Title Here):
*During this phase, I finally gave up on finding a real town in Silicon Valley that had the same features as the town in my story and just gave a fake name to the town.
As mentioned earlier, I am working on revising Enter Title Here. And I am doing it using exactly the same process that I used, almost exactly two years ago, to prepare This Beautiful Fever for submission to agents. I'm enjoying the revision process considerably. Even when I am in no mood to begin it, I usually fall into it within a few minutes and then I'm happily marking it up for hours. Oftentimes I even overrun my allotted time and do more hours of work than I planned for. I like the novel so much that I'm even willing to put in the little touches. For instance, today I spent half an hour going through and finding places where I could insert super obscure dictionary words (one of them was "filipendulous") for reasons that will probably only be clear to about 10% of the people who read the book. Yesterday, I looked at a scene that was working pretty well and then I tore it apart and rewrote it so it could be even better.
I like the novel a lot. This is not a given with me! I've written multiple novels that I did not like a lot. I've written novels that I couldn't bear to revise. Part of my good feelings are probably because this novel hasn't yet been rejected by any agents, contests, editors, etc. But part of it is just that I enjoy reading it and think it's pretty good. Since I'm going through it sentence by sentence, I'm paying lots of attention to the actual writing. And sometimes (not often!) I actually come across a sentence that makes me think, "Hmm. That's pretty good. All the sentences should be like that."
That's a pretty new feeling
Although I'm going through the same process as I did with the previous novel, I'm in a very different position. Writing that novel was a very speculative endeavor. Although I was full of hope for its future, I had zero expectation. I knew that publication was unlikely, not just because I was a new and untried author, but also because the book was a bit of a hard sell (agents and editors can talk until they're blue in the face about how they want LGBT YA, but I don't think the numbers bear them out).
This time is different. When working on a book that you love, it's a very odd feeling to know that it's a very commercial concept and that this is the right time (or at least a non-terrible time) to sell this kind of book and that you have an agent who loves the book and is excited to send it around. As much as I don't want it to, that raises certain kinds of expectations. It's actually not unlikely that this book will sell.
But that's a horrible place to be. Because it could very well fail to sell. That is also a not unlikely scenario. And I know lots of aspiring writers read this blog, so let me tell you...the closer you come to the sale, the worse the rejection feels.I know, it doesn't make intuitive sense. Since rejection is primarily painful for the way it undermines your self-image (as a smart person, good writer, etc), then you'd think a "close, but not quite" rejection would be less painful, since it implies that you have at least some talent. But I think the reason it's worse is because when you come close, they provide reasons for why they rejected it.
If there's one thing I've learned from the happiness research, it's that the brain loves vagueness. When the brain is free to believe anything, it inevitably believes the thing that is most flattering to itself. When you get an impersonal blow-off of a rejection, it's easier to believe, "Oh, they just didn't understand it. They weren't the right market for my work." When they send back a detailed reason that describes the things they liked and didn't like, then it's harder (though not impossible) to escape the conclusion that the work just wasn't good enough.
So yes, in the future this might result in some major hurt. But, for now, I'm really excited by my novel, and I hope that you all can someday read it.
I am going through the novel, sentence by sentence, and systematically cutting and shortening everything. Now, I won't say that brevity is the essence of good writing: I think that good writers often know when they should use extra words. But I'm not the most amazing prose stylist in the world, and brevity is at least something that I can reliably do. At times, this part of the process is a bit of a pain, but it can actually be a very immersive experience sometimes. It's fun to play around with sentences. And for some reason, the second part of the process--after I've gone through and rewritten the chapter--is always to go through it again and figure out which sentences and paragraphs can go. I don't know why I can't do the latter first, but somehow the process of going through it really makes me see the whole thing in a new light.
It's not particularly fast. In an hour of this, I can usually go through about 2500-3000 words of draft and cut 500 words from them. If carried through the entire novel, I should be able to cut about 15-18% of it, ending up with a draft that's around 61,000 words long.
Sometimes I get a bit angsty over cutting little bits and pieces, but my solution is always to just cut them anyway and see if I miss them. Usually, I don't.
Actually, this draft has been a marvel of excision. The first draft of 93,000 words long. The current draft is 67,000 words long. I've cut 26,000 words, and I don't think anything is really missing. I'm honestly not sure what I cut. It was mostly just wheels spinning, I guess.
I think I've cut most of the easy stuff already, though. The cutting went in two phases. First I cut 10,000 words on this one day. Then (six months later), I cut 16,000 words in three consecutive days (9k the first day, 5k the second, and 2k on the third). Still, it feels good.
Not much else to report on this fine Sunday. Just finished another revision on my 2nd / 4th novel*, Enter Title Here, and decided it was finally time to send it to readers (and my agent) for comments. I really like this one. It almost makes me sad that it's already written...that I'll never again have the experience of writing it for the first time (I wrote the first draft over the course of about 28 days, most of which were while I was in India over winter break). I'm sure I'll write better novels in the future, but, well, the future always feels impossibly distant. And then when it comes, it's over so fast. Looking back, I've realized that I actually do revise my novels considerably (except when I abandon them completely). But it always feels like 90% of their goodness is implanted within them during the initial drafting phase. Later revision can extract the badness, but it can't necessarily add in more goodness. That's why it often feels more productive, to me, to abandon a book that's not working and go to work on the next one.
Not sure what I'll do next. Maybe I'll revise some short stories. I have some unrevised stories that're as old as January of 2012 (more than 18 months ago). If I leave them any longer, I won't even want to look at them anymore. Usually, I have a basic sense of what I want to do with them, but I can be a bit lazy about actually going ahead and doing that thing. In some cases, they just need to be polished up and then sent out into the world to fend for themselves--they're not worth the effort it'd take to make them better.
And then there're some novel-related things to do. I really have to do some more revisions on the novel that I drafted in secret over the summer (my 5th) . But I think I am saving that for the winter break.
Part of me really just wants to start a new novel. I have an idea that I am super excited by. Been kicking it around for a bit. But if I've learned anything, it's that the good ideas don't really go away.
Anyway, I've been feeling pretty happy lately. I like having a routine. And I also like working on new things. Sometimes I feel like there's nothing left in life to do except all the stuff I know how to do. But I don't feel like that right now. Right now I feel like life will be full of things that I can't really imagine.
Amongst twentysomethings, there's such a fear of aging. And there's something to that. Life does become different as you age. You can't party like crazy. Your brain loses some of its plasticity. But you also get to do great stuff. Like...be good at stuff. Produce original work. Be in charge of shit. Make major life decisions. Create tiny humans.
It all (well, except for the tiny humans) sounds very intriguing.
*I've written first drafts of five novels, but I decided not to revise or market the 1st and 3rd novels (both were adult science fiction novels) .