Well... The Publishing Machine has finally ground its way to Lamar's door! When I found out, I asked him to give us the Real Deal. How did it all come together? What did this writer's story really look like? When he looked back, what did he see?
Lamar has been incredibly generous and written a really insightful timeline of his journey from Writer to Author. Trust me, it's worth the read. So without further ado, I give you the soon-to-be-bestselling author:
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There’s a saying that goes “Man plans, God Laughs”. In my experience, the publishing industry probably gets a chuckle or two in as well. When I was 20 my plan was to have a book in bookstores by the age of 26 (because Stephen King did it…there’s something to be said about the correlation between youth and arrogance). Today I’m 31, and the ink is barely dry on my publishing contract. I just sold my debut young adult thriller Whispertown to HarperCollins for publication during Summer 2013. I’ll be 33 then, only seven years past my original deadline (for the record, I intend to be more punctual when turning in drafts to my editor).
For those who are curious, here’s how I spent the last 11 years:
2000 – Though a casual scribbler since the age of 8, I officially decide that I want to be a professional writer, and begin to study the habits of professional writers. I enroll in creative writing courses at my university and write every day. I will sell a book by the time I’m 26. Then buy an island with my riches.
2001 – More classes. Getting instruction is helpful, but feedback from peers is hard…it stings a bit when people say things like, “You write like you need a date.” I’m not even sure what that means. Is that constructive? I learn to take rough criticism. At some point, apparently, I stop writing like I need a date because feedback from my peers becomes increasingly positive. Time to take this show on the road. I submit my very first story…and SELL IT (let the jealousy commence…trust me, your envy won’t last long).
An online magazine called Alternate Realities (now defunct) buys my short story “Obsession” for five whole dollars. It’s the first deposit in my Writer’s Island fund. I won’t make another deposit for two years.
2002 – Rejections, Rejections, Rejections. Okay, so maybe that whole sell-the-first-story-you-ever-submit thing was a fluke. BUT, all the great writers talk about wallpapering a room with rejections and I’m well on my way to accomplishing that. They’re badges of honor—depressing, sometimes rage-inducing badges—but, you know, honor and stuff. I save the stories no one wants, and keep writing new ones. Maybe they’ll come in handy one day.
2003 – Author Brandon Massey puts out the word that he’s looking for horror and suspense stories by African-American writers for a new anthology called Dark Dreams. I dig through the stories I was saving and realize they were not wasted…should my power go out and I need to keep warm, they’d make great kindling. Beyond that…meh. I write something new for Brandon. It’s a trippy idea I got from my mom, who’s obsessive about getting in laps at my old high school’s track whenever she can. It’s aptly titled “The Track” and Brandon loves it. I get my second professional credit, a little extra dough for the Island Fund, and a little more fuel (that doesn’t consist of my old stories) for the fire.
2004 – Big year. The first time I see a printed copy of Dark Dreams is in my local bookstore. My words (along with the words of many other incredible contributors) are available for sale. It’s an amazing rush that diminishes quickly. Why? Oh, right. ‘Cause I’m broke and can’t afford a copy. Payday’s Friday. I wait three days then come back and buy the words that I wrote. As happy as that makes me, I’m still getting this nagging feeling, a sense of unease. Could my idea of buying an island be a little too ambitious? Is God laughing at me RIGHT NOW?
Anyhow, things start looking up rather quickly. Dark Dreams is a ground breaking anthology that garners a lot of attention. I do real-deal book signings with some of the other contributors, I get interviewed by my local radio station, and attend book club meetings as the Honest-to-God AUTHOR. I feel legit. Time to get the real book deal. With all this new inspiration I feel compelled to finish writing the 600 page monstrosity I started when I was 17.
At age 24 I complete my masterpiece.
2005 – Another big year. I get married. And I discover my cinderblock of a book isn’t a masterpiece, just ‘a piece’. Of something. Not only do I get rejections. I get BRUTAL rejections. Some important lessons here:
1) It’s probably not a good idea to spend seven years on any single writing project (unless you’re George R.R. Martin).
2) Some people in publishing are soul crushing ORCS; it’s best not to submit to them again.
3) My new wife is a sweet, understanding lady who lets me spend two hours a night pursuing my (possibly misguided) dream…asking her to marry me was the best decision I ever made.
Thanks to her support and encouragement I write two books that year: a horror novella called NecRomance and a novel length supernatural thriller called The Cablon Connection. On top of that, I sell Brandon Massey a story called “Wilson’s Pawn & Loan” for the sequel to Dark Dreams. All that’s well and good, but I’m 25, and perilously close to my self-imposed deadline.*
*If I knew then what I know now I’d have realized I already missed the deadline. Publishing queues can have waits as long as two years. Even if I sold a book at 25, I’d most likely be 27 by the time it was published. But I wasn’t THAT lucky…
2006 – I haven’t sold a story to anyone but Brandon in three years. He’s a friend now, and I can’t help but wonder if he’s just tossing me a bone. I get antsy and go on a submission frenzy with every decent story I have. They all get rejected…
Not only are the stories getting rejected, but the two books as well. There’s no real market for novellas, so NecRomance is useless to me. The Cablon Connection gets some of those “good” rejections—the kind where you get invited to submit again, with something better—but, ultimately, it’s a no go.
My 26th birthday arrives. My wife throws me a surprise party. Though I eat cake and smile for the camera, I’m secretly sick inside. I missed my deadline, and I wonder if I should hang up my spurs…or pens…or whatever. People are saying real estate’s hot right now…
A week after my birthday I get a letter from the Virginia Commission of the Arts. I remember that in my submission frenzy I sent some stories to the commission because they offer a prestigious and selective fellowship for fiction writers once every four years. Apparently rejecting me hadn’t been a huge priority because I submitted almost eight months prior and they were just sending me my letter. I opened the envelope, feeling cynical and mean, wondering if I could pin this particular “badge of honor” on someone’s forehead.
It’s not a rejection.
This scholarly board of people who aren’t my friends and who definitely aren’t tossing me a bone say that they love my work and they want me to keep representing our state with my writing. To help in the effort, they give me FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS!!!
Maybe I’ll hang in there a little longer…
2007 – I start on a collaboration with my good friend Becky Rodgers Boyette, an epic fantasy novel called The Serpent and the Stallion. I also sell another story, “Power and Purpose”, to Brandon for the third and final installment of the Dark Dreams series. It’s the last time I’ll be paid for my writing for another 4 years.
2008 – Rejections. No bites on any stories, novels, or haikus (okay, I didn’t try to sell haikus…but I considered it). Not only that, it’s getting harder to find things I actually like reading. Someone suggests a few young adult books to me. I check them out…and I LOVE THEM.
I’m totally shocked by the range in YA fiction, and I devour as much as I can manage. The creativity is off the charts. Every single genre is present under a single umbrella. Who knew?
At the same time I play with the idea of a woman in witness protection who has to solve a friend’s murder, but it just isn’t coming together.
What if she isn’t a woman, but a teen? A teen boy?
2009 – I complete 2 drafts of a YA thriller I call Whispertown. It feels solid. I spend all of my Christmas vacation writing and re-writing a query letter. 14 drafts. The ball drops in Times Square, and I have no resolutions. Just a plan.
2010 – On the first Monday in January I send my query letter to ten select agents. By the first Monday in February seven of them ask to read my manuscript. By the first Monday in April all seven say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
This does not depress me. I’ve never gotten farther, and those rejections came with feedback. I write a 3rd draft of Whispertown. By the end of June I’m ready for another go. I send out five queries this time. Within a week I have my first offer for representation. Two more quickly follow. By Mid-July I have an agent (a super fantastic agent… Hi, Jamie Weiss Chilton of Andrea Brown Literary).
We spend the next month tweaking Whispertown. Shortly after Labor Day my little book is making the rounds at all the major publishing houses in New York. Also, somewhere in the world, children are being conceived (you’ll understand my point momentarily).
2011 – I hear stories of people who go on submission and sell their books in three days flat. I’m not one of them. There’s a ton of interest in my book, which is amazing, but offers are slow coming for a number of reasons (vacations, in-house debates, editors leaving one company for another, etc). I focus on writing a new book, and a little endeavor called Independent Publishing.
Remember NecRomance and The Cablon Connection? I revise and rename them Live Again and The Darkness Kept respectively. Also, I take another look at those stories I’d considered burning and realize they clean up nice with a little polish. I bundle them together in a collection called The Shadows Gallery. Then I design some covers with Photoshop, and test the digital publishing waters. A great move. I’m making money again and Whispertown falls off my radar.
It’s May, and the children who were conceived around the time my book went on submission are now making their way into the world. Also, Live Again is a book of the month selection for a huge interstate book club called Go on Girl!. GoG! invites me to their annual conference in Washington, DC.
I take the train up, and as we pull into Union Station I get a phone call from my Super Agent. HarperCollins wants Whispertown. The thing is, I can’t really talk because I’m about to miss my stop and the conductor’s giving me the stinkeye for being Frozen in the Aisle Cell Phone Guy when I should be Getting the BLEEP! Off the Train Guy.
Despite the angry conductor it’s a good day. The best, really. In a way, my baby is being born, too.
I sell my book, and even though I missed my age 26 deadline by quite a bit, the moment is just as sweet (maybe moreso). As for the next part, well, I don’t know yet. It’s still happening. As I type this.
This publishing journey may never lead to my own private island (particularly since my wife believes shoes are a more stable investment), but I’ll go wherever the tide takes me. I’ve learned not to put too much effort into charting a course through this mad, mad world. That way, when the twists and turns come to upset the plan (and they will come), maybe I can get a laugh in, too.
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