I think most of my blog posts begin with some variation of “It’s been a while…”; a pretty clear sign that I’m a fairly useless blogger. I don’t blog often enough to keep people interested, I don’t have a particular topic to blog about that attracts a specific audience, and, hell, I just realised my blog turned 1 year old without me even noticing.
Still, I’d like to maintain this little experiment of mine – firstly for my own benefit of writing my thoughts down every once in a while, but also for the very few people that still check in now and again. I do still have the problem of not knowing what I want to blog about, but I guess I started the blog just as a way to let people know what I’m up to or think about things (because I’m such a famous author now and everything). So, in that spirit, I want to use this, my first post of 2017, to give a bit of an update on how the sequel to Watched is coming along, because people do often ask me about it and I know I’ve been silent on it. There is a reason for that, though, and I hope it gives people some insight into my experience as a young published author struggling to turn what I love doing into a career.
The first thing I need to say straight up is that the sequel to Watched – which I’ve titled Exceptional – is finished. The manuscript is done. It was pretty much finished in May 2016 and it was at that time that I submitted it to my publisher.
The thing is, though, my publisher declined to publish it. And, yeah, that really hurt. This is not a shitpost about my publisher, and I’m not going to get into the specifics of how that conversation went down. As a publisher they are completely within their rights to decline my work and I respect that. But I guess I want to be honest with people about this and dispel the myth that getting your first book published means you’ve cracked it. That, at least, hasn’t been my experience.
So, what did that mean for me and my manuscript? Well, it meant I was free to take it elsewhere. Which I have done – and I’ll explain a bit about that in a minute. But I’m not going to pretend the rejection didn’t knock me back quite a bit. Writing Exceptional had been an absolute blast – having established this world and created these characters, I felt like the sequel was an opportunity for me to just let loose with it all. Diving back into it more mature and more experienced a writer was exhilarating, and I knew – just knew – that fans of Watched were going to love what I had in store for them.
That was probably the key thing that was different about writing Exceptional; I wasn’t writing for myself anymore – in a good way. With Watched, it was more about putting my story on paper, and the rewarding feeling of seeing my words, my ideas, recorded and given life. It was my dream to see my book published and on a book shelf, and that was what drove me. With Exceptional, though, I felt this tremendous drive to deliver this story for those people who had read Watched and were eagerly awaiting its sequel. The friends who had told me they had read it multiple times or it was what they looked forward to every morning when they caught the bus to work; the reviewers who made comments like “This book needs a sequel”; the teenager who interviewed me and told me how devastated she was that I had cruelly killed off Aki Tanaka – it was for these people that I knew I had to finish this book. And that pressure wasn’t crippling at all – it was uplifting. In my heart I know that inspiration and that drive is what empowered me to create a piece of art I am so proud of and feel so passionate about. It really is quite an amazing thing to have felt, and even if this book never gets published, I’ll be richer just for having been through such an experience.
You can probably imagine, then, how crushing it was to be buzzing on so much inspiration and drive, to feel like I’d produced the best art I’m capable of, only for it to be rejected. It wasn’t the embarrassing feeling that I wasn’t a good enough writer that got me – I know I’ll never be an amazing writer. It was the immense sense of failure for those people who drove me, who supported me. And the worse part was this unshakeable sense of being trapped; what publisher in their right mind would agree to take on a sequel that the publisher of the first book didn’t even want? To be honest, that feeling is still something I’m grappling with now.
I guess that’s the harsh reality of when art meets business, though. At the risk of sounding like a snobby, bitter, failed writer, I do believe that art in general is suffering from cheap, mass-manufactured entertainment. Good journalism, too.
Eventually, after admittedly wallowing in this resentment for a little while, I decided I wasn’t going to give up. If I did really need this book to be published not for me but for those loyal few fans, then I couldn’t allow this setback to stop me.
So I took some time to plan my next move. I wasn’t keen on a mass mailout of my manuscript to every publisher I could think of because I felt like I was now on a different playing field. Yes, I have one published book under my belt, but part of the reason, I feel, my first book got published was because of a pre-existing relationship with the publisher. I’d entered their competitions, been through writing programmes run by them, even contracted for them. This, I felt, put me in a better position to be published by them. Now, I’m out on my own. If my manuscript is to be accepted by another publisher, it must be judged completely on its own merits.
This meant I had to be sure my manuscript was as strong as it could possibly be. I’m essentially starting from scratch, nowhere near as established or well-known as I need to be to have publishers willing to accept pretty much anything I write. So I contacted the person who helped me edit Watched, who I worked with for almost a year to turn it into something publishable. At that time, her services were paid for by my publisher. Now, I would need to pay for her assessment on my own. I had no idea how much manuscript assessments cost, and I found out they’re fairly expensive. There was no one else, though, that I would rather have assess Exceptional, and when I received her critique I thought it was worth every cent.
The assessment had picked up quite a few things I could do to improve Exceptional even further, so in the latter half of 2016 I set about doing them. There were times when I got frustrated, when I felt like the work required was just too much or would disrupt the story I had poured hours and hours into. But, eventually, it all started coming together. The stitches I’d opened, some with words ripped out and others bursting with new stuff, began to mend. Plot holes were filled, characters given the time to shine they deserved. The story was still the same, but the whole manuscript was just better. It seemed fuller, more complete, more polished. And it was this brand new, exceptional manuscript (sorry, had to be done) that I submitted to another publisher at the very end of 2016.
And that’s where things are at. I’m still waiting to hear back from this publisher and hope to hear something soon. There’s also another Wellington-based publisher who has just opened for submissions, so I will probably give that one a go too. If all else fails, then I may just have to look into self-publishing. I’m trying hard to ignore the perception that this would mean I’m a failed writer – I actually think self-publishing is quickly becoming a much more viable way for new or unestablished writers to get their work out there, particularly in the current climate of the literary community where it’s extremely difficult to get support, funding, or exposure unless you’re already established. The obvious rebuttal to that is “git gud” but, hey, I can only do my best.
So, if there are any readers who are waiting for Exceptional, I am sorry it’s taking this long. As I’ve said above, it’s been the support and interest of fans (which still sounds weird to say – it’s not like I’m a celebrity or anything!) that has really driven me and continues to drive me. I don’t really care what it costs me to get this thing published – I’ve accepted the unlikelihood of me making a living out of being a writer and really just want people to read what I’ve written. Not just as an electronic file or a web page but as an actual book, a physical representation of the story their interest and investment helped produce. I’ll try and keep people updated on progress (if there is any) and on anything else I’m working on – there is actually a little project unrelated to my novels that I’m pretty excited about, and if it is successful I’ll be sure to share it.
For those who’ve read this blog just for the hell of it or just to see what I’m up to, I really appreciate it and hope this has been of some interest. Now that I’m not working on Exceptional, I hope I’ll have more time and motivation to update the blog more consistently.
And on that note I’ll close the same way I started this post – by saying something I pretty much always do:
Check back soon!