Guest Post by R.T. Kaelin
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Anyone Have a Machete?I am an indie.At least for now, that is. While I hope to one day to see my books in every bookstore I walk into—all three of them that are left as ebooks take over the world—for the time being, I am on my own everything. I am the author, the publisher, the marketer, the publicist.There is a new path becoming a successful author and I am trying to help forge it, or at least follow in the footsteps of the early pioneers. Authors like Amanda Hocking and Christopher Paolini have blazed the trail, self-publishing their work prior to traditional publishers picking them up. It is not an easy thing to do, and I am still wondering about the wilderness, hoping I do not get lost, but this is my path and one I have chosen to take.I never thought of myself as a writer. Until three years ago, emails were the longest thing I wrote. And, typically, those were pretty short. I did love to read, though, and read a lot. Fate prompted my metamorphosis from reader to writer when I picked up three ‘bad’ books in a row. The plots were predictable and uninspired, the characters flat and one-dimensional. I remember making the remark, “I could do better than this.”
Shortly thereafter, I started working on Progeny.
I have a big imagination. Always have. Most of my life, it languished inside of me, spontaneously offering off-the-wall insights into the world around me. Most of the time, my thoughts meandered into the absurd, silly musings like, ‘How long could I wear a gorilla suit in a grocery store before someone would say something to me?’ Instead of wasting that churning mess of creativity, I directed it at something useful, my story, and came up with a good one. At least I think it is good.As far as the writing itself was concerned, however, I will freely admit I had no idea what I was doing. I still do not, really. Lawyers and doctors ‘practice’ law and medicine in the same way authors practice writing. You cannot master the written word. It is impossible. At the time, however, I did not know that. I was a five-year old deciding to give calculus a shot. It is just numbers on paper, right?Fast-forward ten months.I was done! I had written a book! Hooray for me!Now what?Well, while I had come up with a great story, I had not produced was a good book, although I did not know that at the time. The stars in my eyes blinded me to my shortcomings as a writer.I tried the traditional path of query letters to agents, sending off chapters and either getting “no, thanks” in return or hearing nothing back at all. I convinced myself that it was because I had written a behemoth of a book (308,000 words) and I was an unknown. Who wants to take a risk on that combination?I decided to prove them all wrong. I was going to self-publish my book and show them just how good I was. That would show them!In retrospect, I made the right choice, but for the entirely wrong reason. The more likely cause for all of the “no’s” was that the writing was a mess. Yet I was still too much of a novice to understand that.I reached out to a number of book blogs and secured a couple dozen reviews. To my pleasant surprise, the vast majority of them were overwhelmingly positive. People loved the story, which is obviously a good thing. Yet some not-so-good reviews were sprinkled in with the others, and they were nearly universal in their criticism. The writing was substandard.Did I listen to them like I should have? Yeah…not so much. I was already writing book two in the series, and I could not be bothered to go back and take an honest look at book one. Big mistake.In November of last year, I was presented with a fantastic opportunity. Someone big in the traditional publishing industry wanted to read Progeny. By this point, I had over thirty 5-star reviews on Amazon, with an average rating hovering in the4.7 range. It had hit #7 on Amazon’s top rated Epic Fantasy for the Kindle.This was my big chance, right? Validation was nigh!So, I sent the book. As was.I have longer version of what happened after that here should you care to read it. The short of it is that I suffered yet another ‘no, thank you’ along with a very detailed deconstruction of the book. Guess what? Progeny needed work. A lot of it.I put my new writing on hold (by this point, I had started in on book three) and did a heavy, intensive reevaluation of the first book. I made extensive changes, cutting over 75k words of useless fluff and adding 25k new ones in order to shore up weaknesses. A couple of characters got makeovers, one of which was massive. I contracted a respected editor and she helped me work out story structure issues.The book, as it stands now, is a thousand times better than the original. I wish daily that it were the version that I had originally published. However, that is impossible, and not because my time machine is in the shop. You see, if I had never self-published the original, I would not have the version I have now. The original draft of Progeny would still be sitting on my computer, gathering ether dust.When I leapt into the indie jungle, I did not know what to expect. I stumbled around blindly for a time, bumping into trees and tripping over fallen logs, but I think that I have finally found the path cut by others. Make no mistake, this trail is treacherous and wrought with unseen pitfalls, but at least I am on the right track. That or a poisonous analogy spider bit me and I am hallucinating.I really hope that did not happen.