Today is … Not Quite the Day …

I don’t pray for patience, because someone taught me long ago that the answer to a prayer for patience is to be put in situations that require it.

Walking On The Sea of Clouds is almost ready. We are waiting for all of the e-commerce dominoes to fall — they’re lined up, and the first one has been pushed, but the rest of them are behind a curtain and we have to trust that they are falling in order.

Stay tuned — I’ll blast out every link I can, as soon as I get them!

Meanwhile, we are still holding the Debut Novel Giveaway Drawing today at lunchtime. The local event will be at Rally Point Sport Grill starting at 11:30, and if we can get it to work we’ll run a “Facebook Live” event from there.

I know I promised the book would be released today, so if you can’t wait any longer, shoot me an e-mail and I’ll send you an electronic Advance Reader Copy.

Otherwise, it’ll just be a little longer …


What happened to the Moon? (Image: “Lunar Eclipse on 10th of December 2011,” by Anton Cross, on Wikimedia Commons.)

Thanks for your patience, and sorry for putting it to the test!

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How Did We Get to This Point?

We’re one week out from releasing Walking On The Sea of Clouds into the world! In case you’re still wondering whether the novel is your kind of read, here are some comments made about it:

Much like The Martian, Walking on the Sea of Clouds puts you on a lifeless rock and makes you think about why we explore new frontiers even as it explains how it can be done.
— Booklist Online

This book will be treasured by anyone who has ever dreamt of visiting the Moon, walking on another world, or bathing beneath the light of a distant star.
— David Farland

Annoyed you haven’t been to the Moon yet? Then pick up Walking on the Sea of Clouds; you’ll feel like you’re there.
— Charles E. Gannon

If you’ve ever wanted to be a colonist on the moon, this is as close as you will ever get without going there yourself.
— Wendy S. Delmater, Abyss & Apex

In other words, if you’re not a science fiction fan, and space exploration holds no fascination for you, then my novel is not for you — and that’s okay. Maybe you know someone who likes such things; I’d be honored if you told your friends about it!

Since we’re down to just a few days before the book will be available, it seemed like a good time to review how this all came about, for folks who might wonder just how long the road to publication can be. Unfortunately, that in itself is a long story — since the road to publication was over a decade long — but because I value your time I cut down my original retrospective by more than half. (You’re welcome.)

So, briefly:

  • In 2000-01, when I was stationed in Greenland, I wrote my first novel about an environmental engineer working to keep a lunar colony alive. (Sound familiar?) I was offered a contract on it by a small press, but backed out because I could not accept the terms.
  • In 2003, I had the good fortune to attend Orson Scott Card’s writing workshop, where I learned why every other publishing house had rejected or ignored that first novel. The next year I attended his “Literary Boot Camp,” where the lesson was reinforced: that first novel was not up to par.
  • I turned my attention to short fiction, but the general idea of that first novel still appealed to me. In 2006, I wrote a novelette starring one of the main characters but that story never sold.
  • In 2007, I began writing the new novel under the title Mare Nubium, which is the lunar formation — the “Sea of Clouds” — where I located the colony.
  • In 2008, I set a goal for myself to finish the novel that year, and even cataloged my progress on my blog. I also had the good fortune to attend Dave Wolverton’s novel writing workshop, which challenged me in terms of structuring the story and presenting it in the best way I could.
  • In January 2009, I finished the novel. (Not only do I write slowly, but I was working two jobs during that time.) Shortly thereafter I sent it out to a number of readers for their feedback. I received a great deal of helpful comments, and in the process of making changes I re-titled the novel Walking On The Sea of Clouds.
  • In mid-2009, I started sending it to agents and publishers. Over the next few years I sent inquiries to over 60 agents, of whom about 40 actually wrote back to reject the novel. A grand total of four agents asked to see the whole manuscript, but they also passed on the project. (I never did get an agent.) At the same time I sent submissions to a variety of publishers — sometimes including a personal referral, sometimes referencing having met them at a convention. All told, I sent the novel to ten different publishers, most of which were at least kind enough to respond even if their answer was “no.”
  • In early 2016, WordFire Press said “yes.” There’s an interesting side story about that, involving interest from a newer small press that eventually led to WordFire speeding up their decision, but I’ll save that for another day. (Ask me at a convention sometime.) In May 2016, I believe, we signed the contract and the novel went into the publication pipeline.
  • Through the fall of 2016, the novel went through a “developmental edit” with Bryan Thomas Schmidt. I had worked with Bryan on two anthologies, and I was a bit surprised (but pleased) that he didn’t suggest any major structural changes to the story itself. I found his editorial suggestions to be very helpful.
  • In late 2016, the novel went into production: cover art (which is tremendous), interior design (also top-notch, with touch-up work being done even now), and so forth. By way of confession, some of the changes I asked for during this part of the process contributed to delaying the novel from the Spring to the Summer. I apologize for that.

That’s the story, in a pretty small nutshell. It seems like a case study in Danish poet and mathematician Piet Hein’s “cryptic admonishment”: TTT — things take time. Like many other pursuits, this is a marathon rather than a sprint, and sticking with it requires either dogged determination or an irrational stubbornness. (In my case it may have been both.) But thankfully we should be able to enjoy the fruits of all these labors in just a few days!


(Click for larger image.)

When the time comes, I will send out links for ordering the book from Amazon or wherever. Ordering from Amazon has certain advantages, but WordFire Press is making the book available in other venues as well. The novel will be available electronically or as a trade paperback, and if you prefer you will even be able to get your local bookstore to order a copy for you.

Meanwhile, you can still register for my giveaway: I’m going to hold a drawing to give away several copies of the novel, and the Grand Prize will consist of the novel, both my CDs, and other goodies totaling over $50! All it takes to get your name in the hat is to sign up for my newsletter. Go ahead, do it now — somebody’s going to win, it may as well be you!

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‘Fans of THE MARTIAN will appreciate …’

… some aspects of my novel, according to another pre-publication review.

Before we get to that, some news: I’m in the midst of examining the galley proof of Walking On The Sea of Clouds and owe all my comments to the good folks at WordFire Press by the end of the week. I have more news — as in, an actual release date — but I’m going to share it first with everyone on my mailing list, which you can sign up for here (and even get a free [nonfiction] e-book).

Now, back to the latest review of Walking On The Sea of Clouds. Wendy S. Delmater, editor of the electronic magazine Abyss & Apex, reviewed the novel for their 3rd quarter 2017 issue. Here’s an excerpt:

If you’ve ever wanted to be a colonist on the moon, this is as close as you will ever get without going there yourself.

Fans of THE MARTIAN will appreciate the technical struggles of Frank and Stormie, Van and Barbara, and the other couples sent up to a moon colony started as a private venture. What’s especially interesting is not just the bang-on accuracy of the engineering challenges involved, it’s the behind-the-scenes wrangling of the company sending them, the independent contractors, and the very human situations these forces create for the colonists….

You can read the whole review, and make a donation to support the magazine, at http://www.abyssapexzine.com/2017/06/walking-on-the-sea-of-clouds/.

Librazione 16 03 14 BETTER 23-03
I love this image of the moon with the maria — the “seas” — appearing to be covered with water. (Image: “Librazione 16 03 14,” by Giuseppe Donatiello, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

I hope you think as highly of the novel, should you decide to read it!

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Another Testimonial: ‘You’ll feel like you’re there’

The WordFire Press team and I have made progress on my forthcoming novel, Walking On the Sea of Clouds, though I’m still not sure what the actual, definite, no-kidding release date is yet. I’m still counting on it being a Spring release — which, if you’ve seen previous posts about the book, you know I take to mean between now and the summer solstice.

In the meantime, I’m pleased — and, I must admit, quite humbled — to present another endorsement, this one from Charles E. “Chuck” Gannon, author of the award-winning Caine Riordan books:

You’ve always wanted to go to the Moon. You’ve always loved hard science fiction. You’ve always gravitated toward believable characters. You’ve never found a way to get all three in the same place, at the same time. Well, now there’s a way. Here’s how:

You pick up Gray Rinehart’s Walking on the Sea of Clouds, the most faithful and gritty ‘you are there’ novel of early lunar settlement I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. This is hard SF at its hardest — by which I mean that not only is the science spot on and largely off-the-shelf, but the characters conform to the emotional and psychological limits of folks we interact with every day. There are no galactic crises to be overcome, no interpersonal conflicts that erupt into homicidal rage, and no cast of quirky tycoons, femme fatales, or wise-cracking test-pilots. This is the Moon as it’s likely to be in the early days of colonization, where even the smallest problems have impacts far beyond what living on Earth has trained us to anticipate.

Annoyed you haven’t been to the Moon yet? Then pick up Walking on the Sea of Clouds; you’ll feel like you’re there.

Hopefully that whets your appetite for the story, or you know someone who might like the kind of story Chuck described. And hopefully in the next few weeks we’ll be able to tell you how to order a copy!


Want to go to the Moon? (Full Moon image from Apollo-11, from NASA.)

Let me know if you have any questions, and feel free to share this with anyone who might be interested!

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The ‘Endless Mazes of Literature’

(Another in the continuing “Monday Morning Insight” series of quotes to start the week.)

Today is Washington Irving’s birthday (3 April 1783 – 28 November 1859). Irving is best known for the 1819 short story “Rip Van Winkle” and the 1820 short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” both of which appear in the collection The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. The collection also includes the comical story “The Mutabilities of Literature,” in which Irving wrote a long passage that perhaps applies even more to our literary world than it did to Irving’s. With emphasis added:

Language gradually varies, and with it fade away the writings of authors who have flourished their allotted time; otherwise, the creative powers of genius would overstock the world, and the mind would be completely bewildered in the endless mazes of literature. Formerly there were some restraints on this excessive multiplication. Works had to be transcribed by hand, which was a slow and laborious operation; they were written either on parchment, which was expensive, so that one work was often erased to make way for another; or on papyrus, which was fragile and extremely perishable. Authorship was a limited and unprofitable craft, pursued chiefly by monks in the leisure and solitude of their cloisters. The accumulation of manuscripts was slow and costly, and confined almost entirely to monasteries. To these circumstances it may, in some measure, be owing that we have not been inundated by the intellect of antiquity; that the fountains of thought have not been broken up, and modern genius drowned in the deluge. But the inventions of paper and the press have put an end to all these restraints. They have made everyone a writer, and enabled every mind to pour itself into print, and diffuse itself over the whole intellectual world. The consequences are alarming. The stream of literature has swollen into a torrent — augmented into a river — expanded into a sea.

How much more, today, have the computer and the e-reader “put an end to all … restraints” on publication and “made everyone a writer”? How much more has current technology “enabled every mind to pour itself into print”? How much more has “the stream of literature … swollen into a torrent — augmented into a river — expanded into a sea”?

Get Lost
Are the “mazes of literature” this difficult to navigate? (Image: “Get Lost,” by Tim Green, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

If our current electronic age survives the pressures and turmoil of passing history, our descendants may be “inundated by the intellect of antiquity” — that is, by what we pass off as intellect — and have their “modern genius drowned in the deluge.” We will be gone, of course, the “authors who have flourished their allotted time” however short that may be, so it will depend upon our descendants to ensure that they aren’t “completely bewildered in the endless mazes of literature.”

Something to think about, eh?

Thanks for spending a few minutes here, and I hope you have an excellent week!

___

Afterword: I find it interesting that, in addition to his literary pursuits, Washington Irving served as US ambassador to Spain (1842-46). I’d be up for something like that, if the government were to call upon me to serve in that capacity … hint, hint.

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This Punk Can’t Punctuate

… consistently, that is.

File this under, “how a manuscript becomes a published novel.”*

I spent the last week or so poring over the proof copy of Walking On the Sea of Clouds, and realized that I’m not as good at the mechanics of writing as I thought I was.

  • Spelling? Not too shabby. I think all the spelling errors had been caught by the time this proof was done.
  • Grammar? It was pretty clean on that front as well, with the exception of a few things that could go either way. For instance: they changed one brief passage from simple past tense to past perfect tense, to avoid some confusion.
  • Punctuation? Abysmal.

And what’s worse, every punctuation error in the proof came straight out of the manuscript I submitted. They didn’t change them, I guess because they thought I wanted them that way, but very soon I wanted to grit my teeth at my own inattention to detail.

My main problem was hyphenating words that didn’t need hyphens, such as writing “pre-fabricated” where “prefabricated” is a perfectly good word, or “set-up” instead of “setup.” Not a tragedy, by any stretch, but what annoyed me most was that I had been inconsistent within the document itself and used both versions here and there — “de-briefing” in one spot, say, and “debriefing” in another — with no rhyme and certainly no reason.

So, herewith I apologize to the editorial and production team at WordFire Press for not being more diligent in catching all those errors sooner.

Employee Must "Wash Hands"
Punctuation can be pretty important. (Image: “Employee Must ‘Wash Hands’,” by Sean Graham, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

I suppose I could have kept silent about my punctuation problems. Once the errors were corrected, folks who hadn’t seen an advance reader copy wouldn’t know how inconsistent my punctuation was in the early going. But I thought it was better to come clean about it, by way of expressing my thankfulness for the opportunity to catch the problem in production. To me, it validates my choice to go with a small press instead of self-publishing.

Will the final product be perfect, in the sense of having no flaws? Of course not. But it will have fewer flaws than the version I just saw, and that’s what matters.

And the good news is that this stage of the proofing is done, so now we press on. Wish us luck!

___
*That line sparked a strange idea: To write a song to that effect, along the lines of the old Schoolhouse Rock number, “How a Bill Becomes a Law.”

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Why I’m Not Self-Publishing My Novel, Part III

(If you’re interested, Part 1 of the series is here and Part 2 of the series is here.)

Since 2016 was a year ago already (!), a brief recap: my near-future science fiction novel, Walking on the Sea of Clouds, is in the pipeline to be published by WordFire Press. Way back last year (!) a newsletter reader sent in this question: Why did I go with a small press instead of self-publishing? I came up with three reasons. The first two are linked above, and lead in sequential fashion to:

Third, and Possibly Most Important: Publishing is Hard

I say that with the authority of experience, because I’m already a publisher. I produced and published my two CDs — though I reckon the term is “released” in the music business — and that wasn’t a trivial effort. Granted, I didn’t engineer or master them and my performance on them was limited to what I could reasonably do, but once the tracks were mastered I handled the rest of the production process.

I also say “publishing is hard” with the authority of vicarious experience. Several friends of mine are in the self-publishing business, writing and publishing and art directing and marketing their own work. Some of them have enjoyed very high degrees of success. For my novel I could learn from their examples and follow in their footsteps and take on all those responsibilities as well, but, as Simon Tam said in an episode of Firefly, “That thought wearies me.”

Books

(Image: “Books,” by Moyan Brenn, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

 

The thought wearies me because I know how much effort it entails based on my experience in the nonfiction world. As my blog and newsletter readers alike know, late last year I self-published the revised and updated version of Quality Educationavailable here (and you and all your friends in education should definitely check it out). Not only did I restructure the book so that it’s nearly unrecognizable from the original print version, but I got it formatted for e-book as well as for print-on-demand production, consulted on the cover design (I knew better than to try to do it myself), and have since been trying to market it in the midst of everything else I’ve got going on.

The thought of self-publishing my novel wearies me because the experience of self-publishing my music and my education book nearly wore me out.

So, when we get down to the proverbial brass tacks, I really like the idea of participating in the publishing process with my novel, rather than running the process. And I hope that by leaving the details of production to the good folks at WordFire, I might actually free part of my brain to write some more songs and more stories — short and long!

___
P.S. For a different take on self-publishing’s place in the larger publishing universe, Larry Correia recently “fisked” an article from a “literary” author who had little good to say about self-publishing.
P.P.S. As noted at the outset, this brief blog series was originally an issue of my every-once-in-a-while newsletter. You can subscribe to get the latest on my shenanigans.
P.P.P.S. Seriously, I would greatly appreciate it if you would take a look at Quality Education, and encourage your friends in education to take a look at it, too. Thanks!

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Why I’m Not Self-Publishing My Novel, Part II

(If you’re interested, Part I of the series is here.)

To recap: my near-future science fiction novel, Walking on the Sea of Clouds, is in the pipeline to be published by WordFire Press, and a few weeks ago a newsletter reader sent in this question: Why did I go with a small press instead of self-publishing? I came up with three reasons.

Last week I laid out my first reason: the value a publisher adds to a novel. So here we go with:

Second, I Value Publishers’ Selectivity

I may be more aware of this aspect of publishing because I’m on the front lines of selecting novels for a major publisher — Baen Books — but in general novels selected for publication by big houses and small presses alike have crossed a certain threshold of quality, simply by virtue of being selected from a large number of submissions.

Be the first to read...

Imagine that you can only afford one (or maybe two) out of all the books on all those shelves — that’s what a publisher faces in selecting novels to publish. (Image: “Be the first to read…,” by Thomas Leuthard, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

 

The “threshold of quality” assumption may not be equally true in all cases — some publishers take chances on novels and other books they might not usually take, for various reasons — but in most cases a novel gets into the publication pipeline because someone declares it good enough to carry the publisher’s logo. In fact, often it’s multiple someones: an initial reader (or two or three), maybe a senior editor, perhaps others in the marketing and management end of things, and of course the in-person publisher.

I consider that a vote of confidence in my favor, and I appreciate it.

The publisher’s selectivity is not, of course, a guarantee of success. There are no such guarantees. I don’t know if the story will capture people’s attention, though I certainly hope it does. We’ll see, won’t we?

Meanwhile, next week I’ll cover the third reason I’m trusting a publisher with my novel instead of self-publishing it.

___
P.S. This blog series was originally an issue of my every-once-in-a-while newsletter. You can subscribe to get the latest on my goings-on and projects.

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The Slush Formula

Writers, can you estimate the chances that your story will make it through the slush pile?

I’ve come up with a formula.

Some background: A couple of years ago, I saw a post on a forum somewhere by a writer who said their story had “zero chance” of being passed on to the Publisher.

They may have been right, unfortunately. But why?

The chance that I will recommend a story to the Publisher is directly related to the quality of the story, the clarity of the storytelling, and the appropriateness of the subject matter. Each of those is a subjective measure, yes — what I think is a great story you might think is mediocre; what’s crystal clear to you might be indecipherable to me; etc. — but all three must be present in sufficient measure for a story to make it through.

Factoring & Expansion Formulas

It’s really not as complicated as all that. (Image: “Factoring & Expansion Formulas,” by CMLorenz16, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

 

Thus I express the probability of any given story being passed on to the Publisher as

P ≈ Q * C * A

So if a story really has a “zero chance” of being passed on, it is only because one or more of those factors approaches zero.

The good news is that’s rarely the case. (For us, “zero chance” is only when someone submits a memoir or children’s book or something else we don’t publish; then, appropriateness = 0.) So writers who have an accurate assessment of the strength of their story, how well it’s written, and if it’s appropriate should be able to estimate their chances pretty well.

But the thing to realize is that for the probability to be high (we’re talking percentages here, so it will almost never be 100%) each of those factors — story quality, writing clarity, and subject matter appropriateness — must rate very high indeed.

That’s the challenge.

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Five-and-a-half is Still Less than Nine, Isn’t It?

Authors: Here’s a lesson in how not to respond to rejection.

As the “Slushmaster General” for Baen Books, I have the unenviable task of sending out rejection letters. I don’t particularly like it — I know well how it feels to be on the receiving end — but I do it. And because we get a lot of submissions, I send out a lot of rejections.

rejection

This applies to more than just publishing! (Image: “rejection,” by Topher McCulloch, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

 

Now, Baen Books could go the route some publishers and literary agents have gone and simply not respond at all if we’re not interested. We haven’t done that, though, and I don’t believe we ever will. As I tell people at convention panels and workshops, as an author myself I like to make sure that we treat every submission the way I hope other publishers are treating my submissions.

Which brings me to today’s lesson: keep your expectations realistic, and think twice before complaining.

Our guidelines note that we typically respond to new submissions within nine to twelve months, though we’ve gotten to the point that it’s usually six to nine. Why so long? Because in any given month we receive upwards of 120 submissions, and while there are always a few I can respond to quickly — e.g., short stories instead of novels; memoirs or poetry or children’s books or other things we just don’t publish — it takes time to look at each submission and judge it on the merits.

Anyway, last week I sent an author a rejection and the author e-mailed back,

This book has been published for months! You should try and better manage your time with submissions.

Hmmm.

Published, you say? Meaning … not available anymore? Meaning you could have told us that, and saved us the trouble of considering it, but didn’t? Or meaning that you expected us to respond in a few weeks instead of the several months it usually takes?

And published “for months,” you say? (With an exclamation point, no less.) Publication cycles usually take many months to over a year, depending on the publisher’s editorial, art, and production schedules … so was your book already accepted somewhere else before you submitted it?

I decided this response warranted a little investigation. I know when the book was submitted to us and when I responded, and since I have this fancy tool called the “Internet” — maybe you have it, too — I could find out exactly when that book was published. Let’s check the record, shall we?

  • Submitted 3 February 2016
  • Rejected 23 July 2016 (elapsed time, 171 days — c. 5.6 months)
  • Published 1 April 2016 (58 days after submission)

Hmmm.

So, you published (self-published, if I read the Amazon listing correctly) your book less than two months after submitting it but didn’t withdraw it from our consideration? And then when we respond in a little over half the time we advertise you decide to berate us for not responding sooner?

Oh, aspiring author out in Internetland, I trust that you, and most other people reading this post, would know not to do this. But, just in case, let me be clear: don’t do this.

Know what to expect when you submit something; specifically, bear in mind that your submission is one of many. (We will get to it. If you’re worried that we might have lost it, just ask.) Be professional and courteous enough to withdraw your submission if you decide to publish elsewhere. And when we respond, if you think it took longer than it should have, be sure your expectation was realistic before you start complaining about our time management.

Otherwise, your complaint might end up as a prompt for a blog post.

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