Wednesday, January 13, 2016

How to get your book published, step 1: write a synopsis

You've finished your masterpiece. You're in for a shock: No one will want to read your book. Not your peers. Not your friends. Not your parents. That's the truth. Sorry. It is also normal. Don't worry about it.

If you're lucky, you'll have one person who will be genuinely interested, but everyone else will be waiting for you to land on the New York Times bestseller list before they spend a few days with you in their heads. For me, that one person turned out to be my wife because 1) she's legally required, and 2) she's one of the few writers I respect and trust enough with the job.

As for publishers, they won't want to read your book either. They're weary of bad books landing on their doorstep, so they prefer to work with a network of writers they already know and book agents whose job it is to find them the good stuff. These book agents, by the way, are just as weary of reading lousy books as the publishers. So they don't want to read your book either.

What's a writer supposed to do? Send the publishers and the book agents your book anyway. Together with your book, you'll need a couple of other things:
1) A query letter. Hi, hello, would you be interested in reading my book?
2) A synopsis. If they like your synopsis, they'll start reading your book. The synopsis should be short, naturally. Think book back cover.

As you can see, everything rests on the synopsis. So make sure it will grab your reader by the balls.

Here's mine:

The Gods We Have Forgotten
by Vincent C. Sales

Sun Girna Ginar was the greatest of all the cities of man, yet no one remembers it. The old witch who sells dreams in bottles, not only claims she remembers, but says she was born there. In a time when gods walked with men, she says, Sun Girna Ginar ruled over the earth and Skyworld. She names the city’s greatest – the God-Sultan, General Marandang, and the hero Lam-Ang. She tells stories of the city’s lowest – the free man who faced the six-headed giant of Gawi-Gawen, the courtesan who stole the Sultan’s power, the slave who wanted only to escape the doomed city, and countless others. Through this sea of stories, she tells how the people of the city won their dreams, or lost them, and how she brought Sun Girna Ginar to its knees with little glass bottles of hope. She whispers of the city’s destruction by flood and fire, fueled by the wrath of gods, and the hatred of men. And in between her lies, she speaks of the mercy of forgetting and the redemption remembrance brings. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Publish or die

So this happened. I finished the book I was writing for, oh, the better part of a decade.  Recently, I remembered I had this blog, so I thought I’d update it with the happy news. 

I feel a little bad about this neglected blog. At one point in time, I thought it would be interesting to document the process of writing a book, but that plan went down the drain when I realized that I had to focus on just one thing if I ever wanted to finish the book, so goodbye blog.

Now the book is done, it’s hello blog again. This time around, I want to document the path the book will take from manuscript to published work. I've been down this road before a couple of times, but it's never quite the same. It might be interesting for other writers out there.

Here in the Philippines, publishing is a painful task that is unlikely to give you much in return. Even when it’s commercially successful, it doesn’t earn you enough money. Even when it’s “well-received” or “critically acclaimed,” it’s not enough either. I've known writers on both sides. I’ve been on both sides in the past too.

In short, publishing is for masochists only. If you’re still interested, you’ve come to the right place. This masochist — me! — believes that it’s all about connecting to as many people as possible. And if you make a difference in a few of these people’s lives, then it’s a win. It was worth it. And you never know. We all dream of making it big, or writing an Important Book. This could be it.

So here goes. I’ll be detailing the publishing voyage of a few of my works:

There’s the book. It’s a work of fiction. Fantasy. The working title is The Gods We Have Forgotten. It’s kind of hard to explain what it is exactly, but I like to think of it as a story that is based on Filipino epics and myths, mixed together with El Filibusterismo, Arabian Nights and Pacific Rim, climaxing with a world-ending flood that’s more tragic than Titanic. Read the synopsis here.

Then there’s this book I made with my eldest son Vito. It’s titled Pluto’s Not A Planet. I wrote the story and made the character models. Vito made the paintings. I am ridiculously proud of my boy. He did a great job. The biggest surprise is that Vito and I may have a future in children’s book publishing. The book is pretty good. I am biased, of course.

Wait, there's more...

There’s also this project: Pinoy Zombie. It’s a 100-page graphic novel about the zombie apocalypse coming to Megamall, the MRT, and Quiapo. The art, by Aaron Asis, is to die for! It’s so Pinoy!  It’s almost too beautiful for my little comedy-love-horror story, but that just makes it all more fascinating. Issue 1 (of 3), Escape From Megamall is (just about) done!

So there you have it. Hopefully, 2016 will see one or all of these works in published form – print, digital, app, or whatever. Stay tuned for more of this journey. I plan to update regularly (crossing my fingers).

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and Writing 2,000 words a day

Time elapsed since restarting the novel: almost 13 months
Current word count: around 38,000 words

When 2013 came along, I finally got around to typing all the stuff I wrote in 2012. It wasn't a lot, but it turned out to be more than I thought. I wrote two graphic novel scripts, a couple of (long) short stories, and – to my surprise and delight – half a book. I'm getting somewhere!

Yes, I posted that word count up above with pride. I now know I'll finish the book this year, or at least the first chunk of 60,000 words, the first story arc, the Fellowship of the Ring in my Lord of the Rings, hahaha. It's just a matter of continuing to plug away at it.

(It must be said that reaching your target word count or finishing the book is like finishing the top floor of a building: there's still a lot of work to be done. You have to work on the interiors, the elevator, the electricals, the plumbing, you have to get that damn crane down, and you have the sell units. The same is true for a book.)

My word count smugness got shattered when I came across a link from Amazon: The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Hit the link for more, or don't; it basically says that they're accepting submissions. The winner will be given a publishing deal and a $50,000 advance on royalties, while four more winners will be given a $15,000 advance.

I thought to myself, "Hey! Assuming I win, this sure beats the publishing options here. And I'm only 20,000 words away. (Amazon considers a novel to be any work that is 50,000 words or more.)

Then I saw the deadline for submissions: January 27. That meant that I have to finish 20,000 words in 10 days. In a panic, I began my gruelling writing schedule (2,000 words a day is tough for any writer.) After day 3, I've written 6,000 words, which means I'm on schedule.

It's a strange thing. It's like climbing a mountain everyday. Working at such a pace, writing has become more athletic, like a sport. You don't have time to think about it, plan, plot or evaluate: you just do it. You have to trust in your training and believe that you know what you're doing when the truth is, you have no bloody clue. It's like picking up a guitar and doing jazz improv every night. While running a marathon. On zero sleep.

I've gotten off to a good start, but I don't think I'll make it. Today, for example, I have some deadlines, so I have to get those jobs out of the way first. And even if I do reach 50,000 words, I will have no time to edit. 

I'll still try to reach that word count though. And that means I'll have a book by next week. Wait, wow, that was fast.

Monday, September 17, 2012

I finished something

I don't have a final word count yet, but I think it's either a novella or a very long short story. Something in the ballpark of 15,000 words. It started out as a short story idea, and I was thinking I'd submit it to this collection of speculative fiction that they publish every year. But it kept going and going. And now it's just too long for that collection. (Their limit is 5,000 words.) 

So now I'm thinking of publishing it as a book. I just need three more "short" stories of the same length and it's a thin, 60,000 word novel. The good news is that I'm in the middle of another short story that looks like it will be just as long. The bad news is if I finish that story soon, I'm only halfway done.

I've got mixed feelings about short story collections. They're hard to sell in this day and age. People really go for novels. That strikes me as strange because in today's short attention span age, you think people would welcome a story that they can finish in one sitting. Meanwhile I myself prefer novels. So I really don't know what to do with this story.

Anyway, the new story is called "The Writing Table," and it's a horror story. Or I hope it's a horror story. I don't like dancing around genres and classifications. I really hope this story will freak people out.

Here's an excerpt:

They visited me on the first night. They were just whisperings in the darkness, disembodied voices coming from somewhere beyond my bed, I couldn’t tell from where. On other nights they would become more real, but on that first night, in that strange, unfamiliar house, on that old bed with the stiff sheets, they were just voices.

They welcomed me. Or I thought they welcomed me because they spoke in a dialect that I couldn’t speak. Still, some of the words were familiar, and their tone was reassuring even though their voices were not. They spoke formally, like grownups – no, that wasn’t quite right. They spoke like old people. Even Papa didn’t speak like that. Lolo and Lola spoke that way, when they were still alive. These voices had the harsh, rasping, commanding voices of the old, yet their voices were very small, the way she imagined cats or rabbits would talk if they could. 

There were two voices. One sounded almost male, the other almost female. Those distinctions didn’t seem to fit, but it was as close as I could get to the things I heard. After listening to them for five minutes, I realized that they had the voices of beasts. 

I first caught them speaking to each other as I drifted off to sleep in my new room in the old house. I fought off sleep and strained to hear them better when they stopped and the beast-woman said in a cat voice, “Shh, she hears us.”

The beast-man went on in a lizard hiss, saying some things I didn’t understand, and then he seemed to address me directly. I caught the words “welcome” and “happy you’ve come to live here.” He said many other things that I couldn’t make out. Then the beast-woman said something, just one sentence, but I understood it in its entirety: “It’s been so long since there have been children in the house.” They said no more. The two voices were silent for the rest of the night. I lay in bed for hours, wide awake.

Friday, September 14, 2012

How I got my writing groove back

"Isn't that what we're all trying to do? Go back to our old selves?"
- Cat Power (Chan Marshall)

“Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.”
-Neil Gaiman

I used to be a journalist, so to me, there's no such thing as a writing groove or being in the mood for writing or being visited by (please don't say it, oh please don't say it) the muse. Other journalists I know will agree. You write the damn story. You reach that word count. You make your deadlines.

Since I started writing full-time, I've tried to write 1,000 words per day except for the four months when I was on a self-imposed vacation and the first two months since my second son was born. Sometimes I succeed; most of the time I don't. But I write almost every day.

I used to write on my computer, a MacBook that's getting long in the tooth. Pages was my word processor of choice. I'd place Pages on Desktop 2 and hide my browser on Desktop 1 so it wouldn't bother me as I wrote. Something was wrong though. My back would hurt from writing at the computer. My eyes would get strained. I would always get distracted. Inexplicably, writing at my computer would put me under stress. I felt like someone was watching all the time. I was constantly thinking that I needed to hurry up. Worst of all, the writing felt forced.

Recently, I returned to the way I wrote when I was young. In bed. On a notebook. With a pen. I was pretentious when I was young, so I wrote with a fountain pen. It took a while to get used to it, but once I did, I was hooked. Ever since I returned to writing this way, the words have come – not easily because words are never easy – they've come without too much of a fuss. They've landed on the pages of my notebook regularly and in large numbers and they brought friends. These friends were good ones, the kind that you'd be happy your kids had if they brought them home one day.

In the last few weeks I finished a short story and wrote a chunk of the book. Most of it was pretty good, I think. Still a lot of work to be done, but I'm happy with the progress.

This is me at work. I'm in a good place.

The importance of proofreading

You're looking at a book I wrote that was published in 2004. It is getting reprinted, along with the two other books in the series, so I took the opportunity to proofread it because I remember the first edition had many typos and errors. (In our defense, we were new at making books, publishing is much faster than most people think, and there is never enough time or budget. Not making excuses, just telling you how it is.) How many typos and errors? This picture shows a post-it flag for each thing that needs correcting.

Proofreading is a dying/dead craft. In fact, this book hit the presses without proofreading. It was edited. Twice. But not proofread. So in its current shape, the book is filled with enough orphans to fill an orphanage. And much more.

A proofreader who knows what he is doing can help not just spot typos but improve the flow of text by eliminating orphans and widows (not to mention orphaned lines and orphaned windows) as well as correct inconsistencies that the editor – who is chiefly concerned with grammar and language – may have missed. If you think that's trivial, you can join the rest of the human race as well as many publishing companies that don't employ proofreaders. But these people are wrong. Just take another look at the picture above.

Monday, June 4, 2012

So what have I done so far?

Time elapsed since restarting the writing of the novel: 6 months
Word Count: Approximately 20,000 words

You'll have noticed in my little counter that six months has passed since I wrote the first post in this blog. That's a long time. What have I accomplished? What have I been up to?  It's simple:

Not writing the book.

Quite predictably, I've been busy with other things.

I've finished two comic book scripts, each one approximately 100 comic book pages long, which as anyone who has ever read a comic book script before will know is not equal to 100 book pages. They can be shorter, or longer, depending on how much you like to describe things. (Mine tend to be shorter.)

Comic Book #1
The first comic book, or graphic novel, that I finished is called Pinoy Zombie. I was just watching The Walking Dead one day, which is an awesome comic book series as well as a TV show, and I thought to myself, "The zombie apocalypse would be a barrel of laughs in the Philippines." Then I began writing it because the story wanted to get written. 17,000 words later, it was done.

Comic Book #2
The second comic book script was one that I began with my old friend GP who wanted to illustrate a comic book when I was fresh out of college (he was still in school back then). We never got beyond a few pages of the script and a few sketches of the characters. Life happened to us, and we both found real jobs, but the story stuck with me for some reason. The story was cobbled together from movies we thought were cool, but there was something I liked about it. 15 years or so later, I finally finished it. The first draft clocks in at 19,000 words. Right now, it is a weird little thing, like a kitten someone sat on and somehow survived, and the kitten is now unlike any cat you've seen before, ugly and beautiful all at the same time. I have no idea if the story is good, bad, or what. That is either a good thing or death.

I don't know what will become of my comic book scripts. My first inquiries to illustrator friends were met with questions about payment, which just broke my heart. I love money maybe too much, but this was never about that. They gave me their reasons for asking for money up front, but I can't shake off the feeling that I must be asking the wrong illustrators. Anyway, I'm sitting on my scripts until I find the right illustrator, someone who'll do it because they think it's cool, or because they like the story, and sure, maybe make some money when all is said and done. Maybe these comic books will never be produced and maybe that's ok. That said, I'm starting to have some confidence in Pinoy Zombie the longer I sit on it. (Maybe it should be a movie!) I still don't know about the other one though…

Short Stories
I've also been working on a couple of short stories which I will submit for publication in the few places that still publish literature in the Philippines, and I hope to finish those within the next two months. These are more literary works while also fantasy genre stories (one is a horror story).

Magazine/Newspaper/Blog Work
Oh yeah, not to forget, I also write regularly for FHM Philippines, dipped my toe in writing for the parenting crowd (more on that some other day), and maintain a tech blog which I try to update a few times a week.

Baby Boy #2
And then there's this guy, who was born this May.

Enough Words To Fill Up A Book
So I've written some, oh I don't know, 60,000 words since December, and if they had all gone to writing the book, I'd be finished by now. You have no idea how much that frustrates me. I tell myself that these other stories needed to get done. They were cluttering my mind. They wanted to be written. I needed the "exercise."

Meanwhile, I estimate 3,000 to 5,000 of those 60,000 words went to the book. The important thing is that the work on the book has officially begun again. And those 3,000 to 5,000 words were good ones.