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Virgin In The Church
#5, November 2001: Down Time

--By Scott Nicholson

(Intro: I sold my first novel "The Red Church" through the slush pile. It will be released as a mass market paperback by Pinnacle Books in June 2002. I'm sharing my experiences in hopes that other writers can learn from my triumphs and mistakes, and, of course, to generate interest in the book. Scott's rule number one: build your audience one reader at a time.)

From communication with my editor at Kensington, I've learned that no new action will be taken on "The Red Church" until the end of 2001, when the cover art should be finished. Within a month or two of that, I should receive my manuscript back with editing corrections and suggestions. No major structural changes will be made at that point. The goal will be to weed out those nagging little misspellings and punctuation bugaboos.

My editor also informed me that bookstores will placing orders for "The Red Church" in February. So my own promotional efforts, separate from the publisher's, will have to wait until then to achieve maximum effect. Since no one enjoys sitting around and killing time, and I don't have much new to offer in the way of behind-the-scenes wisdom, this will be a good time to talk about all the other things a writer should do in the seemingly endless interval between keyboard and bookshelf.

I've never been shy about wanting to be a commercial writer. That is, I hope to make enough from my fiction to be able to write full time. When I first started writing seriously five years ago, I formed a general plan about where I wanted to be and what it would take to get there. Part of the plan was writing many short stories and collecting rejections slips from magazines.

Another was realizing that, with notable exceptions, most full time fiction writers are novelists. Which meant I had to write a novel. So I did. I knew nothing and blundered along five hours a day, ripping through 80,000 words in three months. The book was awful.

Naturally, I thought it was Shakespeare, and immediately mailed it off to top agents and publishers. By the time the rejection slips started rolling back in, I was already deep into the next novel. Somewhere along the way, I realized what a massacre of literature that first novel was and threw out three-quarters of it. And finished it again. And still it was bad.

That's when I had an inkling I had room to grow. That's when I first felt like I could be a "real" writer. Not because I had finished a novel, but because I learned from my mistakes, turned a cold heart to the story that had consumed precious hours of my life, and said goodbye to some hard-fought words. I was a bad writer, one of a species that is possibly lowest on the evolutionary chain.

More rejections, and the second novel was finished and began collecting its own slips. And I was still bad.

But I was hooked by then, and sold a few stories, so my confidence rose, and in a moment of delirium I decided I'd write ten novels. If none of those sold, I'd pack away the keyboard and turn my attention to hoarding money and thinking about how much fun old age will be.

But a funny thing happened. I wrote my third novel and earned more rejection slips, and I wrote my fourth novel. As it made its duly-appointed rounds, I began Novel Number Five.

And the fourth novel, "The Red Church," sold. And the fifth novel got an agent. And I started the sixth novel, wrote a few more short stories, developed a website at www.hauntedcomputer.com, and started a writing series called "Virgin In The Church."

And realized I was still a beginning writer.

So while I'm sitting around impatiently waiting for my book to roll off the presses, I'm doing other things to become a full time writer. Which means being a full time writer even if I'm not getting paid. Because I love to write, even though I'm still learning.

And I set more challenges, since I am so hardheaded that I never take "No" for an answer. No matter how many times I hear that word.

I learned how to write screenplays. I'm going through the same painful process that I did with my early novels, making mistakes and getting rejected. But it's so much fun, I can afford to do it without money because it's a labor of love. And I thought I was becoming a "real" writer because I had sold a novel. Now I'm right back where I started, still not knowing anything.

I finished my second screenplay a couple of months ago. No, excuse me. I finished the first draft of my second screenplay. I have enough scars to know that finishing something and the job being complete are two different things.

I wrote some short stories for specific anthologies. That's always risky for an unknown writer, because if the story is rejected, you have a hard time selling the story elsewhere.

All the other editors think, "Oh, this must have been rejected by 'Fairy Vampires Who Travel In Time.' And since I'm a smart editor, there's no way in heck I'm going to publish this, or else everybody will think I take castoffs."

So I try to write my stories based on at least two different themes in order to stretch their potential markets. I like to see my stories get published. I think each one is a rare gift from a place we might all call God. And they each take hours away from a life that I should spend on the ones I love.

Stories are great platforms for experimentation. Sometimes a specific voice and character will only have a few thousand words to say. A good idea doesn't always justify nine months of a writer's life. During that long wait between keyboard and bookshelf, it's nice to have pleasant distractions, even if they bring on fresh rejection slips.

I don't care about rejection slips.

I'll get another few hundred before I’m done.

But as I'm improving, I think about the marketing end of things.

Marketing. Money. Career. All that heavy stuff that has nothing to do with the keyboard and the screen. But I have to worry about that kind of stuff now, at least a little.

Since "The Red Church" is my first novel, its sales are especially important to my career. So I have to think about its place in the world, in the marketplace, and in the rest of my life. And I have to think about the next novel as well. My agent knows of a couple of early novels that I'm revising, and knows I have a work-in-progress in addition to the manuscript in his office. We are in a good position to be patient and take slow steps.

I have to plan ahead and look at the novels in a sequence that will establish my place in the literary world, however small my place might be. I have to think about appealing to an ever-growing audience, if I'm lucky enough to find an audience. The best way to find an audience is to keep getting better. To keep thinking. To keep writing.

To keep dreaming.

One page, one sentence, one word at a time.

(This article is uncopyrighted and may be freely distributed and published, as long as Scott’s byline and web address are included.)

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