This is long, so I apologize for that . . . Anyone catch that reference? Man, guess it has been a long time. I'm not sure if this is going to be an actual blog. I've never written a blog post before, and for those of you who ever went to the old version of this website more than once, or have been to my Facebook page, or seen that Twitter that I just remembered I have, you'll know I'm not great about updating. Mostly, I think that's because I have a bad sense of what's worth sharing. But I think this fits the bill, since some of you might like to know what this experience has been like, the difference between self-publishing and going with the big boys. Others maybe just want some kind of explanation for where the hell I've been. And I suppose it's not impossible that there's someone out there whose computer froze on this screen, so I may as well give him something to read, right? Anyway, here we go.
How it started and why am I so slow?
Well, that's a pretty rude title. Anyway, Bad Man wasn't supposed to be a novel. Not even close. For a long time, the conversation went something like this:
"I'm working on a short story."
"Oh cool? What's it about?"
"That's cool. What's it called?"
"Ok. Well, have a nice day and thank you for shopping at Walmart."
It got f2'd into a couple different names over the last few years, but that's where it started. Story 0, of course, was Penpal.
Like Penpal, I started writing what would become Bad Man for kicks, only this time I wasn't showing anyone. No posts. No threads. Not out of principle or anything, I just wasn't. It was just a word processor and my writing partner, Endless Time. Weird name, right? He's cool, though. And boy-oh-boy did we pal around.
See, I was always under the gun with Penpal, even with the original short stories. NoSleep was "tiny" back then -- only about 50,000 subs -- but stories were coming and going all the time. When I realized I wanted to followup Footsteps, I knew I had to be on the ball or else I'd just kind of evaporate from the sub and from people's brains. That was the fear anyway. And that whip-crack drove me through to the very end of self-publishing Penpal.
Bad Man, though? Psh. No need to rush!
The original idea was pretty cool: write five or six short stories that stood on their own but shared threads. I'd already figured out the stitching, too; it's still there wrapped around the bones of story1-3.doc, but by the time I'd "finished" story4.doc, I knew that not only was it not really finished, but it was going to be a whole different kind of project.
What I'd done, as it turned out, was tried very hard to stop myself from writing a novel. Short story collection, remember? But what happens when you do something like that, apparently, is you wind up with a pretty sloppy novella. It was good, but I knew it could be so, so much better. It just needed a whole lot of everything. I had to take it all back to formula. So in 2014, that's what I did.
Finding exactly where your story is weak and figuring out how to shore it up is tough. With Penpal I was locked in. Not just when moving from the short stories to the novel, but from one story to the next. If I said something in "Footsteps," then I had to roll with that in later parts. But with Bad Man? Hell, I could change whatever I wanted! New ending! New characters! Hang on, my phone's ringing. Yo, Endy! What's good, man? Oh you wanna get up? Yeah, no problem, I've got all the time in the world.
It took me about a year to get Bad Man to where I thought it needed to be. I know that sounds like a long time, but it definitely is. But the story was strong, and I felt good. I was going to skip doing any kind of Kickstarter and just release it as soon as it was ready.
The plan was set:
Now if that's not an acronym for the ages, I don't know what is.
I asked DeLana, one of my oldest friends and a great reader, if she'd be down to edit/copyedit. I don't remember what my state of mind was -- if I was excited or nauseated. I'd bet the latter, though. It's always tough showing someone something you've been working on for . . . wait, what? Two years? My God. Better just take one more week/month to look it over again.
Eventually I did mail her the story. She edited it. I revised. She edited it again. This went on for a bit while DeLana helped me zero in on a number of issues. The book was looking better and tighter all the time and reached a point where I really, truly believed it was done.
Since I really and truly believed it was done, I knew that meant I only had another fifty or so rounds of edits left to go. So that meant it was time to hit up my friend Jocelyn, who formatted Penpal. She said not only would she format Bad Man, she'd do the cover. Well, that was a deal and a half. Since edits were still underway, we started working on the cover. We made it pretty far too. Far enough that in the fall of 2015, I dropped this teaser on Facebook:
Now, you need to know that I love this image. That's not dummy text, either. I wrote a piece of media that was relevant to the story, then Jocelyn tore it up (allegedly the first time she'd done that with my writing) and made this design. So good.
After I posted it to Facebook, someone who subs to that page messaged me saying that he was pumped, but that I should be careful about building hype too far in advance. Enthusiasm is hard to sustain. All good and smart points that I thought didn't apply to me, since I was actually looking pretty good, time-wise. Well, screen shot me baby, because you called it.
I was on track, though. A bit more editing, and it could be dumped into InDesign. Cover was coming along. All that was left to do was answer that email from Tim O'Connell over at Penguin Random House . . .
Yeah, I know. Those aren't the logos for Penguin or Random House or Penguin Random House. Turns out PRH is bigger that you might think. They've got hundreds of imprints: Vintage, Doubleday, Penguin Books, Pantheon, etc. Different imprints for different niches or formats.
Tim O'Connell is an editor there who'd read Penpal way back and liked it. I had told him that when I was working on something new I'd let him know, but I'm pretty sure that's not what happened.
I think what happened was that he hit me up seemingly out of the blue, sometime right before I made the Facebook post. Serendipity? Maybe. Hacked the Gibson? Perhaps. Probably, he just looked at the calendar, wondered if I'd died, and decided to find out. Since I'd been working on Bad Man for so long, I guess there was always a good chance he'd catch me in the act.
I emailed him the same draft that was being edited, then pressed on with getting everything together for the self-publishing process. I wasn't really sure if Tim would dig Bad Man, so I didn't hang any hopes there. And I certainly wasn't going to press pause, since things were really moving. I told Tim as much, that I wanted to be ready to release it myself when he inevitably said, "Better luck next time, kid."
Only that's not what he said.
We didn't talk about deals or anything. We just talked about the story. He dug it, and let me tell you, this was really exciting for me. Remember that I'm on the verge of self-publishing it, and so far only two people have read it. Being told that it was good by a professional-book-guy, who quite possibly just learned that I was still alive, really energized me.
So, thanks for the confidence boost, sucker! Now kindly eat my dus--
Hang on a sec. Lemme read this. Should probably update my OS too, but--oh c'mon!
I mean I should have figured, right? Tim's an editor. Dude probably leaves notes tucked inside library books. What a psycho. Anyway, he told me to circle back if I wanted. I read through the pdf a couple times, trying to think of it as just "interesting." Problem was there was an awful lot of not so awful feedback in there. Narrative specifics aside, there were two main takeaways for me in the end:
- There was more I wanted to do with the story, and
- I really liked having an editor.
The thing about editors is they don't mess around. This guy wasn't my friend, or if he was, he was like that friend who hangs up the phone before saying Goodbye. Who tells you that your hat looks stupid even if you didn't ask. So far, Bad Man had had a lot of finessing, but Tim's notes were a back alley knifing. And after years of pecking away at this story by myself, I knew I needed a pal like that.
I didn't have an editor yet, though. I just had some comments from one and the question they forced upon me
Do I publish a good book now or a better book later?
Seems like an easy question, and I guess it was -- but man it sure didn't feel easy. And that's a slippery slope, isn't it? A trap a lot of people who create things fall into and one I'd already got stuck in before. The idea that with just a little more time your project can be just a little bit better. Then before you know it, something is your life's work because you died of old age before you decided to just say enough. Still, this wasn't like taking it back to formula, like when I had to unpack the novel I'd stuffed into a novella. And this wasn't frivolous tinkering. I could see the book I'd wind up with written in invisible ink all over those draft pages.
It was going to be a lot of work, though. And it would absolutely obliterate my schedule. But what choice was there?
I decided not to post any updates because I had taken a big step back into working on the book again, and I didn't have any true sense of how long it was going to take. Unsurprisingly, it took a while. I let my friends off the hook. No more cover design. No more editing. Just writing and revising. But I came out the other side with something I thought was much better. Tim agreed. He thought it would be a great fit for a relatively new imprint over at Penguin Random House: Blumhouse Books, which is part of the not so new and more than slightly legendary imprint Doubleday.
He made an offer and we had a conversation. We had a bunch of conversations. Some about the deal itself, but mostly about the process, the particulars of working with a professional editor under the roof of one of the biggest publishing houses on the block. I've never had that opportunity before -- access to editors, copy editors, pros all around. Figured it might be worth exploring. In the end we decided Bad Man would be put out by both Doubleday and Blumhouse. Talk about a doozy. That was toward the end of 2016.
Again, I decided not to post an update because there was always some part of me that worried that things would be a bad fit, that the whole process would take even longer than I had reason to believe it would. The "Coming Soon" announcement from the end of 2015 made me gun shy.
And that catches us up to today. I--what do you mean there's still a year to go? Who are you, Calendar Man? Jeez alright.
Working with a Publisher
It might be a little surprising, but as far as the actual writing process goes, initially there was no real difference. I took the notes I'd gotten from Tim along with a fat stack of my own and got crackin. I mean, I was chained to that computer. I only took breaks when I kind of felt like it or got distracted and wandered out of the room. Oh, hey did you guys watch Westworld? That was a great show. Oh, I forgot to mention that my chains were invisible and made of air. Also, I got a cat.
But it was still a grind. I knew I had a lot of work to do, and now I had deadlines that weren't just secret ones I'd set for myself with full expectation that I'd miss them. Other people knew. Dangerous move, Auerbach.
1000Vultures Publishing makes its decisions based on a few metrics: when I wake up. What dates I think look cool when I write them. Cloud shapes. All standard stuff. Penguin Random House uses different criteria.
They launch by season, selecting books based on content, time of year, relevance, audience, competition -- that kind of madness. And "launch" is not release. Launch is essentially when the whole publishing house machinery gets turned on. Lots of departments get involved: copyediting, design, formatting, marketing, publicity, etc. Bookstore reps get brought in. It's a big deal and a big decision, one that determines all my intermittent deadlines.
The fact was, as far as it seemed to me, any season would work for Bad Man. It's a horror/thriller, so creepy fall is good. But Penpal was released in the summer, and that was fine. Plus a lot of Penpal fans were and are still young, so summer is good too. Spooky summer. There we go.
Obviously, I wanted the book to be released as soon as possible. That would have been Spring 2018, but that was ambitious considering I was just getting into my revisions. And it wasn't long into them before the first real difference in the writing process presented itself.
"Rallies" aren't a real industry term, but it's the best way I can describe the back and forth hurling that the manuscript takes during the heavy edits. It took me a while to get used to the flow of things, because it's not a collaboration, not really, even when it feels like one. Tim would make general suggestions or point out problems in flow and story based on his own sense of things, but ultimately the call was always mine.
It was less this should happen here, and more something should happen here.There were a number of times when he'd make a suggestion and I'd wind up doing something very different from what he had in mind to achieve the same end. Some of the best new material came out of those types of exchanges. A lot of the time his observations were right on the money. And sometimes I'd just straight up ignore what he said, which he made clear from the jump would be fine. The idea, from the very first day, was to help me get to the best version of the story I wanted to tell.
And that takes time. Or at least it took time for me. For whatever reason, Penpal was quick and Bad Man was not, and as good as that earlier acronym might have been (and it was great), I don't think that's the reason.
The more I worked the better I got at controlling for things my editor had flagged me on before. Anticipating those kinds of things and writing to avoid them made the work move faster, but more importantly, I think it made me a better writer. By the time those rallies were done, Bad Man was better in every way. It was tighter and more interesting. It was scarier, more impactful. The backing of a major publisher was cool, but the whole reason I made the deal was because I thought it would help me write a better book. And that's exactly what it did.
On track for a summer 2018 release, I was three years behind schedule and not upset at all. The work was far from over, though. Next it was off to copyediting.
I don't have much to say here, other than I have massive respect for copyeditors in general, and particular gratitude for the ones who worked on Bad Man. I have a poor understanding of grammatical nuances and not nearly enough patience to improve myself. But copyediting's not all commas and fragments.
The most memorable part of the process for me concerned something really small: a scene that took place at a particular time of day, during a particular time of year, in a specific part of the country. It was just a few sentences, but the copyeditor noted that I had the sun setting at the wrong hour for that time and place. They don't even live around here. We're talking eagle eye stuff. Having someone watch my back for consistency and accuracy was really helpful.
Everything was done through "Track Changes" in Word. They'd make their corrections, and I'd either leave or override them. Sometimes they'd ask questions if something was unclear and I'd answer or tweak some stuff. In the document, everything was preserved: the original text, the copyeditor's corrections, and my changes. Meanwhile, someone was building a cover.
One of the biggest differences between this process and when I worked on Penpal has had to do with compartmentalization. With Penpal, a few friends who were way more talented than I am worked right alongside me to build the book. The cover design and the formatting was a full on collaboration.
There's no denying that I loved every bit of that process, but there was a part of me that was excited about sitting back and watching what professionals could do without my meddling.
And they showed me. Seeing what the designers came up with without any input from me was awesome. I wrote the book, so obviously I'm very close to it, and that can't help but influence my idea of how it ought to be represented. But taking a step back and seeing how other people interpreted it was a lot of fun and led to a book that I think not only looks dope, but is right on theme. And it all just fits so tightly together.
I'm actually not sure what the setup is over there, but it was crystal clear that the interior and cover designers had been colluding. Or maybe it's a hivemind Borg-type situation. Either way (the latter would be cooler, though), the cover and interior looked great separately, but they looked awesome together. That kind of cohesion can be really tough. I'm sure it's difficult even in subtler, simpler looking books, but Bad Man is a bit more overt, and these guys absolutely nailed it. It did take a little bit of prodding to get to certain places, though, since there were a few things I didn't like so much. Turns out that I love meddling. Can't help myself. Caffeine. Cigarettes. Meddling. Those are my vices.
The difficulty came in communication. All the volleys here went through Tim. I never talked directly with the cover designer or the interior formatter, which is something that I'm used to doing. I think there are smart reasons for that kind of insulation. I've got a couple of friends in the design field, and I know there's a consensus that clients will pick the worst design pretty much 100% of the time. Also, these guys are artists, so having some redneck say, "that's cool, but could the cover be a little bit more spookier?" Or, "I like that font but could it be a bit more papyrusier?" is probably something everyone wants to avoid.
The buffer makes sense, but it was an obstacle I wasn't anticipating. I don't consider myself too precious, after all. That said, I'm sure many authors are. And that said, I'm sure those authors probably don't consider themselves as such . . . hmm. Oh well, probably not worth considering that further.
In all, it might have been smoother had I been able to talk directly to some of these people, just to avoid miscommunications. I don't even mean perceived slights. I mean small things like "no, I meant move that over there, not thaaaat over theeere!"
Regardless, and this was a bit of a surprise, everything hinged on my final OK, and they worked in my feedback until I finally said it. I thought there might come a point when someone would go, "Okay, we tried, but that's enough outta you," but nope -- we went back and forth until I thought it was done. And we wound up with some really cool stuff. You'll see it all if you pick up a copy. I love everything from the cover down to the last page. Truly.
The first things I ever saw from the interior formatter were sample spreads. A pdf document that had maybe about 20 pages that hit all the main styles. Title page, chapter page, and a few other types that required unique design work. This let me see a representation of how the whole spread would look.
Once everyone was in agreement, the formatter fed the copyedited document into his spreads and cleaned it up. Then I told them that I didn't own a printer so they had to mail me a copy. Actually this monster was in the mail before I even knew it existed. It's a long process with the Big Boys but the movements are quick.
This is called First Pass, and it was my first time seeing a "rough" formatted print of Bad Man. Remember that the most recent version I had seen was that mangled copyedited Word doc full of editor notes and my notes and strike-outs and insertions. Seeing this thing in all its clean finesse? Mmm.
Good as it looked, the reason it's considered "rough" is because it hasn't been fixed for certain typesetting format rules (like widow and orphan text), and because there are still changes that might be made to the style. Generally, those changes will be small things -- different chapter number fonts, for example.
There will also be changes to the flow (how the paragraphs fall on a page), because there's more editing to do. And this marked another huge departure from how I've done things before.
With Penpal, the only editing that was done after typesetting/formatting was emergency work caused by my blunders. The closest a printed version ever got to a full edit is when my friend Brian made me print out a Word doc because his computer was broken.
Here, I was about to dive into a clean and formatted paper copy so that I could redline corrections or alterations and then mail them back in. I didn't think I'd find many, but I did. And I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that reading on paper is a different experience somehow. I never would have considered printing out a formatted copy and editing it that way. Going forward, I'll do it every time.
These are cool.
While I was neck deep in First Pass, the machinery of the publishing house was still turning. Although First Pass was still considered "rough," it was solid enough that it was time to send out Advance Reader Copies. If you scroll back up a bit and look at the First Pass page, you can actually see the alignment marks that indicate where it will be cut.
This was the first time I'd seen the cover married to the pages. I think getting First Pass might have been a more overwhelming moment for me, but I can't deny that there is something deeply satisfying about being able to flip through the pages of my book like a book. Imagine that, right?
The paper quality in these isn't great, but then it's not meant to be. The purpose of these things is to get the book out there to reviewers, other authors, more book store reps, fashion designers, dream weavers, sewer goblins. You know, I think maybe it's mostly the first three. Although it'll sometimes happen digitally, when you see a book that has printed praise on it from day one, it's probably because of these ARCs.
These aren't really used for editing purposes. At least that's not their main function. It even says right on them that it's an "uncorrected proof." That said, there was a pretty significant error in this ARC that I'd missed during First Pass, so having one definitely helped.
I did proofs for Penpal, but it was all with the same materials. This version of Bad Man only exists in a limited run for a limited purpose. Makes total sense, but it's still a bit surreal.
You may have already intuited this, have already conjured this ultimate truth from the words themselves, but since there's a First Pass, there must also be a Second Pass.
Well, I guess there doesn't have to be. In fact sometimes there's not. So maybe you should slow down with all that talk about conjuring ultimate truths and whatever else you were saying.
In my case, though, there was a Second Pass. This is the same as the first go-round, only there are more restrictions. In First Pass, I could essentially make whatever edits I wanted. I was limited only by the margins. Here, I was told that if I added a word then I needed to delete a word. Now, that's not what I did, because, I mean, c'mon. But I understood the nature of the restrictions and did my absolute best to stay within their parameters.
Since Bad Man will go from this version to the Final Print, that means that far fewer people will have eyes on it before it reaches you. Any mistakes that I make or that the formatter makes stand more of a chance in showing up in the published book. This whole time there's been a solid wall of people standing between me and the land of looking like an idiot; if you're not careful, Second Pass is like a door straight through.
This round was pretty nerve-wracking. After working on Bad Man for such a long time, knowing that this was the last hurrah was a lot of pressure, but I absolutely did not flinch. Except for when I made an error on one correction, then used too much WhiteOut, then scanned it but got WhiteOut on my scanner. Did. Not. Flinch.
And that's it. Well, other stuff has happened in the future probably, but I gotta wait around for it to get here. I mailed Second Pass in a couple weeks ago, so for the first time in years Bad Man is out of my hands; soon enough I guess it'll be in some of yours.
The ARCs are out there. There's actually a giveaway, if you're interested.
The book is up for preorder.
There will be conversations with Marketing and Publicity, things I don't have much experience with, so that'll be cool. Maybe a book signing or two. Reading what people think of it. But that's all aftermath, other stories for later days.
Here, I was just hoping to throw back the curtain and share what this experience has been like for me. The way it all unfolded made it hard to give reliable updates, and that felt unnatural, so I wanted to bring you all into the fold. Feels good to have you here.