Becoming A Published Author
Agony and Ecstasy of Writing a Book
By Evan and Lois Swensen
Sweet Slice of Fear
I started writing stories right around the time I graduated from high school. Before that, I wrote Bob Dylan-like song lyrics, more like prose. A few years later, the horror movie The Exorcist came out, which influenced me to write a novel. My first attempt was a novella about an evil basilisk that terrorized Salt Lake City. The book was terrible, and dejectedly I started writing short stories. My favorite author is Ernest Hemingway, so I read everything he wrote. I wrote a dozen short stories, each just a little better than the last.
One of Hemingway’s books, A Farewell to Arms, influenced me to write my next novel, a historical story about an American cowboy who travels to the Ottoman Empire in 1874. I followed that book up with two sequels; the last of the trilogy was my longest novel at 110,000 words about the Armenian massacres of 1915.
I was told that I should write about what I know; I wrote another contemporary novel about working at a manufacturing company in Southern California. I then moved up to the Seattle area and got the idea to write a story about a bachelor who finds himself adopting three children. The idea came after buying three acres of wooded rural land west of Seattle. It was about that time I completely rewrote the first novella about the evil basilisk and changed it to a novel about two female serial killers.
While living in Oregon, I went back to college and received a journalism degree at the University of Oregon. That education taught me how to write much better than I had been writing. Plus, once I started working as a reporter, I could now say that I wrote for a living. After two newspaper jobs in Northern California, I landed in Northern Arizona, working as a crime and county government reporter for a newspaper in Bullhead City. At a local bookstore, I met Don Porter, who was signing books. Picking his brain about how to get published, he told me about Publication Consultants, a publisher in Alaska. I sent them the manuscript about the female serial killers, which they turned down. I then sent them the manuscript about the bachelor who adopted the three children. That became Sweet Slice of Fear. I have since written a sequel to Sweet Slice of Fear and have finished another thriller about an antigovernment ex-soldier who goes on a killing spree.
Since my first attempt at writing, I have sent query letters to publishers and agents, getting little feedback and plenty of rejections. I am still getting rejected for everything I have written, except for Sweet Slice of Fear.
I found that writing is a two-pronged endeavor. The first is getting published, and the second is marketing the book once you do. Many writers self-publish their books, but they still market their books themselves.
With millions of writers out there soliciting a handful of publishers and agents to take on their works, the competition is stiff to get published by a large enough publisher. The same can be said about agents. I have tried to get an agent in the past and fell victim to two agents who asked me for money for some fee and did little or no work to find a publisher. As a result, I lost several hundred dollars to those agents.
Living in a small town and working full-time makes it hard to market Sweet Slice of Fear. I tried to market it through newspaper articles, radio interviews, several book signings, Facebook, Linked-in, and the Internet. A friend even made a video on YouTube about it. Being lucky is a prerequisite to getting published. Living temptingly close to Las Vegas or Laughlin, I realize that I am not very lucky. The Twilight series written by a Phoenix woman was rescued off the slush pile.
I also tried to write a screenplay about a black journalist who worked at a Los Angeles newspaper from 1910 to 1950. I read about her true story in one of my journalism books. Trying to sell a screenplay is also impossible. My cousin’s daughter once worked for and still knows Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck, but even that was not enough to get anyone’s attention to the screenplay. I have written to Oprah Winfrey, Spike Lee, Morgan Freeman, and Melissa Perry-Harris about this black journalist’s incredible and interesting story of fighting against racism and for civil rights in LA in the early part of the 20th century.
I have sold about 120 books of Sweet Slice of Fear to date. However, even though people say I have published a novel, I still feel unfulfilled knowing that I have spent endless hours after my regular job working on my writing for not only years but decades. I have written eight novels, a novella, a screenplay, and a dozen short stories, but I have published only one book.
The only thing I ever wanted to do was write and make a comfortable living doing that full-time. I also want to be considered a good writer. I recommend writers have someone read and edit their work before submitting it. No one except myself edited sweet Slice of Fear, and there are many mistakes in it still after I edited it dozens of times. Four people edited its sequel, and I think it’s a much better book.
Writers should also take writing classes at a college and read published authors, something I am guilty of not doing very much. Going to writers’ conferences is also a good idea. But, in the end, having a manuscript rescued off a slush pile is a spin of the roulette wheel.