Pilot Error is the story of a tenacious aviation accident investigator who risks his life and the lives of his friends and family to follow a trail of conspiracy and airborne murder.
This page presents the backstory of a long and ultimately futile struggle to realize the dream of publishing it with one of the “Big 6.” That’s the bad news.
The good news is the rise of a new era. No longer able to monopolize the printing and distribution of long-form reading material, the Big 6 and the agents who serve them are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Authors have realistic and highly effective ways of presenting their work to readers without groveling for access to a secret decoder ring.
Rather than slink back to my writing desk with my head lowered in the shame of defeat, I now have the option of indie-publishing my novel in print and eBook formats. Success or failure is up to me, the novel, and the reaction of readers to it, not what someone else with an historically cloudy crystal ball thinks the public wants to read.
Writers of fiction call what follows an “info-dump.” But this isn’t fiction. It really happened. All of it. If you will bear with me, let’s call this:
FROM THERE TO HERE AND EVERYWHERE IN BETWEEN
The first novel I wrote is best described as ” future fiction,” a sub-genre of science fiction with the following key elements: set 50-75 years in the future, pre- or post-apocalyptic, Earth-based or barely interstellar, with advanced but recognizable technology.
The story concept embraces a series of novels covering the four major periods of a pilot’s career. My overriding objective then was the same as it is now, to share with readers my love of aviation through the synergism of an active imagination and decades of personal experience as a professional pilot. Setting the novels in the future was a decision guided by the imaginative side of the equation and the pure fun of it. Adding a sprinkling of fantasy became the icing on the cake for the author.
After submitting the manuscript to about 50 agents and walking away from the experience with a massive headache and multiple bruises from being pummeled by a flurry of rejection letters, I backed off from the story to reconsider where my writing career, such as it may be, needed to go next.
I’d read somewhere that unknown writers seeking to publish should carefully consider their chosen genre. The idea was very simple: pick a large one and aim for the center. At the time, mixed-genre stories were considered relatively unpublishable because readers’ interests seldom crossover. A lover of westerns, for example, probably wouldn’t appreciate the added elements of fantasy and romance on horseback. That has supposedly changed since then, though probably not so much as my example indicates. In any event, my choice at the time did not bode well for attracting an audience to the words of a newbie.
The largest genre was then and still is mystery. Within days of my bloody retreat from the front lines of the query wars, the Writer’s League of Texas just happened to be offering a one-day introduction to mystery writing. I signed up and decided to try one.
The first draft of Pilot Error rolled off the keyboard in 32 days. Looking back on it now, three factors seem responsible for this speedy result. Unlike when beginning my first novel, I now had logged many hours of bleeding at my writing desk, read multiple how-to books on the craft of writing, and developed a clear picture of the overall story concept and structure. This would be the first novel of a private investigator series built around aviation.
Between then and now, the novel has undergone no less than 20 major revisions. Here are some mile markers along the journey:
The opening pages made finalist in the thriller category of the Writer’s League of Texas Manuscript Contest.
I received a request for a full manuscript with the fifth query sent.
The agent did not offer representation, but welcomed the opportunity to take another look if I addressed his concerns about the story.
After reading a second version, he again declined, but for entirely different reasons.
Without asking if he would look at another revision, I made changes and offered the manuscript again. He declined. Later I learned of the “unwritten” rule that agents never consider a manuscript for a third time. I thought it should be “the charm,” but that’s just me.
Now I faced The Big Dilemma. If he’d agreed to read the novel again, would it have resulted in an offer of representation? How could I best evaluate where I was with the novel?
I had been a member of the Novel-In-Progress (NIP) group of Austin for a few years and had hired a local freelance editor to help me refine my craft, but now seemed to be the time to focus some fresh eyes on the manuscript.
So I researched the topic of “book doctors” and hired one out of New York City. He taught me a lot, and although the strain on my pocketbook slowed up the process, we managed to accomplish two major revisions and part of a third before the cost became prohibitive.
I continued participating in NIP and discovered a beta reader online who turned out to be the owner of a gold mine of invaluable nuggets. She taught me techniques no one else had ever mentioned.
At this point in the struggle to whip the novel into shape, the situation for me became quite clear. There’s a point when the combined lessons of the past seem to coalesce into an homogeneous mixture. Rather than being the disconnected individual mental notes of others, they became mine.
This is not to imply that I think of myself as being a better writer than anyone else or worthy of anyone’s admiration. It’s a far more simple matter of feeling that what I write today is closer to what I intend than ever before, and tomorrow I won’t be confronted by the irresistible urge to trash every word of it.
At the suggestion of John J. Asher, a good friend and fellow writer, I entered the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest and managed to make it past the first round with a 300-word pitch modeled after the query letter I’d been working on.
That gave me a bit of confidence that my query letter had reached a new level of effectiveness, so while waiting for results from the second round of contest judging of the novel’s first 5000 words, I began submitting to agents again.
Within three weeks, I received the reviews of the contest judges and the news that I hadn’t made the quarter-finals, along with agent requests for two full and two partial manuscripts. Needless to say, I chose to accept the verdict of the agents rather than two nameless Amazon “Vine Voice Reviewers.”
One of the partials resulted in a request for a full. While waiting for the subsequent results from these submissions, I continued to query more agents and prepare for the statistically most probable outcome, more rejections (including the fulls). This meant I needed to learn about indie publishing.
As chronicled in the Writer’s Desk Logbook on toshmcintosh.com, I’ve spent the last six months encountering the dragons who live in the uncharted (by me, anyway) waters of interior and cover design with Photoshop and InDesign, and eBook conversions to MOBI and EPUB with Calibre.
My intention was to wait for all the agents to reject me. But in spite of a “definitely still interested” reply to a “nudge” I sent to the last agent with a full, I finally lost patience with waiting for something that will probably never happen anyway. On Thursday, October 6, 2011, I asked her to remove my novel from consideration.
And although the list of things to accomplish in preparation for indie publishing my novel has shrunk considerably, the last major task might well be the most important single objective after doing my best to create a good story well told: Marketing
Thanks to my friend, fellow writer, and superlative all-around whirlwind-of-activity dynamo named Deanna Roy, I’m adding this blog to my parent site. Until yesterday, I had no idea I could do that.
The blog is dedicated to Pilot Error, the first of a series. The second novel is in progress, and I intend to follow up with more stories of airborne murder and the private accident investigator who never gives up in his quest to uncover the truth.
Thank you for visiting and please don’t be a stranger.