Here at Critical Margins, I often write about how digital platforms like the Kindle are changing the way writers publish and promote their work. In this guest post, novelist Peter Licari discusses the sometimes confusing and difficult process he went through to get his novel, The Dimensional Constant, published and promoted. — Kevin
My first foray into publishing was when I was 14-years-old. It was an idealistic, extremely profane story about blind dogmatism. I called it “Blind Faith.” I thought it was clever. Looking back, I would definitely chide my younger self for a lack of originality.
I learned a lot about the publishing experience from that story. I learned the values of content, the importance of a well-spun tale, and the necessity of lying.
Well, lying might be a bit harsh. It’s not like anyone exactly asked me for my age. I said I was a “student writer.” It gave the impression that I was in college or something. I was a student; I was a freshman in high school. They assumed I was 18.
When I was 16, I wrote my first novel. Ok, that was a lie. The truth is I wrote my first novel at 15. It was so riddled with plot holes, spelling errors, and improper grammar that I sentenced it to life in the maximum security confine of my dresser.
But when I was 16, I wrote my first novel that I intended people to read. I tried to continue my lesson in lying and publish it under the guise of an established author. Except they then asked for my social security number to fill in my W2. As a writer, I’m a liar– that comes with the territory. I’m not a felon. I’m not going to willingly deceive the federal government. That’s a brilliant way to snuff out a career before it even starts.
I waited two years and edited it 13 times. On October 31, 2012, I released my debut novel. It’s a study of the struggle between science and God using conspiracy, mystery, death, and second chances to voice it. The Dimensional Constant was officially realized.
I was so excited, I had to call everyone I know. “Did you hear the good news? I’m published! My book is available on Amazon! I finally did it!”
I did it, alright. I opened my own version of Pandora’s box. Except instead of sins and faults, my box unleashed a flood of reality. The wave crashed down and tossed me like a rag doll back to a place beyond square one. I was back at abstract polygon zero.
It was an unfamiliar place as you could expect. It was dark, empty, and boundless. I call this the world of the self-made man. It’s a place that many would think is subverted beneath our reality, but I’ve found it’s actually above us. You don’t get dragged down– you get pulled up. This is the world of the author, the wordsmith, the silver-tongued devil enthralling with black ink.
This is the place that I call home.
Unlike the world we know where the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the middle class is tossed aside like a forgotten orphan, there are no stratas here. This place is a blank slate. It’s entirely what you make of it. That probably sounds pretty ideal to the starting writer. It is. It’s perfect. But perfection is the furthest thing from easy or self-explanatory.
When I got here, I had to stumble around for a while. “Ok… what do I do? How do I market this book? How do I get people to read it?” A lot of queries and a lot of darkness.
There are a lot of sources of light though, thankfully. After all, you’re not the only person who lives here. So these little specks of light will filter into your vision occasionally. You approach them and allow yourself to be illuminated.
“Ok…this blogger started posting things on Facebook.”
“This author got himself a dedicated website.”
“This writer hired an editor.”
Tips like these shined the brightest.
Then you’d have what I’d call mirages. They seem like they’re dim, distant storehouses of amazing knowledge. But then you approach them and quickly find out that they’re really just dim bulbs in close proximity.
“It’s easy! All you have to do is write a press release, contact a million bloggers per day, shove your books down people’s throats, and eliminate your literary competition highlander style.”
Sure, there’s something there. But you have to diligently pick through it to discover it. Have you ever tried dissecting light? That shit isn’t easy.
You walk around this world and you try to pick up bits of light to illuminate the way. You have end goals in mind and you’re looking for anything to help get you there.
Stop. It’s futile.
Let me let you in on a little secret: there is no one path through the darkness. There is no guarantee that your book will lead you to your end result. You want to earn a million dollars? There are a million ways to get there. And then, when you do, what happens? You’ve reached your goal, but you just can’t abandon your book. You’re still in this land. It’s boundless.
But as I accumulated bits of light, I made my own path through the darkness. I even managed to cut myself a nice piece of property here at abstract polygon zero. It’s a small place, but there’s room for expansion. I am the king of my castle.
As you could guess from my publishing history, I’m not very inclined to preach variable experiences as gospel. So like Plato and the tale of the world’s creation, I will not say absolutely. But I will tell you how I became the king of my castle: what I valued, and a bit of what I did. You might be surprised to know that it all goes back to that first publishing experience I got in high school.
First, I have to impress upon you how important having something that’s good looking is to my success. I’m not just talking about a girlfriend or a car (although both of mine happen to look incredible), but a book. When you design a cover, it needs to grab people’s attention. Steal it away from everything else in the world. I made mine black and blue with some bitching lightning. That might legitimately be the best way to describe it. It takes your attention.
I need to keep it though, so it needs to look good on the inside, too. That means knowing the difference between your and you’re (if you need help, I made a blog post about it a little while back). That means varying your sentences so that you continually hook the reader. Not everything can be gargantuan. Or brief. It depends on the situation. The font needs to be aesthetically pleasing and the words themselves need to ring in the mind. When I write anything, I make the guts of the piece a high priority. I cannot stress how important it has been for my success.
I also cannot articulate enough how important the story is. Your story is what’s going to determine if your book, novel, what have you, sinks or swims 99% of the time. I’ve found that a great premise isn’t going to support a terrible story. It’s like tying a party balloon to the Titanic and thinking it’ll stay afloat.
Intellectual honesty is the most important thing you can have as a writer. You need to be able to objectively view your work as another’s so you can determine if it’s decent. You need to be able to read through and say either “Ok, this is good but it needs work” or “This is terrible. It needs work.” If you sit back and say “you know, this is the best thing ever written– EVER! This must be published as is!” you’re deluding yourself. To quote Hemingway, “the first draft of anything is shit.” Remember, it took me 13 rereads until I was satisfied. It still needs work, but I’m content with the world reading The Dimensional Constant the way it is.
Intellectual honesty is important, but it’s not as important as selective dishonesty. I’m accomplished as a writer, sure. I’ve written and published a novel, written scores of articles, published flash fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction. It’s an impressive resume. But I have to make myself sound like I’m one of the greats. I need to be incredible because I’ve found that people don’t respond to mediocrity.
When I approach a blogger to write for them, I don’t do so as a tentative “please sir, may I haz a chance.” I go in like I’m the second biggest fish in the pond (the blogger’s usually a bit larger). I don’t lie because that’s a good way to stifle a career before it starts. But I have to act like I know what I’m doing 100% of the time. Basically, I need to be confident and sure about my works. Even if I haven’t exactly earned the right to strut yet, I’ve got to peacock my stuff.
Oh, and learn how to appropriately conclude something important. I can’t tell you how many times writers will just drag along to make a point. When the piece is done, it’s done.
Peter Licari is an author and a freelance writer. He has over 100 credited articles, a number of which appear on Yahoo! News. His debut novel, The Dimensional Constant, is available on Amazon and on the Kindle. He is currently pursuing majors in Government and World Affairs and Philosophy at the University of Tampa’s Honors College. He resides in Tampa, but often reminisces about when he lived in Chuluota, Florida with his dog Buster. Visit him at www.thequillanddagger.com.