This post is about my debut novel, Paranoia. Today I’m going to discuss the crazy process of writing this book and give you all the basics about it. I promise there are no spoilers in this post; everything plot-related I discuss is mentioned in the book’s description on Amazon.
My insanely long and complicated path to writing my first original novel began early in the winter of 2007, during my senior year of high school. It was one of those boring days in English class where we were lounging around and allowed to do whatever we wanted. It had been just over a year since I’d finished what I intended to be my last fanfiction story, The Final Battle.
Ah yes, the accurately titled The Final Battle, which spawned two sequels.
I had just spent the past month penning a 15,000 word story starring myself and my friends. It was, of course, utterly ridiculous and wholly unpublishable. But it brought back the writer’s itch, and this time I figured it was time to go big or go home. So that day I pulled out a piece of paper and wrote the first page of my novel.
As I so often began my stories back then, I simply started writing and hoped that I could draw a story out of it. Though I’ve long lost that scrap of paper, I can still clearly remember the first sentence I wrote. It was spoken by the main character, then named Jack. “I didn’t used to be like this.”
The basics of the idea came easy after penning that. The story would be about a teenager whose parents were killed. He would try to find the murderer without losing his mind in the process.
After I’d finished writing that page, my arch-nemesis Travis scooped it out of my hands. “What’s this?” he jerkishly asked.
For legal reasons which involved puppet theft and pencil stabbing (seriously), no picture of Travis will be shown. In fact, let’s call him Frank instead.
“It’s the first page of my book,” I proudly replied while posing coolly.
High school Ryan – the epitome of cool. Still managed a hot girlfriend though!
Frank quickly skimmed through the document and tossed it back to me. “It’s alright,” he grumbled before walking away. That was about the best compliment I could have gotten back then.
Over the next few weeks I would try to expand on this story, but it came out as pure drivel. The 8,000 words I wrote during that time were essentially unreadable. I began to lose focus and belief that I could handle writing a real book, so I abandoned the project for two years.
In the fall of 2009, at the beginning of my sophomore year in college, I briefly tried to get back into writing. I spent a couple weeks attempting to create a full outline for the story, but I only ended up with maybe five chapters’ worth. Once again, the few pages I tried to write came out absolutely horrible. I gave up once more.
Another year and a half passed before I began working on Paranoia in earnest. It was now the spring of 2011; the last semester of my junior year in college. I decided it was finally time to stop wasting my spare moments with video games & start taking writing seriously again. I promised myself that I would write a full manuscript of Paranoia. I guess the third time was the charm, because this time I meant it.
It was slow going at first, but soon I fell back into the groove from my fanfiction days. By the end of the summer I had a complete but very rough 85,000 word first draft. My girlfriend Louise was an enormous help during this time. She read through the book as I wrote it, giving me instant feedback on what did and didn’t work. I changed some of it then and kept careful note of the rest for my future edits. Once the manuscript was done and I’d jotted down her notes, I settled in for an editing pass. I figured I’d go over it once, make some changes, and then start contacting publishers.
Guess how that went?
Once again, I quickly lost motivation. I was proud that I’d written my book and lost the sense of urgency that drove me to complete it. “It’s already done,” I told myself. “I deserve some time off before editing. There’s no rush.”
Yeah, well once school started again I didn’t have much time to edit. It was senior year of undergrad, and I was busy taking my hardest classes yet. It wasn’t until March of 2012, about 6 months after I’d finished Paranoia, that I finally found the time and motivation to get back to work.
“But wait,” I told myself while sitting down at my computer. “I haven’t written anything in six months. I learned the hard way before that that makes me rusty. I’ve had an idea for a sequel to The Final Battle in my head for a few years now. Maybe I should practice writing by penning a fanfic first!”
You may be starting to realize I have severe problems focusing on one thing at a time.
In spite of my issues, I settled on a path. I would write a short sequel to The Final Battle to sharpen my writing. I figured this story, called Pushing Through, would take maybe 60,000 words tops. If I wrote quickly and kept it as a first draft, I could be done in a month and then get back to editing Paranoia.
Short and simple fanfic balloons into 144,000 words, more than twice as long as the final draft of Paranoia. Sounds about right for Ryan.
So that happened. Then, of course, I fell in love with Pushing Through so much that it needed a sequel. 44,000 words into this third entry in The Final Battle series, I hit writer’s block. Hard.
Astute readers may have noticed that this was the exact opposite purpose of writing these fanfics.
So there I was, in the middle of summer right before vet school started. It was the best time I would ever have to finally edit Paranoia and send it out to publishers, but I found myself unable to write a single word. After penning nearly 200,000 words in just over 3 months, I’d burnt myself out. There was only one thing to do.
I didn’t have a choice, Halo 4 was out in a few months. I had to prepare!
The rest of the summer was wasted (stupid Spartans couldn’t even save Reach no matter how hard I tried) and soon I was busy with vet school.
Finally, in the spring of 2013, during my second semester of vet school, I finished the fanfic that had been on hold for months and began my edits to Paranoia in earnest. For the first time in 2 years, I was back to work on my novel and loving it. After months of edits and rewrites, I sent it to my screenwriting partner Ed. Confident bastard that I am, I expected him to write back and say it was perfect and he hated me for making him feel like such an inferior writer.
Of course, that didn’t happen. He liked the overall story, but had hundreds of notes on how to improve it. The main character, Jacob, was whiny and unlikeable. His best friend Sarah had barely any characteristics, she only seemed to exist to support Jacob. (I took this note especially hard because I’ve always enjoyed writing strong female characters and thought I did it well.) The plot was a little too outrageous, the atmosphere overwhelmingly dreary, the prose needed major tightening.
Back to the drawing board.
I spent the rest of 2013 pursuing two major objectives; perfecting Paranoia and finding an agent to look at it. Now’s the time when I should probably give a quick explanation of how the publishing industry works. Once you written and edited a book, you make a query letter and send it to a book agent. This is a short, one page document explaining who you are, what your book is about, and why the agent should take you on as a client.
One of the many, many failed queries I sent.
If the agent likes what you wrote AND thinks the book is right for them to represent (9 out of 10 times they won’t), then they request a full manuscript. You send it to them, wait a few months, and then wait to hear if they liked it. (They probably didn’t). This is an extraordinarily long and painful process. I sent out over 50 query letters and only had one person offer to check out my manuscript, and that person eventually passed on it.
While these query letters were floating around and getting ripped to shreds, I tried to fix all of the problems Ed had pointed out. I’d been really upset at what poor condition he thought the book was, but I came to quickly realize he was right and became very thankful to him for helping make the book better. By the end of the year I’d tightened the book up significantly. I sent it back to Ed one more time to see if he would check out the first couple chapters to see if I was on the right track. He spotted a few new areas of improvement, but far fewer than before. Overall he agreed that I was moving in the right direction and that my edits were working.
It was now January of 2014. I kept sending out more queries while addressing the newest batch of concerns from Ed. School took a lot of my time, as did developing my TV pilot Continuum. By the time winter had rolled around, I was on at least the fourth draft of my novel and still wasn’t getting results from publishers.
At that point, I took a long hard look at this project.
I’d spent seven years off and on on this book. Over that time I’d grown so much as a writer. I’d moved from fanfiction to writing a novel to becoming a screenwriter. I loved Paranoia, but I was honestly getting sick of working on it. I sat down and asked myself, is this book something I can be proud of? Is it the best it can be? The answer to both was yes, so I realized it was time to take a drastic step so that I might finally get it out to people and move on to new things.
That drastic step was self-publishing. Once I went that route there would be no going back. No publisher would take my book on if I’d already started selling it on my own. I did some research on the topic and got back mixed messages. For some people self-publishing was the best thing that ever happened to them, others were lucky to sell a copy a month. Eventually, I decided to go for it.
I steeled my nerve, started an account for Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, and sat down to upload my book. Then I saw the little box that asked me to upload my cover.
Son of a biscuit.
I didn’t have a cover. I could still upload my book without it, but who would buy a book without a cover? It screamed of amateur. I grit my teeth and decided there was no more procrastinating, I was going to get this done hard and fast. I contacted several artists and heard back from the very talented Tatiana Villa. She listened to my ideas for the cover and got this back to me in a day.
I loved the brown, but it didn’t scream “psychological thriller” to me.
I asked her to make some adjustments, and within a few hours I had the perfect design.
She’s ridiculously fast and talented. Check her out at http://www.viladesign.net/.
Finally, after seven years, I was ready. On Christmas Eve I published my novel on the Amazon Kindle Store. It is so amazing to look at this novel, know that I wrote a book, and finally have it for sale. It hasn’t sold many copies so far, but I’m not too worried just yet. I have four book reviewers who will have reviews up by the end of the month, and I’m looking into paid advertising options. It just takes a few reads and reviews to get the ball rolling. I’ll let you all know once the first official review comes in, unless I die of excitement first.
If anyone wants to support me by buying a copy of Paranoia I would be incredibly grateful. It is now available for a mere $2.99 (Isn’t it worth giving up a coffee to get a new book and support a fledgling author?) at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00RDYVTD8. The few people who have checked it out so far seem to really like it. It can be read on any computer, smartphone, or tablet after downloading the free Kindle Reading App, and you can preview the first chapter before you buy.
No matter whether you check out my book or not, thanks for reading my blog so far!