"parts of The Just Beyond can still bring me to tears"
Why The Just Beyond and not some other story to launch a hoped-for career?
When I sat down in 2012 and began drafting The Just Beyond, it was the book I felt ready to write. I knew, though, that it was a risky choice. For one thing, any time you express a perspective that touches on religion, you are going to draw some angry fire. If you openly question or contradict somebody's formal doctrine, it's going to be worse. If you construct a framework that clearly extends beyond liturgical canon, and does so in specific, intimate detail, well ... keep your head down. :)
But the risk didn't stop there. I knew this was going to be a trilogy, and I knew some people wouldn't want it for that reason -- most critically, some publishers and agents. A trilogy implies a story that is left incomplete in the first volume -- and why take a chance on an unknown author with a narrative that's not even done?
As the manuscript developed, a third hazard emerged. The Just Beyond wound up nearly 180,000 words -- almost twice the preferred length for a first novel, representing additional cost in both time and resources for a publisher to work with. It was ironic, because going in, I worried that I might not have enough plot material to produce even a novella. By the end, I was worried instead that 200,000 words wasn't going to be sufficient to tell the tale! (It would have been close. I cut out a whole chapter set in New Orleans that I dearly loved because I realized it wasn't necessary and leaving it in was not smart.) And, in fact, when it came time to submit the manuscript, a few publishers refused to look at it just due to the length.
It all worked out in the end, but I count myself lucky. These obstacles could easily have blockaded any commercial success. And I knew that when I started. Yet I believed in the story, lived in it, felt passionately enough about it to dismiss the dangers and pound it out. Because, when it came down to it, I was convinced the concept was strong.
I wrote The Just Beyond with an overriding objective in mind: to produce the kind of book I love to read. No story resonates with everyone, but I'm happy to say that for me, The Just Beyond fulfills that goal. In my eyes, no human endeavor surpasses the quest for meaning in life, the search for purpose both in our own existence and on the grandest cosmic scale. At its core, The Just Beyond is a story of that quest.
The Just Beyond is being marketed as a supernatural thriller, and it is. But it also delivers answers to the fundamental questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What am I "supposed" to do? And what lies ahead in the Afterlife, if there is one at all? These questions are powerful to me -- transcendent above all other concerns. And that is why, among dozens of viable story ideas, this is the one I chose to write first.
I don't claim that the Afterworld depicted in these pages is literally true. I'd be shocked if it were. But I do claim it could be. And I'm convinced the truth is, if not this vision, at least something equally profound. The universe is too massive, too beautiful, too packed with astounding surprises for anyone to claim they know with certainty what awaits beyond death.
"No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader", I was once told. It struck me like lightning, and I've poured my soul into this book. Parts of The Just Beyond can still bring me to tears -- not because it's "good", which is not for me to judge, but because it's so personal. Without a doubt, it was the right story to do. If you read it, I hope it puts a smile on your face. And maybe a tear or two. :)
I believe novels should start with a bang
I've been working on The Far Beyond, the second book of a trilogy, since shortly after finding a home for its predecessor The Just Beyond with 48fourteen. I set it aside for a while during the first book's editing, but with The Just Beyond's release a couple of weeks ago and the flood of positive reader feedback, the new book is back on the front burner with the flame on high.
The Far Beyond continues the story of Michael Chandler, this time following his journey into the dark reaches of the Afterlife in search of his lost brother Max. I've got it scoped out chapter by chapter, and much of it actually written, but for months I had been struggling over exactly how to open story.
I believe novels should start with a bang, and The Just Beyond does. But there is a certain amount of flashback early on, unavoidable given how essential Michael's life history is to later events. I wanted to tighten things up in The Far Beyond -- which will be a shorter, more intense book -- to keep the characters in riveting peril from start to finish. I'd thought up many options to accomplish this, but none of them quite captured what I was after -- until now.
Like the first book, The Far Beyond is a self-contained story even though it's part of a trilogy, written to leave readers feeling fully satisfied even though the over-arching tale doesn't culminate until Book 3. Still, for people who never read The Just Beyond but find The Far Beyond in their hands, some basic foundation from the first book would no doubt be helpful. Besides, many TJB readers -- quite possibly most -- will have forgotten key elements in the first book by the time they read the second, and will need a refresher. I wanted to avoid flashbacks as much as possible in serving these objectives, but as I thought it through, that proved harder than anticipated.
Then all of a sudden, kaBOOM! The answer came to me. Without revealing too much, the solution involves recounting the necessary background in the form of tense contemporaneous conversations. It's one of those things that makes perfect sense, except before you've thought of it. Having been enlightened in this way, the first chapter now zings just as I wanted it too. Book 2 is well on its way to being a crisp, compelling read in its own right, which was the whole idea.
Nobody would care about the book I'm writing now if The Just Beyond wasn't doing so well, and I am humbled and smiling over readers' reception so far. For that, and for the resulting interest that's building for the sequel, I owe a debt of gratitude to 48fourteen. The editing was long and brutal, but necessary, and I learned a great deal from both the publisher and the editor who handled my book. I feel like I'm writing smarter because of it, and I hope that discipline will make The Far Beyond a sequel worthy of your time.
If you haven't read the first book, grab The Just Beyond while it's still on holiday pricing, and post an honest review on Amazon and Barnes&Noble.com to help others who might enjoy the book find it. If you liked it yourself, keep watching here for news as The Far Beyond takes shape. :) - Mark
your feedback is more critical now than ever
The quote at left is emblematic of the comments I got while writing The Just Beyond with the aid of a readers group. The group helped me tremendously with ongoing feedback, chapter by chapter, on what was working in the book and what was not. That same invaluable counsel is helping to shape the sequel, The Far Beyond, which I am in the middle of writing.
Obviously, it's great to receive a positive response -- it makes the whole tedious and sometimes lonely writing process feel worth the effort. But the criticism is even more important. I'm confident in my general writing style, but I find it difficult to assess the worth of my work in artistic terms. I do my best to write convincing dialogue, set an exciting pace, and weave a plot that is both credible and full of pleasing surprises. But I never know if I'm succeeding until I hear it from someone else. And there's nothing like reader critique to point out where concepts are too vague, characters are not engaging, the plot is dragging, or I've missed the opportunity to resolve a certain scene in a more satisfying way.
Now that the book is out, there's nothing readers can do to make The Just Beyond better. But that doesn't make criticism any less important. In fact, your feedback is more critical now than ever. For one thing, your suggestions will help make books two and three of the trilogy stronger by helping me understand what I've done right and wrong. For another, I don't know about you, but I always read customer reviews before buying any product online. And even a lukewarm review can help identify something that's right up my alley, even if the reviewer themselves were none too impressed.
So I'm asking you -- you who have so honored and humbled me by taking a chance with The Just Beyond -- to make your voice heard. Comments entered on this site (bottom of the main page) will be published here, but reviews posted on Amazon and the other retail sites exert the most powerful influence on potential readers that an unknown writer can hope for. The good ones will bring in more sales, and the critical ones will make the rest of the trilogy better. So hop to it! Be honest -- brutal, if necessary; I need your candid feedback to give me a realistic perspective and your word of mouth to inform potential readers. Thank you for helping -- it makes a big difference, and I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart. - Mark
what I'm feeling more than anything is an enormous sense of responsibility
It's finally here -- The Just Beyond is scheduled for a firm ebook release date of Monday, December 9, 2013. It will be available from Amazon, Nook (Barnes & Noble), or directly from 48fourteen Publishing. YES, I'm excited. :)
So how does it feel to be poised on the brink of your first novel being released for sale? You'd think it might be a relief, and in some ways it is -- I'm certainly glad all the editing and waiting are over. But honestly, what I'm feeling more than anything is an enormous sense of responsibility. Partly that's because a product that has consumed most of my creative and emotional energy for the past two years is about to become available to lots of readers I don't even know, and I feel responsible to fulfill whatever hopes for entertainment and satisfaction may have drawn them to my book. There's not much I can do about that now -- this book is done, although it's very possible the two subsequent books in the trilogy will be influenced by reader feedback on The Just Beyond. But there is something I can do, in fact MUST do, with respect to TJB coming out -- promotion. Tireless, thoughtful, energetic, positive, appealing promotion. I've been preparing that for a while; I've got a large box of business cards with the cover image and web purchasing information sitting here waiting for the release, I've set things up for as broad a social media outreach as I can manage, and I'm coordinating with other people and organizations on the rollout marketing. And for all that, I feel tremendously, singularly responsible.
The book has been written, has been edited to a fine polish, has been packaged with lovely cover art and truly beautiful ebook formatting -- it's as good as it could have possibly been, given the constraints of my personal talent. But the whole purpose of writing fiction is to share a story with other people, hopefully to inspire and delight them and maybe even bring a tear to their eye. None of that will happen unless people actually read it now that it's coming out, and no one (well, maybe my mother) is going to buy it because of my name. Yes, I've sold a few short stories and I've been writing for quite some time, but as a novelist, in the marketplace I'm unknown and unproven. And while I can't make a single person buy, read, or promote The Just Beyond through word of mouth, it's my responsibility to do all I can to bring them to exactly those actions. And internally, this is a very big deal. Because I can live with the novel not selling well if people dislike the story or the writing -- I'm content that I've done the best I could on those elements. I can NOT live with a sense that the book failed because I didn't work hard enough AFTER the writing. So now, more than ever, what I'm feeling inside is a firm and not altogether comfortable compulsion to GET TO WORK.
Don't get me wrong. If this is a person's most pressing trial in life, feeling burdened by responsibility for shepherding a work of their own love and passion toward success, that person should just shut the hell up and thank God for the incredible blessing. And I do. Believe me, I do. This is a very emotional time for me, and frequently the past few days I've found it difficult not to just pace, thinking of all the things I need to look after. But that doesn't blind me to the realization of how lucky I've been. If The Just Beyond starting next Monday brings people some of the joy and comfort the writer intended, I'll be able to enjoy that blessing with a clear conscience. And regardless of what happens with the book, I'll never stop being grateful just to have had the chance. :) - mark
a tangible first impression of how readers picture the story
You may assume I know the answer to the question at left. I don't. Not even in a broad sense. I do know what I gave the publisher as a few ideas, but not which, if any, they picked. I told them the only feature I considered critical was that the cover art express the supernatural nature of the story. I also said I liked the notion of a ghostly figure, as I had used on my unofficial placeholder "covers" on this site. But ultimately it's up to the publisher, they know much better than I do what sells books. And t's fun and flattering to have a professional cover artist involved with your work.
I'll be content with anything they do. I don't know if the artist reads the book first, or at least any passages that reflect the cover's content, but that would be really cool. Seeing the art in that context would provide a tangible first impression of how readers picture the story. But it's fine either way. I'm just happy to be in this position. :)
Yesterday the publisher introduced me, and the book, via their social media outlets. It's a fun time to be in their stable. :) - Mark
"these developments speak for themselves"
The image at left is more than yet another exercise in vanity and shameless self-promotion. It is a harbinger of impending publication of The Just Beyond. And it's only one among many strong indications that the book is finally heading to market.
The picture was provided at the publisher's request for use on their website. They also asked for an author's bio, a list of personal interests, a "back cover" description of the novel, and a tag line for the crawler on their site that promotes their books. Even before that, they relayed to me some specific questions from the cover artist. These are the most convincing developments to date that the project really is at the end of the pre-release cycle, and they came a week after 48fourteen had my second round edits in hand.
I'm still not predicting anything, and hopeful signs--even specific time frames predicted by the publisher--have in the past proven premature. But these developments speak for themselves. I'm hoping that some time in the next few weeks I'll have a release date I can announce with confidence. - Mark
The manuscript I returned today is free of every nit that bothered me
It was the 25th of September, 2012, when after ten months of intense work, endless refinement, and the invaluable help of so many generous readers, I lay the pen down and called the submission draft of The Just Beyond complete. It would be cliché to say "little did I know that was just the beginning," but I actually did know. I figured if I was lucky, the book might see print a year from then, and I wasn't going to be discouraged if it took a year or more just to sell it. I also knew that once the contract was signed, more grueling polish work awaited -- months, at least, of editing. I have never published a novel before, but I have written and marketed my work several times, and I wasn't under an illusion that the book would magically appear on store shelves the day after some publisher showed interest.
It's been a twisty road, but today I find myself about where I expected. The final edits, my second round of work from the publisher after the editor took his second run through, was completed today. I'm very happy with the results. On the first pass I pretty much accepted whatever the editor said, didn't look far beyond it, and turned my review back to them within one week. This time, with fewer edits to work through, it took me a month. It made a difference to me knowing that this was probably the last opportunity I'd have to get things right. And I took that seriously. The manuscript I returned today is free of every nit that bothered me -- cutesy turns of phrase I wasn't sure were beneficial, inconsistencies that didn't ruin the story but still stuck in my mind, unanswered or inadequately answered questions. With this draft, if anyone asks me, "Well, what about ----?" I can confidently say, "That is fully explained in Chapter --" content in the knowledge that a clear and satisfying answer really is there. What's more, I've been able to integrate this first book with the second one, The Far Beyond, which I'm in the process of writing. Certain points that developed while working on that sequel, which were not necessarily critical to The Just Beyond, are now artfully set up. It will provide the readers who stick with me a seamless experience as they journey through the full Beyond trilogy.
The most significant change I made was, coincidentally, the last. There was always a certain amount of ambiguity as to why Michael couldn't find Vicki when he arrived in the Afterlife. A two page scene has been added explaining this with crystal clarity. It's an emotional scene, with some unexpected conflict--and conflict, I believe, is the fuel upon which good fiction runs. I'll be sending the new excerpt by email to those I know won't want to wait to see it.
So what's next? Well, in addition to addressing all of the editor's points, I did make a small number of "major" changes which the publisher will have to review. None is more than a couple of pages, most are a paragraph or two, but it's new material they will need to approve. I don't expect problems, but they could require some refinement of those sections. That will be okay. I've been happier with the book in each iteration, and doing what the publisher suggests only bolsters my confidence that the released book will be as good as it can be.
What I expect is that the editing is over. And that should clear the way for publication in September, as I've been projecting since the last edits arrived. I'll let you know when the publisher gives me a timeline. For now, getting this draft out is a pleasant relief. I'm still enamored of the story and excited for the book to be released. It's still the same book; readers who've seen earlier drafts aren't likely to notice anything except that the read is smoother. And that makes me happier with this version than any one previous. - Mark
I wasn't looking forward to the daunting task of trying to remove more than a third of the content
The last edits from the publisher came in last Friday, and I'm in the process of working through them to finalize the text. I haven't been posting every development in the project to Facebook for awhile, nor even communicating them at all really, in order to avoid frustration that might morph into disinterest over the succession of delays. But when this document arrived, I notified a handful of friends and family that the long wait for this crucial bit of progress was over, and said that based on comments in the cover note I expected a very simple and brief process to get the edits done.
That turned out to be a bit overly optimistic. The publisher is definitely pleased and encouraging with how the book has turned out, but there are in fact a fairly large number of new changes in this draft for me to accept, reject, or modify. It's not a comment every page like the first round was, but probably every other page, which is still more than 300 points to resolve. I still think I can get it done within the coming week -- the first edits took me about nine days -- but it's not going to be the one or two hour cakewalk I initially expected.
At a summary level, I've found two things about this round of changes noteworthy. First, unlike the initial 600 pages that came from the editor, this draft contains both his work and an equal amount of input and commentary from the publisher herself. I guess she has editors clean things up in a first pass so that her own detailed input can be applied closer to the finished product. This makes sense, I just wasn't expecting it (I had the impression that the editor was out of the picture and this round would just be the publisher's fine tuning). The second thing that surprised me has to do with length. As I've noted before, the length for a novel favored by most publishers is about 100,000 words, especially when the author is unpublished. And sure enough, when 48fourteen contracted for my book, one of their initial comments was that the overall length would need to be reduced. Having done my homework about selling fiction, I had expected that assessment -- I had bent the rules a little as it was to label the manuscript as 150,000 words. But when I got the editor's first thorough assessment, I was surprised to see that he had walked the length comment back. He had concluded that my book was an exception, that the length was justified for telling the story properly and that they would accept the additional costs of publishing it with the overall structure intact. Round One actually pushed the word count up a little, to around 170,000 words. And now, far from imposing difficult deletions, the manuscript is up to 177,000. I'm really glad I didn't have to eviscerate the story in order to fit it into the standard framework -- I was prepared to do that, I had planned out prospective pieces to cut, but I wasn't looking forward to the daunting task of trying to remove more than a third of the content without destroying the intended tale. It's now clear that I won't have to, and it's very pleasing that they think enough of the book's merits to make this accommodation.
I am doing one thing this time that I tried to avoid on the first edits. I am holding my ground when I disagree with a change, instead of mutely swallowing every revision I could choke down during Round One. There's not a whole lot of this -- these people are professionals and their recommendations are overwhelmingly obvious improvements -- but there spots where I really do feel my wording achieves the objective better, or that some artistic license, such as a brief detour into the mind of a character other than Michael, is warranted. I've thought a lot about the book since turning my first edits back to the publisher months ago, and over that time I have decided that if I didn't insist on a few deviations from their counsel here and there, it would rob me of true confidence that the version of The Just Beyond that goes on sale was the best it could be. Readers will be the ultimate judge, but there is some significance to my own enthusiasm -- it is the fuel upon which the marketing campaign will run, the impetus for me to sustain a high level of effort and enthusiasm in working to make the book a commercial success.
I truly have practiced my own preaching as this process has rolled out, maintaining a genuine patience and faith that the investment of time is worth the postponed gratification. I want the book out, my excitement for that hasn't diminished, but in the long term what's most important is that it's given every chance to succeed when publication does come. And I'm satisfied that is in fact what this long process is doing. I'm not projecting any firm dates, but I don't expect football season to be too far along before The Just Beyond finally hits the stands. - mark
it would be blind to simply ignore the litany of delays
Well, the third week of May has come and gone with no sign of the publisher's response to the edits I sent them on 3/8/2013. In fact, there has been no communication initiated by the publisher at all for months.
This is obviously frustrating. When I signed the contract at the first of the year, the publisher indicated that cover art would be produced by mid-January and the editor's work a few weeks later. The editor did finish by Jan. 31, though unfortunately I didn't receive his instructions until the end of February because of computer issues on my end. Once I had the edits, though, I turned them around and back to the publisher within a week. A week later I emailed the publisher to make sure they had received my response, and they replied that they had received and intended to review it "shortly." They also asked for my input on the cover art and indicated it would be assigned to the artist at that time.
I let six weeks go by before contacting the publisher and asking for an update. They had recently released a newsletter (internal to staff and their authors) laying out what they were currently working on, and I was a little surprised to find no mention of my book. They thanked me for the inquiry and remarked that its timing was a coincidence, as they had intended to update me that very day. Now they said their review of my edits was scheduled for the second week of May, with cover art to be assigned thereafter and publication for digital readers in June.
Don't get me wrong, I humbly appreciate 48fourteen's interest in my book and the opportunity they are providing. They've already devoted substantial hours to it at their own expense (600 manuscript pages of comments by the editor, for example) and they have a great deal of activity going on. It's terrific the publisher is so busy, because, as previously noted, the more successful they are, the better platform they can provide for my book. And I'm certainly not out of gratitude or patience.
But that said, there is a pattern emerging here. Repeatedly I've been given time frames for progress on the publishing process that have not born out. I was openly excited by the projection of a June publication, though even then it struck me as possibly over-ambitious to think publication was possible within such a short time after the next edits came in. In particular, there was one issue in the editor's work that I couldn't figure out how to handle and so had asked for guidance. It was a substantive enough issue that I wasn't sure I could wrap up whatever their directions were in time for a June rollout. And I don't know how long a book cover typically takes to produce, but the time frame quoted seemed to me to be possibly cutting it close.
It's not the delays themselves that concern me. I've said all along, and I've meant it, that I'd rather have quality on the project than timeliness if that is the choice. What does bother me is the lack of communication. Missing a deadline can be unavoidable, and projecting the best case is a tendency I'm often guilty of myself. But I do think that, when a time frame is given, it's a matter of professionalism and simple courtesy to notify the other party promptly when circumstances necessitate a change.
I'm not turning negative over this, I still feel warm thankfulness toward 48fourteen and the staff I've corresponded with there. But it would be blind to simply ignore the litany of delays. So what I'm going to do now is to stop publicizing any time frames that are not rock solid. I will continue to update the website as tangible progress is made, but I won't predict. A June release is still possible, and I won't count it out prematurely. But I won't count ON it, either. For now, I'm sinking my creative energy into the sequel and simply hoping for the best. What else can I do?
The Just Beyond will be released for digital reader sales in June
48fourteen, the publisher for The Just Beyond, is having a banner year. That's great news for me and all the other authors in their catalogue -- the more successful the publisher, the better platform it becomes for distribution of our work. They've got a number of exciting new books coming out, new channels for publicity and attracting the attention of literary critics, new marketing and promotional campaigns. It was 48fourteen's creative and forward-looking angle on publishing in the information age that put them high on my list for submissions, and it's palpable as I work with them in detail.
And that success, ironically, is the reason The Just Beyond is taking a while to move from sale to publication. Frankly, I'll take it. I'd much rather have the book undergo the thorough, painstaking editing process necessary to maximize its commercial potential as opposed to shooting it out to market without professional polish. After seeing the editor's work last month -- he had obviously invested weeks of diligent attention in producing numerous improvements to the novel's clarity, pacing, and language -- my perspective shifted from understandable anxiousness to see my book in print to a patient appreciation of what the publisher was adding to my chances of success as a writer. It took me most of a year to write The Just Beyond and I expected the publication process would take at least as long. It's only been four months since I signed the contract, and in the context of what is necessary to finish the quality process and move to market, that really isn't very long.
Which brings me to today's news. As noted in the block quote, 48fourteen has let me know they expect The Just Beyond will be released for digital reader sales in June. They have not completed the second round of edits, not because there hasn't been enough time since my work on Round One was turned around in March, but rather because they have several other novels coming out this spring and summer that came into the pipeline ahead of mine. They expect to finish my edits by mid-May, submit final changes for my collaboration and approval, and if that process produces no unexpected further changes, the June release will be a go. I really had no idea how much was going on with the publisher till I started receiving their in-house updates as a stable author. It was gratifying and envigorating to see how vibrant their little publishing house is becoming -- and enlightening as to the pre-pub process with my own book.
Which brings me to an important point I've delayed making until there was truly light at the end of the publication tunnel. There is going to come a time, a matter of weeks from now it looks like, where I am going to need your help. I haven't kicked off a real torrent of promotion for the book yet simply because I felt it would be useless to do so before it was available for sale. But once we have a firm release date, I am going to push hard for a successful launch. The book's profile on this site, Facebook, Twitter, and numerous other promotional outlets is going to explode. I put the time and effort into The Just Beyond not as a lark, but because I truly want to make a serious living as a speculative fiction writer, and the initial reception this first novel gets is going to make all the difference. I have the second book well underway -- again, I haven't promoted it heavily because I felt the best time to push it would be when the first book was released -- and it will be teed up and ready to go in a hurry if there's a market of readers anxious to follow Michael Chandler into the dark reaches of the Afterlife when his mother goes missing while searching for his lost brother Max.
And YOU are the key to that success. I'm going to do my part and then some -- you may see and hear more about the Beyond trilogy than you ever wanted to -- but your word of mouth, your personal recommendations, your own social networks can multiply the effort by a factor of hundreds. And I'm going to baldly ask for your help spreading the word. I use the word "baldly" in part because yes, my days of going bankrupt at the hair salon are comfortably past, but also because this really is important to me, and the one thing I dare not do is let this novel fail because of a timid or measured effort on my part. Writing is only half the work. It's important work, but the coming promotional push is no less so. And you -- if I'm lucky enough to earn your help -- can be the difference between true success and just a Really Good Try.
Who knows -- if it's what the readers want, maybe I'll sink the first proceeds from The Just Beyond into that vain Bosley hair surgery those annoying commercials keep yammering about. Who am I to defy the wishes of all those people kind enough to buy my book? :) - Mark