I used to be one of those writers who swore to NEVER, EVER self publish. There used to be many of us.
I’d like to tell the story of how a book called Kings of Delusion came to be self-published. This manuscript is about a serial killer and the girl who got away, set amidst the flooding of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, covering the logistics of the police, paramedics and firemen. Needless to say, there were many challenges. The following is a tale about agents, publishers, editors, test readers, conferences, networking and thick skin. It’s a story about never giving up.
The events that led to the last resort decision of self-publishing Kings of Delusion is an interesting one, filled with many hills and valleys, not to mention a few pot holes. Before Kings Of Delusion came about, my first novel Unhinged had already been published by Medallion Press as an ebook and I figured to be well on my way. I soon learned otherwise. Turned out Medallion didn’t want my new stuff and neither did any agents or publishers I queried after that.
So, I had two books in my new detective series completed and I was sending one off to agents (Kings of Delusion still had yet to be a glimmer). I also joined the International Thriller Writers (ITW) organization as they only accept members who have been traditionally published.
One day I saw the profile of an author on ITW’s website. He listed Cynthia Manson as his agent, so I did quite a bit research to find her email because she did not have a website or advertise. What I did find was that she had made some major publishing deals. I figured not many writers knew of her and maybe I had a shot. Off went my query.
Months later, I received an email form Ms. Manson telling me her late response was due to my emailing to an old address and she was very interested in how I found her. I hadn’t run across an agent like this before, one who didn’t have a big Internet presence, which I thought was fantastic, and a bit odd. She wanted three chapters, impressed with my detective skills.
As luck would have it, she ended up wanting the full manuscript. I waited patiently until she sent an email regretfully turning down the project, not due to writing or liking the story, but that she couldn’t sell it. However, she actually wanted to talk about it over the phone! Any writer worth their weight in form rejections knows how huge a mere personal note is, but to talk on the phone? This in itself was an amazing opportunity.
We spoke for twenty minutes about why she didn’t want to take on the manuscript even though she liked it. She told me mentioning Hurricane Katrina in several spots interested her and if I could write a thriller set during that time, she’d be very intrigued, but no guarantees.
That very day I started jotting down ideas. Just a few months after I started my new project, I attended the Backspace Conference in New York and asked other agents if I should write this book. They all said NO! with varying advice. But being on the precipice of an agent, I ignored them and took on this task, which eventually stalled because I couldn’t get enough details about the activities of the cops during the flooding. The New Orleans public affairs office wouldn’t help me find a source, so I scoured the Internet for every detail and picture I could find until happening upon a blog by a paramedic named William Gilson.
I should say the manuscript would not have been written if not for Mr. Gilson. He told an amazing story of four or five days during the flooding of New Orleans, of what he had to do to survive alongside the police and firemen. His experiences had me riveted and I contacted him to pick his brain. He agreed to let me weave his harrowing days in the flood into my story about a serial killer. Within six months I had a manuscript prepared, not just driven because I had an agent’s attention, but because this novel turned out to be a labor of love.
Kings of Delusion had been amazing to write and I enjoyed every minute of it. I sent it off to Ms. Manson, who although impressed with the quickness of completing a manuscript in six months, still unexpectedly rejected it (insert disappointing cartoon music). But I couldn’t blame her if I didn’t write the book she was looking for. However, she did want to help it find a home.
She graciously suggested that I send it to her colleague Al Longden, which I did. She suggested if he liked it, they could possibly share the duties in representation. She had a special interest in movie rights.
Mr. Longden loved it.
I spoke to each of them again in that highly coveted call regarding representation and signing a contract, glad that they couldn’t see my happy dance—the type seen after one scores a touchdown. Next, Ms. Manson’s editor took a look at Kings and suggested that instead of revealing the killer in the middle of the book where the thrilling chase begins, reveal him at the end. Both agents agreed, as well as a friend of mine, so I made that major rewrite.
TIP: There’s a fine line between being stubborn about changing your work and trusting your intuition that something needs changing. Read your work like someone else wrote it and then be honest with yourself.
I originally called this manuscript TOXIC CITY, which Ms. Manson hated, saying it reminded her of some kind of nuclear Armageddon. I then suggested KREWE OF EXODUS, which they vetoed. We threw names back and forth for a while until I came up with BLOODWATER. Hey, it rhymes with floodwater. C’mon! They were both fine with it. And it stayed BLOODWATER for a while, but I will always refer to it as “Kings” in this blog.
Ms. Manson told me up front that she would only send Kings to her contacts at the big houses and let Mr. Longden handle the rest. She did as promised and the rejections, although favorable and flattering, were still rejections. Mr. Longden started sending out the manuscript to a few publishers, but then he had some personal issues to deal with. After a year of Kings sitting idle, I wanted to move on, so both agents and I parted ways.
Wow. Two-plus years gone. Good thing I kept writing new material. Always, always, always, work on new material.
I couldn’t even show Ms. Manson book two or three of the detective series because she had already rejected the first one. So at the time, not counting Kings of Delusion, I had four books total and one halfway done. I decided to take the notes from the editors who rejected Kings and do another rewrite to address the concerns that made sense. Once satisfied and happy with the product, I began the whole process of querying again, but I found out that no one wanted to touch Kings because of where it had been, like it was a defiled virgin.
But I didn’t give up. I created a test-reader group on goodreads.com where our good friend Mr. Rick Taubold became a group member and nine other people participated. They agreed that the suspects in Kings of Delusion needed to be involved from the beginning. Yes, I thought. YES! I could certainly see their point and knew this would be the final, missing piece.
Night after night, I worked on rewriting the first third of the manuscript, and when I was done, I let Rick and few others read it again and received their approval. After three major surgeries, it was ready to be seen with the sole intention of pitching it at Thrillerfest 2014, and then self-publishing if rejected there.
Attending Thrillerfest in New York was a blast. All writers should network at conferences if possible. The face-to-face is invaluable and inspiring. So, I pitchedKings of Delusion with eight or nine agents, but it was still damaged goods. No one wanted my baby! Defeated, I considered that I had other manuscripts to lure agents/publishers, but I couldn’t let Kings start collecting dust again.
Yes. I had to self publish it. Hell, Kings had earned the right to be self-published. I couldn’t let this amazing manuscript (in my opinion) wither and die in anonymity. I had Rick edit the bastard while I created a cover. It was during this last rewrite where the title “Kings Of Delusion” was born, having been mentioned to describe the suspects at a poker game. I did no testing on this name. I had some grand vision of the book making the title instead of the other way around, as Silence Of The Lambs and A Raisin In The Sun had done.
For the cover, I found two images and bought the rights rather cheaply. Having a design background, I made several versions of the cover it came to be. I wanted the title to be huge because these covers are basically shown as thumbnails on ereader websites. And it also looks good on the paperback, too. I chose Createspace and Kindle Direct Publishing. Yes, I’m tied to Amazon with the ebook, but the paperback gets bigger distribution, however lower sales.
It’s kind of an anti-climatic moment to finally see Kings for sale and yet, no one was rushing to read it, but I understand the long journey to build reviews and get the word out. Avid readers already have loads of books they want to read and can’t get to. The challenge is making them believe they can’t wait. Would I have been better off with a small publisher? I’d be doing the same marketing and publicity anyway. When several respected authors told me it’s better in some ways, I felt a lot better about it.
Now, the hard part (as if everything I just explained was cake) is how to get everyone’s attention on Kings of Delusion. Just call Oprah, right? Brad Pitt lives in the French Quarter, just throw a copy up on his balcony. Genius! In reality, I’m trying things on Goodreads.com and soliciting for reviews and giving it away for free and am beginning to research other avenues. But the major breakthrough has to happen first before I can write about it.
Hopefully that will be very soon.