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Thursday, 12 July 2012

Guest Blog by Michael Formichelli: My path to publication

[I'm currently reading and enjoying Michael Formichelli's first Science Fiction book 'Blood Siren', and we 'know' each other through Goodreads, so I asked him to describe his 'path to publication': how he got started, how he learned the writing craft, and how he decided he was ready to publish, and the resources he used along the way. It's all below - Thanks Mike!]

Guest Blog: Michael Formichelli, Author of Blood Siren

My personal journey to publication took about 4 years from the time I decided I wanted to be a serious author until the present.  I wouldn't exactly say that I am done walking this path either, but I'll try and outline the journey.

In 2008 I was at a crossroads in my life.  I was at the end of a bad relationship which had the very good consequence of teaching me that I wanted more out of life than what I had.  I came up with a list of ways in which my life could be better if only I put some effort into it.  Becoming a serious writer was at the top.

Although I'd written some novellas and a couple of novels mostly for my own entertainment - one of which was on a bet with a friend in college - I needed a little confidence booster before plunging headlong into the book world.

I decided to start with short stories.  I subscribed to Asimov's and bought a copy of the Writer's Digest Writer's Market to find magazines willing to take submissions from unknowns.  The first story I got paid for was called "Perfectly Safe."  It appeared in the January edition of Alien Skin Magazine- a now defunct online publication (alienskinmag.com).  Getting that first check was what really told me people were willing to pay to read the stories I wanted to tell.

Not being someone who wanted to start collecting rejection letters that may have been fatal to my early motivation, I started buying books on how to write, edit, and construct fully fleshed out plots.  I already knew how to do a lot of it from years of reading stories along with some good classes in college, but getting technical books about these topics served me better than I could have imagined.  First, as much as I thought I knew about telling stories and writing, they showed me I had a lot to learn about the intricacies of plot and characterization.  Second, they helped shore up my knowledge in the areas where my writing was weakest.  I really can't stress this enough, there were all kinds of tips and techniques I learned from reading about writing that I never would have thought of on my own.  Getting these books is already becoming a regular habit.  I have 2 more sitting on my desk that I will be digging into soon.

I started with The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr and E.B. White, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King, 45 Master Characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, and Story Structure Architect, also by Victoria Lynn Schmidt.  These gave me what I think is a pretty strong basis on which to build my stories.  The most helpful was 45 Master Characters.  Ms. Schmidt does a very practical and easy to understand breakdown of how to write fully fleshed out beings into your stories, and how to blend traditional archetypes to create involving stories.  I've referred to that book so much I have already had to rebind it.  I added quite a few books on the specialty areas as well, like designing fully fleshed out villains, psychology for writers, and even how to write steamy scenes -which in my opinion is the hardest of them all.

After reading all of that I thought it was time to start testing my writing.  I joined the Science Fiction Writers of America's critique group, Critters (www.critters.org).  If you're a short story writer within the genre, the group is great for getting feedback.  It operates on a credit system, in order to be able to submit work you have to develop credits by critiquing the work of others.  It taught me a lot about receiving criticism and editing by finding patterns in my writing.  Although it was great for these things, it wasn't the best group for what I wanted.  The turnaround time between submission and critique was so long, because the group is so large, that it really wasn't practical for me in writing my novel.

I searched for groups in my area, but none of them seemed right.  There were a few groups around the town I lived in, but I couldn't find one that specialized in science fiction or even the broader category of speculative fiction.  What I didn't want to have happen was get into an argument over a technical detail that existed in sci-fi, but not in other genres.  For example, someone unfamiliar with science fiction might wonder why one is spending so much time on the description of how an item works without realizing that the story is intimately intertwined with its environment.

My quest for a group moved on to Facebook where I found a few friends, all writers, willing to join me once a week via the old Google Wave.  That first group lasted only a few months.  All of us had jobs and lives outside of writing so there were weeks that not everyone had something to share.

By this time I was already through a draft of Blood Siren, and was determined to see it in print with or without a group.  I started talking to other friends and soliciting their advice on various topics.  I was eventually able to build up a mixed group of a professional writer and editor, a game designer, a fan of sci-fi who also was involved in the tech field, and my wife - who always gets to read anything I write first.  She lets me know if something I put to paper doesn't make sense.  With this group as my readers and editors, and after about a year of going through drafts with them, I finally had a product that all of them said was good.  Even then, I did one more edit and ran it past them again to make sure things were up to my own standards of smoothness and continuity.

Twelve drafts later, when I got comments like "it reads very easily, I flew through it" I knew it would probably be good enough to sell.  Then the really hard part started, doing research on the state of the publishing industry, what market would be best for the story I had, and making the decision about which way to go.

I didn't have a lot of writing credits under my belt.  In fact, most of what I've been published for, with the exception of Perfectly Safe, wasn't actually in my chosen genre.  I knew that would be an obstacle to obtaining an agent.  A friend of mine who worked in the publishing industry at the time started pushing me to self-publish. After deciding that the odds of my seeing Blood Siren on a store shelf anytime soon were fairly remote given what's going on in the industry, I decided to go ahead and put out my own book.  Ultimately I hope to build enough of a following that I will look attractive to an agent or publishing house and get some mainstream success.

Did I make the right decision?  I still am not sure about it.  Learning how to market- well, let's just say I had an easier time learning the basics of quantum physics, but it is turning into a rather exciting adventure.  Taking this road is not for everyone, and it is full of pitfalls, but it just happens to fit my personality and level of drive.  I am someone who really enjoys doing things on my own first, even if all I achieve is a learning experience.  I still intend to get involved in the mainstream world in the future, but for now the frustration and excitement of being an independent author is keeping me happy.  More importantly, it's keeping me motivated.

Below is an excerpt from Blood Siren Book One, available for Kindle and Nook from my website: www.cygnusorion.com.

“I am my father’s daughter.”  Sophi met her mother’s gaze with pride.
The words caused Aurora to jerk back as if she’d been slapped.  She blinked several times.  “Are you so determined to be?  He doesn’t want you, Sophi.  The moment he realized you were a threat to him he disowned you.  I left him over it-”
“You left him because he asked you to break with your political party and pass his bill.  I checked the records, mother.  He disowned me months before that vote and it was only after you decided not to support him that you left.”  Sophi’s voice quivered.
Cylus’ mouth dropped open.
Aurora scanned the face of her daughter for several long minutes.  “You think I should have voted with him?  He was trying to make it easier to take people’s livelihoods.  You think I should’ve thrown all of the struggling people to the Wolf?”
Sophi licked her lips.  “If they aren’t strong enough to survive on their own-”
Aurora was on her feet and across the room in a second.  She smacked Sophi across the face so hard the sound echoed off of the wall behind Cylus.  Sophi bent her body with the blow, letting her face turn towards the floor as her mother followed through.  After a moment she slowly righted herself and met her mother’s eyes.  Her cheek was bright red.
“-then they don’t deserve to survive at all.  That’s the doctrine we are to live by.  It is the one we have to live by or the ones that do will destroy us.  Wolves eat sheep mother.  It’s just the way it is.  You’ve been living in denial, sheltered by Aunt Hephestia’s power, but things are changing and you have to wake up or father will devour you along with the rest of the flock.”

3 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed reading Mike Formichelli's entry as "guest" blogger. I write mostly as a rhetorical writer and have a different set of reference materials, and I am not nearly so gifted as you Creative guys. I am very much looking forward to reading "Blood Siren." Mr. Kirwan, thanks for letting me visit your "house" today. I'll be back. Mary Wallace @wallace1770Mary, homelesschroniclesintampa.blogspot.com

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  2. You're very welcome Mary :-)

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