Phantasms & Magicks

(Was Smoke & Mirrors, which was the working title. Officially changed 15-Oct-17 (see the entry for that day below.)

This is a steampunk/SF novel with a twist. Primary inspirations were A Dream of Wessex and The Prisoner (the 2009 reimagining). (It wasn’t inspired by Inception—a first rough draft had been written well before the movie was announced). And I have a much better title, but I’m keeping it to myself at the moment. (Update on that: I might not be able to use that better title after all, because it’s pretty similar to the title of a 1970 collection of short stories by a well-know SF author. If I can find a publisher, it’d be their call.)

Current status: submitted to publisher

07-Sep-15: First draft was completed some months ago and a preview copy sent to the publisher. They seem to be interested. Since then it’s had one editing pass but it’s going to get another one, probably with some serious rewriting of many scenes, before it’s in shape for submission. So I’ll be working on self-edits on this ‘script while editing Artemis.

19-Sep-15: Just finished another editing pass. The typescript is ready for submission to the publisher, but first I have to put together a blurb and a synopsis so that’ll probably be tomorrow.

07-Nov-15: My publisher isn’t acquiring new titles at the moment so I decided to go traditional; that is, I’m trying to find an agent. I found a couple through Writer’s Digest on Twitter, and sent queries. Then I signed up with QueryTracker and found a bunch more, and hand-picked seven and sent out queries. Of those nine queries, I’ve had five rejections so far. Of the other four (based on QueryTracker timelines) I’m expecting responses from two any time now. One in particular looks like someone I’d particularly like to work with and I really hope he’s interested.

11-Nov-15: I received another rejection email the day before yesterday. That’s the way it goes. Meanwhile that agent I mentioned in the previous update (the one I said I hope to be able to work with) hasn’t responded, and my submission is in the middle of a bunch of submissions from other authors, which he has answered (according to QueryTracker). Not sure if that’s a good sign or a bad one. I’ll give it a few more days, but in the meantime I think I need to check to make sure I followed his submission guidelines properly. (Update to the update: It looks like I might have misunderstood the submission guidelines—which is embarrassing, given how careful I usually am in sticking to them. In my defence, the guidelines are not as clear and unambiguous at they might be. I’ve drafted another query, and if I don’t see a response to the original query by, say, Friday, I’ll send it.)

19-Nov-15: I decided I’d given that agent long enough without a reply. Either he basically binned the query because it didn’t follow guidelines properly, or it got lost somehow. I re-submitted with the additional stuff, being more careful this time. And twenty minutes later I got a form rejection. That leaves a sour taste; this guy was on Twitter talking about how not updating other agents you’ve queried when you get an acceptance is rude, but to me a form letter on a twenty-minute bounce makes me feel like he didn’t even look at the thing before throwing it out. Also . . . so many sites talk about making sure you address queries to the right person the right way; but apparently it’s ok for an agent to send a form rejection that starts Dear Author. (I take the time to look up your name when I’m writing the query; you can’t take ten seconds to put my damned name on the top line when you reply?) These are reasons writers say bad things about agents. Well, fuck it. It’s still in the queue with two other agents. Patience.

06-Dec-15: Still waiting to hear from the last two agents. According to QueryTracker, one of those could respond any day now. Expect an update right here, soon.

07-Dec-15: The agent I was referring to in yesterday’s update came back with a form rejection. That leaves one agent, who (judging by what I see in QueryTracker) could easily be a couple more weeks getting back to me. So I’ve found three more agents to send out queries to (in the UK, this time) and those will be going out shortly. [Personal note: we all get rejected; that’s par for the course. But no matter how many times I say that to myself it still gets depressing, just getting form rejections with not a word of encouragement. So I guess I’ll try rewriting my queries a bit before doing the next batch. Maybe that’ll help. Maybe not. With no useful feedback of any kind, it’s impossible to know why these are being rejected. Is it the writing that’s the problem, or the query letter? If you’re an agent and you’re reading this, throw me a goddamn bone here.]

31-Dec-15: I found a publisher that doesn’t usually accept un-agented submissions but has an open submission period running until the end of January. After paring down the synopsis as much as I can, I’ve gone ahead and put in the submission. I might not hear anything for three months, so I’ll still be submitting to agents in the meantime. Watch this space.

01-May-16: Never did hear anything back from that publisher, so at this point I’m not quite sure what to do with the ‘script. I’m seriously considering self-pub on Smashwords.

18-Jul-16: I did eventually hear back from that publisher; they said it wasn’t for them. Oh, well.

28-Jun-17: I have another list of agents to try before I go the self-pub route. I need to check their submission guidelines and put together some emails. With a little luck I’ll get time for that today. Later that same day: Using QueryTracker I found seven agents in the UK that look promising. One of them has a response rate of only 4.4% (this is one reason authors have such problems with agents, I think—most agents aren’t interested in 95% of submissions, and that’s par for the course; but they can’t take two minutes to bounce back an email, even a form email, just to let the author know rather than letting them stew?) Anyway, all seven want pretty much standard stuff: cover letter, short synopsis, first ten thousand words as an attachment. Some slight variations. Since I already sent much the same to the US agents I tried I already have most if not all of the necessary materials so this should go pretty quickly, but it’s not a job to be rushed; it’s important to follow each agent’s guidelines to the letter, so it all has to be checked carefully before clicking Send. My plan is to get the queries out no later than tomorrow evening (I might even get some out today, if the day job doesn’t throw any last minute crazy stuff at me).

29-Jun-17: I was re-reading the typescript last night and came across a few glitches, so I’ve decided to hold off on sending any more queries out until I’ve done one more editing pass.

1-Jul-17: Yesterday was a wipe as far as writing work went; I had to pack in the day job early to go help number-two-son move house, and by the time we’d got finished I was too tired to focus. Now it’s Saturday morning, only the cat and I are awake, so it’s the perfect time to get some editing done. Just started Chapter Three; plan is to stamp out a quick blog post when I’m done with it. Took a couple of minutes to grab a fresh coffee and update this page; now back to work.

2-Jul-17: Yesterday, as I mentioned, I started on Chapter Three; I got most of the way through that (all but the last scene), then backtracked to Chapter Two and added a new scene to introduce a character that otherwise isn’t seen until almost the end of the book. Why? Because the scene at the end has two characters never seen until that point, and it comes across as a bit rough. The sudden introduction of one of those characters is unavoidable (part of the story) but the other can be brought in earlier. That way the scene includes a character that the reader should be a little bit familiar with, and that should (I hope) make that scene a smoother read. I’m planning on adding at least three more scenes involving this character, so the reader has her in mind—one somewhere around Chapter Six, then others probably around Chapters Fifteen and Twenty-Five. This morning: dealt with the last scene in Chapter Three and uploaded the updated files for Chapters One through Three to cloud safety, and made a start on Chapter Four. Updated a couple more of my web site pages (the Social and Contact pages), and of course this entry. Next: coffee and onward with Chapter Four. Later that same day (around 2pm): Chapters Four, Five, Six, and Seven are done. Those scenes with the new character I mentioned? Turns out the next one involving her will be going into Chapter Nine. Anyway, four chapters dealt with; not too bad at all. I’m calling it for today. Time to deal with some kitchen cleanup and see about some lunch, then I think I’m going to relax with a video game.

3-Jul-17: Last night I did Chapters Eight and Nine, including the new scene with Alicia that I mentioned. That was around 1am. This morning, reviewed the new scene and made a couple of tweaks, and I like it. Since then I’ve also done Chapters Ten through Thirteen. That puts me a bit over a third of the way through. There are thirty-five chapters, so I have twenty-two left; if I can average five a day I’ll be finished by Saturday. (And in fact I think I should be able to do more than that—I might be done as early as Thursday.) I’m not trying to rush it but the sooner it’s done the better, since I could get more Artemis files back from my copy editor any day, and when that happens I’ll need to switch over. (Although, if I’m really close to finishing Smoke & Mirrors I’ll probably just do it.) Later that same day: It’s now 4:30pm and I’ve done a marathon editing session; I’ve dealt with ten, count ’em, TEN chapters—Fourteen through Twenty-three. And I might even do more later. I’m on fire, baby. Later still: 9pm, and I just wrapped up Chapter 27. Only eight more chapters to go—and that means I might get them finished tomorrow. But that’s enough for now—I’ve been on this all day and it really is time to give it a rest.

4-Jul-17: IT IS DONE. I just finished the last chapter and uploaded it safe and sound to the cloud. Now, since it’s July 4, I have to deal with some chores since we’re planning on firing up the grill later; there are things in the freezer to pull out—some smoked sausage, some chicken breasts, stuff like that. We’ll be getting busy on that in a while. I might do the next steps with this book if I get some time later; I need to put together a cover letter, a one-page synopsis, and the first ten thousand words, since all of the agents I want to query ask for those. Before I do that, I need to check the details of exactly what each agent wants specifically—I have a feeling one wants a bigger synopsis and another specifies Times New Roman for the ten thousand words. I’ll gather that information in a spreadsheet. As far as the actual query letter goes, I’m pretty sure the one I sent to the first round of agents wasn’t as good as it might have been. I have a link to an article on Writer’s Digest that looks promising, so I’ll read that through and see what I can do to improve my query. That can wait a bit. While I’d really like to get the queries out asap, I’m going to take the time to do the best job I can. Anything to improve my chances.

5-Jul-17: I went through the list of UK agents; one is closed for submissions until September, and another doesn’t want any steampunk submissions. (Is Smoke & Mirrors steampunk? I suppose it depends on your point of view. Nevertheless, since it could be called that, I decided to strike that agent off the list.) So now I have a spreadsheet with all the details I need in one place—agent’s name, agency, and email address, together with specifics of what should be in the submission. I also have a file containing the first fifty pages, and another with the first ten thousand words, since the agents all ask for one or the other; I have a draft cover/query letter (based on the Writer’s Digest article I mentioned yesterday), a full synopsis that’s about six pages, and I’m working on a one-page short synopsis. Tomorrow I’m back to day-job work, so I’ll be grabbing a few minutes here and there to work on the query and the synopses to do what I can to polish them. I want to get those out to agents soon, but I’m not going to rush it. The plan is to get them all drafted in email, then let them sit for a bit and review them, then send them out Sunday afternoon or early Monday.

6-Jul-17: Got the query letters and synopses drafted out; I’ve copied those around and started on personalising them for each agent. I was going to try to finish that but frankly I’m too tired—today was the first day back at the day job after five days away, and as usual it’s hit me pretty hard. If I try to force it right now I’ll make stupid mistakes. We are not at home to Mister Cock-Up, so I’ll get back to it in the morning when I feel a bit more alert. The plan still stands—this lot doesn’t go out until Sunday afternoon at the earliest, so there’s plenty of time to take it steady and get it right.

7-Jul-17: I’m pretty much done with the first pass of personalising the query letters. I’ll be doing another pass, probably tomorrow, possibly Sunday, to make sure I got names and titles and the attachments that were asked for. I’d do more on it today, but I started a full virus scan this morning, and when I checked on it a little while ago it was about a quarter done after six hours . . . so it might have to be left to run overnight. I am really glad my important files have been backed up in the cloud; the laptop is getting pretty old and I don’t know how much longer it’s going to last. Hey, maybe I’ll make a few hundred bucks off Artemis and Smoke, and be able to buy me a new laptop. That’s a few months off at the very least, and there’s no predicting how many I’ll sell. I live on dreams. But it’s a nice dream.

8-Jul-17: Laptop finished the virus scan sometime around 2am last night. Today I finished drafting the queries and gave them a final check to make sure I’d added the right attachments and such. Having done that, the plan was to send them out tomorrow but I decided there wasn’t much point delaying. So I sent them. Watch this space.

11-Jul-17: First query response: Rejection. Keep watching.

15-Jul-17: No more responses yet, but I found another agency that looks interesting. Their submission process is one of the simplest I’ve seen; just five pages of double-spaced in the body of the letter. I haven’t submitted yet, and I may wait to give the others a chance. I haven’t decided yet.

25-Jul-17 06:28: While I was updating the bit below for Finish Your Book, an email response came in. I haven’t opened it yet. Here goes . . . it’s a rejection. “Not quite right for my list”. Meh.

7-Aug-17 07:10: I just checked Query Tracker to take a look at the timelines of the agents I queried. I have two outstanding. One I don’t expect a reply from (her response rate is appalingly low); the other seems to be taking around four months to reply, which means I might get a response sometime in November. I have two more agents on my list but they’re both closed for queries until September. I’m waiting as fast as I can, basically.

19-Aug-17 07:52: Still waiting. Queries have been out for forty-two days. For one of the agents, the average response time is around fifty-nine days — but that doesn’t mean much, since her longest was 224 days. Still, it’s possible I’ll get something around the end of the month.

27-Aug-17 10:58: Queries have now been out for fifty days. For the one agent that I think I have a chance of getting a response from, the last response shown on QueryTracker took fifty-three days—so I’m getting to where I could get an answer pretty much any time. And as I’ve mentioned, there are two more agents on my list who are opening for submissions this coming Friday, so sometime this week I’ll be getting those queries together ready to send. On the subject of agents, I found out something that explains why they send form responses without any other explanation (which is a thing I’ve given agents a bad rap about several times on this and other pages). Blog post about that coming up.

1-Sep-17 14:14: One of the agents that said they were re-opening for submissions today is open again; the other isn’t. So, one query has been sent out, and the other is sitting in draft mail, ready to have the Send button clicked the minute I see that change.

16-Sep-17 08:30: Another rejection came in yesterday morning. Also, still waiting for that other agent who’s supposed to be re-opening for submissions this month; I’m checking daily, and ready to send out the query. I’m not expecting anything, and I’m gearing up to get the script formatted ready for self-pub.

9-Oct-17 11:33: That agent I keep mentioning, that was supposed to be open for submissions again last month, is still not accepting. Which means I have to make a choice about priorities. I can put Smoke on the back burner and focus on the Untitled SF Series. Or I can go the opposite way and get Smoke self-pubbed. The problem with the first option is it means I have a completed manuscript just sitting there for several months while I work on the SF project, when it could be out there. And the problem with the second option is that I’ll likely lose the momentum I’ve built up as I’ve worked on the story. I also have to factor in the editing work for Artemis, which could come back to life at any time and would take priority over both. So here’s my decision: I’ll continue with the SF project for another week; if by next Saturday morning the agent is up for submissions, fine – I’ll submit Smoke and continue with the other work (the SF project or Artemis, depending) until I get a response. If not, I’ll shelve the SF project and get Smoke formatted for eBook and print, and see about getting some cover artwork done.

15-Oct-17 07:51: Agent is still not open for submissions, and Artemis work is going to be a while longer, so the decision is made: starting today I’m working on getting Smoke & Mirrors in shape for self-publication.

15-Oct-17 10:43: I’m officially changing the title to Phantasms & Magicks. I was concerned that some might think I’m trying to confuse the name with Jack Vance’s collection of SF/F stories, Fantasms and Magics; I’m not (I didn’t know about Vance’s book until a few months ago, when it showed up on one of the many web searches I’ve done looking for similar titles). However, given that the spelling is different, and my name isn’t Vance, and his book is at least forty years old, and my book is a novel rather than a collection, I don’t think anyone would think I’m trying to deliberately confuse.

22-Oct-17 07:28: Actually the title might change again, too. And it’s also possible that I might not self-publish after all, because I’m seeing about submitting the ‘script to my regular publisher again. Yes, I know I planned on submitting it before and they weren’t interested at the time, but that was then and this is now; circumstances have changed. So I asked the question yesterday and I’m waiting on an answer before I commit to self-pub.

26-Nov-17 11:48: The typescript was submitted to Xchyler the day after I wrote that last update (i.e. October 23). The editor-in-chief was going to check with my copy editor to see how things were going with Artemis, but there’s been no word since – so I’m waiting to find out (1) when my editor might be free to switch back to Artemis, and (2) whether Xchyler wants to take Phantasms. Whatever happens it’s now certain that neither book will be released this year.