Once I’d finished writing Blackbird, it took quite a while for me to figure out that I hadn’t finished writing Blackbird. I realized that I had only written a first draft, of course, and took appropriate actions: I selected some friends to be my “beta readers” and sent them some proof copies using Lulu.com. Then I eagerly waited throughout August and September for those proofs to be returned to me, covered in edits. But despite all that I was still convinced I was nearly done.
I really wasn’t. Not even close.
My beta readers offered enough critical feedback (some of it exactly the sort of savagery that I needed to hear) for me to work with. On November 22, 2009 I dived back into the manuscript and edited away, and just after Christmas I started submitting to agents. Although I’d had a book published before (the Ninja Burger Handbook), I’d never worked with an agent before, so figuring out this part of the process took some time. I knew that it wouldn’t be a quick process, and I was right. In most cases weeks or months went by before I heard back, and initially the answers were all a polite “Not right for us” if I heard back at all.
I kept myself busy, regardless. I began searching for voice actors to play the roles of Edison and Christian in a sort of radio play I hoped to put together, and I finished this project off in early June of 2010 while working for NCsoft on the Aion MMO and suffering a case of what the doctors thought at the time might have been Mumps(!). Shortly thereafter, my frustration at the long search for an agent beginning to set in, I uploaded a new draft of the novel to Amazon’s CreateSpace in July and ordered a copy to see what it looked like. I fully intended to self-publish once I got back from my trip to Gen Con.
Instead, on August 6—right around the exact time I was enjoying the dessert you see here—I got an email back from Chris Kepner at Victoria Sanders & Associates (who I had queried on June 9). He apologized for the delay and asked to see the full manuscript, which I emailed back around 2 AM. By the time my birthday rolled around in mid-September I was signed on with the agency, we’d done some additional editing, and my manuscript was being circulated among the big publishing houses.
It soon became apparent that this wasn’t going to be a quick process.
Months went by. Before I knew it nearly a year had passed, and it was in June of 2011 when Chris and I really sat down and looked at the feedback we were getting from publishers. The general consensus was that the novel was too long for anyone to take a risk on. We did the math and decided that if I could cut my 146,000 word novel down by about 30,000 words, we’d have a much better shot. So despite my reservations that’s exactly what I did. I worked with a fabulous editor by the name of Jennifer Schoonover to do some cutting of extraneous words, and then I took the manuscript and prepared to do the hard work of fixing some problems with the story that needed addressing before we could resubmit.
And then I got a job with a game company called KIXEYE, first as a community manager and then as a sort of anti-cheating specialist, and I got more insanely busy than I could have ever imagined. As a result, Blackbird kind of went on hiatus for a while. In late August of 2011 I informed Chris that it was going to be a while before I could deliver a properly edited manuscript, and then time just rolled on. It would be May of 2013 before I had anything close to a solid edit ready, and it would be March of 2014 before we had something that Chris could start shopping around again.
Finally in April of 2016—after a ton of hard work and persistence—we got a bite from a publisher who was interested in signing me on if I would be willing to consider trimming the novel a bit further: from 114,000 to about 95,000. That publisher was Skyhorse, and after hacking away at Blackbird all summer long, I finally signed on with them in September of 2016.
There was more editing after that, of course. Most of the final editing happened in the Spring of 2017 after my editor Chelsey Emmelhainz finally got a chance to dive into the book (mine was hardly the only book she was editing), but there was plenty to keep me occupied along the way: selling foreign rights, working on cover design, and beginning to work on a publicity plan. My long stint with KIXEYE had led me to drop off the Internet, since part of my job involved chasing down hackers and cheaters who were equally interested in tracking me right back. My disappearance unfortunately happened to coincide with social media truly coming into its own, and I needed to get back up to speed, something I continue to do to this day.
The rest you may already have read about (I hope). We finalized a manuscript for Blackbird this past summer and began sending out Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) to get blurbs and reviews. I brought in some additional help with publicity, started writing this blog, had a successful Goodreads giveaway, and have an AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) session planned on Reddit for a few days from now (as I write this). All in preparation for the novel’s ultimate release on November 7, 2017. The feedback we’ve received from early readers has all been tremendously positive and I am cautiously optimistic that people will enjoy reading Blackbird.
It’s been an incredibly long journey and I had my doubts, but in the end I’m really glad it took as long as it did. Blackbird would not be the book it is today if not for the people who supported me along the way, all the feedback I got, all the editing I did, and all those who believed in the project even when I wasn’t so sure myself.
If you’re curious, I’ve uploaded the original draft of the opening of Blackbird from July of 1999, with a link at the bottom to the version that will ultimately be published in November of 2017. Let me know what you think of how it’s changed over time!