hit tracker Dave Shields Author Blog: December 2004

A journal detailing my efforts to launch my career as a novelist. The goals are to share info about succeeding in this field with other aspiring authors, to provide updates to the many supporters who have asked me for them, and ultimately to build the momentum necessary to assure success in this venture.

Friday, December 31, 2004

A Publishing House is Born

I learned a ton as the result of my experiences with “The Pendulum’s Path,” but I wasn’t financially successful. I can’t exactly recall how I talked my wife into supporting my efforts to write another book, but I did. Maybe she’s just an understanding soul. Regardless, I thought long and hard about the topic for my new book. The idea of writing a Tour de France story kept popping into my head, but I kept pushing it away because I wanted something that would attract a bigger built in audience. Eventually, though, a story came together in my mind that I just had to tell. I’d need to write it to clear the way for my blockbuster, whatever that might be.

I never would have attempted this story, though, if not for Marty Jemison. He’s one of only 21 Americans to ever finish the Tour, plus he has a pair of national cycling championships to his credit. Marty is a stud who knows pro cycling like few others, and I was lucky enough to convince him to take a look at my project. The energizing thing was, once he read my first draft he went from being mildly interested in the idea to being intensely devoted to making sure I wrote the most accurate manuscript I possibly could. Without his input there is no way I would have created a novel worthy of the sort of reactions from the pro cycling community that this one has received.

Simultaneously, I worked with Noveldoc to critique the manuscript and produce a story that made sense to laymen. I was beginning to believe that this novel could eventually attract a mainstream audience. My efforts at shopping it to agents and editors were met with the now familiar supportive rejection letters, though. “We love what you’ve done here, but don’t feel that we are the best equipped to represent it…”

After a slew of such dead ends I finally caught the interest of a mid-sized publisher. I was thrilled at the possibilities, and everything seemed to be moving forward smoothly, when in December of 2003 they informed me that they wouldn’t be publishing the manuscript until Spring 2005. I’d thought through my marketing plans in detail and I couldn’t bear to let the window of opportunity that was the 2004 Tour de France pass me by. At the time it looked likely that Lance Armstrong would retire that year. Once he did, the minimal interest that the American public had in pro bicycle racing was likely to disappear.

I gritted my teeth, took out a second mortgage on the house, then took my rights back. My wife and I formed our own publishing company (eventually named Three Story Press partly in tribute to the tall but narrow house we live in). She’s been so supportive of the whole venture that I have to wonder whether she’s recently been fitted for a pair of rose colored glasses. She used to be so realistic. What a wonderful change!

Thursday, December 30, 2004

A New Year's Resolution

A decade of dreams and hard work come down to this. Thinking back on all the twists and turns this journey has taken I can hardly believe it. There have been great times, like when "The Race" rocketed into the top 100 books on Amazon, or when Daryn Kagan of CNN invited me back for future interviews regarding the 2004 Tour de France while live, on the air. And there have been bad times, especially a dark period my marriage almost didn't survive. I can't blame my wife for having been frustrated with my ability to provide for my family. My pursuit of this quest has forced sacrifices upon her that I can't believe I've had to ask for. Fortunately, we worked through things and our relationship is now incredibly strong. Hard times really are a gift. My wife is my greatest supporter nowadays, and I cannot express how thankful I am. Today we are the parents of three beautiful little girls, ages seven, two, and three weeks. They're sure to cost me a bundle in the not too distant future, so there is no alternative but to put a deadline on this quest.

So here it is: If I'm not generating income from my writing at a $50 K a year rate by August of 2005, it will be time to move on to a sure thing. Since I rolled the dice three times and never got a son, I'm destined to spend my life sailing in the estrogen ocean. I sometimes say that I am drowning in it, but the truth is I couldn't be happier about my predicament. At the very least, though, I need to take the trip in a seaworthy dinghy. If a writing career can't provide a secure future for my family, so be it.

I'm going to give my writing efforts all I've got between now and then. I still firmly believe that I have what it takes to succeed as a novelist, it's just a matter of proving that to enough readers to keep me going. So, from now through August I'm committing myself to posting to this site at least five times a week. In addition to finishing the story I've been telling about how I got to this point in my writing career and filling in details as a result of the e-mails I receive, I'll share with you what I'm doing in order to market "The Race" and to complete its sequel (tentatively titled "The Tour"). You'll hear about my successes, like when a Colorado bike shop called The Cycologist purchases fifty inscribed copies to give to their best clients like they did last week, and you'll hear about my failures, like when a review I'd been promised in a major publication was inexplicably canceled (though I'll keep names quiet and cross my fingers that they have a change of heart - I realize that they don't owe me anything, but oh how grateful I'd be).

It's been energizing to learn how many people care about my efforts. Thank you for your supportive e-mails. I think this can be a great way to keep those who care to follow along updated on my progress. One side benefit is that I used to do a very good job of keeping a diary, but I've felt too overwhelmed to devote the necessary time in recent years. I regret not recording such a pivotal time in my life, because I've learned a ton by reviewing old diaries regarding even the mundane moments. Now that keeping a diary has a place in my marketing efforts I can stone two birds with one hand grenade, or something like that. I'll try to include as few mundane moments as possible.

So, onward. Regarding my previous post, I forgot to relate one other important surprise drawback to printing a book with Xlibris. When I signed my contract with them their price structure indicated that "The Pendulum's Path" would sell to the public at just over $15. Before the book ever came out though, they exercised their fine print right to change the pricing structure and re-priced my book at $22.99. How many people are going to line up to by a title by an unknown author priced $7 over market, no matter how good the reviews it is getting? The answer is not many.

I had to get the price down, and so in a stroke of genius (though I won't blame you for calling me a fool once you learn a tiny bit more) I agreed to purchase 5000 copies at a drastically reduced rate. It seemed like a good idea at the time, because you must remember, I thought I'd written a book the nation just had to read. With the 2002 Olympics on the doorstep the world was about to get a taste of the bizarre cultural mix that is Salt Lake, and I figured they would be dying to know just what is behind all these quirks. After all, how many cultural exposes can one person read about the deep South? The time for a fictional investigation of Utah had come!

Imagine how thrilled I was when a print overrun of 500 books was also delivered. I figured I had enough inventory to last a month or more. Turns out, my inventory has lasted way longer than that. I haven't counted my remaining books lately, but they still take up an entire parking space in my parents' garage. It is with the most foolish of pride that I now show off my extensive library including thousands of books (the vast majority of them perfect clones of one another). Oh well. Once I'm "discovered" collectors will be dying for one of my originals, right?

Sunday, December 26, 2004

In the Eye of the Storm

December is always a busy time, so when you throw a new baby into the mix it's sure to be chaos. What an incredible Christmas present a brand spanking new little girl is, though. This has been a holiday season that our family will never forget.

Last post I explained how I went from writing a manuscript to transforming it into a publishable manuscript. "The Pendulum's Path" is the story of a man living in Utah, and through his experiences it gives readers a unique taste of the culture and geography of this region. As the 2002 Olympics approached I knew the timing would never be better to test the market for this book. In order to do so I published it through Xlibris. There are both great advantages and great disadvantages to this route, but ultimately I feel it was the correct step at that point in my writing career. It was time for the rubber to meet the road, and since I couldn't yet convince a major publisher to take a risk on me, it was time for me to take a risk on myself.

The primary advantages are the ability to easily turn a manuscript into a book and to make it available through on-line sites like Amazon. The primary disadvantages are a stigma reviewers attach to Print on Demand sources like Xlibris, and big barriers to getting such a book on the shelves of brick and mortar stores. Reviewers are hesitant to even consider books from sources like this, not the least of which is that they know the quality control is non-existent. That doesn't mean there aren't good books to be found. Stores are hesitant to devote shelf-space because POD titles are normally non-refundable and are rarely supported by any cohesive marketing effort.

I was fortunate enough to get some very good reviews for "The Pendulum's Path," and also to get it stocked on the shelves of a number of local bookstores and souvenir shops. I went to lengths that seem hysterical in order to promote the title, but they worked to a certain extent, and (just as importantly) they fit within my budget. For instance, when "The Today Show" set up house in Park City during the Olympics I set up house on their set. I was armed with a big poster of my book cover which got lots of airtime in the crowd shots, but I never scored an on-air conversation with any of the hosts.

The more important thing I gained from my experiences with that book were the many lessons I learned about creating a marketable manuscript. Armed with all sorts of new knowledge, I was ready to produce my next novel.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Waiting for my baby

Any moment now we will rush to the hospital. Since this is my third time through the process I don't think I'm going to get so excited that I forget to take my wife along with me, but you never know. We're still trying to think of a good name for our new family member.

Back to my story of how my writing career reached this point. When I completed the first draft of my second novel, a book that eventually became "The Pendulum's Path," I thought that I had constructed a masterpiece. Why shouldn't I? My friends and family praised it as if it was the best thing they'd ever read. Literary agents and publishers weren't so kind, though. They rewarded my efforts of tracking them down and mailing them large packages with a flood of rejection letters, many of them impersonal form letters. I couldn't understand why the reaction was so different.

That's when I got a lucky break. I'd changed career paths a bit in order to take a job that allowed me a little more time to write. I was hired by a company, Triton Investments, whose owners were believers in my dream and who gave me the necessary flexibility and resources to keep things moving forward. Shortly afterward I applied to join an on-line critique group that I'd come across on an Internet listing. Amazingly, they accepted my application and I was welcomed into a group whose members I am convinced are destined to change the landscape of literature. It's called NovelDoc, and I've been stunned at the talent time and again as I've critiqued their manuscripts. Some of the best books I've ever read are manuscripts these people are working on.

In Noveldoc I started to understand many of the reasons that the agents and editors had reacted so differently to my manuscript. Through the groups intense critique clinics I wrote and rewrote my manuscript. The critiques I received were often as large as the manuscript itself, and they were packed with incredible insight and advice. Simultaneously, I learned a tremendous amount about what worked and what didn't by providing the same sorts of critiques to fellow members.

I kept on sending manuscripts out to agents, and even though I continued receiving rejections in return, most of them were personalized and contained very encouraging words. I was on the right path.
Until Next Time,
Dave Shields

Friday, December 10, 2004

A Publishing Odessy

Encouraged by a number of readers and friends, today I'm dipping my little toe into the world of blogging. I admit that I know almost nothing about what this entails, but I look forward to learning. I figure that for my first post I ought to explain what it is I intend to blog about.

A little over ten years ago my wife purchased a computer tutorial on novel writing as a Christmas gift for me. Little did she know what a chain of events she was putting into motion. If she had it to do over again I wouldn't be surprised if she returned my gift in exchange for a pair of dress socks and yet another tie. Now it's too late. I've left behind my career as a mortgage banker forever. Good riddance.

I've always loved writing, and I'd been publishing freelance articles for years, so I figured, "How hard can this be?" I jumped right in and eventually created a a very bad manuscript that I now keep hidden in a drawer. That effort will never again see the light of day, but everybody has to start somewhere. I learned a lot about writing craft in the process. A decade and four novels later I'm not merely still fighting to break through, but I've essentially put all of my eggs in one dump truck and and charged forward like a derranged milk deliveryman. I admit that I'm a little bit worried about the shock absorber system on this old baby, though.

Over the next while I'll attempt to relate the story of how I got from where I started to where I am now in dribs and drabs. Hopefully you'll conclude, as some others have, that I'm on the verge of breaking through. I'm crossing my fingers, toes, and "t"s that those wonderful people are right. In the mean time, I've learned an awful lot of things about the publishing industry, and maybe some readers will find my experiences interesting. I'll look forward to also sharing real-time developments as they occur, and maybe I'll post an excerpt or two from my current work as it progresses.

Until then, I want to send out a big thank you to the thousands of people who have helped me in this journey so far, all the way from those who taught me how to write to those who have enjoyed my books and told others about them. One thing all this work has taught me is that in order for an unknown novelist to break through it takes a huge amount of support from early readers willing to discover and tell others about their work. I can never adequately express my gratitude to those of you who have helped me to spread the word. I'm bursting with ideas for new books I want to write. Thanks to you my dreams are coming true.
Dave Shields