Writer Interview: Jonathan Dalar

Today’s Writer Interview features something new—a self-published author.  Jonathan tells us not just about his current project, but the process of self-publishing his work, Separate Worlds.  Check it out!

AG: Tell us about your current project.

JD: My current project is a bit of a beast. It’s a time travel novel that’s a little glimpse of future technology, a little nostalgia, and a little (hopefully unbiased) social commentary. It’s what might have happened if Aldous Huxley had collaborated with Winston Groom to write Indiana Jones. The premise started out as a short story, really just a beginning and an end, and just kept expanding it from there. I call it a “novel, with potential for a series”, but the whole thing just won’t shut up in my head, and there’s so much more to the story yet to tell. It’ll probably have its way in the end. The concept is just too large.

AG:  Is it your first book?

JD: Definitely not! I’ve been writing for a long time now, and have a couple of the requisite “trunk novels” hidden away, as well as a couple more novels that are in the subsequent draft and revision process. With each book I’ve written, I see drastic improvement from the last, to the point where I shudder looking back at some of my early work - even work I once queried - knowing it simply wasn’t ready. This is an important part of a writer’s learning process. The more you do anything, the better you become at it, and writing is no exception.

AG:  How did you tackle the revision process before you queried? Did you use CP’s?

JD: Once I finish a first draft, I let it sit for a while, stew in its own juices, so to speak. It allows me to come at it with a bit of forgetfulness. I don’t exactly know each twist and turn of the story, and so I read it with more the eyes of a reader than a writer. I can see things I didn’t before, and that allows me to do a more thorough revision process. Then I come back at it and fix any plot holes and weakly written parts, and add whatever else I feel is necessary to round the story out and give it more complexity and depth.

I find I’m very wordy with the first and second drafts, so my writing process goes through a first phase where the book gets larger before I shrink it back down. The second draft usually adds a lot more to the story, filling out details and subplots I missed with the first. I concentrate only on story, making sure I have all the necessary loose ends tied up. At this stage, I don’t bother with how many words the story has because I know I’m going to edit a lot of them back out later.

Then I use critique partners and beta readers. While it’s not mandatory, or even necessary, it sure helps to get some fresh views, to see suggestions from people who don’t see it with the background knowledge you have on the subject. The key is to use people who aren’t going to blow smoke up your ass and tell you how wonderful your writing is and how they can’t wait to see it published. You need people who don’t mind getting a little cruel and telling you things you don’t really want to hear about your writing. People who enjoy that Schadenfreude a bit too much, even. That’s what makes you a better writer. That’s what turns “sorry, pal, I fell asleep after the second chapter” into that message where they cuss you out for causing them to stay up until three in the damn morning, even though they had to get up at six to go to work. That second reaction is exactly what you want, and it’s exactly what will get your book published someday.

Once I start the editing process in earnest, I start cutting. On the first real edit, I take a good third of the words out, but replace maybe only a third of those words taken out. Each subsequent edit takes out fewer words, but still continues to trim and prune. After a few rounds of this, I find the novel has trimmed down to where it needs to be in terms of size, but still contains the details and subplots necessary to round the story out.

It’s at this point where I’m comfortable enough with the story to write the query, synopsis, variations on blurbs, and quick elevator pitches for it. Those aren’t necessarily fun things to write, but by this time in the process, they’re not hard because I know my story so well.

AG:  What was the querying process like for you? Any tips?

JD: The querying process is hell. For anyone. And it lasts as long as you’re willing to let it go on until you find an agent. At least that’s what they say. I have hundreds of rejections, for everything from flash fiction to novels. And while I don’t exactly enjoy getting one back, I don’t mind them at all. Each is constructive in its own way. Each can add to my knowledge, tell me something, even if it’s a short, generic one. I can use them all as a whole to figure out what’s wrong with my submission, where I need to focus my energy, what I need to change.

It’s kind of a fun hell for me now. I do my homework on agents. I follow their blogs, “stalk” them on Twitter, search for whatever I can find to not only find the right agent for my book, but personalize it so that they know I’ve done my due diligence finding them. Twitter is an easy way to really find out about agents. Of course, you don’t want to query or pitch them your work that way, but I often find myself interacting with one or more, and learning something in the process.

And once I find someone who really looks like a great fit, I’ll tailor one of my several queries to them a bit. I often don’t do much, as a little goes a long way, but agents want to see that you’ve taken the little extra time to show them you’re pitching your work to them, and not to some nameless, faceless entity out there.

I am very professional in my queries, more so than in real life. But that’s the way it should be. A query letter is the author’s version of a business letter. In it, you’re reaching out to a professional in the field to perhaps negotiate a business partnership with them. Certainly this will be not only their first impression of you but the basis upon which you establish this relationship. Being rude, condescending, crass, or in any other way unprofessional isn’t going to accomplish what you want anyway. All it will do is flag you as being someone that nobody wants to work with, and from what I’ve heard and seen, word gets around.

I have a multi-layered approach to tracking submissions, but even then I’m sure one falls through the cracks once in awhile. I maintain a document listing the agents/agencies I’ve submitted to. I list both, because agents move from agency to agency, get out of the business, or start up their own agencies all the time. I also blind courtesy copy myself so that if one should fail to get entered in that document, if I type in an address, it’ll pop up as remembered, and I’ll cross reference it with the actual queries I’ve sent out.

I query exclusively via e-mail now. I know many agents still accept regular mail queries, and even now some refuse to accept any digital submissions. For me, it’s not only much easier, to query digitally, it’s cheaper, quicker, and I can manage my submissions better. The key is to find something that works for you, set up a system, and stick to it.

AG: Tell us about the editor submission process from your experience.

JD: I worked with an editor on my self-published novella, Separate Worlds, and the experience was very educational. In fact, the whole process was probably more worthwhile than a college course on the subject. With the recent surge of self-publishing, I decided to explore the concept with something I didn’t feel was marketable in the traditional sense, while still pursuing agents and publishers with my novels. It was one of the best things I’ve done, especially as a learning experience.

Working with an editor is an interesting experience. Your work is suddenly presented back to you with someone else’s stamp on it. It’s no longer entirely yours. And it’s a little daunting looking at page after page of blood red ink slashed across your words. The first thing that went through my mind was “geez, does my writing really suck that badly?” But it’s worth it in the end. Finding a great editor, one that sees your vision of the story, will go a long way to making your work much better than it otherwise would be.

This is one aspect I look forward to most about breaking into the publishing world because I’ve seen firsthand the impact a great editor can have on a manuscript. While the story becomes more than just your baby, you really start to see a refined, polished piece of work that isn’t really possible without an editor.

AG:  Do you blog? Where can we find you on Twitter and the Internet?

JD: Yes, I’m very active with social media. I love interacting with people - readers, other writers, agents, editors, publishers - really anyone interested in the great art of storytelling. I tweet, I blog, both on my own site as well as the occasional guest blog. I’m also on Facebook and Google Plus. Look, if you can’t find an author on the Internet nowadays, that author had better be famous enough not to need the extra exposure, and willing enough to take the loss of interest and sales. Besides, the interaction is fun, rewarding, and educational. I’ve listed all the places you can find me at the end of this blog. Or you can Google me; that works too. Feel free to look me up and interact.

AG:  What online resources have you used to help your writing and querying and revision process?

JD: There are so many resources out there now, it’s hard to list them all. I have some of the resources listed on my blog. But I think the one area where an author can find the most help for the least amount of effort is with literary agents. There are many who run blogs chalk full of great advice. I won’t name any here for fear of leaving too many out. Also, we probably don’t have the room to list them all. Needless to say, writers, learn from them, use their advice! Follow them on Twitter. Read through their blogs. There are many resources out there, but literary agents are some of the best you can find. They give tons of advice out day after day, and the only thing you’ll have to pay is attention. Sadly, I see over and over again where the experts in this business complain that writers just don’t know how to do it right because they didn’t take the time to learn.

AG:  Any extra info you’d like to add or discuss?

JD: In the end, only one thing matters, and that is the writing. Many things can be overlooked or fixed, but in the end, it comes down to good writing. Good writing trumps everything!

Jonathan Dalar

Here’s where you can find me on the Internet:


AG: Jonathan, thank you so much for sharing your story!  Everyone go check out his work and leave this author some love!

Writer Interview: Benjamin Weller

Ok, so after a month or so of Writer Interview hiatus, I put out some feelers on Twitter and was AMAZED by the response.  Wow.  Guys.  I’m so thrilled you want to talk to me about my favorite process in the world—writing, revising, querying and all the ups and downs that go along with it.  Thank you. 

One of the writers who found this website via Twitter is Benjamin Weller, whose epic sci-fi story Cloudnigh sounds both fascinating and chilling.  Let’s hear some more, right?

AG: Tell us about your current project.

BW: I’m working on revising Cloudnigh, a sci-fi novel that explores the human race after near-lightspeed travel causes them to evolve, yet attempts to keep society exactly the same as it was on earth. The problem is they’ve wound up on a planet built by an alien race attempting to preserve conscious life, and humans want no part in it, so they’ve isolated them and the tools to help them protect themselves, even though the world is falling apart and they need their help to preserve it. The government’s even set up so that ideas are viewed as viruses, so there’s a pretty heavy degree of censorship.

The story primarily follows a seventeen-year-old kid with a rough home life who sees all this stuff, and in becoming inspired to act, becomes a social revolutionary without any of the ability to handle it. There are a few others--a born-again Christian hacker trying to regain her reputation and her religion, a therapist who inspires his clients to attempt suicide, and a bitter biology teacher whose dreams put him in a hopeless dual reality.

AG: Is it your first book?

BW: It’s my fifth, but the first one that I feel shows any promise. The others were all practice to some degree or another.

AG: How did you tackle the revision process before you queried? Did you use CP’s?

BW: Slowly. I finished the draft in January and sort of had to figure out the revision process on my own. It’s not a small manuscript--around 190,000 words--so I have to be really careful about making sure the story is solid, and flows enough so agents will overlook the length and see what I hope is a compelling, well-paced narrative. I’ve used a few betas, but the real challenge is finding contacts who have been published that are willing to read the darn thing and let me know how far off the mark I am. I’ve got a few, but when you’ve written a brick like I have, there aren’t a lot of people who have the time.

AG: What was the querying process like for you? Any tips?

BW: I’ve only sent out a couple queries, mostly to test the waters. I’m not expecting much right now because I’m still figuring out how the whole process works.

AG:  Do you blog? Where can we find you on Twitter and the internet?

BW: I blog quite a bit. I originally wrote Cloudnigh as a serial on a forum for the Inheritance Cycle. People liked it so much I took it down and spent a year revising before I finished the book proper. As a result I’ve got a blog (livejournal.com/sevenspinner), a Twitter (@BenjaminWeller), and a Facebook (facebook.com/cloudnigh). The Facebook in particular is kind of awesome since a lot of people have popped in to be like, “wow, I love this! Please publish.” I try to lead people on with samples whenever I can.

AG:  What online resources have you used to help your writing and querying and revision process?

BW: I’m pretty self-taught as far as writing goes. I actually was raised reading anything but sci-fi/fantasy. My favorite books growing up were the classics--you know, Dickens, a bit of Tolstoy, and a heck of a lot of Hawthorne short stories. As for revision, I watch the blogs of my favorite writers like a hawk looking for tips. Brandon Sanderson in particular has been a huge help, even though I could never be that prolific. Queries I’m still working out. As far as I’ve gathered, it’s a mix of being concise and making it read like a book jacket and a summary.

AG:  Any extra info you’d like to add or discuss?

BW: Nothing in particular, except that I’m always looking for betas. I don’t mind trading, and I’d love the feedback!

So, friends, how ‘bout we go ahead and follow Benjamin on his adventures, eh?  Twitter, Facebook, and a blog—sounds perfect.  Good luck with your “brick” and I hope maybe you find some betas through this interview! 
As always, I love hearing comments (for the writer and for myself), and of course followers.  The more followers, the more people get to hear about these AWESOME writers and the processes they use!