Last spring I pitched my book, Habeas Corpses, to the editor of a large(r) house that will remain unnamed. I met with this editor in person at a convention, pitched HC, and Said Editor (SE) expressed interest. A week or so later, I sent the manuscript to SE.
I have yet to hear back from SE. No acceptance or rejection.
To be fair, I should have contacted SE and ascertained that SE received my manuscript, but I didn’t. That’s my fault, and I take responsibility for it.
In the meantime, another large house contacted me about Habeas Corpses after reading an excerpt (I think it was the first chapter) on a website they run. That’s right… contacted me. I may have mentioned this before. This Other Editor (OT) requested the first hundred pages, and naturally I sent them. It didn’t take long for OT to send an email outlining some changes I’d have to make in order for my manuscript to be acceptable. These changes basically consisted of removing all traces of gore and graphic material from my novel because OT felt the gore would turn off readers.
Mind you, this manuscript is a zombie novel. Zombie fans turned off by gore? Has anyone at Large Publishing House bothered watching The Walking Dead? Rant over.
I pitched it again to another small(er) publishing house and was told they liked the characters, but the novel didn’t fit their line. Fair enough, and it was a pleasant pitch and rejection.
Yeah, so anyway, at this point I was completely convinced I was marketing this monster the wrong way. But since I was so close to the story, I wasn’t sure I could objectively call it one thing or another. I tried marketing it as urban fantasy, as horror, as a mystery. I had one really awful critique from a contest (more on contests and why I’ll never enter another one in a different post) that claimed it was utter shit and not worth the paper it was printed on. I entered it as an urban fantasy, and I really think that was part of the problem. I needed some help.
A few of my writing colleagues mentioned talking to a professional editor. I know a few editors from my days at SHU, but no one in the horror genre, so it was clear I was going to have to step outside my inner circle.
I started doing some research and one name popped up in a couple of different places from trusted friends. After some procrastinating on my part (because no one could know my novel as well I do, right?) I contacted The Editorial Department for someone to take a look at it and tell me where Habeas Corpses fit in which genre.
My novel was assigned to RJ Cavender. Fast forward by a couple of months and I’d received RJ’s critique of Habeas Corpses. A few weeks later, my mentor and colleague Scott talked me out from under my bed where I was sobbing and dribbling. He smacked some sense into me and I reread RJ’s critique, after which I signed on to work further with RJ.
RJ’s critique was honest (something which I value very much, but always take some time to digest, hence the sobbing and dribbling) and easily the most helpful assessment of a manuscript I’ve ever had. My first read-through of any critique only allows me to read the negatives, so I missed all the complimentary things he had to say until I came back out from under the bed. He accurately pinpointed my strengths (dialogue) and weaknesses (plot holes), and gave solid advice on how to fix the weaknesses.
He also told me my novel should be marketed as horror. And then he helped me market it.
…to be continued