When I started Shadow Bound, I had zero aspirations for the manuscript to get published. Zero. My goal was this: learn to write a book while having fun. I assumed, when complete, it would languish on my computer for a while, and then I’d go back months later to see if there was anything to salvage. Shadow Bound was a self-imposed course on writing a novel. This approach gave me all sorts of room to do what I wanted, without my internal editor doubting each step. I believe that this broad creative license is what eventually got me published. And to the readers of this blog, I’d like to encourage a pursuit of that same semi-reckless license. I say “semi” because, of course, there are realities of craft and the publishing business that should be observed. An easy example would be keeping your word count within typical publishing parameters. Another would be making sure you maintain the hallmarks of your genre; a romance should end with a happily ever after. Basic stuff.
Here’s something I didn’t know that was painful to discover: There are innumerable ways to tell a story. Let me explain. At first I didn’t have a critique group to get feedback on my chapters, so I entered contests, the most expensive critique group of all. And I got feedback, but often it pulled my story in different kinds of directions. I’d get comments like “try starting here,” or “if you were to restructure this chapter in such and such way,” or worse, “there’s no market for this.” And you know what? A lot of the comments made perfect sense. I felt the rightness of them, and the wrongness of my approach. I could start it differently. I could restructure. I could rework a character arc in a different way. I think this tug-of-war can be illuminating, but it can also be deadly to a manuscript.
Luckily, I had an out. Because I started Shadow Bound with no expectation of it being published, I had a giddy sense of freedom to disregard any comment that pulled me away from my sense of the story. Was there a suggestion in there that might have made my book a whole lot better? Probably. But with all the feedback, I could only pick and choose what I thought would work for me, and then move on. Churn out the chapters. Enjoy the ride. Finish. If the book worked, great. If it didn’t, then I learned a lot. My next one would be better. I sound easygoing about that perspective, but it was very difficult. Still is, and I’m on my third book. I think it’s about finding and trusting your voice. Not just your narrative voice, but the voice in your head, too. In fact, at times it’s excruciating.
I continued entering Shadow Bound in contests, received some requests for fulls. Did the pitch thing at conferences, mostly for experience. I completed the manuscript, sent it out. Started another book. Five weeks later, I had an offer, a week after that, an agent, Jessica Faust. And the bliss of that experience? My editor and my agent understood and loved where I was coming from. Sure, I had revisions to do. I cut upwards of 6,000 words, revisited a whole bunch of scenes for clarity and impact. That’s part of the work of getting the manuscript ready. But the sense of the story was preserved.
Now, my idea for Shadow Bound is a little bit out there: I’ve got a banshee for a heroine, a bunch of soul-sucking wraiths planning to take over the world, and a hero on a personal mission to kill his brother. It’s a dark and twisted combination and I had a blast writing it. My wish for the writers reading this is to go for it. To refuse to belabor your manuscripts with doubts. There are a million ways to tell a story, some brilliant, some not so good. The only one that counts is yours.
Erin Kellison is the author of the Shadow Series, which includes Shadow Bound and Shadow Fall. Stories have always been a central part of Erin Kellison’s life. She attempted her first book in sixth grade, a dark fantasy adventure, and still has those early handwritten chapters. She graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English Language and Literature, and went on for a master’s in Cultural Anthropology, focusing on oral storytelling. When she had children, nothing scared her anymore, so her focus shifted to writing fiction. She lives in Arizona with her two beautiful daughters and husband, and she will have a dog (breed undetermined) when her youngest turns five.
Learn more about Erin at www.erinkellison.com.