5. enter [sic]

Poor Traits of an Artist as a Young Man: enter [sic]

For a table of contents of the entire series, click here. 

Despite mixed results from my work between Jimwamba and Frightened Boy, there was never any thought of quitting. Frightened Boy was gaining traction online, and I landed a new agent. She gave me the hint that young adult was blowing up right now, and that I may have an easier time targeting a concept like Jimwamba to teenagers.

She might be onto something.

[sic] was a new novel that copied the central premise of Jimwamba. The game remained – tag someone on the back, and they have fifteen minutes to change their lives. Except now it was a story about teenagers, and written much more competently. I pulled in many elements from my personal life, but it was in no way autobiographical. There’s a big difference between a diary like Jimwamba and a novel inspired by my childhood. [sic] felt real.

For the first time, I pulled a book together the way I’d always dreamed. Motifs, themes, recurring elements, a direct attack on our assumptions about life. I became much more critical of my own work, refusing to write the next chapter until I knew exactly where the story was moving. My career was stalling, and it was because of my material. Enough wild creativity; I needed control, direction, something to temper my outlandish surrealist tendencies.

It was time to evolve. If I had any doubt about a scene, it was replaced or deleted entirely. Brutal self-reflection. The book may have wound up at sixty-thousand words, but I cycled through well over a hundred-thousand words of material that didn’t make the cut or was reworked entirely. This has been my process ever since.

I first released [sic] on a webpage called WeBook, as part of an audience-voted contest. [sic] won the whole thing; suddenly I had offers of representation from three different literary agents. The tables were completely flipped from just a year before.

So I chose one. Over the course of a year, I was in serious talks with Simon & Schuster over publication of the book. A new editor on their youth fiction imprint was smitten with my novel, and said it was the sort of book he got into the industry to publish.

But the larger editorial board disagreed. I received a very lengthy and polite email from the chief editor at Simon & Schuster’s young adult imprint, Pulse. [sic] wasn’t being published. It was too different – people didn’t want to be challenged like this, it didn’t fit their mold. The market wasn’t proven.

I was crushed, I’ll admit. The process of choosing an agent and having them shop your book around takes about a year, and at the end of the long road I found defeat.

Still wasn’t about to be done writing, though. I write because I love it – when I wrote Kid, Dark Scary Monster, and Steam, virtually no one read them. But I still wrote them, because I have to write. If I’ve got forty novels written by the time I die and no one has read them, so be it.

So I put [sic] on a new type of website, a sort of Facebook for authors and readers. It’s called Wattpad, and it turned [sic] into a huge hit.

It’s been viewed over a million times, with fifteen thousand individual votes and hundreds of comments. I started getting emails from people who really tried to play my hypothetical game of changing your life in fifteen minutes. I still get those emails today. Just a month ago, I got a letter from a teenager who said he’d read [sic] over ten times in the past two years, that it helped him through a crisis. Students started convincing their school libraries to order copies, and I still get a spike of paperback sales around Christmastime as parents order copies of the novel for kids who fell in love with it on Wattpad.

A group of student filmmakers from Bosnia turned their favorite scene from my book into a short film and entered it into a contest. You can view it here. 

Christopher Pike, the guy whose books I devoured when I was thirteen, read it. He messaged me out of nowhere saying he really enjoyed it. We exchanged messages for a few weeks; he offered me some industry advice. This was a first from me – mutual respect from an author who I was a fan of.

One thing I became aware of, is I started to feel like I’d passed that 10,000 hours mark. You know, the hypothetical amount of practice required to “master” a craft. From Kid up until this point, I’d written seven novels. And not first drafts or outlines – completed, rewritten, best-of-my-ability books. I’d received guidance from a wide audience, as well as from professional editors, authors, and agents. My voice was developed, my style coming easy and natural when I sat down to compose.

[sic] taught me I was on the right path, even if mainstream presses weren’t willing to roll the dice on me. I stood in a park and sold printed and stapled copies of my books before, and I’d do it again if that’s what it took. Luckily, self-publishing and the world of e-books has developed around my career, and now I’ve got the ability to grow fans directly.

And that’s where you come in.

For the next entry in the Poor Traits series, click here.

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