Diary of a Reluctant E-Publisher: A Little Help from My Friends
November 7, 2012 by Bryce Wilson
Even though we authors like to think of ourselves as independent sorts, no book is ever truly completed on one’s own.
Plenty of people helped me out during the writing of Son Of Danse Macabre. Fellow bloggers like Emily Intravia, Erich Kuersten and Robert Tower pointed their own readers to the project. Folks like the great Bill Ryan (currently in the midst of his annual horror literature boot camp The Kind Of Face You Slash, a.k.a. the best thing on the internet) and Will Erickson offered advice on content. There was my good friend Joe Drilling who helped outline my chapter on Horror on Video Games, and most generously Neil Fulwood who donated an entire essay when other writing commitments kept me away from Son Of Danse Macabre for an entire month (said essay now appears as the second appendix in Son Of Danse Macabre).
One of the disadvantages of developing the book in blog format was that many of my usual beta readers read the book in its original incarnation, on my blog. You can’t really ask people to turn around and re-read an entire book after a few minor tweaks, well, not if you still want them to speak to you afterwards, anyway. So I looked outside of my usual circle for my draft read, seeking the help of two critics I respected. (Lest they be inundated with manuscripts, I should point out that I was already acquainted with both of them.)
The first of these was Tim Brayton, who runs Antagony & Ecstasy. Brayton is a critic so skillful that he verges on being a national treasure. His prose is so smooth, funny and conversational that it can take a minute to realize just how insightful he’s really is. He runs on a love of film so pure and knowledge so comprehensive that it is simply humbling. Yet somehow, he’s never in danger of coming off as either a fanboy or a snob. He is in short, smart, hilarious, and utterly, addictively readable. Tim often reviews movies, and I always cringe when I see that he’s given a movie I enjoyed a bad review, because by the time I finish the review, 90% of the time, I realize my taste was incredibly flawed and that he’s hit the bulls-eye, as usual.
I think you can understand why I was somewhat nervous sending him my manuscript. He’s brutally honest, and not only would he tell me if it wasn’t any good, he’d shank it and probably hit my ego on the other side. Luckily that didn’t happen, which is not to say that Tim’s critique was a pushover. On the contrary, it was quite constructive. He caught errors, pointed out things that I had missed, and let me know where the weaker sections of the book were. In the end, his criticism was invaluable.
The next editor I chose for my manuscript was writer and programmer Zack Carlson, who is well-known in Austin, TX as one of The Drafthouse Daemons. If you’re not from Austin, you might know him as the editor and lead critic behind Destroy All Movies, one of the most gleefully insane film books in recent memory. The book is a record of punk rock on film, yes all of it, presented as the ultimate zine. It’s simply a work of art. As the programmer for Terror Tuesday (and one of the driving forces behind Fantastic Fest) Carlson eats, lives, bleeds and breathes the movies. Once again, I was giving the book to someone who knew their stuff and would be unafraid to tell me if the book was lousy.
Once again, to my immense relief, the results were good. Carlson helped me zero in on many of the book’s weaknesses and suggested a fix to a major structural problem. It made me want to slap myself like Wylie Coyote does after he realizes the Acme blueprint is upside down when I realized the solution was so easy.
Already, the book was stronger and better than it was before, but, there was one more person I needed to recruit. I’m many things but I am no artist. My stick figures look as though they’re suffering from leprosy, and I had seen enough e-books with generic ugly covers to know that that was not what I wanted. What I wanted was something beautiful, haunting and strange, completely distinct. Luckily I knew just the man who could give it to me.
That man was Matthew Hogan. Author of the webcomic Surrealist Obituaries. How to describe what Mr. Hogan does? Let’s just say that you can’t, because there’s no way to get a bead on it. Tune into Surrealist Obituaries and you might get an epic multi-part fantasy story one day. The next, you might get a single panel gag that would make Charles Adams wince, or you might get a comic about the cast of Metal Gear Solid. My friend Robert Gelinas perhaps said it best, “It’s hard to call what he does ‘comics.’ They’re more like.. well… it’s kind of hard to describe but here goes. In Japanese mythology, tapirs are magical creatures that can eat dreams. So if you took a tapir, hopped it up on some kind of super genius serum, added cybernetic parts to its brain, immersed it in pop media from around the world, had it eat the dreams of one hundred million insane people, and then examined the resulting dream poop that tapirs must obviously produce, it might look a little like a Deptford comic.”
The cover Hogan delivered was beautiful and striking, more than I could have hoped for.
In short, I owe all of the above mentioned people a great deal of thanks, and if you’re struggling with your own work, getting help is a necessity. As it turned out, despite all the help I had, I was still a crucial man short for my mission, and like the World War II movies of old, this crucial overlooked crew member’s absence nearly blew the whole thing. Tune in next time for more on that…
About The Author:
A freelance writer, unrepentant literature and film junkie and bookseller, Bryce Wilson is a recent California transplant living in Austin (he moved for the waters). Between bouts with his trunk novels, he has written for the San Luis Obispo New Times as a retro film critic for the past five years. You can also find his musings on his film blog Things That Don’t Suck (thingthatdontsuck.blogspot.com) and his horror blog Son Of Danse Macabre (sonofdansemacabre.blogspot.com).