Life and death is about as high concept as a story can get. The Walking Dead has been one of the most-watched series of the past few years. I think that’s because the best parts are not humans vs. zombies, but humans vs. humans. Last night, in the series finale of Fear The Walking Dead, I got to the point I was rooting for the zombies. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the way I saw it, our hardy brave of heroes and heroines (and I use that term with great irony) unleashed an arena full of zombies on a military outpost/hospital in order to try to save three people who they were related to? They caused the death of hundreds of people in their quest. They also left the gate open to their previously secure neighborhood as they drove off on their quest. Yes, the zombies would have gotten out of that arena eventually, but the military was in the process of evacuating that hospital. The band caused the place to fall earlier than it would leading to nail gun doctor. And by the way, if she had the ability to nail gun all the wounded and sick and injured, the ability to make such an incredibly accurate and quick assessment and decision, she seems the type of person that would go with the band and escape, not sit there, head hung. Seemed inconsistent for character and doctors are really valuable people in the apocalypse.
All that aside, rather than focusing on zombies and the dead, my wife and I chose to focus on the much more immediate danger of the living and the essence of life itself in Burners, which comes out tomorrow. Set in a post-Chaos future, with a closed society set in Puget Sound, we wondered what it would be like if the classic science fiction question of what would people do if they knew the day they died (there’s a great short story about the guy who invents such a machine– think of the paradox he faced, and how insurance companies felt about that invention). We broke society into four classes: People, Evermore, Middlemore and burner. How that happened, how the Chaos happened, etc. etc. will be unveiled as the series progresses (we’re releasing a book every 80 days apart in the series). Burners introduces this world and the main characters, twins Grace and Millay, and Ryker, a wild card. And some others, but that would be spoilers. And then there’s Dealer, the quantum computer running everything; which is also more than it appears to be.
I’ll do a blog in the coming weeks about how we have so much more to fear from our fellow humans, even if there was a zombie apocalypse. I believe that is the thing to focus on in series like Walking Dead, Fear those same dudes, and more.
Meanwhile, grab a copy and read about how a society that has a .1% owning something the rest of the people don’t have; wait that sounds familiar! Don’t we have a .1%? But instead if the inequality being money, it’s something much, much, more valuable. TIME.
Links to all versions of burners!
Nothing but good times and the Walking Living ahead.
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By Elliott Garber
I wrote the final words of my first full-length novel just over one year ago, closing my laptop with a dramatic flourish and breathing a deep sigh of relief. It was done. A major life goal complete.
I could already picture hardcover stacks of The Chimera Sequence—a bioterrorism thriller that one reader described as Michael Crichton meets Tom Clancy—lining front tables of Barnes & Noble bookstores around the country. Who knows, maybe my name would even make an appearance among the lower ranks of a coveted New York Times bestseller list?
That was the dream, at least, even though I already had a very realistic understanding of the rapidly evolving publishing industry. Alongside my novel writing, I had spent the previous couple of years reading everything I could find about the publishing process.
I even conducted a little experiment of my own with a short story. Much to my surprise, No Dog Left Behind has already earned me a few thousand dollars in its two years of life on Amazon. That represents a lot more money and readers than I ever would have found through almost any traditional route for a short story.
So I began the post-book writing phase with my eyes wide open, knowing all along that I would be okay doing things on my own if I didn’t find the right traditional publisher to work with through the process.
After going through several rounds of editing with the help of a diverse group of friends and family members, I was ready to begin. I sent out query letters to about 20 well-known agents, gleaning their names from the Acknowledgement pages of recent bestselling thrillers. Simple Google searches led me to their submission guidelines, and I personalized each e-mailed message based on the other authors represented and any shared personal interests I could discover.
I was fortunate to hear back from about half of these agents within a few days, and almost all of them requested that I send the full manuscript for their review. Woohoo! First hurdle, complete. I attribute this initial success to the fact that I developed a catchy blurb, but probably even more to my own online platform and unique professional background. The agents were intrigued enough to find out if I could actually write.
Within a few days, I received a phone call from one of my top choices. It was actually a voicemail—due to the secure environment of my workplace I’m not able to use a personal cellphone inside. The message was short and sweet: “Loved the book. Give me a call when you can.”
Needless to say, I called the agent right back and received my first offer of representation. The agent had recently helped a couple of other former military guys launch their own successful careers in the thriller genre, and he was convinced that he could do the same for me. No guarantees, of course, but he was fairly certain that we could be looking at a six-figure offer for an initial two-book contract.
It was tough not to say yes right away, but I did want to give the other agents a chance to at least finish reading my book before making a final decision on whom to partner with. As it turns out, the decision was made for me. Although a couple of the other agents expressed a tentative interest, none of them felt strongly enough about my manuscript to offer representation without further modifications first.
The next step was submission of the manuscript to editors at all the big traditional publishers. This was tough for me, as I was really at the complete mercy of my agent’s previous relationships and professional connections. I was expecting to get responses from these editors within a week or two, but instead it stretched into a month, then two months.
I felt as though the whole process had lost momentum. I knew in my head that this was normal—that the traditional publishing process takes time—but in my heart, I still wanted to be one of those lucky few authors who get so much immediate interest that a competitive auction is held within days. Sadly, it was not to be.
The rejections slowly began trickling in. “Sorry, loved the story, but just don’t see where it would fit in today’s market.” Huh?
“If I had gotten this book last year we totally would have gone for it, but the virus threat has been done too often already.” Not what I wanted to hear.
“Unique plot and captivating characters, but the action simply builds too slowly for a modern thriller.” At least this one contained feedback I could use for the next time around.
We finally got some bites after moving on to the next tier of editors just outside the “Big 5” publishing houses. At this point, I was already disappointed in myself, the book, and the process, but I wasn’t ready to close the door on a traditional option yet.
After several weeks of negotiating, my agent was able to present two final offers. Two books for $25,000—take it or leave it. This works out to $12.5k for each book, of course, and those payments would be split and stretched out over about three years. The contracts were pretty much boilerplate for a new midlister like me, with no special provisions that would make them more author-friendly in today’s rapidly changing publishing environment.
The publishers could not guarantee anything in the way of initial print run numbers or marketing budget, and my first book would not be released until sometime in 2016. Not exactly a proposal to get very excited about.
But I would be a REAL author, right? Wasn’t that worth it? I might get to see those stacks (of one? maybe two?) of my books at Barnes & Noble! I could be one of the select few who successfully made it past the proverbial gate-keepers and begin turning up my nose at all the independently-published authors I had learned so much from over the last few years.
No, thank you. Based on everything I had learned, I knew that this level of advance did not represent a very significant investment on the part of the publishers. I was confident that I could do almost everything they could with the book, on a tighter schedule and with more long-term potential for success.
It was one of the hardest decisions of my life, but I decided to walk away from these $25,000 offers and continue with the back-up plan to publish my thriller independently.
Fast forward six months, and here I am! The Chimera Sequence has been on the market for almost a month already, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to have some affirmation of my choice. No New York Times bestseller lists yet, but I’ve already sold a few thousand copies of the book. More importantly, I’m steadily gaining readers and fans who are asking about my next book.
Was it easy? No, as my wife will tell you, neither of us could have imagined how difficult the whole publishing process would be. But I did it, all while working full-time and enjoying life with two young children at home. It was difficult, yes, but not impossible.
It’s too early to know for sure if I made the right decision. Who knows, maybe my book would have taken off in print, and I would have seen many more thousands of dollars in royalties than that initial five-figure advance represented. It’s possible, but unlikely. Especially in light of this week’s new report from Author Earnings, it’s clear that indie publishing is a better choice for many authors who desire ongoing financial success.
I’m grateful to all my fellow authors and readers who have helped me through this process so far, and I’m excited for the opportunity to continue sharing my stories with the world.
Here are some of the best resources I’ve found for other authors interested in learning more publishing in the 21st century:
Bio Page: Elliott Garber is a veterinarian and military officer currently assigned on active duty with a special operations command. He has lived in India, Egypt, Mozambique, and Italy and traveled to over 50 other countries around the world, including a recent deployment to Iraq. You can often find him under the water, up in the air, or out in the woods. Elliott lives with his wife and two young children in Coronado, California.
Elliott blogs and produces a podcast at:
I can remember the moment of ‘conception’ for every book I’ve written, and there are over 60 of them. I can’t remember a lot of other things (according to my wife) like how to fold towels or getting dog food, etc. etc., but I think that’s pretty much a common guy thing. For example, if she wants to hide something in the fridge from me, it’s quite simple. Put it behind something. I pretty much work on “out of sight, not there.” Am I not right, fellas?
My wife and I came up with the idea for burners over four years after we moved to Chapel Hill, NC in order to be there for the birth of our first grandson. We left Whidbey Island, WA and drove across the country, and we didn’t have a place to live when we got to NC, but we adapt well. Even Cool Gus tearing up one of his paws chasing a ball when we gave him a road break in, I think, Montana? North Dakota? I don’t remember, but it didn’t slow us down. Gus had to wear the cone of shame most of the way across the country as he healed, and Becca, being Sassy, helped him out by licking his wound for him. Really.
So Deb and I were sitting out on the back porch of the house we found and rented for a year a few days after we got to Chapel Hill. We wanted a high concept idea. Something people could relate to. We both are students of history, and strange history (seriously, ask Deb anything mob related and she knows about it– serial killers, which makes me wonder– hey wait!). We thought about patterns in history, like the Romans and other empires, and particularly about how rich people skew things.
We have the top .1% in this country controlling an inordinate amount of wealth, and out of that power. We don’t believe such a system is sustainable. But we projected that into the future and wondered “what’s more valuable than money?”
And the answer is time.
Life span. Which led us to: what if, in the future, the top .1% are delineated not by money, but by their lifespan? What kind of society would that be? How could that come to be?
I don’t quite know how we focused on Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem: First Fig. Had to be my wife, since she’s the one with the English degree. And the memory. You know what sucks? Having an argument with someone who remembers everything and you can’t even remember what you had for breakfast. I lose all the time.
Anyway. The title of burners comes from this poem:
First Fig—Edna St. Vincent Millay
My candle burns on both ends;
It will not last the night.
But ah my foes and oh my friends
It gives a lovely light!
The cover of the book, which we love (and Jen designed) also comes out of that. As does the label for 98.7% of the population in the story: BURNERS. They live to a median age of 25. Worse, they know their Deathday. More on that in a future post.
This was a great idea, but we weren’t ready to write it. That happens sometimes. It has to gestate. So our first grandson was born: Riley, future leader of the resistance in the War against the Machines. And we worked on other stuff. And this year our second grandson, Haydn, was born, co-leader of the resistance.
And it was time (no pun intended, okay it is) for us to write it. Interestingly, in the first writing, of which we had about 14,000 words, were several scenes. I kept them (I don’t like throwing things out, especially writing). And when Deb read the entire first draft of the book last month, she said “Throw them out.” Because they were old and didn’t fit. Didn’t fit the story, but more importantly didn’t fit the voice I’m writing in now. More on that in another post, because voice is everything to a writer and it’s taken me only 25 years to zero in on how I write.
We’re working on the follow up books in the series, both moving the series forward, but also laying out the backstory to how The Sound, the locale, came into being. By the way, that’s Puget Sound. We’ll soon have a map of what it’s like there over 300 years in the future, after the Chaos.
I don’t want to give too much away. But here’s the book trailer we put together for burners.
And, you know, if you want to pre-order it, here’s a link that will lead you to Kindle and iBooks.
Nothing but good times ahead, until the machines try to kill us, but hey, I’m training the future leaders!
Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. The Time Patrol, though, has the mission to make sure history does repeat itself as the history that actually happened. It takes six changes to our timeline, all on the same day in different years in the past to trigger a time tsunami which will wipe us out. The Time Patrol’s mission: send six operatives back, one to each year, and make sure our history doesn’t change.
What was great fun about writing this, and about reading it I hope, is that I got to research a lot of history and not only learn things, but also think about WHAT IF. For example, what if the first Internet message was a failure? Would computer development and networking gone another way with massive central computers and just terminals elsewhere, which was the way IBM and other large developers wanted to?
What if Sir Walter Raleigh had not been executed? Would have followed through on plans to escape to Spain and plot? What if Operation Credible Sport had actually been launched and the Iranian hostages rescued? Would Carter have been re-elected and not Reagan? Or if it failed, and there was a massacre in Tehran of both Americans and Iranians? What if the first Internet message wasn’t sent. If it was a failure?
Time Patrol: Black Tuesday is out today. Read it and wonder: What If?
The first date being attacked is 29 October, known as Black Tuesday in 1929.What appears to be a mission about the stock market crash turns out to be something altogether different; involving Meyer Lansky and other shady characters of the day.
But there are five other October 29th’s to go to at the same time:
There’s Roland in 999 AD, on board a Viking ship heading to raid an English monastery.
Scout ends up in the era of free love in 1969, at UCLA, on the day the first Internet message was sent. Or was it?
In 1980, Eagle finds himself in the swamps of Florida, part of a Ranger School patrol, on the day the final test run for Operation Credible Sport’s specially modified C-130 is being conducted. This is the planned second attempt to rescue the American hostages in Iran.
Moms is high in the Andes on 29 October 1972, where a handful of plane crash survivors are struggling to stay alive; an event that will eventually be written about with that very title ALIVE!, a testament to the strength of human character. But it seems the Shadow wants no one to survive.
29 October 1618. Sir Walter Raleigh is to be beheaded. Mac’s mission? Make sure it happens. But Raleigh, and some other forces, are there to rescue him and change history.
Are the members of the Time Patrol up to the task of making sure our timeline stays intact against the sometimes devious, sometimes blunt efforts of the Shadow Timeline?
Nothing but good times ahead.
As long as the Time Patrol does its job!
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