A Life in Words – Jay Kristoff on Getting Published

One day in Melbourne three years ago, Jay Kristoff decided to write a down a scene that was niggling him. Three years later, he’s about to become a published author. His first book, Stormdancer, which he describes as being set in a feudal steampunk Japan to a Rage Against the Machine soundtrack, is currently in a bid-counterbid shootout between two of the big American publishing houses.

You can expect to see it on the shelves in 2012,  and Jay – in between doing more writing and grinning a lot  – is taking notes on the process and happy to share them with other writers. His blog, Literary Giant (he is 6’7), details his adventures in getting stories from his brain to your bookshelf and has some invaluable advice to offer – including stats, graphs, links and a lot of laughs – in his own inimitable, irreverent and occasionally over-18’s kinda way. I caught up with him this week to get the story so far and some advice for aspiring writers.

Why did you decide to write and when did you start?

I decided to write because I wanted to do something constructive with my free time. I used to spend it playing video games and had sweet FA to show for it.

I started three years ago: I had a scene in my head, so I scribbled it down. Over eighteen months, it became my first novel. It was a half-arsed way to begin, and the book is flawed, but I wrote some scenes that made me realize I wasn’t Vogon-poetry awful. I loved the sense of purpose that writing gave me so I decided to do it “properly” with my next book.

What books inspire you?

Neuromancer, The Windup Girl, Across the Nightingale Floor, AKIRA. (Yes, I read comics. Call the Lit Police.) Which kinda makes it sound like Stormdancer is cyberpunk/dystopian, and it isn’t. But there are traces of the aesthetic and philosophy in there, and hey, look, two words that make me sound like an utter tosser…

What was the best and worst bit about writing? When you are not writing, do you sit in a beret in a garret drinking absinthe or what?

Best bits: When I write something good enough to make my wife cry. The woman didn’t even cry when ET died. So if she cries over my stuff, it must be the opposite of suck.

Worst bit: Rejection. Sending out something you love and watching it get curb-stomped, or worse, ignored. It happens to anyone trying to break into the industry. Repeatedly. But it never stops sucking.

When I’m not writing, I’m being a nerd (more so) or thrilling CG audiences on Guitar Hero (no, that is NOT the same as being a nerd). I did drink absinthe once, but it just made me want to go to the toilet.

You pitched to agents first – why agents instead of publishing houses?

Everything I read said you needed an agent to get published by a “Big House” in America. I figured, if was going to do this, I’d aim high. Having an advocate who knows the industry pitfalls is vital, and my agent (Matt Bialer at SJGA) and his assistant (Lindsay Ribar) are both awesome at what they do.

Plus, I get to begin sentences with the words “My agent…” when I’m trying to impress other tossers in absinthe bars.

What do you think is the main mistake people you can make when trying to get published?

I can’t really speak for anyone else, but I queried too soon. The manuscript was 98% there, but 2% is the difference between a real woman and the dude in “The Crying Game”.

I also made the mistake of sending to my “dream agents” first. That was my “argh” moment – realizing that all those great agents had read a sub-standard query. The only reason I landed one of those dream picks is that my e-query to SJGA got swallowed by the ether, and I re-queried later via snail mail (this time with a decent query letter and that extra 2% polish on the MS).

So yeah, I owe Lady Luck a foot massage.

What are you looking forward to most about seeing your manuscript published?

Just holding it in my hands. It will feel real then. This whole process has taken up so much of my life lately, and there have been so many disappointments. Being offered multiple deals after all those drop-kicks just feels surreal. I’m also getting happy pants thinking about working with an editor, and really making it sing. Stormdancer will be out early-mid 2012. We’re still considering offers, getting down to the business end now.

Any particular tips for aspiring Aussie writers?

It depends on what kind of writer you want to be. If you want to write 2,500 word sentences about a cup of Chamomile or win the Man Booker, I’ve got nothing. But if you want to maybe do this for a living one day, you probably shouldn’t think of yourself as Australian. Just think of yourself as a writer.

Know the market you’re aiming to sell in, know the titles that are selling in it. Don’t write to trends; this year’s Urban Fantasy is tomorrow’s Cyberpunk. Subscribe to Publisher’s Marketplace. Read Miss Snark, Query Shark and Author!Author! Get onto the AWWC forums. Follow the agent’s submission guidelines. Read my blog. That’s a shameless plug, but my “13 steps to fun and profit(tm)” post is quite relevant. The query letter that scored me representation is also posted there.

Write every day. Every. Single. Day. No exceptions, no excuses.

And for the love of God, no vampires.

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Sadhbh Warren

Sadhbh Warren is a freelance writer and proud booklover. Her name is pronounced Sive - like five – an Irish name, easier to say than spell! She lives in Sydney, writing travel and humour articles, and is always on the lookout for a great new book.

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