Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing an exciting new author David Lewis who has just published his debut novel Xakk Marks the Spot. Here’s what he had to say about his writing process and the path to publication:
When did you first realise you wanted to be a writer?
The dream originally struck between 2nd and 3rd grade. I had read the entire “Goosebumps” series by R.L. Stine and knew right then I wanted to be an author. Though the dream came and went over the years, as do many things growing up, it returned in full force around 3 years ago. I began 2 other manuscripts and decided the stunk. Finally, the right idea hit and I never looked back. I’ll continue this in the next question.
How did you come up with the idea for Xakk Marks the Spot?
There I found myself hanging out with a friend of mine who happened to live in my garage at the time. As we were there listening to music and simply relaxing with nothing better to do, a vision popped randomly into my head. There on the deck of a pirate ship staring back at me were two teenage boys and a girl the same age; a younger boy in the center, on his right a clearly related boy closer to 20, and to the young boy’s left, a blonde girl whose looks could kill. The ideas began to flow and one day at a time, things became solid enough to begin a book.
Did writing Xakk Marks the Spot require much research and if so what did that research involve?
Before I began writing the first book, I went to the library and read deeper into books on writing, and the process as a whole. It wasn’t my first manuscript, but I was so ecstatic on the idea that I wanted to do everything write (lousy pun intended). During the same three weeks or so, I plotted out what was originally a series of five books.
I would say more and more research truly came during the actual writing of the book. The main goal of my new age world of piracy was to avoid becoming the same old 17th century cliché pirate tale with swashbucklers, nearly impossible to understand, go hunting for Black Bar’s cursed gold while on the run from Port Royal. We’ve all been there and done that; Hollywood, too. While classics such as Treasure Island, of my favourites, can never be replaced, I felt it was time to give the world something new. Why not have their tale take place in the future and have them hunting for “lost” treasures of today?
Overall, more of my research went into geographical information, nautical language, and root words of foreign languages in titling elements of the story. During the year and a half it took to get it to where it is today, I’d like to think I sat on most elements of the story to bring out originality and to avoid nasty plot holes.
What’s the biggest challenge you faced while writing it?
My biggest challenge was waking up every day and continuing to work. Between over 100 rejections by literary agents, people who thought I was crazy and that it would never succeed, stress, and insomnia, the challenges were never ending to say the least. Though that many agents rejected versions 1 and 2 of my work, version 3 (which is the published work) was only turned down by one agent. Her response made it feel like she sat on it for 11 weeks, then opened to page one already set on finding something reasons to reject me. She was very nice about it, but I’d wish she read more than 10 pages.
What have you found to be most helpful to your growth and development as a writer?
Rewriting, editing, rewriting, editing—wash, rinse, repeat. I look back to the original version of my book, and even at past manuscripts in the drawer, asking myself how in the world did I ever think this was good enough for anyone to spend time on? It wasn’t. My biggest growth came from practice, practice, practice. Tiger Woods never stepped out onto the course for the first time without countless repetition on the driving range. I had the ignorant opinion that my work would shine through from the very get go due to its originality. That just wasn’t the case. There are tons of great books being written by no name authors that will never reach the shelves. I’d like to think some of the greatest works ever composed will never be read.
What has the experience of going through the self-publishing process been like for you?
The process of publishing seems synonymous to the word migraine. I found myself in constant mental anguish over every small detail, constantly second guessing my “executive decisions”. Between final edits, formatting, and the difficult process that is having an artist bring your characters to life, I lost plenty of sleep. However, being published, regardless of sales success or not, was a major dream of mine since a young age and now it has come true. Seeing it up on the e-shelves (soon to be paperback) is an indescribable feeling.
Looking back over the whole process of writing and publishing Xakk Marks the Spot, is there anything you’d do differently?
I would’ve waited to query literary agents. I rushed the editing process in a couple months, which felt like enough, only to be rejected again and again. Even my first full rewrite was rejected again and again. Also, I would’ve started my social network such as Twitter and Facebook much sooner. Agents take authors who’ve established a platform much more seriously. It shows you’re not another hack who read Twilight or Harry Potter with plans of writing something way better.
Have you got any tips for other aspiring writers?
Going off what I just said—my absolute number one piece of advice for authors beginning the journey is DON’T QUERY TOO EARLY. Once you are turned down by your whole list of dream agents, you’re faced with tough decisions. My next piece—never give up, EVER. I wanted to quit and give up more times than I can count. I convinced myself, however, that I’d regret giving up way more than finishing the job and failing. Once you reach a certain point, failure isn’t an option, as if it ever was…