10 Career-Ending Mistakes I Made While Publishing My First Novel

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CITY KAIJU is my first published novel … according to accounting fascists who pay attention to arbitrary numeric delineations of the length of your story.

CITY KAIJU is something like 60,000 words, so, I guess, that passes muster.  Whether there is a story in there, well, that’s a point of contention because creating CITY KAIJU has been one of the most disastrous creative projects I’ve ever pursued, and I’ve gone after some doozies that, more or less, were unforgivable disasters themselves. (see: here, here, and here).

City Kaiju_Front Cover_Draft 9-01I made 10 totally avoidable mistakes in putting CITY KAIJU out, and I fear my writing career may not recover.  I will forever be that dude who wrote that monster book, or something, with that superhero (?) and those dumb kids, and it made no sense at all.  What a waste.

Here lies author Mark Rapacz’s career, in this matchbox that we Elmer’s-glued a doily to and tip-tapped open to flush down the Golden Toilet of Fantastic Awesome Career of Letters.

Sniffle.  So sad.

Here’s why CITY KAIJU is an unavoidable failure in no particular order:

1. I never used an editor or a proofreader or a friend I somehow drugged to agree to read an unproven work of fiction … and this is against everything I know about process.  It’s not something I’m proud of, but when you already spent a few years querying agents and publishers about a book you can hardly explain only to receive countless notices that basically say, “The Chirping of Our Submissions Crickets Have Been Swallowed by the Void”, you realize your book probably isn’t marketable or, just as likely, very good.  So you either scrap it or do it on your own with as little cost as possible.  There are freelance editors, but they aren’t pounding on your door when you’re like, “Do you take beer as payment?”  I’ve been doing this and failing at it long enough to know the importance of outside input and obsessive drafting.  I spent years in workshops during my MFA, and many more years after my MFA in various writing communities.  The first person to read this book from front cover to back was my friend and amazing author himself David Oppegaard (seriously, buy his books).  He had some excellent notes–some very astute notes I’m going to internalize for future projects–but, as they say, this book already left the barn by the time I got feedback (Davey would’ve caught that mixed metaphor).  What you will see in CITY KAIJU is a draft that is all me–all revisions, edits, and mistakes were made by me.  Nobody to point to.  No new intern.  No frantically busy agent.  No publisher demanding a deadline I was not ready for.  I had no input.  Nothing.  Just my exhausted brain waking me every night around 2AM, “Why would someone read this?!”  The obsessive revision was there, but the objective distance was not.  Possibility for disaster: SEVERE to INEVITABLE.

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Presumably used as a foodstuff by human-persons, this oily, cheese-like product was primarily consumed to aid in understanding the anxiety around future events

2. I never took any input as far as design either.  I just did it, both the interior and cover.  I went through roughly 50 cover drafts, the mania involved therewithin is well documented.  I even contacted my illustrator buddy Christopher Coffey and strung him along for over a year, until I realized I had already sunk ungodly amounts of hours into designing a cover I was surely not going to use, and it was 3 in the morning on a Tuesday and I had a block of Velveeta cheese leeching grease stains onto my favorite pair of boxers.  I had that wired sort of madness that led to me texting a thousand word apology to Coffey for not using one of his illustrations to which he said, as any good friend would, “Dude, I don’t care.  That cover is sweet.”  Possibility for disaster: MODERATE, not as inevitable cuz I got good cover.

3. This project was originally a comic book–as in, it was a bunch of comic book scripts.  Coffey and I sat down in his Uptown apartment back in 2008 and created a few comic book pitches that would make us rich and famous.  The one I started on was called MESSENGER, and it was about a mid-twenties bike messenger living in a city ravaged by giant, mutant monsters.  The tale would follow him as he realized he could perhaps change things.  I wrote scripts for the first few issues.  Then, Coffey and I got busy.  I wrote the first half of then-called MESSENGER in both script and novel form by early 2009.  Then the project disappeared.  Possibility for disaster: It was one … in 2009.

4. The original comic book version and subsequent novelization had an honest-to-God superhero in it named Savior, who was like Superman only he did not infringe on copyright because I craftily changed the name. The idea was that he was this nuisance to our boyish-hero bike messenger, Bram, who had some unknown connection to be revealed in the glorious conclusion of MESSENGER, Season 1.  Savior, a main character, had to be written out.  Possibility for disaster: HIGH, removing a central character kills the book.

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My Superman rip-off, Savior, reading how awesome City Kaiju is without him.

5. In 2012, and in an act of total desperation because I had nothing else going, I returned to MESSENGER and wrote the second half.  I had changed as a writer and a human-person-being-man-child in the 3 to 4 years since I cracked the work open, and because of this change, I didn’t sound the same on the page.  I was less loose, a little tighter, so maybe better, but probably not.  I was just different.  Being my first novel I was going to finish dammit, I forged on, paying no mind to the 40,000 words I already had written.  I remembered the gist of the world, and that’s where I lived for the second half.  By the time the book was around 80,000 words, the front half made absolutely no sense with the back half.  Possibility for disaster: HIGH, this was another one, The Failure of 2012.

6. Knowing how ridiculous it was going to be to return to the first half and try to revise/slash/burn/rewrite my way into sensibility, I put the book away.  I hoped I would never look at it again.  I had wasted a few months spread over the course of three years.  So what?  But then, I did something you should never do.  I changed the title to MOKU-MAN.  I liked the sound of that.  Then, I started to design covers for MOKU-MAN.  Covers I really liked.  Once I had the cover, I knew I had to maybe make this thing make sense.  I did nothing for a year.  Possibility for disaster: HIGH, lethargy mixed with unfocused mania equals chaos in the form of self-pity.  It’s basic math, people.

MokuMan_Draft 12_cleanbackground7. In 2013 I returned to now-called MOKU-MAN and rewrote that beginning.  I rewrote the remaining comic book scripts.  I pasted it all together and it still didn’t make sense, but it made more sense.  The Superman character was gone.  The bionic-human security force played a more prominent role.  I started to really like this robo-cop dude named Steve.  Spanker, the computer dork, started to call out the bullshit my book was dealing with on the page.  My characters started to guide me a bit.  But still, the thing made no sense.  It was another wasted summer.  It was going back in the “Shit To Be Forgotten” file on my computer.  Possibility for disaster: SEVERE, because rewrite reconfirmed how bad the book was.  Unfixable in 2013.

8. Then, before I even had a book that made sense (it still might not), I told people about it.  Huge mistake.  I got carried away.  Everybody I knew had a novel to talk about.  I wanted to join the fun because no one asks you what your story collection is about.  Nobody cares about that.  So I said something.   And this was in print.  Jesus.  Possibility for disaster: MODERATE-ish to HIGH, only thing worse than private disaster is a public one.

9. After publicly announcing the release of MOKU-MAN and giving it a date and sending around the for-sure, for-sure final cover, I changed the title to CITY KAIJU and I changed the cover, again, if only to mislead my potential readership. Possibility for disaster: JUST PLAIN DUMB, confusing your potential readership can come off as a manipulative and disingenuous.

10. In a cheeky and subversive advertisement for a book I put quite a lot of work into, even though it’s probably not my best or most notable, I wrote a long announcement about how disastrous the process was–perhaps to avert impending criticism (and therefore doom)–but mostly in hopes that people would see that, behind the bluster and mania, there is an author who cares a great deal for his work, even the works that are broken beyond repair because he believes the ugliest things are those without blemish; and he believes in mental illness and misdirection, and in aimlessness and confusion; and while he prays for moments of pure and chaotic joy and other moments of pure and chaotic beauty, he does what he can to put all those things together in a piece he made himself because, hopefully, one day, maybe one person, somebody, will see the flaws, shrug his or her shoulders, and be like, “Well, that exists now.  Cool.”  Possibility for disaster: ANNIHILATION ACHIEVED, and it can be yours before the official release, right here.

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