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.

24 Chapters A Publisher Should Make An Offer On Right Now

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BUZZKILL is a neo-noir novel that uses humor, schtick, and gratuitous violence to portray the daily life of a hitman who goes by Jersey Jones, or J.J. for short.   The humor is dark, unforgiving and self-depricating, much like J.J. himself, who finds himself in a low-level communications job at a small tech firm as part of the Witness Protection Program because he rolled over on his family’s import/export business and they want him dead.

BUZZKILLS’s schtick is the way the novel is structured.  J.J. writes what amounts to his memoir in the form of web-copy popularized in today’s “New Media.”  The gratuitous violence is, well, why people might actually read and enjoy this book.

All 24 chapter/episodes’ catchy headlines have already been written and serve as a handy outline.

  1. 3 People Who Want Me Dead
  2. Which Midwestern City Should I Move To So My Machete-Loving Brother Won’t Find Me?
  3. What It’s Like To Be The Only Hitman At The Office
  4. 5 Stories Of Murder That Will Make You Want To Kill Your Best Friend
  5. I Tried To Go Straight For A Day And Here’s What Happened
  6. The Definitive Ranking Of The Most Influential Executioners
  7. 16 Perfect Alibis For Any Criminal On The Run
  8. Someone Stuffed Jackie C. In A Suitcase And It Was Beautiful
  9. Which Historical Period Would Best Appreciate My Primal Tendencies?
  10. New Jersey Man Accused Of Harassing Police And Hanging Dead Squirrel From Patrol Car Antenna
  11. 12 Harmless Activities That Prove Your Mother Is Trying To Kill You
  12. New Jersey Man Teaches Area Teenager How To Dispose Of A Body
  13. This Incredible Drawing Shows The Many Limbs Victim Lost
  14. Stop Your Capo From Giving You The Silent Treatment
  15. A Couple Of Thoughts Every Hitman Has Before Pulling The Trigger
  16. Running From The Mob And The Cops Is More Intense Than You Realize
  17. 8 Facts You Might Not Know About The Body Floating In The East River
  18. The Only Reason Jackie C.’s Gazpacho Was So Good
  19. Why People Lose Their Minds When They Have A Gun To Their Heads
  20. How One Sack Of S**t Jamook Got The Drop On Me And Lived To Tell About It
  21. 4 Things That Are Guaranteed To Happen When A Bullet Is In Your Guts
  22. In Regard To The Magnificent Ears In Patsy Kapala’s Mason Jar
  23. 8 Feelings You Know Too Well If You Live On Rikers Island
  24. Being Dead Is The Most Underrated Human Condition In History
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BuzzKill’s logo® is already designed! You are welcome, Interested Parties.

If you’re an agent, publisher, or producer and interested in this project (why wouldn’t you be?), contact me directly at mrrapacz [at] hotmail [dot] com.  If a six figure deal isn’t in your budget, I will also entertain plain curiosity, options for the film rights, or a single-camera, two-season, 24-episodic comedic adaptation.

About the proposer:

Mark Rapacz is the founding editor of Blastgun Books and an editor and partner with the neo-pulp press Burnt Bridge. His short stories have appeared in a number of publications, including Water~Stone Review, Revolver, Martian Lit, The Booked. Anthology, The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012, and many others. His novella, BUFFALO BILL IN THE GALLERY OF THE MACHINES, was recently re-issued as a historically accurate dime novel and is available through IndyPlanet and Amazon.  His most recent novel CITY KAIJU is kinda/sorta out and on Amazon.  His neo-noir novel WAEGUK is currently making the rounds with agents and publishers, as is his collection of short stories, THE GREAT HUSH.  He and his wife currently live in the Bay Area, where he continues to write stories.

Due to Controversial Success, Penguin Re-Rebrands Its Modern Classics Titles

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Due to the controversial success of its redesign of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Penguin has decided to test the waters with a few other modern classic titles.

Taking a cue from rape-culture imagery popularized by such fashion companies as American Apparel, a Penguin representative said, “We want to go all in with our design and really creep our readership out. We want them to feel like they’re tied up in a basement.”

Penguin’s freelance designer added, “They pick the images and I honestly just throw that crap in Illustrator and try to find the money shot.”

Below are a few of its planned re-redesigns.  If successful, Penguin will approach all 500 titles in its modern classic library with a similarly seedy aesthetic.

Baldwin, James, Giovanni's Room-01 Burroughs, Ed, TARZAN-01 Camus, Albert, THE FALL-01 Frank, Anne, DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL-01 Nabokov, Vlad, LOLITA-01 Rand, Ayn, ATLAS SHRUGGED-01 Rapacz, Mark, CITY KAIJU-01Steinbeck, John, Red Pony-01

BLASTGUN Hates Numbers and Money

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Amazon just shared their objectives in their dispute with Hatchette. It comes down to price of e-books, which has been largely speculated. They cite numbers and profit margins and stuff nerds pay attention to. As a self-proclaimed non-nerd, I don’t trust these “numbers.”

My anti-number analysis follows: Amazon wants to treat Hatchette like any other publishing schlub out there (me and bunch of dudes I know). He/She/It gets most of the e-book profits, and if he/she/it doesn’t charge a ridiculous price for the e-book, everybody wins.

The nerd-number analysis goes like this: Amazon wants to charge 10 bucks for an e-book. Hatchette wants to charge 15 bucks. Amazon nerds crunched the numbers and found a 74% increase in e-book sales at the lower price, which amounts to a 16% total revenue increase overall. Amazon takes 30% from each sale. Publisher takes 70%.  Amazon recommends that the publisher split the 70% they get 50-50 with the author (35% each of sale), but ultimately it’s up to the publisher. My guess is that Hatchette and other big pubs probably don’t do the 50-50 split because they need to make a profit to run their operation.

To note: Blastgun Books and Burnt Bridge, as non-nerd publishers who are anti-math, give all profits off e-book sales (70% of total) to our authors because we hate numbers and money.

It’s called CREATOR-OWNED PUBLISHING and it’s what’s coming.

Burnt Bridge

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Burnt Bridge & Blastgun Books (our West Coast Sci-Fi imprint) are not your traditional publishing oufits. Quite simply, this is because we do not own the books we publish; the authors do. Each author individually owns and manages her/his own titles published through our imprints.

HOW THIS WORKS:

In the age of Kindle/Ebooks, Print-on-Demand (POD) paperbacks, and massive digital and online distribution through retailers like Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble, and many forward-thinking independent stores such as Subterranean Books in St. Louis, the infamous Powell’s, and Mississippi’s own, Square Books in Oxford— who all provide online ordering from their websites—, the world of book publishing and book buying are more open than ever.

Authors with BB & BG retain all rights, ownership, and control over their titles selected for publication. They work closely and carefully with their editors through the process of building the book, designing the cover artwork, writing…

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Turtle Monster Friday: In Which BLASTGUN Decides Frankenweenie Just Wasn’t That Good

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This is as close as BLASTGUN will likely ever come to a movie review because BLASTGUN leaves stuff like that to people who know what the H they’re talking about.  For instance, BLASTGUN’S debut author T. A. Wardrope, who is a veritable human encyclopedia as to what movies are worth watching.  Read his reviews, his thoughts on criticism, then look forward to ARCADIAN GATES.

A year ago, I think I watched FRANKENWEENIE.  It’s a kids movie from Tim Burton.  I must not have finished it.  This doesn’t mean it wasn’t good, but it does mean I likely multi-tasked my way through it and was unable to fully engage with any of the four screens I had with me at the time.  Brilliant.

Anyway, apparently there was a turtle monster in this movie.  Had I known that, I probably would’ve put down two of the four screens I was surrounding myself with.

Hear that Hollywood?  You gotta make three-screened movies.  Eesh, so behind the times.

I’m a child of the future.

See you neanderthals never.

7-18 Turtle Monster 2Actually, had Burton made this DAY OF THE TURTLE movie, which was a promo poster for FRANKENWEENIE, it would’ve been great–or I would’ve thought it was great because it’s clearly just a better monster.

Just look at it.

Plus, it would’ve been a great throwback.  Though the latest CGI monster movies are pretty spectacular and getting better, my guess is there are other nostalgia dorks like me who pine for a return to stop-action, clay-mation flicks to reinvigorate that old-timey glee that really made movies feel intimate.

Of course, this is just all hipster fallout, all of us pining for a history we never lived.  This is why vinyl is popular.  This is why people are putting flowers in their lumberjack beards, and dudes roll around looking like Paul Bunyan, and the friggin’ mandolin is a legit instrument for a rock band, and all this points to why books won’t die, you timid and fearful writers, you.  Of course, you might just not make any money creating your books.  That’s something to legitimately fear.

Point is: We’ve erased our history by surrounding ourselves with the imaginary versions of our past, which tend to be created by our artistic heroes.  All the while, we pretend to be wizened sages coming down from the mountains without having earned any of it with a swing of an actual goddamn axe.

KerTHUNK.

BLASTGUN Plays Internet War Games with @iamjohnoliver

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BLASTGUN takes on John Oliver’s recent Twitter challenge.  The idea was to improve the CIA’s tweets and tag them with #BetterCIATweets.  What follows are the Top 14 from an exhaustive list that can be found at the executive editor’s Twitter handle @mark_rapacz.

(My apologies that what follows looks suspiciously like content filler from the likes of USA Today, but, well, that’s exactly what this is because if I end up posting three weeks of Turtle Monster Friday’s in a row, the BLASTGUN interns will make me feed my brain to an alligator snapper.)

Cover Reveal Number 3: CITY KAIJU … Formerly MOKUMAN … Formerly Finished … Long past Draft 50

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So.

It happened again.

Jesus.

This will be the last one because I think I finally stumbled upon the image that this book has been waiting for.  I’ve been unable to describe it for my buddy and awesome illustrator Christopher Coffey, so I had no idea how to approach it.  Tried to do it myself in about a million ways, but then it just came down to running right the hell into the image almost by accident, and then being completely blown away that usage rights were open.

God damn.

City Kaiju_Draft 5This does not mean the previous cover went to waste.  I did keep the chunky font idea and I also kept the colors.  I kept that cool emblem and threw it on the spine and plan to use it here and there when I start building the interior.  I had to get rid of the back cover description because, well, this image says way more about CITY KAIJU than anything I could condense in a paragraph or two.  In fact, I think this work of graffiti art captures everything I tried to do with 60,000 words.  You probably don’t gotta read the book now.  Just get lost in this work.

*Ahem* … It would be nice if you read CITY KAIJU … when I finally get it out.

A couple cool things about the image:

It’s horror graffiti stenciled on a wall in central Quito, Ecuador, which really captures how I envision City Kaiju.  More sprawling Latin American city than East Asian.

The image also has some traditional Manga influence, which falls right in line with CITY KAIJU, but everything is a little off, not quite hitting the themes typically present in that type of art, especially since this is actually a work of graffiti, like on a wall, somewhere only the very lucky, ambitious, or destitute get to see.  It has that street grit to it.  A little punk and spontaneous and temporary.  Something to be viewed out a bus window rather than in your lap as you crack the pages of the latest graphic novel walking from your nearest comics shop.

I like that.

Also, the website where I found this work, epSos.de, distributes the work through Creative Common licensing and sort of has a manifesto about why opening creative works up for free adaptation is a good thing.

The concept of the image fundamentally mirrors CITY KAIJU, while the idea that this is out there for other creative folks to adapt falls in line with my ideas of where and how creative work should be received and, further, live on.

I’m really liking this one.   I think this will be the final cover.

Yes, for sure, it will be.

I’ve said this before.

But, goddamn.

Cartoon horror depicted on a wall in a forgotten part of a city most of us will never visit, and which achieves some sort of bizarre and chanced-upon artistic excellence?

That’s damn near perfection and makes me so glad I stubbed my toe on this corner of the Internet.

Stories from the Multiverse