The roots of obsession and my Work in Progress

July 30, 2012

 By Leo Valiquette

For some time now I’ve been dropping hints on the Twittersphere about my efforts as a fiction writer. On this blog I’ve been decidedly more forthright. Nonetheless, I’ve been reluctant to spill the beans about just what my Work in Progress is all about.

It’s a bit ironic considering I get paid to help others tell their stories and actively push those stories to the media. I find it much easier to be a cheerleader for others before myself. But, no more. Here at last is my first blatantly self-promotional and self-indulgent blog post as a fiction writer.

A long time ago …

I suppose it all began when I was seven years old and my mother joined a book-of-the-month club with one of those deals where you get four free books for signing up. She chose E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, The Trumpet of the Swan and Stuart Little, along with the novelization of a new movie that had just hit theatres – Star Wars. Yes, it’s true. At the age of seven, I was reading Star Wars. Well, to be honest, it was like wading through a snow bank on the ice planet Hoth that’s neck deep, but you’ve gotta start somewhere.

In Grade 3, my teacher read the class The Hobbit, and I borrowed it for the summer when she wasn’t able to finish it by the end of the school year. I think it was the map in The Hobbit, as well as illustrated histories of ancient civilizations in my school library, that compelled me to create my own story settings. A few years later, I was using my allowance to buy a genre magazine, I think it was Famous Monsters of Filmland, which would serialize old flicks like The Blob and Rodan into written works of pulp fiction. Since I was never able to buy all the issues for the full story, I started writing my own endings.

In high school drama class, our teacher expected us to develop projects for the annual Renaissance Fair. Students could do anything from covers of Bill Cosby stand-up routines to dance, theatre and the fine arts. I decided to showcase my first stab at a fantasy novel, complete with maps and character illustrations that I had coerced a talented classmate into doing for me (wish I could find those).

By college, I had played with various ideas and redeveloped that first novel through several iterations. (I’ve since lost the most recent version of it, as well as the only draft of the sequel, but that’s a painful story for another post.)

The idea for a short story that grew into the epic fantasy currently titled Knight of Aegias first came to me in 1999. I have this problem writing short fiction—it always ends up bursting at the seams. I just can’t create a plotline without wanting to spend more time with the idea and the characters than the length constraints of a typical short story allow.

Birth of a monster

It wasn’t until July 2004 that I deemed the first draft done—a bloated and wordy beast that clocked in at 193,000 words. I actually queried a couple of agents about that thing. Hopefully they’ve long forgotten.

Then came ownership of a house in need of a little TLC, the responsibilities of being a newspaper editor and a little monkey named William. The manuscript was left to collect dust. I tried my hand at short fiction again, because it was, well, short, and did garner some encouraging feedback on the rejection slips.

A couple of years ago I finally resumed work on that 193,000-word monster with the aid of an axe named Delete and the indulgence of my long-suffering partner in all things, Natalie. I also hit my first literary conferences where I could engage with other writers, as well as agents and publishers. Today Knight of Aegias is a much leaner and meaner 123,000-word manuscript that I have begun shopping around to various agents with the aid of Publishers Marketplace.

The logline

So just what is my Work in Progress all about?  Knight of Aegias is the story of Ryn, a former soldier who broke faith with the church he served after his oaths to obey his superiors led him to betray his conscience and stain his hands with innocent blood. He finds a chance at redemption in the destiny of the woman he loves, but it comes at a price. Sometime soon I’ll share my agent pitch and the first chapter.

Is there a moral to be found in my journey as a fiction writer? If anything, I suppose it’s the tired old cliché that a writer writes, always. But it’s a cliché because it’s true. No matter where I’ve been, no matter what I’ve been doing, I’ve always been lured by the call of a blank page. Along the way there have been long periods of time in which the demands of life and making a living have taken precedence. But the desire to explore a world of my own making, the restless discontent that drives my compulsion to do better, the need to just tell a story—these things have always been there and always will be.

I have no idea if I will ever make a reasonable living from making stuff up, but that’s not really the point.


Yeah, I am trying to get a product to market

March 6, 2012

By Leo Valiquette

(Reader’s Note: Post first published on Francis Moran and Associates)

For 12 years I have worked as a business journalist and marketing and public relations professional. In these roles I have engaged with a horde of entrepreneurs, executives, investors and other ink-stained wretches who would rather write about corporate stars than movie stars.

I could write a book or two from what I have learned about what it takes to get a product to market and succeed as an entrepreneur. But attempting to do such a thing without having actually lived that roller coaster ride for myself seems like presumption of the worst kind.

On the other hand, I have been tinkering away for decades on a variety of ideas that I thought could have commercial potential. They’ve kept me up at night. They’ve led me to beg off on Sunday dinners with the in-laws. They have even led me to take a personal health day or two back when I had a J.O.B.

Last year was a bit soft for a freelance word smith, so I took advantage of the opportunity to get serious about whipping one of these ideas into a reasonable prototype. I pulled in a couple of beta testers who provided invaluable feedback that helped me to fix the glitches. I attended a couple of industry conferences where I could engage with potential business partners and investors to understand what they were looking for in an attractive opportunity.

I’ve even researched the pros and cons of various go-to market strategies, such as bootstrapping. The world has changed a lot in recent years with the rise of social media as a toolkit for marketing, customer engagement and business development. My industry, like many others, has been transformed, providing new opportunities for nimble newcomers to get to market without having to win the support of those old-school investors.

However, I’ve decided to hedge my bets. Last month, I pitched my concept at both an investor and potential business partner, even as I continue to weigh the pros and cons of going it alone. Next month, I will once again be attending a notable industry conference in Toronto called Ad Astra, hopefully wiser and better prepared than I was when I first went a year ago.

This has been my dream since high school and I have certainly been going at it with serious gusto over the past year-and-a-half. Nonetheless, it’s taken me a long time to consider this effort an exercise in entrepreneurship – which is rather odd, considering that it is a process to develop and bring to market a compelling product that will drive sufficient revenue to sustain a business.

My product is, of course, a novel. Or, more accurately, a manuscript that I hope will become the first of many novels. By investors and business partners I mean publishers and agents. And you’ve probably already figured out that “bootstrapped” is a ringer for “self-published.”

To achieve commercial success as an author is a victory in brand-building to rival anything done by the Apples of the world. Just ask J.K. RowlingStephen King or George R. R. Martin. Their names have become tickets to print money. They can even get away with ignoring their editors and publishing tomes the size of cinder blocks.

But for every icon such as this, there are thousands who fail to make the grade. Their products never get to market because they remain unfinished, untested, or are rejected by publishers and agents who believe that the product, as solid as it may be, is simply not unique or distinctive enough to provide them with an adequate ROI.

Then there is the majority who do get to market, but achieve only a moderate volume of sales. Their product sells well enough to remain in stock and warrant a contract for more, but the entrepreneur (I mean, author) isn’t getting rich by any measure. This is called the midlist, and, like many other product categories in the world today, has benefited from the long tail effect of online retailing.

So based on consideration of some of these facts, yes, I guess you could call me a start-up entrepreneur working on getting his first product to market. As with just about any entrepreneur, my road is long, mostly uphill and there is no guarantee what I will find at the end.

So why do I bother when I can make a living doing all of this other non-fiction writing and communication work?

Because I enjoy it and I have a passion for it. There is a certain, self-affirming, emotional high that comes of it. To have the fortitude to keep going through all the personal, professional and technical challenges involved with getting a product to market, an entrepreneur must be driven by more than just the promise of a pay day. They have a vision greater than the sum of product features and specs.

I’m sure if we locked a group of successful authors and entrepreneurs together in a room, they would say the same thing – you do it because you love it. The money is a fringe benefit.


On Twitter