Five Things I Learned Writing Aquarius Rising
by Brian Burt
For years, Brian Burt stuck to the instant gratification of writing short speculative fiction. He couldn't really decide what kind he liked the best, so he wrote a smattering of science fiction, fantasy, and dark fantasy shading towards horror. During this period of aimless literary wandering, he encountered one obstacle again and again: his short stories always seemed just a bit longer than the maximum word length accepted by most target markets.
Realizing that if brevity is the soul of wit, he's fairly witless, he decided to ignore his instinctive terror of long-term commitment and try his hand at a full-length novel. In fact, he even had the gall to contemplate a three-novel trilogy. And so, the Aquarius Rising novels were born, tracing the adventures of a race of human-dolphin hybrids who have built their reef communities on the bones of drowned coastal human cities in the wake of catastrophic global warming.
Here are five lessons Brian learned while laboring in the fictional universe of the Aquarians.
1. RESEARCH IS FUN BUT NEEDS TO END
As a landlocked Midwesterner who has only lived near an ocean shoreline on a couple of brief occasions, I knew I needed to do my homework in preparation for writing a novel (or three novels) where most of the action takes place beneath the waves. Before starting Aquarius Rising 1: In the Tears of God, I compiled a massive amount of notes, read tons of nonfiction tomes on the sea and marine creatures, lurked on online forums aimed primarily at marine scientists, watched so many ocean exploration documentaries that my eyes started to bleed, and generally obsessed over all of the things I didn't know about life in the sea. I enjoy learning new things; that's half the fun of writing science fiction. But, no matter how much time and effort I expended, I wasn't going to become a bona fide expert on marine biology or oceanography.
That's when I had to take a deep, healing breath and remind myself why I love speculative fiction: we get to build and explore new worlds that live only in our twisted imaginations. Sure, it's important to get the basic facts right whenever possible, but we're not writing textbooks, we're writing tales that stretch the boundaries of what we think we know. Good speculative fiction imparts its own brand of truth.
2. PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE... AND WRITERS ARE VIRTUOUS
Well, at least we get plenty of practice in mastering the art of patience after submitting a novel to a prospective agent, editor, or publisher. I learned quickly that most markets don't accept simultaneous submissions, don't much care for unsolicited (unagented) manuscripts, and can take something on the order of geologic time scales to respond to your query letter or sample chapters, much less the entire manuscript if that's requested. It can literally take a year or more to get a reply before you're free to try your luck somewhere else. Ouch.
On the positive side, this provides plenty of opportunity to work on other writing projects to keep a tenuous grip on your sanity while you're waiting, with an odd mixture of hope and despair, to hear back from that latest publishing house. In the end, when you get the acceptance letter, you lie to yourself and say "that wasn't so bad!"
3. WRITING IS HARD, BUT MARKETING IS HARDER
I was pretty proud of myself for finishing that first novel, finding a publisher, and seeing the book released on Amazon and other online bookstores. I then learned a harsh reality of the modern marketplace: there are a million new books published every year. Self-publishing and eBooks are wonderful, empowering technologies for writers, but they have a down side. Even when you wade through the slush pile of submissions and slog your way to publication, you've just released your literary creation into yet another slush pile — the explosion of digital content. It's incredibly difficult to raise your novel's signal above the deafening background noise of all those other choices that assault your potential readers' senses. My publisher repeatedly emphasizes to his entire stable of authors that "marketing and promotion are as much your job as writing the book in the first place." In today's ultra-competitive market, publishers don't have the budget to handle promotion for every title.
Honestly, this is an area with which I still struggle mightily; it's not my strength. I'm learning the hard way. Traditional paid advertising for fiction books rarely pays off. Building your "online platform" via social media channels like FaceBook, Twitter, and Goodreads takes considerable time, energy, and effort. Thousands of other gifted writers are working their tails (and tales ;-) off to attract attention to their own works.
It can be daunting for any new novelist and can feel like an uphill battle... or maybe an assault on Everest. Sometimes I yearn for simpler times, when I submitted a short story to an eZine and the magazine editors / publishers took care of marketing their story collections, leaving us writers to focus all our energy on writing. But that's not how the real world of book publishing works. Finding the right balance between writing new stories and marketing existing ones is both art and science... so it should be right up a science fiction author's alley, right?
4. IF YOU WRITE A NOVEL, YOU'RE AN AUTHOR
After my first novel was released, and friends and colleagues congratulated me on "making it" as a writer, I developed a pretty severe case of impostor syndrome. I knew I wasn't burning up any bestseller lists; I wasn't a household name. Every compliment, however well-intentioned, made me feel like an utter fraud.
Then I read some comments from fellow writers that finally (after many repetitions) sank in. If you write, you're a writer. If you publish, you're an author. Maybe not a bestselling author, or an independently wealthy author... but you're an author. Say it loud, say it proud — nobody can take that away from you!
5. TAKE CHANCES AND PLAY THE LONG SHOTS
As a rookie novelist, I felt a bit overwhelmed when requesting book reviews or considering entry in contests. It was my first attempt. Honestly, how many of us look back on our first attempt at anything and feel like we nailed it? When another author at Double Dragon (my publisher) mentioned EPIC (the Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition) and their annual eBook competition, my first thought was "probably a waste of time."
But I reconsidered. If nothing else, it would be a learning experience. The odds were long... but so were the odds of getting published in the first place. I submitted Aquarius Rising 1: In the Tears of God, put the contest out of my mind, and got back to work on Aquarius Rising 2: Blood Tide.
A number of months later, I received a notification that my novel was a finalist in the Science Fiction category. Sweet! I was excited but figured that would be the end of it. Then, a few months after that, I received a congratulatory message that I had won the category.
The odds are long in fiction publishing today. There's immense competition, literally hundreds of thousands of choices. But somebody gets the publishing deal; somebody wins the award. Why not you?
Brian Burt writes both short and novel-length speculative fiction. He's published more than twenty science fiction and fantasy stories in various magazines and anthologies. His short story "The Last Indian War" won the Writers of the Future Gold Award and was anthologized in Writers of the Future Volume VIII. His debut novel, Aquarius Rising 1: In the Tears of God, won EPIC's 2014 eBook Award for Science Fiction. Aquarius Rising 2: Blood Tide was recently released by Double Dragon Publishing, and Aquarius Rising 3: The Price of Eden is undergoing final revisions. Brian works as a cybersecurity engineer and lives with his wife, three sons, a corn snake, a panda-colored cat, and an aging white German shepherd in idyllic Plainwell, Michigan. The dog, in particular, remains unimpressed with his literary efforts unless they come with bacon. You can sample Brian's writing at http://www.briantburt.com or follow him on FaceBook, Twitter, or Goodreads.
Book Blurb: In the Tears of God
On an Earth ravaged by climate change, and a disastrous attempt to reverse it, human-dolphin hybrids called Aquarians have built thriving reef colonies among the drowned cities of the coast. Now their world is under siege from an enemy above the waves whose invisible weapon leaves no survivors. Ocypode of Tillamook is an Atavism: half-human and half-Aquarian, marooned in the genetic limbo between species. Only he knows why the colonies north and south of Tillamook Reef have been destroyed, literally turned to stone. Ocypode knows that Tillamook will be targeted next, but sharing the reason might prove as deadly to Aquarius as the Medusa plague itself.
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(Creative Switchboard Operator note: I am reading this book: Aquarius Rising Book One, and it is superb writing and story-telling. And, no, Brian didn't pay me a million dollars to say this. Well, not yet anyway. LOL)
Megalops is an Aquarian from one of the many reef-cities that thrive beneath the waves on an Earth transformed by climate change. Humans clinging to the barren lands blame Aquarius for their plight and unleashed the Medusa Plague that entombed Megalops's wife and daughter in stone. Tormented by that loss, Megalops swears to avenge his murdered family by unleashing a Vendetta Virus as cruel and lethal as Medusa. Ocypode the Atavism and his allies battle desperate odds to prevent Megalops from igniting global conflict. War demands sacrifice. If Mother Earth and Mother Ocean wage war against each other, will anyone survive?
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