Ethan Long on Offering Your Work For Free

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always included in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.

Today’s guest is Ethan Long, author of the Tales of True Mythology series, self-published in 2012. He used his love of theater and experiences traveling to create the fantasy series that is now widely available on his website, Tomehaven. He lives in central Ohio where he tries to stay stocked up on good books, board games, and popcorn. You can usually find him scrolling through Instagram.

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

Yes, I can remember when I had the first inkling for the story. It was summer break from college and I was watching TV. A commercial I don’t remember popped an idea into my head: What if people from myths really lived? What if there really was a Zeus or an Artemis and their stories just got exaggerated over the years? What would that look like?

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?

I did it over a long time period. There wasn’t truly a story in place for probably a year or more after I started working on it. I built the world first. Trying to figure out how mythological people and stories and creatures have lived over the centuries and why no one has seen them in millennia took a lot of trial and error. But once I started cementing things like the Olympians not being gods but more like superheroes, and my main character being a bookworm, theater-loving doubter, the story started to fall into place.

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?

Oh yeah. Talk about drafts. It really is true that the more you get to know your characters the more they take over the story. For the first book, I had an end goal in mind to reach a certain place in the woods. But everything before that changed probably a half dozen times. My first draft didn’t include the Mirrorwind Theatre at all, which is a big part of pushing Logan along his journey. But as time went by, I started meeting new characters, discovering new places, and finding new insightful back-stories to my characters that I had never planned at the beginning. I like the ever-changing flow to story building.

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?

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I have more ideas than time. I’ve got a list of other books, movie ideas, and even a cartoon series that I’d love to do. Plus, I’m always jotting down ideas for the True Mythology series since there’s going to be five books total. The hardest part is trying to figure out where each idea should go.

That’s actually been one of the benefits to my new website, Tomehaven. Not only are my first two books available to read there, but I can also start posting a new story I’ve been working on. Favor is an art deco, fantasy, superhero adventure story that has nothing to do with True Mythology, so it gives me a little refreshment to write something different and the ability to finally put down on paper some of those other ideas that have been sitting in a notebook for too long. 

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

I’m a bit of a writing butterfly. I flit and dart from one thing to the next. I write what I’m most inspired to write. Even when I working on a novel, I write whatever part of the story is really hitting me at the moment. Once I get enough of a story put together, I squish it into one piece and then edit it a million times.

I guess I’m the same way with other stories. I tried working on a movie script for a while but realized it was going to require a large amount of research which I did not have the time for at the moment. So I went over to Favor and worked on it for a while. Then I jumped back over Atlantis, the second True Mythology book, to finally finish it up.

I have 5 cats (seriously, check my Instagram feed) and I usually have at least one or two snuggling with me when I write. Do you have a writing buddy, or do you find it distracting?

When it comes to reading, you have to yell my name to get my attention. When it comes to writing, everything is a distraction. I can easily get pulled away by the littlest thing. I don’t have a writing buddy (or any pet at the moment), but that’s probably for the best. Although, I do have a figure of Scrooge McDuck and a tiny Atari controller on my desk that I sometimes play with when I need to just think for a while. They seem to help.

Sara Crawford On Subjective Feedback

If there's one thing that many aspiring writers have few clues about, it's the submission process. There are good reasons for that; authors aren't exactly encouraged to talk in detail about our own submission experiences, and - just like agent hunting - everyone's story is different. I managed to cobble together a few non-specific questions that some debut authors have agreed to
answer (bless them). And so I bring you the submission interview series - Submission Hell - It's True. Yes, it's the SHIT.

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Today's guest for the SHIT is Sara Crawford, who graduated in 2008 from Kennesaw State University with a B.A. in English and in 2012 from the University of New Orleans with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing (emphasis in Playwriting). In addition to working as a freelance writer and internet marketer, she is also a creative writing professor in the graduate program at Southern New Hampshire University, teaching online classes. She also loves to talk about books, music, and writing on her YouTube channel. Sara is the author of the young adult titles, WE OWN THE SKY and HURRY UP, WE'RE DREAMING.

How much did you know about the submission process before you were out on subs yourself?

Pretty much nothing. I knew a lot about querying agents and the process of trying to get a literary agent, but I didn’t really learn anything about the next step in the process. I was too focused on that first step.

Did anything about the process surprise you?

Yes. I had heard that the publishing process was slow, but I don’t think I realized how slow. I didn’t realize that when we first went on submission, it would be a month or two before we heard back from anyone. 

Did you research the editors you knew had your ms? Do you recommend doing that?

I’ve definitely been known to stalk editors I knew had my ms on Twitter. I would not recommend doing that because there’s a tendency to read into everything they tweet. “Oh, they’re enjoying a latte at a new coffee shop in their neighborhood? Clearly, that means they haven’t read my book yet!”

What was the average amount of time it took to hear back from editors?

It varied A LOT, but most editors seemed to respond within two months or so.

What do you think is the best way for an author out on submission to deal with the anxiety?

Work on the next book. If I could do it over again, I would spend much more time writing and less time obsessing over being on submission. I found that when I engrossed myself in the actual act of writing, it was a lot easier to focus on everything I loved about storytelling and not have so much anxiety about publishing. Even when I wasn’t actively writing, reading other books in my genre or craft books was a much better way to spend my time than refreshing my inbox or reading editors’ tweets. 

If you had any rejections, how did you deal with that emotionally? How did this kind of rejection compare to query rejections?

A lot of the rejections I got were with comments like “I like this, but I just don’t love it enough” or “I really enjoy this, but I don’t know how to sell it”. Those hurt a lot more than the rejections with actual criticism of the novel because at least I could understand those. But what can you do about someone just not loving your book enough? Publishing a book traditionally is a difficult process for everyone involved, and so much of landing a book deal depends on finding an editor who loves it enough to go through that process. My agent felt that way about my book from day one so I thought it would be relatively easy to find an editor that would feel the same way. Every time I got one of those rejections, though, it just reminded me that I hadn’t found that person yet. 

I can’t say I was always the best at dealing with it emotionally. There was a lot of chocolate ice cream and listening to The Smiths. These rejections hurt a lot more than query rejections because when I was querying, I knew I was at the beginning of the process. With these rejections, there was a sense of knowing that I was so close but didn’t quite have what they were looking for.

If you got feedback on a rejection, how did you process it? How do you compare processing an editor’s feedback as compared to a beta reader’s?

If there’s one I’ve learned about feedback from all the feedback I’ve gotten over the years from agents, editors, beta readers, critique partners, professors, and fellow students, it’s that all feedback is subjective. It’s easy to tell right away if feedback is going to be helpful or not. Honestly, I don’t think it matters if you’re an editor or a beta reader. I’ve gotten extremely helpful feedback from beta readers before, and I’ve gotten really confusing feedback that didn’t help me at all from editors. I process all feedback the same way. I try to figure out the main issue that the person was having, and then I try to fix it. If the comment is a subjective opinion, I usually try to look beyond what they didn’t like to the underlying issue that needs to be fixed.

When you got your YES! how did that feel? How did you find out – email, telephone, smoke signal?

I actually never got a yes. After being on sub off and on for about three years, I finally decided to stop pursuing traditional publishing with that book and self-publish it. I’m having a great experience being an indie author, but I’d still like to be a hybrid because I think some things I write work better for indie publishing, and some things would work better being traditionally published. My agent and I are about to go on sub again with another novel so I get to do it all over again! This time, I’ll hopefully be too busy writing my next book and marketing my indie books to obsessively check my inbox or stalk editors on Twitter.

Think Of Self-Publishing As A Business Endeavor, Not A Creative One

I'm welcoming in the New Year of podcast guests with Alex Lidell, author of THE CADET OF TILDOR from Penguin, as well as the TIDES series, which she self-published. I've known Alex since 2013, when we debuted together, and have watched her flourish as a hybrid author.

I invited Alex onto the podcast to share her wealth of knowledge when it comes to self-publishing, but many of her insights transpose to traditional publishing as well. Listeners of all types will gain a lot by tuning in, and be sure to follow through to the end... Alex likes to give things away.