markgunnells (markgunnells) wrote,

Why I Deviated From the Norm

When I first conceived of the concept of a novella collection, I was incredibly excited. Some stories are simply too big for shorts but too contained for novels, and the novella is the perfect length for these stories. At the time, I was going through a period where I was writing a lot of novellas, and I had three that took familiar genre tropes (namely the vampire, the time machine, and the deal with the devil) and gave them my own unique twist. I thought this would make for an entertaining collection, and I came up with the title DEVIATIONS FROM THE NORM.

The next step was finding a publisher for it. Not to sound cocky, I am aware that I’m a small fish in a big pond, but over the last several years I had been lucky enough to find homes for everything I wrote. Novels, novellas, short story collections…I had the immense fortune of working with some tremendous publishers. Therefore, I expected to be able to find a home for DEVIATIONS without too much trouble.

My first choice publisher passed simply because I submitted two manuscripts to them at the same time. DEVIATIONS as well as a haunted house novel. They only had one slot available in their roster, and since they already had a pending collection with me, they wanted to go with the novel. I was more than happy with that, but it did leave DEVIATIONS homeless.

I looked into many of the other publishers I had worked with more recently, and unfortunately most of them were closed for submissions. I did find a few other publishers that said they would be happy to read the manuscript and consider it.

Yet these all resulted in rejections. Disappointing, but it is all part of the publishing game. I will say, however, that something that really frustrated me was that these publishers never read more than the first few chapters of the first novella.

Let me take a moment to talk about the novella that opens the collection, “The Unholy Eucharist.” This is my take on the vampire mythos, creating my own original origin story for the creatures. I consider this piece to be one of the most ambitious I’ve ever undertaken, delving back into history in a way I rarely do. I did a lot of research for it, and I had a wonderful time crafting the tale. It ended up being a story of which I was remarkably proud. To me, it’s some of the best writing I’ve ever done…so I was rather surprised when this novella was the sticking point for publishers.

And yet I shouldn’t have been. My origin story dates back to Biblical times and incorporates Biblical figures into the narrative, including Jesus himself. I take great liberties with these figures and use them for my own means. Not because I was trying to make any type of statement on religion, but simply because that is where my imagination took me.

Some of the publishers felt that this would prove too controversial with readers, and that I would end up offending people. Interestingly enough, I got a comment from one publisher saying that as an atheist he was almost surprised that I had treated the Biblical characters with such reverence. (A digression, I sometimes see other atheists saying they can’t get into stories that treat Biblical figures as real. This to me is a baffling view, as we don’t have to believe vampires are real to enjoy stories about them, or werewolves, or zombies, etc.)

In any case, the publishers I sent the collection to all said they read only two or three chapters of “The Unholy Eucharist” before stopping because the religious aspects made it a hard sell for them. This truly did frustrate me. I put so much time and effort and passion into that story, it honestly made me a little mad that the publishers couldn’t even bother to read the entire thing before dismissing it. And while I understand the business aspect of publishing is paramount, it also left me a little disillusioned to think that there isn’t more risk-taking in the industry.

Also extremely frustrating was the fact that the other two novellas in the collection – “Kronoz” and “The Price of Success” – had never even been read by the publishers. I felt sorry for those stories, not even having the chance to be considered.

Yet I still believed very strongly in this collection. “Kronoz” and “The Price of Success” (the latter of which I wrote with my good friend Shane Nelson) I thought were highly entertaining and I wanted people to have a chance to read them.

And despite everything I was told, I believed strongly in the merits of “The Unholy Eucharist.” I felt like it was a rich and involving story with a nice twist at the end which could set up for even more stories in that universe. I really wanted to get it out there and give it a chance to live or die on its own.

So I started seriously considering self-publishing. I had experimented with that before, but only digital editions with crude cover art. This time I wanted to go all out. I contacted a friend of mine who has self-published a lot of his backlist, and he offered to use his Mac program that would automatically format the manuscript for print and digital. I got someone to do a thorough proofing of the book, and I hired a professional cover artist.

To me, that is one of the greatest things about this age where self-publishing is made so effortless. Yes, I know everyone complains that means the market can be flooded with substandard works, but it also means that works that are overlooked or considered too risky can still have a chance to find an audience.

I’m beyond ecstatic to be able to offer DEVIATIONS FROM THE NORM to readers. I do think it’s a collection that is strong and interesting, and I look forward to getting feedback from readers.

You can purchase the collection here:
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