Why I Won’t Rush The First Draft of My Next Novel

One of the conventional pieces of wisdom fiction writers hear is, “Write a quick and dirty first draft. You can always fix it later!” As someone who has been writing fiction since 2014, I have heard this advice a lot from both professionals and amateurs. It’s practically canon, up there with, “Show. Don’t Tell.”

I myself have cranked out a first draft for a 120,000 word cyberpunk novel in a mere two months. Many people use the month of November for this very purpose.

Now some people swear by this model. It may work great for many folks. But it doesn’t work great for everyone. For me, writing a first draft is like laying concrete for a sidewalk. Once the concrete dries, it’s difficult to go back and repave it later. A story evolves naturally from character motivations. If key components of your characters’ motivations have to be changed later, then you are going to have to do massive rewrites of the plot itself, practically writing a new book. It’s like building a road to one location and then discovering you are going to have to build a whole new road because the location has been changed.

And apparently I am not the only one who thinks this way. There are several other writing sites out there that explain the pitfalls of rushing a first draft, which I will link to at the end of this article.

Rushing a first draft may work very well if you are a planner. If you have all the key plot points, scenes, and character motivations written down in an outline or in your notes, then rushing the first draft itself could work very well for you. Things like setting and the choreography of action in a fight scene can always be improved upon later. However, if you are like me, and write things by the seat of your pants, you may end up with a manuscript that takes way too long to revise because you didn’t think through key story components beforehand. Much like building a house with faulty components, and then having to build over the weak material–which is often harder than just building a whole new house from scratch.

Things you should think about before you write your manuscript:

  • Main characters and their motivations.
  • What makes your characters likeable? What do they struggle with? Why should people want to read about them?
  • What is the arc of the characters?
  • What is the key conflict of the story?
  • What is the premise of the story?
  • Key plot points. “Tent pole scenes.”
  • Genre and conventions of the genre.
  • Research key components of world building.

Problems that can happen with rushing:

  • The rewrite process takes much longer than it should.
  • You may end up rushing your book to publishers before it’s ready.
  • You may lose interest and end up working on something else. If you wrote something that takes so much time to fix that you basically have to write a whole new novel on top of it, you may just prefer to write a whole new novel instead.
  • You have something that is fundamentally not marketable.

Anyways, that’s why I’m not going to rush my next first draft until I have key components of the story thought through. This will be difficult for me, because the writing process itself is what is fun for me, and not the planning process. But I think if I can force myself to do a little more planning beforehand next time, it will pay off in the long run.

And also, it’s OKAY to write something that doesn’t sell or get published. Ultimately doing something is better than not doing it at all. Perfection is the enemy of the good. However, as we evolve in our craft, we should also work at getting better with the planning process as well.

Why Fast First Drafts Aren’t for Everyone (The Write Practice)

3 Ways to Avoid Rushing Your Book (Writing Cooperative)

5 Pitfalls of Rushing Your First Draft (Script Wrecked)

Top 10 Books on Writing

Below are the top ten books from Best Books on Writing – Recommendations from 36 articles, Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Elon Musk and 53 others. (Read This Twice).


(Sorted by most recommended)

On Writing by Stephen King

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

On Writing Well by William Zinsser

Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder

Story by Robert McKee

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell


Best Books on Writing – Recommendations from 36 articles, Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Elon Musk and 53 others. (Read This Twice)

Reddit Thread on Top 100 Books

Writers Be Aware – #PitMad is Today!

What is #PitMad you may ask? 

#PitMad is the original twitter pitch event, where writers tweet a 280-character pitch for their completed, polished, unpublished manuscripts. Agents and editors make requests by liking/favoriting the tweeted pitch.

I’ll include the description from pitchwars

“Every unagented writer is welcome to pitch. All genres/categories are welcomed.

#PitMad occurs quarterly. Upcoming dates are:

  • March 5, 2020 (8AM – 8PM EDT)
  • June 4, 2020 (8AM – 8PM EDT)
  • September 3, 2020 (8AM – 8PM EST)
  • December 3, 2020 (8AM – 8PM EST)

Don’t favorite friends’ tweets. The agents will be requesting by favoriting tweets, and more favorites can make it hard for those with requests to see all of their faves/likes. RT or Quote-RT to show your support. Do NOT use the hashtag when quote RTing – Keep the hashtag clean so agents can navigate it easily.

Be respectful and courteous to each other, and especially to the industry professionals. If you do see abuse, please report it to Twitter or notify one of the hosts of the event.

Thank you for your interest, and happy pitching!”


Some Trans and Non-Binary Perspectives on Representation in Fiction

In writing this article, I went out and asked for the perspectives of a few trans and non-binary people I know on how trans or non-binary people are represented in fiction. I understand that the opinions of a few people don’t represent everyone in a vast group. But I think for me, as a cisgender person who writes fiction and wants to represent people in a respectful way, I think it’s important to ask and consider the opinions of trans and non-binary people I know.

I became interested in looking into this issue after the J.K. Rowling controversy. 

Of course, getting opinions from a few people I know is no match for researching and reading up on the subject matter (as one of my sensitivity readers quite reasonably pointed out), and in terms of writing outside my demographic, nobody is going to give me permission for the entire community.

One of the transgender people I shared this article with made a great point. “One ought not write trans characters to get a pat on the back, one writes trans characters because trans people exist and are people in the same way as nearsighted people and left-handed people.”

In doing this, I got asked a very important question by one of the people I interviewed. They asked me why I was writing this and not a trans person. This is a very good question!

I suppose in writing this, I (as a cis person) was trying to learn about the opinions of non-cis gender and non-binary people and let them explain this issue to me. And in writing this article, I’m simply sharing what they said—their perspectives, not mine. I hope it can be helpful for those wanting to learn more about this issue.

I am going to use anonymous initials and names for everyone I interviewed who requested to be anonymous. I got permission from everyone I interviewed to share their answers. There were only minor edits for clarity, consistency and to preserve anonymity.


John: I’ve been on testosterone for several years, had top surgery and a hysterectomy. I’ve got my name legally changed and all my documents changed.

JBJ: How has that been going for you?

John: Pretty good, actually. I “pass” very well, so most people just assume I’m a normal male.

JBJ: I know that’s been your dream for a long time.

John: Thanks. I didn’t think I was ever going to come back out of the closet, but in my mid 20’s I met some trans people that seemed to be getting by just fine, and I thought, hey, maybe things will be ok if I transition. Also, it seemed like trans rights were gaining traction at the time.

JBJ: Yeah, things are much different now than they were even 10 years ago. I’m just curious, what are your opinions on the whole thing of what J.K. Rowling said about trans people?

John: Well, I don’t agree with her views. Personally, I feel like if she kept her mouth shut, she could just live out the rest of her days resting on her laurels as a beloved children’s fiction writer.

JBJ: How do you feel about the current representation of trans/non-binary people in books and shows?

John: I honestly haven’t seen a lot of trans/non-binary characters in any recent movies or shows, so I’m not sure.

JBJ: Are there things that you would like to see more of?

John: This is just specific to movies/TV, but I think it’d be great if they chose trans actors to play trans roles. Recently, Halle Berry accepted a role to play a trans man, and I think that kind of representation is very damaging because I think it makes trans men look like “girls playing dress-up that want to be boys.” Shortly after announcing it, there was a huge uproar and she stepped down.

JBJ: What are your favorite trans or non-binary characters you’ve seen in a book or show?

John: I liked Krem a lot from Dragon Age: Inquisition. There’s even a conversation you can have with one of the characters (Iron Bull) that’s very trans positive and he just treats him like one of the guys. I also really liked Damien from Dream Daddy (the gay dad dating simulator, lol), because it’s refreshing to see a trans man that’s somewhat effeminate. I’m not the model of masculinity myself, and not all trans guys are hypermasculine lumberjacks.

I guess what I really worry about the most is society viewing trans men as just butch lesbians that want to play dress up.

Like I just want to be seen as male, not as some oddity. I don’t tell any new people I meet that I’m trans and I just want to live a normal life.

Oh, one other thing I liked about Damien from Dream Daddy is being trans wasn’t the sole focus of that character. Some people claim that since it’s briefly mentioned and not explored in-depth, that it was “empty tokenism,” but I disagree. I like that it’s mentioned, but it’s not like the whole character’s personality and storyline revolved around it.

JBJ: Is it okay for cisgender people to write non-cisgender characters?

John: I think it’s alright, but it might be a good idea to have someone non-cis look it over. This is a small example, but Mass Effect: Andromeda had a trans NPC and, during your conversation with them, your character asks what their old name was. Generally speaking, asking a trans/non-binary person’s old name, or “dead name”, as many call it, is a very, very personal question. And honestly, I wouldn’t answer that question if someone I just met asked me. So, there was a bit of an uproar about it because it’s rude to ask and it seems to normalize the question, making it seem ok to ask some trans person you just met something like that. Anyway, they patched it and got rid of that dialog. Little things like that seem pretty innocuous and I know that their intentions weren’t bad, but I think all of that could have been avoided if the scriptwriters just asked a trans person to just look it over or something.

JBJ: Great point!


JBJ: I’m currently writing an article about the representation of trans and non-binary characters in fiction and decided to ask my trans and non-binary friends about their views.

HM: So, you’re asking about my views on that as a broad topic or…?

JBJ: Yeah, whatever you’re comfortable with.

HM: Okay well… trans characters played by trans actors are unfortunately fewer than I’d like.

HM: I think that, while trans women get more exposure than trans men or non-binary people, the rep we get is often very very bad.

JBJ: I’m sorry to hear that. That sounds very frustrating.

HM: You have no idea.

JBJ: What is an example of representation you saw that bothered you…if you don’t mind my asking?

HM: Often, what I see is a character for whom being trans is a major plot point and/or character trait. I mean any example where a trans woman was played by a cis guy or a trans man was played by a cis woman or a non-binary person played by a binary actor.

Honestly? Laverne Cox has had two roles that bothered me which sucks because I like her as an actress

JBJ: Yeah, I’m familiar with her role in Orange is the New Black.

HM: One is Orange is the New Black, where her entire plotline was about her being trans, having no access to hormones, and just generally lacking in agency in that regard. The other is Rocky Horror because I am deeply uncomfortable with any narrative that pegs the trans or gnc [gender non-conforming] character as evil

JBJ: Yeah, that makes sense.

HM: I really prefer more casual rep.

She-Ra sorta did that, but it was very much the sort of “If you’re not in the know you don’t know” kinda rep which im kinda on the fence about.

Jessica Jones had a trans woman in the cast for the second season and nothing was ever made of it. I liked that.

Unfortunately, my next example is goddamn Warrior Nun because there’s a trans character who has a really great moment without ever saying she’s trans outright, though it still suffers from the fact that said moment still relates to that.

JBJ: How did you feel about J.K. Rowling’s comments?

HM: The trans community has known Rowling was a TERF for years now. It’s on y’all for ignoring or dismissing us.

So yeah for that reason her comments don’t surprise me.

Why are YOU writing this? Why not a trans person?

JBJ: That’s a very good question to ask. I’m basically just asking all the trans/non-binary people willing to talk to me, and putting their opinions out there, without showcasing my own.

HM: While it is nice to see trans characters in media, it would be really really really good if they were written by trans writers.

Ahhhhh I forgot to mention something else, and that’s the concept of a character’s transness being used to cause grief or pain or character growth or whatever for a cis character. I hate that shit.

JBJ: That’s a good point. I think they did that in Orange is the New Black too.

HM: Yeah and I think it might be a plot point in like The Crying Game or whatever (which also includes a lack of agency for the trans character when it comes to the “reveal.” There’s an article somewhere about that iirc)

JBJ: Do you watch Supergirl?

HM: Yes

JBJ: Do you like the character Dreamer?

HM: Fuckin love Dreamer

HM: They gave a good reason for her character to be trans without making it her whole character (admittedly I’m not caught up) AND they had the universe support it.

Like, in-universe her powers confirmed her identity

JBJ: Yeah, it was cool the way they did it.

HM: I do also wish we included more trans women who don’t necessarily get read as women (I hate the term “passing” for a variety of reasons) because it sucks that we have to exactly appear a certain way and I’d very much appreciate it if we saw more TWOC [Trans Women of Color] in roles like that.

Actually, I should widen that out. It sucks that trans people in media are often either “binary and appears cis” or “non-binary vaguely androgynous AFAB person.”

And there should be more trans POC in general

JBJ: Yes, they should have more roles.

HM: Not just roles, they need to have important ones like Dreamer or what’s the girl’s name from Sense8?

JBJ: Oh shoot, now I forgot her name. But yes, Sense8 was also an interesting show. Nomi!

HM: Yes, but she falls into one or two of those concerns. She’s white and she reads as a cis woman if you aren’t told she’s trans. Those aren’t BAD things, but they don’t represent our entire community. I rarely if ever get gendered correctly by people I don’t know so when I see these characters it’s like hey that’s neat but also that’s not necessarily my experience.

JBJ: That’s a really good point.

HM: I don’t wear makeup often, I’m not hyper-feminine (which, if you get a chance, I think Julia Serrano’s book Whipping Girl goes into the idea of the double bind for trans women as it pertains to displays of femininity). I like dresses, sure, but I don’t wear them often. Often what movies and TV do is like… they’ll have main characters who only have at most two oppressed identities. Dreamer is both trans and a woman.

Is she ND? disabled? POC? gay? (Okay so sometimes they choose three but I sometimes have mixed feelings about every other trans woman in media being gay because it’s like yo a guy can date us without that “making him gay” but also a LOT of trans women are gay or bi soooooo)


JBJ: Hey there, I was wondering if I could pick your brain on an LGBTQ related issue. If not, it’s all good.

Tova: Hey there, of course!

JBJ: Thank you so much!

I’m a science fiction author who is trying to learn more about the representation of trans/non-binary people in fiction and how to do this representation in a respectful, informed manner. I hope this question isn’t too personal and out of nowhere, but do you identify as non-binary?

Tova: That is so wonderful!! Yes, I do.  I use They/Them/Their pronouns. 

JBJ: Do you see yourself as cisgender or not cisgender?

Tova: Well, being that non-binary is a spectrum of trans, I don’t see myself as cisgender.

JBJ: Gotcha, that makes sense.

Tova: I see myself more in the middle of the gender spectrum 

Sometimes more femme, sometimes more masc, sometimes a mix of both but without a name for it.

It’s interesting being a non-binary hijabi because most days, unless I wear a more “masculine” style of hijab, people will address me as “Ma’am” or refer to me as a “lady.”

JBJ: Ah gotcha, is that ever frustrating?

Tova: Sometimes but I know it’s not their fault, which makes me less frustrated.

We’re conditioned to associate certain looks to certain genders and unless I have a VERY big button with my pronouns, they won’t know. I have a cute They/Them pin but I realized after I got it that it’s hard to see I try to wear my queer pins on my hijab.

The top pin is my They/Them one, it’s too shiny to read sometimes 

But I have the non-binary flag pin, now.

My parents still refer to me as She/Her, but I give them more time to process it.

And my partner knew me before I transitioned, so I give him more time as well.

JBJ: I was curious, what were your thoughts on the whole J.K. Rowling controversy on her comments about trans people?

Tova: I think she’s a disgrace and a hypocrite. Why have queer-themes in your book but then sh*t on a huge part of the LGBTQ+ community!? I am so ashamed of her and will not purchase any more of her items from here on out. I want my money to go to authors and companies that support my people and social justice causes. I love Harry Potter itself but won’t add to my HP collection anymore, lol.

JBJ: Also, how do you feel about the current representation of trans/non-binary people in books and shows?

Tova: I think there’s a move to make more inclusive and diverse characters, which is great! I hope to see more of a push for that, especially in romance novels. I want to see a romance novel with queer/trans, poly, interracial, interfaith characters with complex backgrounds. I have to look VERY hard to find gay/bi romance novels that aren’t in sex shops, jeje. I know the move for these characters are slow right now, but I hope within the next 10 years, especially with our generation and Gen Z, more inclusive and diverse characters will be the protagonists and not just side-characters.

I know that was a mouth full, jeje.

JBJ: No prob, I appreciate the well thought out answer.

Do you ever see something done in fiction about trans/non-binary people in a way that is offensive? Or that you would have done differently?

Tova: I haven’t seen many because there aren’t too many trans or non-binary folks in fiction, but the little I have seen haven’t been really diverse.

JBJ: Anything you’d like to add?

Tova: I want to add a show that has a non-binary theme that I just remembered. 

In Sailor Moon Stars, the new Sailor Guardians (Sailor Starlights) are teenage boys in their human form and girls in their Sailor Guardian form. This was never aired in the US because of the gender blurring (along with the fact that Sailor Neptune and Sailor Mercury are lovers and were always open about it) and it was never dubbed in English until recently. The fact that these characters experience both binaries, yet are not binary, and that they’re both male and female, shows how progressive the creator Naoko Takeuchi was. She was ahead of her time and if this final arc of Sailor Moon was able to be on tv during the early 2000’s in the US, I know many of us “Moonies” would’ve been able to come out earlier and see more representation on screen. Anime is usually known for blurring the gender normative and I love it for that

JBJ: Thanks.

Tova: Of course. 


JBJ: Hey there, I was wondering if I could pick your brain on an LGBTQ related issue. If not, it’s all good.

DG: Certainly!

JBJ: Cool. Thanks.

I’m currently writing something about the representation of trans/non-binary people in fiction…whether books or shows or movies.

I know you were starting to identify with the non-binary label?

DG: Yup! Thought it was trans but this seems like a better fit

JBJ: Cool. Glad you found something that fits.

DG: So inside the nb umbrella I think genderfluid is where I stand specifically

JBJ: Cool.

I was curious, what were your feelings on the comments J.K. Rowling made about the trans community?

DG: Honestly, I had too many other things to give it much thought, so I’ve been reading up on it now…but from what I’m reading, I can at least kinda see where her brain is coming from. Maybe. At least in regards to physiological sex. Gender is a different story, and I definitely see why she’s been eating a lot of shit for it. It kinda looks like she was speaking as though they’re the same and didn’t bother to learn the difference despite the backlash.

JBJ: What is your opinion about the representation of trans/non-binary people in books and shows?

DG: We’re getting more now, and that’s awesome. There’s a new wrestling league (All Elite Wrestling) and their first women’s champion was a trans woman from DC.

There was some backlash against her as you might imagine, she handled it well and the company is very straight up about being super inclusive, both the wrestlers and the fans.

Different shows have been getting more open about that stuff too. Bojack Horseman, Steven Universe in particular. It’s a slow creep into more mainstream media, but it’s there.

I’m sure Riverdale has some, too.

Of course there needs to be more, but these things are becoming a lot more commonplace, at least in Florida being very queer friendly. We went to target yesterday and found pride stuff, that even had different price hearts. IN TARGET! No ace stuff though, sadly.

There were aro, nb, trans, bi, gay, don’t remember if lesbian but I’m sure there was

JBJ: That’s pretty cool.

DG: It was a validating feeling

Disney has embraced pride

JBJ: Oh cool.

DG: Not specifically anything, but they love their rainbow shit. And it’s definitely not just for the sake of having a rainbow.

JBJ: Are there things that you would like to see more of in fiction?

DG: Absolutely. When we see another ace or nb or whatever character, it’s nice to feel acknowledged. I’m sure it’s not that different than passing a Bechdel test

Simple but gives more weight to the piece I suppose.

JBJ: Do you ever see something done in a way that is offensive? Or that you would have done differently?

DG: A lot of works don’t outright say these things. It might be a little forced sometimes and I get it, but sometimes it’s good to use the platform of whichever media to educate. Bojack Horseman does that, Steven Universe, despite being a “kid’s show,” just treated everything like it was all perfectly normal in such a healthy way. I don’t really see much else about it often, and when I do it is sometimes insulting or derogatory. I think internet culture is normalizing things more. It’s being discussed more. BLM has been helping queer communities as well both being marginalized by bringing difficult topics up, and I’m sure that is getting reflected in new media.

People need to learn somehow, so giving peeps the courage to include more Black characters or queer or Native American or whatever is important rn.

JBJ: Absolutely.

What are your favorite trans or non-binary characters you’ve seen in a book or show?

DG: I think stuff that’s coming out (lol) soon will show a lot more than what’s been out.

Omg, like everybody from steven universe

Have you seen it?

JBJ: I have not. But I’ve had three people now recommend it! So I guess I have to now.

DG: I like Futurama for rewatching stuff, but Steven Universe is my favorite show overall.

The writing is just ugh, so good.

It’s so freaking apparent that they have queer people in creative.

JBJ: Yeah, that’s important. Queer people writing about queer people.


JBJ: Hey there, I was wondering if I could pick your brain on an LGBTQ related issue. If not, it’s all good.

RM: Sure! I am happy to answer any questions as more Danica Roem or Wendy Carlos than the average bloke!

JBJ: I don’t know if this is too personal, but I know you’ve mentioned in the past that you’d prefer to identify as a woman. So, would you see yourself as trans, or at least not cisgender? I’m asking because I’m thinking about writing something on this topic.

RM: My opinion, as you can clearly see as identify with Roan and Carlos is I am a woman so trapped but my opinion is more along the lines of my friend [name removed for anonymity], in so far I like being per se fertile even if I’ll never reproduce. When, as I closely approach the average age of menopause, I will consider this less of an issue. And, with a different significant other who accepts and appreciates my male bits, I would be less inclined to physically align. The pressure isn’t as great on me as other women who were once cismen. But I clearly identify as cisman but also non-binary in the gender sense which is my preferred grey area. Non-binary is an interesting notion as it’s usually used by ciswomen to indicate some tomboyish tendencies. I’m using it the reverse sense as a bit effeminate and sissy in the pejorative sense. I’m not ashamed that I have feminine tendencies, that I prefer consensus and cooperation over aggression and superlatives. So I’m happy with who I am and accept things as they are. I’m, at core, a pragmatist. So, I’m a cisman but non-binary. Is that clear?

JBJ: Yes! And thanks for sharing that for me!

In light of the whole J.K. Rowling situation, I was interested in getting the opinions on non-binary people about non-binary representation in literature.

Like, I was curious, how did you feel about her comments?

RM: JK has opinions that would be the norm 50 years ago when Walter Carlos became Wendy (Wendy composes the haunting music to A Clockwork Orange, if you didn’t know). I look at her comments as foolish, uninformed, and lacking empathy. But I think it no more diminishes how I enjoy Harry Potter than to enjoy Hemingway despite his view, suicide, and thirst for Iberian war. I don’t believe in shutting down or boycotting Rowling. I don’t think ostracizing helps, it only shrinks a social circle into diehards that agree and re-enforce her. I don’t mind she doesn’t recognize transgender and non-binary because I’m not going to her for advice on those topics. When I want to talk about Non-Binary, I listen to folks like Rebecca Sugar, who created Steven Universe, and who identified as Non-Binary yet has a wonderful Cismale husband. I know that’s nuanced but does it make sense?

JBJ: Yes. How do you feel about the current representation of trans/non-binary people in fiction?

RM: I have written about it before, but I feel I’m wiser now with more trans colleagues and even a very close friend who is a trans man. But, I haven’t been reading a lot of fiction involving transgender folks recently.

JBJ: In terms of non-binary characters, do you ever see something done in a way that offends you?

RM: Non-binary comes up very rarely in literature. It’s also a very recent concept. In the 1990s, probably even the ‘aughts, people would look at you funny if you said that.

JBJ: Should binary people write non-binary characters?

RM: Yes! Can women write gay men? Yes! Can men write gay women? He can as long as he does it with research. One of my best friends is also a gay male so I can observe and get his perspective. This is just an expansion of many other isa arguments, not African American can write an African American character? Yes, with research and talking with African American friends. American Indian, same thing. Men can write women, women can write men. It’s all relative to the time and research you put into it. If you don’t take the time to learn about some other way of life, you’re going to bugger it!

JBJ: Thanks.


Disclosure Documentary on Netflix

In this documentary, leading trans creatives and thinkers share perspectives and analyses about Hollywood’s impact on the trans community.

Paris is Burning Film on YouTube

Paris Is Burning is a 1990 American documentary film directed by Jennie Livingston. Filmed in the mid-to-late 1980s, it chronicles the ball culture of New York City and the African-American, Hispanic, gay, and transgender communities involved in it. Critics consider the film to be an invaluable documentary of the end of the “Golden Age” of New York City drag balls, and a thoughtful exploration of race, class, gender, and sexuality in America.

Victims or Villains: Examining Ten Years of Transgender Images on Television 

Pre-WWII Accounts of LGBT+ Individuals: Books and Documents

Reddit thread on this topic

Interview With Successful Self-Published Author – Martin Wilsey

(Shadows of the Sentinel. Just published today. Check it out on Amazon!)

Martin Wilsey is living the dream. He is a self-published author who was able to sell enough of his books to quit his day job and focus exclusively on writing. But I will warn people that this path isn’t easy. Not everyone who throws a kindle book on Amazon can make a living off of it. Most won’t. The average self-published book sells under 250 copies and 25% of all authors surveyed earned $0 in book-related income. (Medium)

So how to make it work? I decided to find that out by interviewing Martin Wilsey himself.

JBJ: How did you get into writing science fiction? 

MW: It is an odd path. I always loved reading SciFi and Fantasy. I read about a hundred books a year and always wanted to write one myself. Over the decades, starting in the early 80s, I tried several times. I was not trained in writing. I took a couple of creative writing courses from teachers that hated SciFi. I always sucked at spelling and grammar, so in the early days, I was discouraged at every turn. I sucked at spelling, but was I was great at computers.

I started blogging in 1994. That got me writing every day. I was enjoying it. And as computers got smarter, tools for spelling and grammar got better. I got better. I still didn’t know what I was doing yet. I’d start one thing and get distracted by another idea and never finished anything. I was in a classic cycle of writer self-sabotage.

They out of the blue, my brother suddenly died at age 52.

There were six siblings in my family, and my brother Eric was 4 of 6. I was 5 of 6. It was a complete kick in the gut. He was the first of us. It really made me assess my entire life. It made me realize that I could go at any time. It made me look at what I wanted to get done before I shed my mortal coil.

The same month Eric died, I managed to get a severe spine injury. It left me unable to do much of anything. I went through Prime and Netflix faster than I thought possible, and to stay sane, I started writing every day.

I was lucky that I had gotten to know a couple of authors that gave me excellent advice. Next thing I knew, I had a novel. STILL FALLING. To my great surprise, it hit number 1 in the Hard Science Fiction category.

I never stopped writing. I have published projects about every six months since then.

JBJ: Why did you choose to self-publish instead of going the traditional route?

MW: My decision to go the self-publishing route was easy.  I submitted my novel to several agents, and their suggestions for changes were horrible. Deals offered were worse. I wanted to retain full rights to my stories. Createspace was already running, and it looked like a far better option for me. 70% royalty sounded way better than the 13% offered by traditional routes. I also had the power of not caring about the money. I had a great career and an even better salary as a research scientist. So on March 31, 2015, I self-published STILL FALLING.

Less than three years later, I was able to quit my day job and write full time. I got to retire eight years ahead of schedule at 57 years old.

JBJ: What is the most difficult thing about self-publishing?

MW: As an Indie-Author, it’s all on you. There are hundreds of things to learn that have nothing to do with writing. It’s a lot of work. All the jobs are your job. I think the hardest job, the farthest from writing, is Marketing. The Marketing aspect still evades me. It turns out the best marketing is to keep writing.

JBJ: What is the best thing about self-publishing? 

MW: You are the Boss. Everyone works for you. You get to decide EVERYTHING. This is awesome if you are a control freak like me.

There are lots of people that work for me now: Accounts, Lawyers, Editors, Illustrators, Cover Designers, Web Designers, PR People, Audio Producers, Narrators, Interns, Translators, Beta Readers, and more.

Managing it all is a lot of work, but I love it. I get to keep my Intellectual Property, and I receive the maximum percentage of the royalties.

JBJ: What is your advice for other authors who want to self-publish? 

MW: Finish things. Don’t work on more than one thing at a time. Finish all the way before moving to the next project. Otherwise, you will never finish anything. It’s the most common sort of self-sabotage.

Pay for an Editor. It’s an investment, not an expense. The best story in the world will not sell and get bad reviews if the editing is not up to par.

Pay for a great cover. People DO judge books by their cover. A cover must be professional, genre-appropriate, and easy to read as a thumbnail in Amazon.

JBJ: What books have been the most inspirational to you in your work? 

MW: I have been profoundly inspired by Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clark, Simon Hawke, JRR Tolkien, and other classic SciFi.

The books I like the most about the craft are ON WRITING by Stephen King and SAVE THE CAT! WRITES A NOVEL by Jessica Brody.

JBJ: Would you like to share anything about your most recently published work, Shadows of the Sentinel? 

MW: SHADOWS OF THE SENTINEL is a stand-alone novel that takes place in the Solstice 31 universe. It’s a companion book to VIRTUES OF THE VICIOUS. The novel is available now in Kindle, Paperback, Hardcover, and on October 1, the Audio edition is scheduled for release. For more information, check out the links below. 

JBJ: By the way, how is your cat? 

MW: Great! Excellent!


However did it come to this? Cobb wanted a simple life. He wanted excellent steaks, great coffee, friends, and a quiet place to restore his favorite ship. Working for a recovery operation turned out to be the best place to find parts cheap. She had other plans for him. He wanted the staff of the deep space salvage ship, OXCART, to treat him just like another member of the crew. Not the man he really was.  Light-years from Earth, he thought his secrets, his past, wouldn’t matter. Especially not to her. When that past leads them to the SENTINEL, like it or not, the biggest single salvage of all time will change everything. Some secrets are so big, they can start a war. Or stop one. Or remain too big to explain when the timing could not be worse. And it was all the damn cat’s fault.

Buy it off Amazon.


Amazon Books


Martin Wilsey Official Website





Free Short Story on Audio

How to Get A Literary Agent – Gen Con Online Panel 2020

This year Gen  Con went online. As a result, they had a lot of great online FREE panels. Including many great resources for writers. I myself went to the “How to Get an Agent” panel that starred Lucienne Diver (Agent with The Knight Agency) Maurice Broaddus (Fantasy and Horror Author), Toni L. Kelner (Mystery Author), E.C. Ambrose (Fantasy and other genres author), Chris Bell (Panel Host and Managing Editor for Indie Press)

I took some notes about the most critical things mentioned in this panel.

This came from How to Get an Agent Panel Live (On YouTube)

Why Should You Get an Agent? 

Why not just wing it on your own?

Toni L. Kelner replied, “For the big bucks. For the money.” It was further explained that an agent can help your book get into a bookstore, into an international book store. Agents know what’s selling and how to market your work.

E.C.Ambrose added that agents are also important for understanding contracts.

Maurice Broaddus added on to this by saying he first realized he needed an agent when he got a 14-page contract and needed someone who could decipher it.

What Do Agents Do? 

Lucienne Diver made the point that many people are not aware of what an agent actually does. A big part of their role is career planning. Especially for people who want to become career authors and aren’t just treating their craft as a hobby. An agent can figure out which is the best line to launch an author’s particular work. So it’s not just about the agent getting the writer money, it’s about the agent figuring out what the best position is for the writer. It’s about trajectory. “We are career managers as much as we are negotiators and contract managers…agents wear many hats (Lucienne Diver).”

How Does Someone Just Starting Out Get an Agent? 

Social Networking: Lucienne Diver explained that writers conferences are a great resource because you are meeting people there. You are networking. Maurice Broaddus confirmed this by saying he met his agent by wearing “a very loud red suit” at the bar.

Writers Organizations: Another useful tool for getting an agent are professional writers organizations. These often have a list of agents who are reputable in that field. Such as Science Fiction Writers of America. The Association of Authors Representatives. Etc. Not all agents will necessarily be members of these associations. 

Do Your Research and Follow Guidelines: Lucienne Diver explained that it’s very important to follow an agent’s submission guidelines. Don’t try to be clever or cute. Agents have a whole mountain of slush in their inboxes every week. An easy way for agents to reduce the slush pile is to ignore the submissions that don’t follow the rules.

Warnings About Bad Agents

One point made in the panel is that agents are only human. So sometimes they make mistakes. Sometimes they are not doing the best job representing your work. Sometimes they are experiencing a mid life crisis.

Maurice Broaddus talked about an agent he had who was not reading his stuff or sending it out in a timely manner. What good was she doing for his career if she wasn’t even reading his stuff?

E.C.Ambrose said it is worse to have a bad agent than no agent, because you think your agent is doing their job but they’re not.

Aside from the writer’s panel, I myself made friends with a writer on Twitter who said she did get a book published, but the sales were abysmal because the agent didn’t do the best job representing her. Her agent had a lot of stuff going on in her life and took about two years to even get this author representation. This author I know was writing vampire romance. In the year she wrote the book, vampire romance was hot. But by the time it got into the bookstores, the genre was passé. 

So long story short, if your agent is not communicating with you in a timely manner, it’s best for your career to find alternative representation.

Absolute Write has a good “Writers Beware” section. 

How to Obtain an Agent Through a Query Letter?

A query letter is a letter an author sends to a prospective agent to get that agent interested in their book.

E.C.Ambrose went into detail about what a query letter is.

Keep in mind that agents are readers first, so you want to get them excited about reading your book. You want to show them you’re capable of hooking a reader’s attention and writing something that has a beginning, middle, and end.

A query letter should answer the following questions:

  • Why are you approaching this particular agent (what is it about them that would make them a good fit for your work)?
  • What is the concept of this book?
  • How does it fit into the marketplace?
  • How is it different than the marketplace (How is it unique)?
  • Who is the main character?
  • What is the conflict?
  • What is the setting?

Example: “In 14th century England, a barber surgeon discovers he has the magic of death.” This tells you a lot about the book in one sentence.

The end of the query should explain more about you as a writer:

  • Who are you as a writer?
  • Have you gotten anything published?
  • Have you attended any workshops?
  • MFA?

ONLY Send Out a Query if Your Manuscript is COMPLETE

Lucienne Diver even said “make it a fifth draft at least.” Get multiple eyes on your work. Get beta readers. Get lots of feedback. Revise based on feedback. Provide the most polished version of your work you can provide.

Will Self Publishing Hurt Your Chances of Getting an Agent? 

This is the one million dollar question. A question I wonder a lot about myself, and that I have heard asked multiple times before.

Lucienne Diver said that there is no one path to getting published. She’s had authors who started out self-published. She also has hybrid authors. However, her biggest piece of advice is that if you are going to self-publish, make sure you do a professional job of it, because what you do leaves a track record. Get a pro to edit your work. Get a pro to make your cover. If an agent sees that you self published something full of typos that gets bad reviews, they’ll think you’re not ready to be a professional author.


How to Get an Agent Panel Live (On YouTube)

Gen Con Writers Panel Collection (On YouTube)

Gen Con Online 2020

Lucienne Diver (Agent with The Knight Agency)

Maurice Broaddus (Fantasy and Horror Author)

Toni L. Kelner (Mystery Author)

E.C. Ambrose (Fantasy and other genres author)

Chris Bell (Panel Host and Managing Editor for Indie Press)

World Building Science Fiction – Mercury

(My sources are cited at the bottom of this article. For much of this article, I researched the content put out by Isaac Arthur, who in 2020, was named the recipient of the National Space Society’s Space Pioneer Award for Education via Mass Media)

Mercury is one of the most neglected planets in Science Fiction. Mars or Venus are usually the sites for fictional colonization. One might think Mercury’s close proximity to the sun and its lacking atmosphere would make it a dud.

But there are actually several reasons why an airless ball of silicon and metal next to the sun could have potential.

Below I will include resources that could be helpful to science fiction writers.

Since people don’t commonly write about Mercury, it would be a great way to come up with something unique that would make their work stand out.


In the long term, Mercury could be used as a building supply store to construct power collectors, and then disassembled to form the basis of a Dyson Swarm.

A Dyson Sphere is a megastructure that completely encompasses a star and captures a large percentage of its power output. The thought is that this would be how a space fairing civilization would meet its energy requirements, exceeding what could be provided by planets alone.

A Dyson Swarm is a variant that consists of a large number of independent constructs (usually solar power satellites and space habitats) orbiting in a dense formation around the star.

However, turning Mercury into such a structure would take a very long time. Longer than the longest human civilizations have existed. Human beings don’t seem capable of dedicating themselves to such a long-term endeavor, but some kind of AI-human hybrid with a super long lifespan might. So if you decide to write a story about a people turning Mercury into a Dyson Swarm, you might also want to make them into something more than human.


What about Mercury’s near term/mid-term colonization potential, in case we don’t want to wait for the time span of several civilizations for it to become useful?  What are the benefits?

Solar Energy:

The proximity to the sun presents potential for harnessing a tremendous amount of solar energy, collecting solar energy for both Mercury, and other planets in a colonized solar system. This could be achieved via orbital solar arrays, which would be able to harness energy constantly and beam it to the surface. This energy could then be beamed to other planets in the Solar System using a series of transfer stations positioned at Lagrange Points.

A Heavy Metal World: 

Like Earth, Mercury is a terrestrial planet, which means it is made up of silicate rocks and metals that are differentiated between an iron core and silicate crust and mantle. However, unlike the Earth, Mercury’s composition is 70% metal. As a result, if Mercury were to be mined, it could produce enough raw materials to supply humanity indefinitely.

Similar Gravity to Mars and a Low Escape Velocity:

The gravity on Mercury is 38% that of Earth, which is similar to what Mars experiences. This is twice the level of gravity of the moon, making Mercury easier to adjust to than the moon. The low gravity coupled with the lacking atmosphere (no air drag) also gives the planet a low escape velocity, making it easier for ships to escape Mercury, in that they’d require fewer resources to do so. This would make Mercury a great site for exporting materials, especially considering their wealth of metals. Also, it would make Mercury a great site for building ships, especially if human beings become an interstellar civilization. If stellar lasers were built near the sun, a vessel could be launched from Mercury and pushed by lasers out of the solar system. And hydrogen for fuel would certainly be plentiful given the solar winds blasting Mercury.

Proximity to Earth: 

As a resource-rich world, Mercury is closer to Earth than the Asteroid Belt or Saturn. Mercury also achieves an inferior conjunction (the point where it is at its closest point to Earth) every 116 days, which is significantly shorter than either Venus or Mars. Basically, missions destined for Mercury could launch almost every four months, whereas launch windows to Venus and Mars would have to take place every 1.6 years and 26 months, respectively.


Mobile Bases: 

Mercury is the closest planet to the sun. Therefore, we tend to think of it as the hottest, but Venus actually beats it for peak temperature. Also, what many people don’t expect is that Mercury can get very cold. Mercury gets downright cold at night, unlike Venus, since it has no atmosphere, just a thin haze of mostly hydrogen and helium from the captured solar wind.

One way to avoid getting too hot or too cold is to set up mobile bases. These mobile bases would chase terminator, so Mercurians can get some solar power, but to where it hadn’t heated around or cooled down that much.

People would set up their camps where it’s cool and move on when the light and heat are too much. They would drive ahead to someplace that’s cold. But not so cold that they couldn’t work there. This would be good for mining.

An example of this in science fiction is what people did in Dune when they were avoiding giant sandworms while harvesting the Spice Melange.

People living in mobile bases would need to set up backup vehicles and engines in case one died. And they could use the extra energy from these backup vehicles while moving in order to power smelters and refineries.

Heating things up on Mercury to smelt them wouldn’t be too hard. A solar oven would work quite well because of the proximity to the sun and the fact that there are are no clouds in the atmosphere.

Mercury’s night side is also a good place to get rid of heat—something hard to find anywhere else near the sun. If one is generating a lot of heat, they can only get rid of that by radiating it away.

Down on Mercury’s light side, people could use conduction too, so they might have mobile factories at work, not just mining and refining operations.

The Great Flat Track of Mercury:

China has the Great Wall. Mercury might have the Great Flat Track.

As I mentioned earlier, getting what you want off of Mercury wouldn’t be that hard. The planet has an escape velocity of just 4.25 km/s, and an orbital velocity of just 3 km/s. It has no air. If Mercurians had a flat track from where vehicles could take off, without having to worry about air drag, leaving would be easy. However, landing would be hard. (A sort of opposite Hotel California situation, where it’s easier to leave than arrive).

Since there is no air, ships cannot aerobrake to shed velocity for free. Though one might be able to hit a very long track, very precisely and slowly shed speed off without friction, or run down a magnetic tube to let it leach off speed.

This gives Mercurians good reason to consider building a track all the way around Mercury, and it need not be at the equator either if people wanted to keep it shorter. Mercury gets hot, but is still cool enough for many metals to handle. Even steel, which is fairly mundane considering some of the materials Mercurians might use, retains its magnetic and conductive properties at those temperatures, and one thing Mercury is not lacking in is metals. Though once concern would be metal fatigue, as metals are expanding and contracting to various degrees as they run up from temperatures cold enough to liquify air to hot enough to melt lead, but this is happening once a Mercurian day, which is very, very, very long (it takes 59 Earth days to complete one rotation on its axis Universe Today). So the Flat Track would not be getting heated and cooled constantly, and even today we know a lot of tricks for various alloys and composites that would minimize metal fatigue.

The Planet Down Under:

If one digs down a little bit on Mercury, they would start to see livable human temperatures underground, once they get away from the craters and closer to the poles, and in one of the more optimistic models, even room temperature underground at the equator at 90 degrees west, which would help with the expansion and contraction fatigue and other construction problems caused by varying temperatures.

Mushroom Habitats: 

If one doesn’t want to use mobile bases or live underground, they could try mushroom habitats.

These habitats would have a retracting option, where things fold down during the night and the brighest day, and pop back up when things are more moderate.

The habitat would be built up on stilts that aren’t thermally conductive. Then one would put a big umbrella over it, covered in mirrors, to bounce light away, one that could flip open or move aside to let in however much light a person wanted. Stilts would be made of something that doesn’t conduct heat well, like the silicate beneath the ground.  Spinning habitats could use centripetal force to create Earth-like gravity in the habitat.

Water in the Poles: 

There could be some water at some of the craters near Mercury’s poles. Wires underground could bring the water to people.

Making Mercury Earth-like: 

One doesn’t have to make a planet like Earth, if they want to live there.

But if people did want to make Mercury Earth-like, massive mirrors and shades in orbit could help cool down the planet. Mercury is massive enough to hold a breathable atmosphere. People could also collect solar wind from the sun, rich in hydrogen and helium, things that could be sold, using a giant mirror or shade acting as a giant windmill driven by the solar wind. “Star Wheel.”


As I stated, Mercury isn’t mentioned frequently in Science Fiction, which is why it would be a great thing to write about. However, if you do want to read some works that mention a colonized Mercury, check out the works below.


2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

The 2005 novel, by Ben Bova.

Sundiver, in David Brin’s Uplift Saga.

Singularity Trap, by Dennis E Taylor

The Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.


Blind Mystic, by Jessica Brook Johnson (Short story)

Runaround, by Isaac Asimov (Short Story)

Retrograde Summer, by John Varley (Short Story)

The Coldest Place, by Larry Niven (Short Story)

“While working almost forty years” (Short Story on Fandom.com)




Mercury (SFF Encyclopedia)


Science and Futurism with Isaac Arthur

How Do We Colonize Mercury? (Universe Today)

Colonization of Mercury (Fandom)

What Would It Be Like to Live on Mercury? (Space.com)

Mercury (Wikipedia)

Color Coding Rejection



According to Huffington Post 96% of authors seeking agents are rejected. Meaning the chances of getting an agent to represent you for publishing are only 4%. And that was the data from 7 years ago. I feel like the numbers are probably worse now.

For anyone who wants to be a writer, rejection will become a regular part of your existence. Before I started submitting queries to agents I had an idea that it was hard. And at an intellectual level, I had some idea that rejection rates were over 90%. But I really had no idea how hard it was until I tried the process myself. Now a rejection rate of 96% sounds mercifully low because it feels more like 99.999999%, like 9,999 metrics tons of cold crushing “NOOOO!”

With the odds 96% against you, it can feel discouraging (discouraging seems inadequate here, a better term is ‘soul eviscerating’). I’ve even read pieces of advice that say things like, “Don’t treat it as a lotto, just improve your skills.” Yet even with a well-written book, the book still has to be a good fit for the agent in question, and it has to be something they can look at and think, “I’ll make money off of this.”

So yeah, it’s hard. Really, really, really, really hard. (I don’t have enough “really’s” here).

Yet one thing that can help is not to look at the process as a binary of “succeed/fail.”

For example, if my process was to color-code agents who accepted me as green, and those who rejected me as red, here would be my table of rejections:


That’s a whole lot of fail.

It might be better to see it as a tiered process because there are actually different levels of rejection.

Here is the hierarchy from top to bottom (best to worst) responses you can get from an agent:

  • Acceptance
  • Request for a full manuscript
  • Request for a partial sample
  • Detailed rejection letter (A detailed rejection is good because it means they were interested enough to take the time to read your work and explain what didn’t work for them).
  • Standard form letter or no response. (Put these in the same category because they’re pretty much the same).

Let’s give that hierarchy some color.

  • Acceptance 
  • Request for a full manuscript 
  • Request for a partial sample
  • Detailed rejection letter
  • Standard form letter or no response

Now let’s look at my list:


That’s a lot more digestible than the first chart. When I break down the numbers, that means 6% of the agents I write want the full manuscript. 10% want a partial. 16% have taken the time to write a detailed rejection. Leaving 68% in the standard form letter/no response category.

In addition to having a goal of getting accepted by an agent, I can also make a sub-goal of trying to improve my odds in the desired categories. When I started out the query process last year, 100% of the responses I got were standard form letter or just no response. Then it decreased to 90%. And so on and so forth.

Your rates may be better or worse than mine. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that maybe this can give you a new way to conceive of rejection that is less painful than the pass/fail binary so many writers like to inflict upon ourselves. And making it a goal to decrease your percentage in the standard form letter/no response category, and grow your percentage in the other categories.