I have a long history of writing satirical pieces for friends and family. In college, I won an English award for the satirical epic poem “The Chronicle of Sir Morseau de Fromage” written in fakely translated verse, complete with an un-scholarly introduction. I’ve written several goofy and satirical short stories, several of which have been published in online magazines, and often my “serious” fiction also tended to have some satirical elements, such as the colored wizard names in “Chosen Sister” and the long troll names in the still under revision “Dragon Boy.” However, I had yet to write a full length satirical work, until the idea of a magic school for villains that taught kids how to become Dark Lords came to me while joking around about Harry Potter.
I’m an avid Harry Potter fan. The books already have some great humor in them, and a wonderful tone that’s a pleasure to read. So, I had no intention of attacking or tearing them down, but rather wanted to use their conventions as a launching off pad for my own creative satire, poking fun at the whole “bad guy-good guy” dynamic in so many fantasy worlds. I had already committed to writing “Chosen Sister” as a gift for my sister that year for Nanowrimo (2006) and decided at the same time to attempt to write “A School for Villains” as a fun joke gift for my brother.
I got horribly stuck. Full length satire turned out a lot more difficult than I expected. I got about 2/3 of the way through the book by the end of the month. To motivate myself to keep playing with the idea and finish it, I made a plan. Some people find working just for fun motivating, but I tend to want to write for an audience, so I planned to finish the book the next year, run it through my critique group, then submit it to agents as practice for facing rejection for my more serious work. After 30 rejections (and hopefully with a new and serious project ready) I would self-publish it on the web with print copies offered for sale. If I sold 10,000 copies I would write a sequel.
Following through on the plan turned out a lot harder and more involved than I could have imagined, not to mention some major changes in me, the book, and the industry in these past five years.
First and foremost, I fell in love with my book as serious project at some point within the revision and critiquing process. I found the characters were not just satirical, but also real people. The plot wasn’t just mockery, but a true coming of age story, with room for a lot more in it. The novel offered a humorous but very real world, rather similar to Patricia Wrede’s satirical “Enchanted Forest Chronicles” in tone. A world that was self-aware of fairy tale conventions and thus bent on making people conform to them and their often ridiculous perspectives.
And then, when I started sending the book out, I got such positive reactions, despite the rejections. Several times thanks to helpful comments from agents I reworked and deepened the book. I really fell in love with the idea of seeing it out there entertaining people as well as actually saying something worth saying. Taking my book seriously, however, had downsides. I got wrapped up in the rejections. They hurt and discouraged me. They made me question myself and ask hard questions, despite their mostly positive tone.
Twenty five rejections in, I started noticing some trends. Agents kept citing the economy being tight and the fact satire is a niche market. They were concerned there weren’t many appropriate editors looking to acquire a book like this one, or if there were, they weren’t editors they knew or had connections to.
At this point, so much has also changed in the industry. E-books have taken off and opened up niche markets. I found on Amazon at least two other authors who had published Harry Potter satires and both looked like they were selling well. After some hard thinking about my book, I decided to return to my original plan and go ahead and self-publish the novel. After all, when I’d started out, this work was just for fun, something I wanted to share with fellow Harry Potter fans for a laugh. And I felt looking at the other satirical offerings that my novel could offer something new and deeper to that audience.
Having had a deal with an online press with “Chosen Sister,” I also had considerable more experience than my early plans. I now knew what having an editor could do for my work and how many times a novel has to get proofed in order to actually get all the typos out of it. I knew that I had to have a commitment to a high quality product if I was going to do this and sign my name to it. I considered finding a small press for the novel, but I wanted to follow my original plan and have more artistic control. I wanted my novel to be properly illustrated like most traditional middle grade novels.
So, I hired an artist and editor, researched indie publishing, and now am in the final stages of proofing the book. It’s been an amazing and very educational journey and in the next couple of weeks I’ll have a book I can be really proud of. I don’t have a firm release date, since I’m still waiting on some of the art, but it’s definitely worth the wait. I hope to have the book on sale sometime in the next couple weeks.
Through all of this, I’ve learned that sometimes humor can be serious business. I’ve learned to believe in myself and face rejection. I’ve learned that making a plan and following it is useful, inspiring, and can help give me perspective on myself and life. I still plan to pursue traditional publishing with my other work, both serious and humorous, but I’m also thrilled to be able to have the means to share a more niche work with readers.
And yes, if I sell 10,000 copies, in any format, I will write a sequel.