My Novel Experience

Last year I completed a novel, titled “Voodoo Hideaway,” about a homeless guy who sees a strange vision in an alley one night, then soon finds himself stuck in the middle of a deadly money scheme involving a scientist, a mobster, a couple of jazz musicians and a nightclub manager you don’t want to cross paths with. You can read an excerpt from the novel in a separate blog post here.

An entertainment industry veteran who was paid to critique the novel for a writing contest called it “fast-paced, edgy, funny, smart, and incredibly cinematic.” More on that later in this post.

For now, I’ll just share some backstory on the writing and marketing process, and touch on what it was like as a first-time novelist to try and get my work published.

“Voodoo Hideaway” is around 87,000 words, or 250 pages. I spent about a year writing the first draft, then another six months or so going through the editing and revision process. I also had my wife and a nephew read it. By the end I probably had seven full revisions. When it was done to my satisfaction I started the process of submitting to publishers and agents, putting together cover letters, synopses, bios, short excerpts, long excerpts — all of it. I’ve pitched it to a few dozen publishers and agents, but as of now it remains unpublished. A couple of publishers said they liked the writing and characters, but it just wasn’t a good fit for them at the time, and they invited me to submit something in the future. Many others said “thanks for submitting, unfortunately we etc. etc. etc.”

One problem, I was told, is that “Voodoo Hideaway” doesn’t fall into a single genre. It’s basically a crime thriller with an important sci-fi element, and crossing genres like that is apparently frowned upon in the modern world of bookselling. Crime fiction/mystery publishers were wary of the sci-fi angle, and sci-fi publishers thought it was too heavily weighted toward crime fiction. Now personally, I don’t see a problem with crossing genres as long as the story is good and the characters are believable. I also have a feeling if my name were “Stephen King” instead of “Vance Cariaga,” they’d cross genres in half a heartbeat. But c’est la vie….

With no publisher, I entered the novel in the ScreenCraft Cinematic Book contest, which is open to novel manuscripts that might have appeal as movies or TV/web series. I advanced to the quarterfinal stage of the competition, which placed it among the top 20% of 1,200 or so entries, but no further.

It was nice to be placed among the top 20 percent, but I honestly thought “Voodoo Hideaway” would advance further based on the very positive feedback it got from a ScreenCraft-affiliated entertainment industry professional who read the book after I plunked down extra money to have it critiqued. Ratings of 1 to 10 were given in 12 different categories – Plot, Voice, Structure, Setting, Tone, etc. My novel had an overall score of 9.3 out of 10. It scored perfect 10’s in Concept, Voice, Style, Conflict, Pacing, Tone, and Cinematic Adaptation Potential.

Here were some of the comments I got from the reviewer:

“What I need to say right up front is that I loved this manuscript. I have done coverage for several years and worked in the entertainment industry for two decades and this is easily one of the best things I’ve read. I was thoroughly entertained from beginning to end. It’s a fast-paced, edgy, funny, smart, and incredibly cinematic neo noir sci-fi thriller that is rich with possibilities as a film or limited series… I believe there is great potential here for a really entertaining production that would generate a lot of interest from a wide audience due to its balance of several different genres. It has elements of comedy, sci-fi, noir, mystery, and thriller. It’s not hyper-violent or blatantly sexual so the only thing that might push it toward an R-rating is some of the language, which could easily be toned down…This is clearly a very talented writer. I found this manuscript to be absolutely entertaining and full of rich writing. I’ve recently been diving into noir films from the 40’s and this fit so well into that feel. Even though it’s modern and has the quirky sci-fi aspect, it had a lot of elements that felt classic.”

Well, that was great to hear. I didn’t expect such praise, even though I thought “Voodoo Hideaway” was an entertaining enough read even as I was writing it. I believe the reviewer was sincere in her/his enthusiasm because the feedback was so detailed and specific. Interestingly, the reviewer sees multiple genres as a strength rather than a weakness, at least in the world of movies, TV and web series. It’s also interesting that TV/movie producers are doing better financially than book publishers — just ask the producers of “Game of Thrones” — but that’s another post for another day….

After reading the original feedback, I thought I might have a chance to take the grand prize. Unfortunately, the person who read my book was not part of the judging committee, so “Voodoo Hideaway” didn’t fare as well in the contest as I’d hoped. And since they don’t release the names of the Hollywood pros who read manuscripts and offer feedback, I can’t contact the person who read mine to see if he/she might know some movie/TV/web names I could pitch it to.

For now, “Voodoo Hideaway” is on the “Red List” of Coverfly, a database of screenplays, scripts, short stories, plays and novels that have been entered into cinematic writing contests. As of today it has the third-highest score of the year for manuscripts, for what that’s worth. If you’re a movie or TV producer, you can see details about it here.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with the book. It could probably use some punching up in places, and a good editor to serve as a second set of eyes. But I think it’s entertaining, well written and commercially viable. I’m not the first writer to feel that way about his work, and I won’t be the last. But I do believe there’s an audience for “Voodoo Hideaway,” and I’ll keep trying to find a home for it even as I move on to other work.

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