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My Struggle Writing an Epic Fantasy Novel: Publication

Updated on June 8, 2015
M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer has submitted more than 91 queries to literary agents and self-published two novels.

The final battle.
The final battle.

Roughly three years ago I wrote an article titled “My Struggle Writing an Epic Fantasy Novel”. I wanted to chronicle the steps I took to turn a fifteen page short story into an 808 page novel. It was important to me because so few fantasy authors are as open with their process as writers of other genres. Giving a window into the world of my writing was a way of documenting what I had done, while at the same time providing an example for writers who were thinking about attempting the same thing. It was therapeutic to write, but even then, I knew it was incomplete. I had always intended a final section when I published my book, but I had no idea how difficult that would be.

The Publishing Dinosaur

I’ve said before that my writing dream involved walking into a bookstore and seeing my book on the shelf. Since self-published novels couldn’t make it onto those shelves, I turned to the traditional route. (More on self publishing later.) For those unfamiliar, the traditional route of publishing involves finding a literary agent. Most big name publishers, the ones that can get you into bookstores, do not accept submissions from writers who don’t have agents. It’s kind of an insurance thing; if you were good enough to get the attention of an agent, then you are good enough to be considered for publication. So, in that regard, agents are like the first line of defense against crappy novels. Think of yourself as a one man army trying to lay siege to a giant stone fortress. Agents are the archers trying to cut you down before you can get into the city. Though, I suppose ‘crappy’ isn’t the best description for novels agents are rejecting. They reject projects for a number of different reasons. Maybe that genre isn’t popular right now, maybe the book is too long, or maybe they can’t figure out how to market a complex concept. It all boils down to one thing; the agent doesn’t think they can sell it to publishers or readers. And, since a legitimate agent doesn’t charge reading fees, or make money until the book sells, they are very reluctant to pick up new authors.

I called this section the publishing dinosaur because this model is starting to show its age. The ebook revolution has forever changed how books are purchased, distributed and read, thus closing the gap between books that are self published and those that are from big name publishers. It has gotten to the point where agents are recommending their authors self publish, rather than go through a publisher, and many publishers are snatching up successful self published authors and signing them to contracts to keep themselves relevant. But, I mention all of this stuff because I amassed 52 rejections from the traditional publishing industry over the course of one year. Given how long it takes to get a response, and how few agents represent any given genre, this is quite a few rejections. I’m not bitter, and I believe agents and publishers have a very important role to play in the new market that emerges, but it made for a particularly difficult year.

Steve Hamilton is another author that gave me good advice along the way.

Close, but no cigar.

There are two instances, over the course of that year, where I will say I was close to my dream. In reality, I couldn’t have been further away, but they were both very influential for how I would proceed. The first came in the form of a personalized response from an agent. Most agents will give you a generic rejection letter, which means you have no idea why they thought your book wasn’t good enough. It is extremely rare, and lucky, to get a response from an agent explaining why they rejected you. I received one out of fifty two. The agent told me that a 230,000 word novel was too large to market, but that if I ever cut it down or revised it, she would be willing to look at it again. This was the best news I had gotten on the project, but it was also mildly infuriating because I could have resolved the issue thirty rejections prior if someone else had bothered to tell me. I ended up splitting the novel in half and resubmitting it. While that agent ended up passing, I thought that ultimately the shorter start was a much more digestible, and marketable, book and I proceeded with that as my new focus.

The second close call with success came in the form of a brief contest held by Harper Voyager, a well known fantasy/science fiction publisher. I call it a contest, but that isn’t entirely accurate. Basically they opened submissions up to writers without agents for a period of two weeks. I was particularly excited about this opportunity because it came just after I had split the novel in half. And, I had just gotten a bit of advice from author Steve Hamilton, who advised me to keep an eye out for contests I could submit my book to (since he had hit it big through a contest as well). It seemed like the stars had aligned to give me a secret pathway through the defense wall. This was made more exciting when they passed their due date for responses and I still hadn’t gotten a rejection. However, as the months passed, it became more and more apparent that something wasn’t adding up. It turns out that the deluge of submissions (about 4,500) was more than the publisher could handle. Their original deadline for responses was pushed back indefinitely with sparse updates to the thousands of waiting authors. Yet, still I didn’t receive a rejection. I was convinced that I was set aside for further consideration. What I didn’t realize was that I was one of the very last to be read. I got my rejection four months after the original four month deadline for a total wait time of eight months. To add insult to injury, the one author they accepted already had an agent, even though the rules clearly stated it was for non-agented writers. I feel sorry for the authors still being considered because, as of the writing of this article, they still aren’t done yet.

But these two brushes with success taught me two very important lessons. The first was that my book needed to be shorter, if I was going to market it properly, and the second was that the traditional route of publishing wasn’t going to work for me.

My Battle with Self Publishing

Self publishing has undergone one of the most dramatic overhauls in the history of overhauls. In the not-so-distant past, self publishing was a costly endeavor. As the author, you had to pay for the printing and distribution of your novel, and those novels were not allowed in bookstores or public libraries. This meant that all advertising was on your shoulders. This also came hand-in-hand with a certain stigma. The artwork of the book was haphazard, the paper was cheap and the editing was often shockingly bad. For me, I saw the old form of self publishing as the place where writer’s dreams went to die. Agents, publishers, and most readers just wouldn’t take you seriously, and it would mean a stack of unread books sitting in your garage. I held onto this image for so long that I completely denied, and fought against, the changes taking place. As I mentioned above, ebooks have changed everything. The paper aspect was gone, destroying the barrier made by cheaply produced books. Online services for editing and cover design destroyed the barrier of poor production quality. And online retailers agreed to carry self published ebooks as it cost them no physical floor space, or stock, to house the manuscript. This left only a small entry fee and the burden of self advertising. Suddenly, not only was self publishing viable, it was starting to become the preferred method for new authors.

But still I fought it, acting arrogant as I continued to take my beating from the publishing dinosaur. The realization came rather suddenly when a friend of mine, who is also self publishing, asked the question ‘how much should I charge for my novel?’. When you self publish, you can set the price, which can vary wildly from one author to the next. But one of the options she had listed was ‘free’. The notion that someone could give an ebook away for free completely shattered my perception. See, one of the things that I always looked forward to when I thought of publishing my book, was giving away free copies. I wanted to be one of those proud-pappa authors who was so excited about being published, and so eager to have people read his work, that I would be willing to give away any copy I had, rather than try to actually sell it. I planned on leaving that side of things to the book stores. But the idea that I could give away an ebook for free, rekindled that excitement of people reading my book. And it was then that I realized all I really wanted was for someone to read it. It’s very hard, as a writer, to tell friends and family the same thing over and over again. ‘No, you can’t read it, I’m still editing it’ or ‘no, you can’t read it, I’m still looking for agents’. I’m a writer, and as a writer I wanted people to read my work; I wanted them to talk about it. But the year I spent trying to market the damn thing had completely drained any excitement I had for the product. It had become a cold, heartless business transaction that had pried me away from the heart and soul of writing.

The Final Product

Eternity's Reach (The Sword of Eternity)
Eternity's Reach (The Sword of Eternity)
Suicidal working stiff, Lincoln Maxwell, gets transported to mystic Idalore where fate burdens him with its greatest weapon. (It's kind of like Dave Barry goes to Middle Earth.)

Ultimately, I decided not to list the book for free. Not because I didn’t want to give away free copies, but because I had to seriously consider how to proceed if I still wanted my writing to be a career. You don’t impress industry veterans by telling them you gave away 100 copies of your book, versus you sold 100 copies. And, while e-publishing is easier to get into, I still entertain that dream of seeing myself on a bookshelf, and for that I will still have to keep one eye on the traditional market. But I no longer see self publishing as a place for dreams to die, but rather, one where they have a chance to sprout up. If the traditional market is an exclusive stronghold, then the indie market is a vast wilderness. It’s dangerous, and easy to get lost in, but it lets you run free. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll be cunning enough to build your own stronghold.


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    • M. T. Dremer profile imageAUTHOR

      M. T. Dremer 

      18 months ago from United States

      Hi abalmaghrabi! Yes, the books I'm referring to here are Eternity's Reach and Eternity's Redemption. Their combined word count is probably slightly higher than 230,000 now because the split required some recap at the start of the second book.

      Based on my experience with literary agents and self publishing, the sweet spot for a fantasy novel is between 60,000 and 75,000 words. It's a weird balance between giving the audience something that feels worth the purchase price, while not being too intimidating to start. So even the split versions of the book were considered too long. But I've since been able to better hit that word count in my subsequent books.

      Thank you for commenting!

    • abalmaghrabi profile image


      19 months ago from Saudi Arabia

      " The agent told me that a 230,000 word novel was too large to market, but that if I ever cut it down or revised it, she would be willing to look at it again. This was the best news I had gotten on the project, but it was also mildly infuriating because I could have resolved the issue thirty rejections prior if someone else had bothered to tell me. I ended up splitting the novel in half and resubmitting it. While that agent ended up passing, I thought that ultimately the shorter start was a much more digestible, and marketable, book and I proceeded with that as my new focus"

      Hello M.T. Dremer

      just for reference if you allow me to ask

      1) the split books you are talking about her are your 2 novels

      Eternity's Reach

      Eternity's Redemption

      if that right are the sum of both still around 230 or you mange to cut more from theme?

      2) now what is your upperlimit or the acceptable range for wordcount for fantasy novel as writer who underwent multiple trials with different way of puplishing?

      sorry for any bother

      and thank you for your hard work

    • Zacharias Sparrow profile image

      Zacharias Sparrow 

      3 years ago from New York City

      Very inspiring. Great tips for a beginner creator of new worlds.

    • M. T. Dremer profile imageAUTHOR

      M. T. Dremer 

      3 years ago from United States

      Ross- I'm glad I could provide some inspiration! In my more recent efforts, I've taken the "less is more" approach. By leaving a lot of my details in the dark, it lets me discover them naturally through the process of writing. Excessive outlining can make you feel like you've already written down everything and thus, kill motivation when it comes time to write it. Obviously, everyone writes differently, but I've found that stumbling through my first draft, as if I was the reader myself, is a really effective method. Thank you for the comment, and good luck!

    • Ross S J Lacey profile image

      Ross S J Lacey 

      3 years ago from U.K

      Hello M.T. Dremer,

      I've been reading your articles over the past few days when I have had the chance. It seems like an interesting journey and has answer quite a few questions of mine.

      I've had an idea in my head for 10 years this year on and off and though I am 65k words into the first draft it will still need a lot of work and world building.

      I have/am trying a few different ways to write, I was a complete pantser before then I tried outlining but now I think I have found I am somewhere in the middle so reading your articles has made me realise I am doing the right thing I just need to keep myself motivated!

      I am currently working on a new project that I have plantsered shall we say and managed over 2000+ words over the last few days by just doing around 500+ words a day and it is flowing nicely even though the road is long.

      Thank you for the inspiration and I hope you achieve the dream of being on the shelves!

    • ACSutliff profile image


      5 years ago

      I will take your manta to heart, M.T.Dremer. Thank you so much for your insight. It can be easy to lose sight of this bigger picture of writing as a journey, not necessarily a destination.

    • M. T. Dremer profile imageAUTHOR

      M. T. Dremer 

      5 years ago from United States

      ACSutliff - Both self publishing and traditional publishing are ongoing battles, each with their own seemingly insurmountable challenges. I've been at this for years and I can still feel like a novice. The best mantra I've found is to write what you want to write, not what anyone tells you to write. Because, in the event that you never make it in either publishing world, at least you enjoyed the ride. Thanks for the comment!

    • ACSutliff profile image


      5 years ago

      Hey M.T.,

      I love your analogy of agents acting as archers on the castle walls. Man! They don't let many of us in their castles, do they? I can also totally relate to your emotional ups and downs with self-publishing. I just wanted people to read my book too! I think it's great that you decided to run free. I can't wait to read your book!


    • M. T. Dremer profile imageAUTHOR

      M. T. Dremer 

      6 years ago from United States

      Benny01 - Perseverance is one of the hardest things to do in the face of failure, but you're absolutely right. Thank you for the comment and the compliment!

    • Benny01 profile image

      Ijeoma Peter 

      6 years ago from Lagos, Nigeria

      Very encouraging and inspiring article. Its all boils down to the fact that we could have a chance to achieve our goal if we persevere. Thanks for sharing.

    • M. T. Dremer profile imageAUTHOR

      M. T. Dremer 

      7 years ago from United States

      no body - There are, unfortunately, a number of exploitative 'publishing' companies out there. The same is true of agents who require fees up front for reading, or fees for submitting your book. The self publishing I refer to in this particular article is the do-it-yourself e-publishing, like on Amazon Kindle and Book Baby. While it is still a service paid for by the author, it does produce a final product. The hard part is getting it noticed by readers. I hope that your book makes it out of its limbo, and thank you for the comment!

    • no body profile image

      Robert E Smith 

      7 years ago from Rochester, New York

      I know about self publishing and companies claiming to be publishers and are not. I signed my seven year contract so they would publish it but nothing has happened because they do nothing with it. I have had my interviews on the local news and radio but other than a few of my friends catching me being utterly terrified, nothing came of it. It was an experience that taught me a great deal about myself and what I really felt about life and which path in life was most important for me. I am a very blessed man. Bob.

    • M. T. Dremer profile imageAUTHOR

      M. T. Dremer 

      7 years ago from United States

      Natasha Peters - Thank you for the comment and the compliment! The rejections weren't so much the hard part, rather, it was the dwindling list of agents that worried me most. After spending 8 years writing a novel it was hard to watch its prospects shrink. Self publishing was a good way for me to let the project go. I wouldn't be able to move on to other books until this one was finally 'done'. And, I understand your continuing desire to publish through the traditional route. As of right now, it's still the path to the largest amount of success, which is why I still plan to attempt the agent/publisher route with each new book I write.

    • profile image

      Natasha Peters 

      7 years ago

      Great hub, I really enjoyed this read! I was shocked to see my own dream laid out in your words - "walking into a bookstore and seeing my book on the shelf". I have to applaud your tenacity; those rejections must have been difficult to deal with, and I'm very impressed/inspired to see that you didn't give up.

      Despite everything, a part of me still wishes to go the "traditional route", though I can see the practicality (and perhaps inevitability) of self-publishing.

      Well, as it is I've written diddly squat of my own book, so maybe I'll never have to worry about which route to take. Anyway, again, great hub :)

    • M. T. Dremer profile imageAUTHOR

      M. T. Dremer 

      8 years ago from United States

      stuff4kids - I think Woody Allen was the one who said 90% of success is showing up, so I guess that's true. It certainly doesn't make the climb any easier. Thanks again for the kind words. :)

    • stuff4kids profile image

      Amanda Littlejohn 

      8 years ago

      Well, I get the impression that you have the intelligence and the determination to figure it all out. After all, just not giving up puts you in the top 10 % of any endeavour. :)

    • M. T. Dremer profile imageAUTHOR

      M. T. Dremer 

      8 years ago from United States

      stuff4kids - Thank you for the thoughtful comment and the encouragement. I could probably write another part of this series that is entirely about marketing, but I'm still trying to figure that one out. :)

    • stuff4kids profile image

      Amanda Littlejohn 

      8 years ago

      I don't think I've got the staying power to write a novel - or anything book length for that matter - even if I had the time.

      So, I admire you for just having done that - let alone persist and persevere as you have done with this level of determination to get your work published and out there and read.

      I wish you all the very, very best with the project and do keep us posted!

      Bless you. :)

    • M. T. Dremer profile imageAUTHOR

      M. T. Dremer 

      8 years ago from United States

      WalterPoon - There are a few publishers who will accept submissions if you don't have an agent, but they're pretty rare, especially among larger publishers. The page count tended to vary based on the dimensions of the book. The manuscript was roughly 800, but it was double spaced. A printed copy probably would have been closer to 400. Not as many as some well established fantasy authors, but more than a lot of agents were willing to touch. Thanks for the comment!

    • WalterPoon profile image

      Poon Poi Ming 

      8 years ago from Malaysia

      A very interesting hub!!! I didn't know that in the West, you need a literary agent to find a publisher. It's so much simpler here in Malaysia and Singapore but then again, the market is not big because these publishers don't aim at the international market.

      Your 230,000-word experience is a very good lesson for all of us who wants to write a novel. 230,000 words is about 400 pages, right? Actually, I was thinking of a maximum of 600 pages!

    • M. T. Dremer profile imageAUTHOR

      M. T. Dremer 

      8 years ago from United States

      Sunny River - There are definitely a lot of pros and cons for each side of the publishing game (I may write a hub about that specifically), but I'm glad my experience was able to give you more input on the subject. Thanks for the comment!

      Kathryn Stratford - I hope you enjoy checking it out; thanks for the comment!

    • Kathryn Stratford profile image


      8 years ago from Windsor, Connecticut

      This looks like an interesting series. I'll have to read more of it later on.

    • Sunny River profile image

      Sunny River 

      8 years ago from A Place Without A Name which resides somewhere between Fantasy and Belief, just north of Reality

      I've thought for a while now that once I finish my novel I'll self publish. It was very interesting to hear your thoughts on it though. :)


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