Saturday, April 7, 2012

Indie Spotlight: Chris Semal

One of the things I love about self published authors is their willingness to share their struggles. Nothing is a secret with these guys! Any lessons learned are lessons shared.

And when it comes to writing a novel, author Chris Semal spills the beans on what happens next. From celebrating the first draft, to choosing people other than your family and friends (god love 'em) as proof readers, to remembering to feed your pets.... Chris lays it all out in this guest post:


Any artist will tell you that there are growing pains involved with their process.  Bass players get horrible blisters at first. Painters learn not to wear their best clothing. Ice sculptors don’t work outside during the summer. Writers don’t run into these physical limitations, by and large, but there are many things that I do differently now than I used to, and experience is the only teacher. In descending order, here they are:

The first draft of the story should be read by no one but yourself. I know it’s a magnificent achievement and should be celebrated. Open up that bottle you’ve been saving for the occasion. Seriously, congratulations! This is no mean feat. Then let the manuscript sit for a week before you start to reread it. I know it’s the best thing since sliced bread, but don’t forget, no one has an ugly baby. It’s the same thing with my music. Whenever I write and record a new song, it’s a magnificent piece of music that will surely cement my legacy in the pantheon of great composers. Hey, some of them still sound pretty good when I play them now, but at the first blush of conception, the less listenable sound just as good as the best ones.

After finishing the first draft, do a bunch of other stuff for a little while that has nothing to do with writing and cleanse your palate. Whatever you do, don’t give in to everyone’s “Oh, that’s wonderful. I’d love to read it!”  Believe me, what that story looks like eight months down the road won’t bear much resemblance to what you first put on paper. Hopefully, the story will remain more or less intact, though it’s malleable, too. What will improve drastically is the writing, especially if this is a first novel. I was so proud of ‘Trial of Tears’ when I first finished it, I couldn’t wait to show it to everyone and send it out to agents. There’s a reason agents don’t want to deal with debut novels and novelists, and I personified the problem. All this time later, my overall plot hasn’t changed much, aside from streamlining and a sharpened focus, but everything else has. I don’t know exactly how many drafts I’ve done. I’d say it’s somewhere in the mid to high teens by now. It was after my sixth version that I finally landed an agent and then began the real writing revisions. Even if she ultimately couldn’t get it placed, this was a valuable experience.

When I finally realized that I needed to take publishing matters into my own hands, I held off for a while to save up enough money so that everything wouldn’t have to be done on a shoestring. This also gives you time to plan what you’ll need. Every writer has ancillary strengths they can draw upon. Some network well, others are good graphic designers, others are well versed in bookkeeping, etc., but no one does everything well. You need to build a solid team and learn from these people. Without a doubt the best thing I did was to hire an editor, a professional one. Your friends and first readers will give you valuable feedback, which you can take or leave, but a real editor will show you colors in the rainbow you never knew existed. The mental doors he opened for me enabled the story to go to a level it had never been before. Mind you, you don’t have to incorporate every single suggestion or correction into the manuscript, but even the ones you don’t use will make you think about something else you might be able to do. I estimate that I used about 70% of his advice.

One hard lesson that I’m learning in the latter stages before release is that I would love to have had a line proofreader at my disposal. Incredibly, a couple of punctuation errors managed to escape notice until the last minute, like cockroaches that have become immune to Raid. I’ll be cruising through a galley, satisfied with everything and remarking to myself that I’m still enjoying the story after all the times I’ve been through it, when a little bastard of a missing apostrophe will smirk at me from a page and I know I can tack on another ten days to the release date.

I’ve been pretty good in all planning stages with the exception of when this f****** book will be released. At the beginning of my working relationship with my publicist, we had a long conversation about expectations that segued into estimating a reasonable time for the release schedule. This conversation occurred in November and a detailed timeline led us to mid-February. Writers – be prepared that things always change. It’s not the end of the world though, it’s possible to make it through. Today is March 28th and I really, really do believe this will be out within the first ten days of April. I’ve had to revise my website,, multiple times on this subject. I imagine women nearing the end of their pregnancies terms must get tired of answering the same question, as well. I’m kind of glad I’m not putting it out this week, as everyone would think it’s an April fool’s joke.

There really are no such things as literary bars, at least not in Manhattan. There are all sorts of legendary ones like the Algonquin Hotel and the Minetta Tavern, but their reputations were established some fifty years ago. You’re more likely to run into tourists there than rub elbows and trade stories with novelists. There is a literary bar next to my computer, although I do have to go to the fridge for ice.

Finally, if you’ve been following my website blogs and video interviews on YouTube, you’ll have seen and read about Maurice, the leather-lunged orange tabby that shares his living space with my wife and myself. Make sure that you feed your pets before you undertake any artistic endeavors. They have a way of knowing when you’re trying to focus on something other than them and will make you pay dearly for it.

About Chris:

Chris Semal was born in New York City and has lived there all his life. He is aware that other places exist and likes to visit them from time to time, but the city is a hard mistress to resist.

A musician, singer and songwriter, Semal has played pretty much every rock club and bar in Manhattan at one time or another since the early 80s in various bands. He’s seen the underside of the music industry – the good, bad and ugly – also through his solo work, under the lewscannon heading.

Semal went to the University of Miami to study Music Engineering, heading back north to do the only obvious thing possible, becoming a municipal bond broker and eventually working as a consultant building financial models.

In the early part of the millennium, between both consulting and band gigs, he wanted to expand on the 80 or so words he used in writing song lyrics to the 80,000 he would need for a novel. And so Semal’s debut thriller set in New York City, Trial Of Tears (Paperback & eBook, Cannon Publications, April 2012), was born, along with a passion for developing plots and characters.

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