Mike Underwood on the sequel, using Book Country & growing as a writer
“Write a lot, read a lot, and give yourself every opportunity you can.”
This is Part Two of our interview with Book Country member and speculative fiction author Michael R. Underwood. In Part One, we chatted about his debut novel Geekomancy and his path to publication—the book was discovered on Book Country by Pocket/Gallery editor Adam Wilson.
Here we’re digging deeper into how Mike workshopped his novel on Book Country as well as talking about his second book, Celebromancy.
Nevena: We’re excited that Celebromancy comes out this summer. How was writing the sequel different?
Mike: I wrote Celebromancy in less than half the time it took to writeGeekomancy. I’d been trying for years to break in as a novelist, and now that I’m here, that success has helped me develop my discipline. Now I work harder, longer, and more efficiently.
There were several factors helping that along. I had a deadline to meet. I had already done the heavy setting and character lifting. When I startedGeekomancy, Ree Reyes was mostly just a snarky geeky voice in my head. When I moved onto Celebromancy, she was a fully-realized character who had already survived a trial by fire.
Nevena: Did your writing process change from book to book?
Mike: My process definitely changed, and continues to change. I used to be more of a pantser/gardener, taking a basic idea and then launching into a first draft to figure things out and then clean it up later. With Geekomancy andCelebromancy, I had the main plot figured out by the time I got 20,000 words into each book, which gave me some guideposts. But since writing the second book, I’ve changed my process once again. I’ve been plotting more out ahead of time, filling out more beats along the way and seeing how that affects my process. I just wrote a 26,000 word first draft of a novella in about twenty days that way!
Nevena: That’s awesome! So what’s next?
Mike: In addition to the novella I’m working on, I’m in the pre-writing for a new novel, unconnected to the Geekomancy universe. I’ve got several pitches out in the world, and if/when one of them catches, I’ll dive into that. AndCelebromancy comes out on July 15th!
Nevena: I’ll mark my calendar! Your first book was found on Book Country. How did you get started on the site?
Mike: I first learned about Book Country through Colleen Lindsay (who was a former co-worker of my dad’s—I met Colleen when I was a bright-eyed teen volunteering at the Del Rey booth at Star Wars Celebration II). I saw her tweeting about a Sekrit Project, and I was intrigued. I begged my way into the beta, and was elated to find a critique group, a discussion board, and a new way of connecting with fellow writers. The Genre Map was a fantastic idea, and I was very excited to have the chance to get my work critiqued by writers with a wide range of perspectives and to give back in areas where I had some experience (since I’d been working in publishing already at that point).
Nevena: How has the site helped your growth as a writer?
Mike: The biggest thing I learned from Book Country was how to sort through critiques and figure out how to incorporate the feedback. With an in-person critique group, you get more feedback, faster, and can use non-verbal cues to sort out comments. Critiques on Book Country are more like reviews in the marketplace—they’re just text, and are based on the reader’s relationship to this one text, not with the reader in general. I found that in total, the reviews I got were totally contradictory—so I had to really dig into them and figure out how to reconcile the contradictory parts. That has changed the way I read reviews of Geekomancy: I acknowledge the criticism and try to figure out which bits of feedback to take to heart.
I don’t get to spend as much time on Book Country anymore, since there are many more demands on my time, but I love popping on now and again to see what other writers are doing and adding to the discussion. I’ve sent many fellow writers to Book Country to post their manuscripts and get feedback, because hey, it worked for me, it could work for them, too.
Nevena: Thanks, Mike! Could you elaborate about the process of getting critiques and making decisions from them?
Mike: First, I try to focus the attention of my reviewers by telling them what type of feedback I’d like. Early in revisions, getting line edits isn’t really useful. The earlier in process a work is, the more broad I ask for the feedback to be. Were you entertained? What parts confused you? Bored you? Thrilled you?
Later in the process, I zoom in on specific questions, about a plot-line, a character, or another concrete issue. And right before a work is ready to go out, I’ll ask specifically for the grammar-checking, typo-hunting line edits.
Once I have that feedback, I try to honestly engage with the responses and decide whether they will help me make the story a better version of the story I want to tell, or will make it a different story—one I don’t want to tell. Most stories can be told in many different ways. And most stories I tell I could probably tell in a few ways. But most of the time, there’s one way of telling the story that best reflects who I am as a storyteller, and I try to dig out the feedback that will help me tell the story *that* way better.
Nevena: That’s really helpful. Any parting words of advice for other writers who are trying to get to where you are now?
Mike: Write a lot, read a lot, and give yourself every opportunity you can. It took maybe half an hour of my time to format a few chapters of Geekomancy for Book Country, and it ended up getting me a book deal. You never know what opportunity will be the one that connects. You can drive yourself crazy trying to find the magic formula or path to success, but if something comes up, I think it’s always worth asking, “What do I have to lose?” Sometimes the answer to that question will end up being too much time, more money than you want to spend, or something else that counts as “too much.” But other times, it might just be a bit of your time, and you never know where it might lead.
Nevena: It was really great catching up with you! Good luck with all of your projects.