Since I learned how to read, I wanted to write a book and have it share shelf space with my favorite books. That was when I was six. Since then, I've had a LOT of jobs, mostly crappy (cleaning cheese boards, filling pickle vats, labeling barbecue sauce bottles) but some awesome (teaching English, coaching Fine Arts students), gotten married and had kids, been practically homeless (thankfully, my brother put my family of four up in his tiny apartment for three months), and been as poor as Job's turkey. But I always pursued my dream, thanks largely to my wife's unfaltering encouragement.

Now, today, my book is finally releasing from Simon & Schuster! Here's the video telling about it

So ask me ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING about writing, my book, my life, why Superman is better than Batman, why history matters, why we ought to be teaching the arts in school, or where I was when I first heard an editor was interested in this book (that's an awkward story).

My Proof: I just tweeted about it, and my twitter ID is the same as here: Proof

EDIT: BTW, if you tweet/share a pic of yourself with my book today, I'll send you a signed bookmark. Use the hashtag #TheTroublesofJohnnyCannon and tag me, @isaiahjc.

EDIT 2: BTW, if anyone here is in Philly, come to my launch party at Children's Bookworld in Haverford tomorrow (10/15) at 7:00 pm. I'll sign your book, yo!

EDIT 3 (4:23 pm EST): I'm heading out to visit a bookstore and get dinner, but I'll be back and answer anymore questions that get asked. You guys have been fantastic! (even the troll made me laugh) Thanks so much for making my day feel special thus far!

Comments: 54 • Responses: 25  • Date: 

Kraznor4 karma

How long did you have a complete work ready and were just waiting on that chance meeting with a publisher?

isaiahjc4 karma

Great question! I finished the first draft of this book in August of 2011. I then signed with my Literary Agent in September of that year. We were on submission for the next year and three months. However, the version of this book that got picked up was the second MAJOR revision of the book, and that I'd only completed about two or three months before my publisher made the offer.

dannyboylee1 karma

You queried with your first draft? And your second draft got published?

I mean, I guess it worked out, but dude.

isaiahjc4 karma

Oh, no, that was misleading. I finished the first draft and then revised like CRAZY. What I sent my agent was more like the third draft of the book. Then, the book the publisher picked up was probably the fifth draft of the second REWRITE of the book. So, yeah, it took a lot more writing than my comment made it seem. Sorry.

alent12343 karma

why is superman better than batman? he's not.

isaiahjc6 karma

(lol, I'm actually a fan of both, so that was sort of a joke. However, because OP's got to deliver, here you go)
* Superman was the first superhero. Ever.
* Superman is, still, the MOST recognized superhero worldwide.
* There's something incredibly relatable about Superman, the orphan immigrant forced to hide his true identity for fear of being rejected. Billionaire playboy with a narcissistic vendetta against crime isn't nearly so.
* Superman stories can be enjoyed by any age, whereas Batman has to be watered down for younger kids (okay, that one's a stretch, but I'm sticking with it).
* And, finally, Superman could DESTROY Batman in a microsecond. Batman would have to go dig through his cave and find his kryptonite ring to even START to hurt Superman.

Again, all in good fun. I love both heroes. But I got to be loyal to my /r/Superman roots.

jasonml2 karma

Do you ever feel like your own work is crap sometimes? I'm writing a novel (Young Adult one I guess), and I'm at 29k words. I feel like I've made a lot of mistakes, and I read a lot more since I started it and my style differs so much from the beginning and now (on like the 54th page.)

Is it normal to be super critical of your own work?

isaiahjc6 karma

Oh, man, YES!!! I am definitely my own worst critic.

And that's a good thing. Because the reality is, there is no perfect manuscript, no perfect work, and even the final version, after it has been polished and worked over and looked at with dozens of eyes, will still have flaws. So if you don't see the imperfections in your own work (especially your first draft) then you're crazy.

The key is to not let your self-criticism keep you from completing your work. NEVER revise while you're writing. Write the book, then start fixing it. That's the only way you'll ever actually complete something.

And_Floss2 karma

Do you floss?

isaiahjc2 karma

Flossing is an important issue in this AMA, isn't it? I don't floss often enough, that's for sure, but I do floss. My teeth, to be clear.

Stoooooooo2 karma

Can you describe your editing process?

isaiahjc3 karma

Absolutely. A big part of my editing process comes before I write the book. I am a plotter and I have a few criteria that have to be in place before I'll even start writing. I have to know all my characters, I have to know the basic plot structure of the book, I have to know how it will end, and I have to know the overall character arc that will take place for every single character (major and minor, except for background characters).

After I've written the book, I immediately read it again and note any questions that pop into my head as I'm reading it. I make sure that everything that happens at the end of the book has the seeds planted close to the beginning. I make sure that any holes get plugged and loose ends get tied up.

Then I read the book again, this time following character arcs. I start at the first appearance of a character and read only their scenes, to make sure I was true to my original outline for them. I beef up details whenever necessary, and if there's a character who just doesn't flesh out their arc or enhance someone else's, they get cut.

Once I've done that, I then read it again to check the voice. I write humorous books (or at least I try to) and I usually have a laugh count goal. If there aren't so many laughs per page/per chapter, I jump in and work on fixing that. (I imagine the same thing would work if you're writing suspense: give yourself a jump count; horror: give yourself a scream count; drama: give yourself a sob count.)

After I've done all that, I send it off to my readers (a group of friends who have read every single thing I've written) and get their feedback. Then it's off to my agent. Then I revise again based off their notes, and then it's off to my editor, who usually will give me about five times as many notes as the others. And I usually tackle those notes small to big (ie. typos to plot points) just because that makes the most sense in my head.

Great question, BTW.

just_pizza2 karma

Aspiring writer here. I've started several books, the one I'm closest to finishing was re-written when I didn't like it after getting half-way through it. Is it normal to love what you write on some days and to think it's utter crap on other days? Also, as a non-native English speaker, do you think I'd have a chance?

isaiahjc2 karma

Oh yeah, it's completely normal. Heck, there are times I love what I wrote one minute, and then the next minute think it's the worst thing I've ever done. The point is to keep sticking to it and, eventually, you'll write stuff that you can be okay presenting to others as the best you can do.

I'd definitely say you have a chance as a non-native English speaker. Just be open to critiques, have native English speakers read your work and make honest suggestions, and know that we ALL face rejections and we ALL could do better. Good luck!

cyclopsblue132 karma

What made you wait for 25 years? I'll be sure to read your book.

isaiahjc5 karma

It took 25 years for me to get to the point where I was skilled enough as a writer, to find an idea that worked and that was interesting enough for me to want to write it, to then write the book, and to find an agent and publisher willing to take the risk. I'm so impressed with young writers who are barely 20 (or younger) and are knocking it out of the park. I was not there yet when I was that age.

phishliver2 karma


isaiahjc2 karma

Oh, crap, no I haven't!!! Hold on real quick...

I_Eat_Scorpions1 karma

What do you think you could finish by yourself; an 18" burrito or an 18" pizza?

isaiahjc3 karma

18" Pizza. Much easier to divide the project into smaller, manageable steps. Plus I like pizza better than burritos.

DashingQuill231 karma

How difficult was it? How many changes did you have to make to your book? And finally, any tips for an aspiring who wants to become a published author?

isaiahjc1 karma

  1. I think it really depends on what you mean by difficult. There was a lot of rejection involved, so that was difficult. Also, it took a lot of patience and focus. But writing, itself, is pretty fun.

  2. I did have to make a lot of changes. The original draft of my story was sci-fi, involving a group of super-powered kids who were recruited by JFK to fight communism worldwide. There were robots and aliens and all kinds of fantastic elements. None of that is still there. And the book is all the better for it.

  3. My best advice is this: If you know this is what you want to do, then don't give up on it. Do whatever you have to do, read whatever you have to read, learn as much as you can, and try as hard as you can to find your success story. Ask yourself, "What stands between me and my dream?" And then, whatever you can overcome on your own, do it. And, whatever you need others to overcome for you, work as hard as possible to connect with the right people. And whatever is there that you can't overcome and others can't either, figure out a way to work around it.

Oh, and remember that everyone's journey is different. Yours won't look like mine, just like mine doesn't look like anyone else's. You have to find the way that works for you and commit to it. The path that is uniquely yours is the only path you have to success.

Hope that helps!

Ghostspider19891 karma

Who did you get signed with? How do you go about being published? I write a lot but I have no idea where to start when it comes to getting published.

isaiahjc3 karma

Great question. Here's my attempt at an answer:
* I signed first with a Literary Agent who represents books in the genre I write in. Her name is Marietta Zacker of the Nancy Gallt Literary Agency. (they also represent Rick Riordan, Jeanne DuPrau, and many others) I met her at an online writing convention (WriteOnCon) that was free, because (as was mentioned above) I was as poor as Job's Turkey and couldn't afford anything else.
* We worked together to polish and shine the book, and then she submitted it to editors at various publishing houses. After over a year of work (and two complete rewrites) we got the offer from David Gale at Simon & Schuster BFYR.
*I would recommend first writing the best dadgum book you can possibly write. Write until your friends stop saying, "Hey, you wrote a book," and start saying, "Whoa, YOU wrote this?". Then, find as many agents as you can who represent the genre you've written in. Research query letters and how to write pitches, craft a query letter and pitch that are BETTER than the book you've written, and then send it out to every agent you on your list. And a few not on your list.
* Finally, and most importantly, DO NOT GIVE UP. 85% of this thing is perseverance, seriously.

a_good1 karma

Way to go! That's an enormous achievement and one of my life goals. My question is, how many hours a day do you read and write? Oh and one more, what is the one thing you learned along the way that you believe helped your writing the most?

isaiahjc2 karma

  1. When I was writing this book, I spent about three to four hours a day writing, and then I'd read in whatever spare time I could scrape together. Now that I have all the non-writing duties, like marketing/copyediting/etc., my writing time is more like two hours a day and my reading time is much more limited, sadly.

  2. The one thing I've learned along the way that's helped my writing? Definitely to slow down. I'm a pretty fast writer, but I make mistakes a lot. I had to learn to slow down and be more careful and deliberate in my writing.

WonkasWilly08221 karma

Congrats on your book! My s/o is in the process of writing for fun, and she seems to think that a lot of her characters are starting to sound similar, characteristically or trait-wise. Any tips or hints? Doesn't even have to refer to the problem at hand, just anything in general. Also, I hope your book takes off!

isaiahjc2 karma

So one thing that helps me a lot with characters is to create an in-depth character analysis for them and know them, inside and out. Your characters have to BE distinctive before they'll sound distinctive. Expose yourself to a lot of books and to a wide range of genres. Also read translated books from other cultures for even more exposure. Assimilate as many building blocks as you can, and then you'll be able to manufacture more unique characters.

Also, I spent years in theater, and the ability to act and take on new characters helps me to develop original voices.

hlmason_rn1 karma

Do you still buy actual books or do you download onto a tablet? Any thoughts on how technology has changed the way we enjoy a good book?

isaiahjc2 karma

Personally, I buy actual books because those are the only kind that can be signed (well, I know there's a program out there to let authors sign e-books, but that just feels like cheating). Plus I feel as though I read better with a physical book than on my tablet. Reading on a tablet has already been reserved, in my brain, for ADD habits like games and web-surfing, so it's hard for me to pay attention to a book when I'm using that medium.

That having been said, I think technology has definitely changed the way we enjoy a good book, first because it enables us to actually HAVE good books. There are so many ways, from the standpoint of production, that technology has improved the way books are made. From spellcheck on the computer, to the ability for editors and authors to instantly send manuscripts back and forth, to the AMAZING capabilities of designers and artists to tweak and perfect the look and feel of the book, to even the marketing opportunities afforded by the internet (I mean, let's be honest, could I be talking to you about books or would you even know my book existed if it wasn't for reddit?), technology has given us SO MUCH MORE than we could hope for. Of course, there is the challenge when it comes to ebooks and ereaders that, perhaps, could mean fewer people are reading as much, but I think that's an issue we'll fix soon.

Hope that answers your questions!

Poetrydog1 karma

Couple of questions: 1. What advice do you have to aspiring writers? 2. Did you take any courses and/or education to be better at writing? If so, what? 3. Where were you when you first heard and editor was interestedin your book? 4. How did you keep going with all the obstacles in the way?

isaiahjc2 karma

Great question!
1. There's three things successful writers have in common: Practice, Persistence, and Pixie Dust. By that I mean they practice their skills through writing all the time, reading everything they can, taking classes, receiving critiques, and always trying new things. They're persistent in what they do, never giving up and never letting the obstacles stop them from pursuing their dream. And they have a little bit of Pixie Dust, a little bit of magic/luck that works in their favor. However, the more you practice, the more persistent you are, and the more ways you position yourself correctly, the more likely it is that you'll catch some Pixie Dust.
2. I took a creative writing course in my BA program that really helped a lot. Before that, when I was a kid, I was an AVID reader on the AOL forums about writing, which carried through into the Google age, and I've read and researched writing for a VERY long time. I do have an MFA in Creative Writing now, which I don't think is necessary for all writers, but it definitely has helped me.
3. When my phone rang and my agent told me that two editors were interested in my book (one of whom is now my editor at S&S), I was just getting into the shower. So I was butt naked in my bathroom. It's quite awkward to be talking to your agent, seeing yourself in the mirror in all your glory, and doing a bit of a jig, but it most definitely was a memorable moment. And it helped me remember that this business isn't something you can really plan for. It's just got to happen.
4. Honestly, I got the mindset early on that, while writing is an art, publishing is a business, and you can't get your feelings hurt about it. I always tried to make decisions that made the most BUSINESS sense for my book, even if sometimes there was another option that would have had a bigger payoff emotionally or personally. For instance, people always asked me why I didn't just self-publish, because that would be easier and less frustrating. However, since I write for kids, I knew that my book would have a better chance with a major publisher backing it. Also, when I was choosing between two agents, I decided to go with the one who had the better track record, even though the other one was incredibly flattering and complimentary on the phone. That's just a couple of examples.

josephtutora1 karma

What are the best experiences you have had as a result of writing this book, that you wouldn't have had if you hadn't written it?

isaiahjc2 karma

Definitely the people I've gotten to know in the industry, from other writers to editors, artists, designers, booksellers, teachers, and librarians.

Second would be the thrill of seeing other people take ownership of a thing I've created. When I hear people use lines I've written in their conversations, or when they make a reference to a scene in my book, it blows my mind. Somehow, the thing I imagined has been transferred from my brain and into the imaginations of others.

jeromicus1 karma

How do you go about incorporating aesthetics? Do you have a theme in mind when you describe a character? Such as, "Sondra wore a bright blue blouse and had tight white pants on." And so,...Sondra represents the daytime (blue sky, white fluffy clouds)? Or do you do it differently?

Also, plot-wise... How do you maintain a sense of mystery? Style-wise... How do you keep from putting too much of yourself into the narrative voice? Assuming you have an omniscient narrator. Subject matter-wise, what sort of troubles are you especially interested in as a writer? Romance? Personal development? Sturm und Drang? Power, Truth, Justice, Love? I'm interested, and if you give me good, thoughtful answers I'll definitely give your new work a read.

Write on!

isaiahjc1 karma

  1. Aesthetics: When I write my characters, I try to not ascribe too much symbolism to them, at least at first. I try to let theme and symbolism emerge organically as I'm writing. Then I tweak a lot during revisions to let any natural themes/symbols become more apparent. I try really hard, though, to not make them too overt. I like to leave subtle hints and cues that readers can then fill in the blanks and arrive at their own conclusions as to any meaning behind my characters. Definitely, though, symbolism/theme is one of the LAST steps of my editing process, and almost non-existent in my writing process.

  2. Plot: The sense of mystery is maintained, at least in my personal efforts, by being flexible with the structure/outline and being willing to let it evolve as I write. I also try my best to hold back as much information as possible, both from the characters and from the readers. So much so that I try to not even give it all away in the conclusion. Again, I feel like letting the readers connect the dots is one of the most powerful tools a writer has.

  3. Style-wise: I honestly don't worry too much about letting my own voice infiltrate my narrative voice, whether in first-person or third-person. I've gotten fairly comfortable with my writing voice, and I feel that's one of the elements that sets me apart as a writer.

  4. Troubles: I love an underdog story, and a story where unassuming individuals are able to do enormous things. I think the hero's quest is one of the best arcs, at least one of the more engaging ones. I love romance, but I'm not very good at it. And I'm not nearly epic enough as an individual to write a book that tackles high and lofty ideals for society. (That being said, my book does deal with social injustice, interpersonal relationships, overcoming internal obstacles, etc.)

I hope that works!

IMAPass-a-fist1 karma

Congrats on being published!! As a longing to publish author I LOVE hearing others stories and finding encouragement in it!! I was wondering how you finally did it? Where there any pivotal steps you took that you'd recommend to others?

isaiahjc2 karma

My path to publication was definitely abnormal, and this is something I am well aware of (although I wonder if there is anyone who has an actual "normal" path.)

For me, I actually connected with my agent at an online writing convention (WriteOnCon) where I had posted my work onto a forum for critique. She read my work and approached me to read more. She was interested because her family is Cuban and my book is about the Bay of Pigs invasion (and she liked my voice). So I submitted a query letter to her and my manuscript, and a month later, she offered representation. (This story doesn't mention the 99 other query letters I'd submitted that were by-and-large rejection fodder.)

We were on submission for well over a year, and the manuscript I'd originally written wasn't working for any editors. It had a lot of sci-fi aspects to it that they weren't connecting with, but they all said they loved the voice and they wished I wrote a non-sci-fi book in that voice (which was not well received by me at the time. Looking back, they were right). So, I rewrote the book ENTIRELY (first as a total sci-fi to prove them wrong, which subsequently proved them all right, then as a more literary-action novel) and after that, we got the offer from David Gale at Simon & Schuster. This was after over a year of submissions.

I haven't mentioned this elsewhere yet, but it's been a fantastic experience with S&S. A sequel to this book is coming out next year, and a stand alone novel will release in 2016. I couldn't be happier!

chippymcneish1 karma

Congrats on being published! My life's goal, much like yours, has always been to be a published author. Can you give a better explanation of the process of landing a literary agent? Did you submit a full draft of the story or a small example? Did you contact them through email, letter, application process of some kind?

isaiahjc1 karma


So, there's lots of ways to connect with agents. Obviously the most common is to send query letters with a synopsis and (sometimes) the first chapter or the first ten pages.

In my case, I'd sent about a hundred of those query letters out, all rejected. Meanwhile, I put a portion of my book up on a critique forum for WriteOnCon (free online writing convention for Kidlit. Cause I was poor) and Marietta Zacker of the Nancy Gallt Literary Agency contacted me. She had enjoyed the voice of my writing and also the subject matter (my book involves the Bay of Pigs invasion, her family came from Cuba) so she wanted to read more. I still sent her a query letter along with my full manuscript, and then about a month later, she called me and offered representation.

BeerForMyWalruses1 karma

How do you get started? Do you just write sketches until some of the themes cohere, or do you start with a firm idea/structure that drives the writing process?

isaiahjc1 karma

That's a great question. For me, I have a lot of ideas rattling around in my brain, but I have certain criteria for knowing when they're ready to be written. The characters have to be fleshed out, the setting has to be distinctive, the plot has to have all the main beats developed, and overall I have to know the tone and voice of the book. Once that's happened, I'll outline the book, then I'll just start writing. I usually know about twenty to thirty pages in if the book is working or not. After that, it's just a matter of pressing on to the end, and then I start revising.

realmindgenius1 karma

25 Years?. thats quite a long time. what kept you going through the bad times?. did you ever thought of quitting?

isaiahjc1 karma

At first I didn't keep going through the hard times. It wasn't until I got married and my wife told me how much she believed in me that I finally started feeling motivated to press through and keep trying. I am so indebted to her. Which is why this book is dedicated to her.

And, yes, I thought of quitting A LOT. In fact, I still think about it. It's a very uncertain world, this whole writing business, and it's hard to see quantifiably that it's worth it. Again, though, that's why I'm so thankful for my wife.

hoodyupload1 karma

How do you feel when you finally realize your dream of publishing a book?

isaiahjc1 karma

Oh, man. It's fantastic. I've heard some people liken it to the birth of a child, and there are some similarities, but it's unique all to itself. I think because you see it at all the stages along the way, and you get to experience it so much sooner than everyone else, that in some ways it's not a huge, earth-shattering event like the birth of a kid is. But, because it allows you to cultivate so many new relationships and because it becomes such a collaborative effort, it's an incredible event all to itself.

So, basically, it's fantastic, it feels life changing, and I am so glad it's an event I get to share with so many people.

Sasha_Fire1 karma

Are you looking more to focus on sales of hard copy books or ebooks as you progress? What's your favourite way to read, it with an ereader or with hard copy, and do you have a fav place to read like a specific chair or in a coffee shop?

Edit* Congratulations!

isaiahjc3 karma

It's gotten to be pretty cliche among writers, but it's pretty true, that I don't care how the book gets in front of readers eyes, just so long as they read it and enjoy it. There's still a bit more legitimacy in the industry to hard copy sales, but I think that's changing soon enough and swiftly enough that it's not worth being concerned.

My personal favorite way to read is with hard-copy. E-readers don't keep my attention as well, and I struggle with focusing as it is. As far as where do I like to read...bathroom reading has always been the best reading, followed closely with car reading, and then bed reading.


NinjaDiscoJesus-2 karma

Why kids books? Why not a proper book?

Also Batman is far superior to Superman, to argue that is pointless.

isaiahjc3 karma

In my lifetime, I read way more kids books than grown-up books. Plus you have more freedom to do more things, and your audience is WAY more fun.

And Batman as a brand is probably better than Superman at this point, but Batman as a hero? Nope. :)