So many years ago now that it’s hard for me even to count them, I sat down to write a novel.

Photo by me, type design by my graphic designer/daughter Alex.

I’ve always been a dedicated outliner. I need some kind of plan before I can do something as ambitious as write a book. As I’ve described before, I quickly go “off script” once I actually start writing, and that outline gets covered in several different colors of ink pretty quickly, but I need that outline before I can even start.

But time and again I read about other writers who just sat down and let their characters tell them what to do, writers who discover their stories—the beginning, middle, and end—organically, as they went along. That seemed as weird to me in 1992 as it seems now, but I thought I should give it a try. Maybe I’d been doing it wrong up until then. The world certainly wasn’t beating a path to my door.

So I sat down to write a horror novel, based vaguely on some random ideas for a scene here and there, and informed by my current occupation of record store manager.

I would write a chapter maybe every two or three weeks or so, but that lasted less than a year. Then I would step away from it entirely for a year or more at a time before thinking I should get back to that book, which still didn’t even have a title, then spend another few weeks noodling away at it, mostly rewriting the previous chapters.

This went on for a terribly long time until some strange burst of motivation befell me, and for reasons I don’t even recall, I decided to sit down and finish the damn thing, and finish it in the spirit in which it was begun—stream of consciousness. I wrote the last two-thirds of the book in about two months of concerted effort.

And you know what? I thought it worked. It was scary, and unpredictable. And the title just suddenly came to me: Completely Broken.

Then I had people read it for me—at least one editor friend and two agents. They had some great advice, which I did my best to follow, and there it was, a finished novel, for all the world to . . . see?

I finished Completely Broken right around the time that Annihilation was released. I had some attention focused on me after a brief stint on the best sellers list, and unfortunately (as it turns out) Completely Broken was my intended follow-up.


I’d just written a hugely successful dark high fantasy and was trying to follow that up with an ultraviolent contemporary thriller/horror thing. It went over like a lead balloon.

For a long time I’d resigned myself to the “fact” that all that writing was a learning experience, an exercise in a different kind of storytelling. Then when I started blogging I had the groovy idea that I would give it away free on the blogosphere. But then I really didn’t do much to promote it, and I don’t think people really like reading novels a chapter a week on a blog.

Enter the e-book self-publishing “revolution” and some urging from friends to get into that, and eventually, you know, it just had to happen.

So I took down the blog, reformatted the file, and posted the e-book version of Completely Broken to both Amazon and Smashwords.

It was quite an experience, and I learned some vital skills—or more accurately, unlearned a lot of what I’ve learned over the past quarter century or so about formatting novels for publication. The e-book sphere was created post-internet, post-desktop publishing, and is built for the common tools at hand. Traditional publishing uses much more complicated technology designed to mimic the old fashioned printing processes.

There will be posts aplenty here as I dissect the experience of formatting and posting Completely Broken. I think that process deserves a detailed breakdown.

For today, though, Fantasy Author’s Handbook takes a turn into the land of shameless self-promotion.

Go buy Completely Broken. It’s less than three dollars, and I think it’s pretty scary stuff.

—Philip Athans

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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