Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Road To Publication: Are You A Time-Waster?

In Writer’s Digest’s July/August issue, Jane Friedman listed five time wasters for those of us hoping to walk that road to publication. Here’s my take on her list.
Time-Waster 1: Submitting manuscripts that aren’t your best work
There is this certain surge of euphoria that takes over after the completion of a novel. The months spent wandering through the muck with our imaginary creations is emotional and intense. We conquered something many haven’t. That means something, right? A special spot on the NY Times Best Seller’s list for sure. We gotta hurry, beat out the other schmuck writers. Run baby, run.
I’m not sure why many of us are so eager to query before we’ve had the opportunity to let things simmer.
I’m guilty of this too. I finished my first manuscript and after my first revision, I went right to the query. I thought it was good. But just like Jane Friedman says, “It can’t be good. ‘Good’ gets rejected. Your work has to be the best.” And rejected it was. Thank you, baby Jesus. It’s embarrassing to imagine agents reading my first few pages. Sure, I have readers who said they loved it. I placed in contests, but it still isn’t great.
I see this same thing on my group blog Ready, Aim, Hook Me. We’ve received a ton of submissions, but many of them are not ready. The trouble is the writer ran out and self-pubbed prematurely.
Time-Waster 2: Self-Publishing when no one is listening
Yes, it is a great time to be a writer in terms of easy access and affordability of self-publishing. But just because that’s true, should we? Unless you have an audience already in place, who’s going to buy it?
In 2009, more than 760,000 titles were published “non-traditionally”. Can you imagine how big that number is in 2011? We have a lot of competition. What are you doing prior to clicking “publish” to ensure your novel’s success? A blog with two hundred faces? How many of those faces are invested in your work?
Time-Waster 3: Publishing your work digitally when your audience wants print
E-books are on fire. We love new gadgets and it seems like every other month a new eReader or Tablet comes out to taunt us with its fabulousness. Not only that, creating books in eformat is easy and cheap. That’s all fine and dandy if your audience is made up of mostly eReaders. Don’t forget that there are still many people devoted to print.
For those of you considering self-publishing, do you know your audience? What do they prefer?
The same goes for print.
Time-Waster 4: Looking for major publication of regional or niche work
This has to do with writing something that may not have national appeal. It’s easy to feel the wind in your hair when self-publishing. We have freedom from restrictions, but we also need to remember the business aspect of this.
Time-Waster 5: Focusing on publishing when you should be writing
I love this. So many of us bounce from blog to blog. We read tips and strategies for producing the best query; we register on QueryTracker; stalk the Query Shark; #FF agents and publishers. This is important, I suppose, but remember Jane’s first time-waster. Unless we have “great”, there is no point in running to publication. Spend some time on blogs, twitter, etc. but use the majority of the time writing and perfecting.
So with all that being said, how do you know when it’s really time?
Jane has several questions she asks during her critique sessions with writers. How long have you been working on the current manuscript, and who has seen it? Is this the first manuscript you’ve ever completed? And: How long have you been actively writing?
Here’s her reasoning:
Most first manuscripts aren’t publishable, even after revision. They are important in our growth, but that doesn’t mean they are great. Also, a writer who has worked on one project for years and years without writing anything else may not be motivated. We need to write a lot in order to get to our best work. Writers who actively write on more than one project and are involved in a critiquing process are more positioned to publication, she says. They know their strengths and weaknesses and have their own structured revision process. For those of us in this spot, good news, we may only need a bit o’ luck on our side.
Is there a point when we need to veer off course?
Ask yourself these questions: Is your work commercially viable? Are readers responding to something you didn’t expect? (i.e. you’re passionate about your fiction, but you have a large audience on your humor blog) And, Are you getting bitter?
I think the last one is important. In order for you to write good fiction, you have to love it. If you’re writing simply for the glory, the money, whatevs—stop right now. If you’re one of those people who started writing simply for the love of it, but have found yourself tempted by the allure of the “best seller” I suggest regrouping. It doesn’t mean you won’t achieve that goal, but you can’t let it rule you. Love what you do first and foremost. The rest is gravy, baby.
Now quit reading my drivel and go write already! After you shoot me a comment, of course.


Regina said...

This is an interesting list. I am a stickler on hoping that I have it just right before I submit anything. So I am still working away on making it right.

Carol Riggs said...

Great list, absolutely true. No one urps up a perfectly crafted manuscript first off. Revision, revision!

Marc said...

Very cool post here, really great read, :-)

And I agree fully with the idea of simply writing more in order to get to your best stuff. The first big thing I wrote was a novella in college, which I paid to get printed (not self-published officially, just printed). Wrote a sequel, collected dust. Then, a year ago (must be some 8 years later), after I lost my first big job, I wrote what was to be my first real self-published novel, then completely rebooted a story I'd written in high school from the very ground up, which I still think is one of my most fun romps (called Six-Ninety, which I submitted to RAHM). Then a friend of mine passed away and before that she'd commissioned me to write an original vampire/werewolf story, and I have a great start going but I kinda veered off, so one day I'll go back to it.

Point is, the feedback I received from RAHM was extremely valuable, as I quickly learned more about what goes into strong, impactful writing, I realized that trying to edit 690 into something that publishers consider "great" or "perfect" or even just twice as good as it was probably wasn't a good idea right now. So, I started a new piece (tentatively titled Suburban Monarch) with just an opening scene, a possible concept, and in two weeks, I've already written a pretty decent 12-13 thousand words and counting. Something YA, something sci-fi oriented, deep on a few different levels, funny but dramatic, I'm really liking where it could go and how it's feeling so far. Really gets to the root of storytelling, lots of foreshadowing, developing certain aspects into bigger things, etc.

And all because I kept working on new things, :-) I'm glad I'm working on something new as opposed to just putting all my faith into what I believe to be my best. I'd rather work on new things until I land on my best work, and hopefully, if my best does get me to the big dance, all the things I've created previously can be worked on with editors to become useful, terrific and marketable, :-D

Heather said...

This is great stuff! I'm writing first and foremost to get these ideas out of my head. If someone wants to read them, even better. If someone wants to buy them...well..that too is gravy!

Garry G. said...

Well… revision, revision, revision, is all well and good but you also have to remember to stop at some point!
It may sound obvious, but it’s also a major problem. Just when do you know that your writing is as good as you can get it? Unfortunately there isn’t a magic gong that goes of to let you know when you are finished.

It can be easier, well more straightforward anyway, with short-stories. I’d recommend any aspiring novelist to write shorts at the same time as their novel. It will help hone your writing and any story you get published anywhere (as long as you are paid) will also give you that little boost, so often needed, to let you continue with that green-eyed monster!

Of course, I could be entirely wrong, as I’ve only ever had the short-stories published and never a novel ;)

Jacqui said...

New follower.

This article rings so true for me.

Thanks for giving me 20/20 vision