July 17, 2003

Should you write a sequel?

Someone asked -- while still deep in the middle of writing their first novel -- if they should write a sequel when they finished. It's a question I hear a lot. After some thought, I decided I'd repeat this phrase:


This is what my editor keeps saying to me and I know she's right, although it doesn't always help.

Finish the novel you're working on before worrying about the next one.

1. You want to make the one you're working on the best darn book you can, and pre-planning for sequel might weaken it. Oh, you might say, I can't kill this character here because I *planned* to kill him in the sequel. Bleah. Act like there is no second book to make THIS book the best possible.

2. By the time you finish this book, you might HATE the world and need time off before you go back to liking the world. It's hard to stay in love with a world as you polish, polish, polish the first novel.

3. What you write now might radically change what you want to do with a sequel. Maybe you decide killing off all the characters would be best for this book, and thus any thinking now of a sequel would be wasted effort. I had to throw 30,000 words of book four away when I got done with book three.

Okay, once you're done with one novel, got it polished, and start sending it out, THEN is the time to consider "What's my next project."

If you decide its a sequel, great! There is no wasted writing, and if you do sell the first, then you're ahead of the game. I would recommend, however, that the sequel is a completely stand alone novel. I did not sell my first or second novel. ALIEN TASTE was the third novel I wrote. I decided that I didn't want my future to ride on selling the Ukiah Oregon Series and wrote a stand alone in another universe. When ALIEN TASTE did sell, they wanted a sequel -- so I kind of missed the boat there -- but they gave me time to write it. The novel I had written in the meantime was A BROTHER'S PRICE, which ROC bought and will release next year.

So no matter what you write, you'll probably be facing a win-win situation, so don't worry about it now. Think only about the book you are writing now.


Posted by wen at 09:57 AM

July 04, 2003

Five things to consider in giving a title for your novel

I've had weird trouble with novel titles so while I can't say mine are great, I've been around the block.

1. Titles should be short for various reasons, one of which you want it fit on the cover, and be readable from a distance. THE STAND or IT or MISERY can leap out at you from across the bookstore.

2. You want it easy to spell. If your potential reader goes in and asked busy bookstore worker "I want SEONSDGNDSSE" the clerk will pause, fingers over keyboard and go 'Huh?" I've had people report back that my books under "Wen Spencer" was difficult for clerk to look up because after checking 'spenSer' they say "I can't find anything by her." (For the same reason, you might want to goggle the name you're going to publish under and consider how easy your name is to spell. I went with Spencer because I would always say 'Kosak, K-o-s-a-k, yes K-o-s-a-k. That was A-K. yes." and even after twenty years, my mom can't spell my married name. I have a friend I want to smack who on panels says "John *R* Smith, remember the *R* because there is a John *K* Smith and a John *G* Smith and a ...." SMACK! I considered long and hard before going with Wen Spencer because of William Browning Spencer, but decided that while the names are similiar Wen probably wouldn't be confused with William.

3. In this day and age, the fewer hits the key words in the title brings up the better. The original title of BITTER WATERS was NATIVE SON (okay okay, so I didn't know someone had used that catch phrase as a title ages ago for a classic.) This is where using a famous quote might get you into trouble.

4. Words like "Dragon" are a two edged sword. Everyone goes 'oooh ahhhh' but it also gets lost in the flood of other books.

5. Don't fall in love with your title. Everyone of my titles has gone through the wringer. The publisher originally hated ALIEN TASTE, and so did I, and I gave them the list of hundred titles I had thought up and rejected and we ended back to my original title. The publisher disliked TAINTED TRAIL, but my editor liked it, so she told me that we would ignore the publisher until they forgot they hated it -- and they did. NATIVE SON made it to the sales team, and then got changed. TINKER originally was TINKER'S STEEL CITY BLUES.

Lastly, here's a funny article on naming books.


Posted by wen at 11:17 PM

July 01, 2003

Advice for the natural novelist

There are several types of writers. There are those that can spit out short stories like breathing. Bang. Bang. Bang. My own natural length seems to be 90,000 words, and for that I'm lucky. Others, 180,000 words comes without effort.

If 90,000 or 180,000 is your natural length, trying to write short stories is insane. Here's some advice to these natural novelist on selling them.

My two cents to the novelist at heart.

One penny: If you write long, don't fight the urge. My best career move was to ignore the "publish three short stories, get an agent, and then write novels" myth. I can write a third of a novel in the time it takes me to write a short story.

Two penny: Don't be afraid to sit on your short stuff.

I realized at one point that since I wanted to write novels, focusing energy on 'mailing out an early short stories again and again until it found an home in an obscure magazine that within four weeks of publication was going to vanish out of the world' was a huge waste. I decided to sit on all my short stuff. Yes, I'd write the short down if inspiration hit me, but I didn't worry about publishing it. I focused on the my novels both in writing them, and in trying to get them published.

What gets you an agent is a great manuscript, not a handful of short stories scattered across several years time.

To give you the best shot at the John Campbell award, you either have to hammer the market with short stories like Charles Finlay (Another of this year's finalist) or come out of the gate with a novel. One or two scattered across the years will put you in the running of my friend Matt Jarpe's place -- not enough shorts sold to be a name, his two years of John Campbell eligilibity used up before his novel is published. Just getting nominated for the John Campbell is a huge promotional boast. It's a list translated into dozens of languages and printed around the world. To get a novel out and then able to ride that wave is great.

As you publish novels, people will start asking you to submit to invitation only anthologies. If its like pulling teeth to do a short story and you've got book contracts and an empty drawer, then you'll probably be better off turning them down. If you have a bunch of good quality short stories that you didn't push until you found a home, you might have something to fit the bill without working.

One of the reasons I say this is because the magazine market is flooded. You might have a great story, but the magazines only have a limited number of slots. Many of these slots go to big name authors whose novels will help sell the magazine. Some of these slots will go to new writers that the editor met at Clarion and helped guide the short story to its best possible form. Some of these slots will go to buddies of the editor. There will so so stories that just hit the editor right. And finally, there's one slot left and zillions to chose from. The editor choses, and back your story comes with an possibly ego-crushing rejection letter when it was all just a lottery of getting into the magazine in the first place.

This is one of those "How do I write? What's the best way to spend my time and protect my ego thing."

If you have novels falling out of you, don't think you need to beat yourself against the short story rock pile. If a short story springs out, grabs you and says "WRITE ME" go ahead, but think about your career as a whole. Certainly if you have a novel at an agent already, having a short story appear in Analog will do wonders all way around. But a short story printed in Aruba's SF Annual after a zillion rejections isn't always the best for your career and mental health.

Posted by wen at 10:55 AM