October 27, 2004

Starting at the top

A person asked on the Forward Motion site:

When, say, writing a query to an agent, do they take an eBook publishing as a previous credential seriously, or is it looked down upon as say self publishing may be? (getting published is like sex - don't brag about it if you had to pay ) I have been thinking about trying to get a novel published as an ebook. After all, since they don't have to worry as much about production cost etc they can afford to take more chances (well, at least that is what I have been thinking). I'm not too worried about money (well, i'd like and need some,but I'm not planning on becomming a millionaire), but my dream is to one day have my writing in print.

In all seriousness, why not start at the top?

If you've finished a novel, before you hand it over to the lowest rung on the ladder, try using it to get an agent.

The only -- ONLY -- time I would recommend going the ebook route is that you've had 100 agents tell you that it stinks and you don't want to do a major rewrite to make it better.

Three or four agents don't make a serious try. Agents are like readers -- they have likes and dislikes. Three or four attempts to get an agent might not mean the book is not a bestseller, but it didn't suit those four. Really, go there and hammer on agents until you've heard from dozens of them.

If dozens and dozens of them say "No" and then you're looking at possiblity ebook material. Still not to say that your writing is bad, or this book is bad, but the agents might be seeing that this is such a niche (like erotica) that isn't easily handled by them.

It doesn't make sense to do all the work on writing the book and then not putting in the work to try and sell it to the best possible market. The big publishers are the ones that are going to pay you an advance and royalties, give you advertising, get your books into bookstores, and get you in amazon/bn/walmart, etc. One of the reasons Harry Porter is such a HUGE success is that its publisher had the clout to push the first book big time.

If your book is finished, polished, and ready to be sold, then it doesn't matter you haven't sold elsewhere. Most of the novelists on this site who have books in bookstores had their first novel as their first professional sale. Agents are judging the book in hand first. Do they like THIS book? Only after they decide if they like THIS book, will they look to see who the author is and what they've sold. This is one reason why you might hear of well known SF short story writers who can't sell their novel -- because while they might be award winning SHORT STORY writers, their novels haven't been solid enough to sell. (Novels and short stories use a slightly different skill set, which is why this isn't as uncommon as you would think.)

P.S. Check out my blog entry on what to look for in an agent, on June 23, 2003

Posted by wen at 03:00 PM

October 26, 2004

To rewrite or not to rewrite -- that is the question

On the Forward Motion site, someone stated that having finished their first attempt at a novel, they now think their writing stinks. Should they, they ask, start over, writing it all fresh, or try to edit what is there?

First, you often hate what you wrote. This is good, because you can now freely edit what you wrote to make it better. The hard part is that you need to love it enough to keep from gutting the story, or just setting it on fire. Unfortunately, this 'hate it' gets harder to deal with as you sell the book and it goes through the stages of editing, copyediting, page proofs and then published -- because you're less and less able to change things. The copyeditted manuscript and page proofs actually come with big labels that say "DO NOT REWRITE!!!" and they WILL charge you money if you try.

BUT... there's no reason to assume your first attempt of a novel is good. I know I put my first two attempts into a drawer marked "Learning experiences" and moved on.

Lastly, its difficult to do a major gut on an old project because you keep getting stuck on what used to be there -- kind of like changing from a stick shift to an automatic -- you find yourself reaching for the stick despite that piece of the car is GONE!

All that aside, the question is "can you stand trying to gutting and rewriting this?" If the answer is no, then don't. Certainly no one expects to sell their first attempt at an oil painting to a New York City art gallery. If yes, you're still excited about this project, then yes.

Yes, because, soon or later, you need to learn how to rewrite.

One of the important keys to rewriting is to sit down with the novel and pens in hand, and start from page one and start reading. Read carefully. Read aloud if you can stand it. Make any notes that will help you to track plotlines, dropped threads, anything that you forgot to set up, anything that comes to mind. Read the whole way through without stopping to attempt the rewrite. Get to the end. Put it away. THINK about the story that you just read.

Also, if you can find a good first reader, (writers make best first readers) give them a copy to read at the same time you're doing this. Have them read for things like:
Can you understand what actually happened?
Did I leave out important information?
Is any part too fast or too slow?
Did characters lack motivation for their actions?
Did you find the main character sympathic enough that you're willing to keep reading?
What are the themes I put in?

After you've thought about the story that you wrote, and the story you WANTED to write, make notes how to make the two match. Then read over your first reader's notes. With ALL that in hand, start your rewrite, starting on page one, and moving forward.

Posted by wen at 07:01 PM