Thursday, January 05, 2006

The pleasant road to poverty and obscurity

The way I write is terribly inefficient from a business standpoint. Published novelists typically submit proposals to their editors, usually in the form of a synopsis and the first three chapters of a story. The editor then tells them to run with the idea (offers a contract) or says she's not interested. Under this system the writer never wastes time writing an entire novel that might not sell. If a proposal is shot down (and they very often are), the author moves on. She keeps submitting proposals until she makes another sale. And then she writes a complete novel.

I don't want to write that way. For one thing, I don't know quite where a story's going until I get there, so the synopsis is the very last thing I write before mailing off a manuscript to my editor. But even if I were a more organized writer, I'd be deeply disturbed by the rejection of a proposal because I'd have trouble disengaging from my characters and leaving their story unfinished. If my project is going to be rejected, I'd much rather it be a complete manuscript that gets turned down.

Rejection is a fact of the writing life. But publication, while exciting, has never overshadowed the satisfaction I derive from sitting alone in my home office happily pounding out a story I love. If my completed manuscript is rejected (as has just happened with my latest offering to my editor), I've still had the pleasurable experience of writing the entire story. And I might still have a chance to sell the book.

When my editor "passed" on the manuscript that was to become A Family Forever, she sent a two-page letter detailing what troubled her about my story. I then made some changes that resulted in the sale.

Maybe it will happen that way with this manuscript. I have my editor's revision letter right here on my desk, so now there's a choice to be made. Shall I forget this story and move on to another project? I've done that before.

No, I believe I will go back to work on this one and attempt to hammer it into a shape my editor likes. That will be no great hardship; I love this story and will enjoy spending more time with these characters.

Maybe this isn't an efficient way for an author to work if her primary aims are publication and making a good living. But friends, I am having a wonderful time.


Shelbi said...

How funny that you chose to blog about this today! I was just wondering [yesterday in fact] if you plan to keep writing 'on spec,' or if you were going to do proposals, and if you can do proposals without an agent, and if you have any plans to seek an agent [I remember you blogged about that once, too, but I wondered if you had changed your mind]. Sheesh, I'm nosy, aren't I?

I guess I'm curious because I've read that most authors do proposals after their first book gets published, and the thought of doing a proposal and then having to write the book under a deadline freaks me out a little.

It's probably a little premature to be worrying about this since I still have to finish that pesky first novel, but I like to have a game plan, and knowing that I don't 'have' to do proposals if I don't want to is comforting.

Brenda Coulter said...

This varies among authors and editors, but generally the first two or three manuscripts are submitted as completes, and after that the author is "allowed" to submit proposals. Most authors seem to be very excited about that. But like you, Shelbi, I'd chafe under the deadlines.

Most authors seem to like working under deadlines, as it keeps them from frittering away their time. Being under contract also means you'll have regular money coming in (from your advances). My author friends get excited about multiple-book contracts and say things like, "It's good to know I'll have work for the next 18 months."

No, I really don't want an agent. I'd rather keep things simple, at least for now.

Julana said...

There must be a sense of pride in knowing you're committed to finish, no matter what. You get to be the one that says the job is worth doing. You're not surrendering your characters' raison d'etre to an editor.

Anonymous said...

I still want to read Tom And Clair's Story someday :)

Bonnie Calhoun said...

You're an excellent story teller. I know this will will be published as well!

And I agree with the write the whole thing first idea!

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Psssst...Brenda...I'm ROFLOL...on the post yesterday, you directed a long answer to me....I didn't ask any questions...LOL I just wanted a latte and an orchid...LOL

Too much coffee, Brenda...too much coffee!!LOL

Brenda Coulter said...

Don't be silly. There's no such thing as too much coffee. But you're right, I did address a comment to you when I was "talking" to someone else. Guess you were just on my mind. Probably because you keep nagging me about that orchid.

Sharon said...

I could never do proposals! Heck my stories seem to change directions every day, I Would do a proposal and the only thing the same in the finished product would be the character names!

I know somewhat where I want my stories to go but mostly I just let it play in my mind as a movie and type what I *see*. Hope that doesn't sound wierd! Most people look at me with blank stares when I explain it that way and say "movies in your head...MMMkay" but what they are thinking is, *back away from the crazy woman*.

Dennie McDonald said...

I don't know quite where a story's going until I get there, so the synopsis is the very last thing I write before mailing off a manuscript to my editor.

I am so glad you said this - I feel so much better. Not to put me where you are - but I cannot submit something that's not finished. I may change my mind ten times during the story and a synopis at the beginning whould be of no use!

Brenda Coulter said...

Just want to make it clear that writers who are able to plot a story and work up a good proposal possess a talent that I don't. In no way do I mean to imply that they're selling out by not writing complete manuscripts. This is a matter of ability and personal preference.

Sharon, I don't see movies. I just hear voices. I mean, really, hear them, to the extent that I know whether the hero of my story is a tenor or a bass. That's probably why dialogue comes so easily to me. All I have to do is transcribe what I hear in my head! ;-)

Yes, we are odd people.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

that's very cool Brenda, that you hear voices....un, uh...I'm not going there :-).

I see it like a movie in my head, and I write what I see, so I understand Sharon's comment perfectly!