Christa: A tough decision
A few weeks ago I submitted my first novel, HURT, to a startup small publisher for consideration. This came after 90+ agent rejections, some of which provided the feedback that the agents didn’t feel they could sell the novel. I figured it was just the business, and maybe my chances were better with a small press.
Then I read this post by well-known crime fiction critic David J. Montgomery, and I realized I was that desperate writer he was talking about. I realized my novel wasn’t particularly original–well-written, yes, but not about anything or presented in any way new–and that, as he writes, I could actually harm my career (not to mention the small press’s reputation) by trying to get it published.
So I decided to shelve it and start over.
Remarkably, this doesn’t bother me that much. I think I’d grown tired of the novel, and I came to understand that I don’t want to spend a lot of time marketing something that I know is “just decent” but not great. I’d rather focus on my current WIPs, which I do think are more original, and better written too.
With that, though, I find myself once again back at square one: which project to pursue? HURT is a crime fiction novel, and I’d like to be known as a dark crime fiction author who occasionally forays into horror. So do I work on the next crime fiction project… or continue the horror novella? (I don’t have any particular momentum on the novella, so all projects are more or less equal in terms of desire.) What would you do?
It sounds like you have a stronger desire to work on the next crime fiction project, so I’d just go with your gut on that.
And as for HURT, I wouldn’t give up on it completely. There are a lot of books our there in the world, and not all of them have the most original plot (but still manage to be great reads). Just because an agent doesn’t think they can sell your novel doesn’t mean it’ll never be published and you lose nothing by submitting it to small publishers. The worst thing that can happen is they won’t publish it, but you might get good feedback that helps you with your next project.
Brittany, HURT is a “good” read but not a GREAT read. The difference between it and the books you talk about is that the writers managed to work language, characterization, etc. in a way that made it not matter how unoriginal the plot was. In fact, David posted a couple of days later about great writing.
I am sure that I could probably get it published somewhere, but as he points out, whether it sells or not is another matter, and the sales track record could hurt me even with a better book. I have to face that I just do not have the time or energy (or, honestly, interest) to market this book and get sales up, so I’d rather shelve it and keep working at my writing.
HURT was a practice novel and I think even now my work is stronger for it, so I am perfectly fine with this. (Besides, it has a plotline I plan to cannibalize… I always felt like the novel’s rigid structure kept it from full realization, and I’m excited about all the possibilities it has now.)
Thanks for the pep talk. 🙂 Pursuing this novel at this time just doesn’t feel “right.” And I am all about the gut feeling when it comes to my business!
Christa, are you any closer to deciding which project to work on? As with the last time you were torn between projects, one of them will probably just feel more “right” than the other.
I agree with Brittany’s advice. And once you have a bestseller with another book, your fans will gobble up HURT, even though it might not be as impressive as the book you published first 🙂
Miranda, I’ve decided to keep working on the novella. I’m getting good feedback on it and it’s different in genre and theme from what I wrote before. I’m hoping it can teach me still more about writing a longer work.
I read this on agent Lori Perkins’ blog today:
This is very, very sobering, and convinces me even more that I made the right decision. I really think I need to keep working before I make that first sale!
Christa, I am proud of you for caring enough about the quality of your writing and your future career as a writer to be able to make this difficult choice.
Montgomery offers sound advice, and he’s right. As authors, we will only get one chance at a debut novel. People will remember it and use it as a benchmark, for good or bad.
I have interviewed successful authors who say they had several manuscripts written that didn’t get published, but it helped to make them better writers, and eventually, they were able to create a story that got that great agent and big publisher, and set the ground work for their future acclaim. You can do it too!
Thanks, Lisa. I’ve read blog entries to that effect too. Of course, I didn’t WANT HURT to be a practice novel stuck in a drawer, but that was a matter of my own pride (see my “confession” post). I just wanted to be a prodigy who didn’t have to stick her first novel in a drawer. 😉 But now I see the value of not only finishing a novel, but learning from it as you go. I think that value is vastly underrated in some ways.
Christa–those links were both fascinating reads. To be honest, I really hadn’t considered this issue before. Serious food for thought. Thanks for sharing.
Christa, could you take the plot of the novel you’ve shelved and re-work it to be something you’re more confident about?
Lisa, to be honest, I have no interest in reworking the entire thing. It’s been around, in one incarnation or another, for 15 years! (Yes, since I was a teenager.) And the structure is too rigid. The three storylines run parallel until they converge at the end, and the two “bookend” stories are the least original. The middle one has promise, though, broken apart from the larger story. That’s why I’m thinking to cannibalize that one alone.
I found your blog through a tag. We have the same name! And, we both love writing. What a coincidence!
Well, I just want to wish you all the luck on your writing, and hope to see your work out one day. I also dream of having my own book published.
By the way, I think you shouldn’t give up on your novel! It’s your own sweat and blood. Set is aside for later, but take the time to review and edit some parts here and there. Later, you’ll become more inspired to make it even more creative and original. Don’t give up on it just yet. 🙂
Thanks, Dresdendoll. Cool about our coincidences in common. 🙂 And thanks for the pep talk. I really am done, though. It’s been years (with lots of set-aside time) and I just feel done. I have to go in a new direction or I won’t grow. Hard to explain, it’s just that I cringe and gnash my teeth when I think of revising HURT, vs. the excitement that I feel about revising any other project. Thank you again though, I hope you return!