The Dangers of thinking about Publishing too soon

I watched the last episode of season five of Supernatural last night. (Again!) A character called Chuck, who is a prophet and writes what he sees, that being the adventures of Dean and Sam, talks about endings. He says-

‘Endings are hard. Any chapped-ass monkey with a keyboard can poop out a beginning, but endings are impossible.’

Ending my first book was easy. I don’t know what a ‘chapped-ass’ monkey is, but, whatever it is, I must be a lesser creature. I can’t poop out a beginning that I’m fully happy with. Even marginally happy with.

But endings? I find endings easy. In fact, the last page of my first book has never and will never be edited. It doesn’t need to be. It arrived on the page in a ray of perfection. For those of you who know I’m writing a series, two of them actually, you might be thinking ‘yeah, but that’s not really the end, is it?’

No, it’s not. But I have written the end of the entire series too.

See? I’m good with endings.

So when I reached the end of my first book, and a full stop was sitting at the end of that perfect ending, well, naturally I was feeling pretty damn epic. I’m going to go ahead and say godly. Or goddessly…

Of course, it’s really thousands of words before the end that thoughts of what’s next creep in. When you can see the end in the distance, who can help look beyond? And who knows, when it’s their first book, that they shouldn’t peak past the finish line?

Writing is a rainbow, and publishing is the pot of gold that might be at the end. The problem is that pot is back on the ground. The rainbow is up in the air, away from the world. It’s colourful and beautiful and truly miraculous. It’s basked in sunlight and bordered by rainclouds at the same time. But once you look at that pot, you begin to descend. You leave that writing heaven. You’re on the downward slope, and the world pours back in.

But a rainbow is a curve, isn’t it? So you start at the bottom and scene after scene carries you up and over. Surely the last chapters are on the downward slope, and the end is at the end?

The end is not the end.

You think you’re finished your book? Think again. There are several hundred types of ‘finished’ in writing. First draft, rewrite, edit number one, edit number two…

Writing the book, beginning to end, is the easy part. Finishing it is easy. Especially when perfect endings line the page. But having it be finished?

Finished, as in nothing else to do?

Finished, as in ‘here you go, Mr. Agent, three chapters, and the rest is waiting.’

Finished, as in a request for the full manuscript is like waiting for the results of an exam you know you aced.

Finished, as in you think about your book and your mind sighs with happy, proud, relief.

Would knowing just how hard it is to get published help you get there? Would knowing the statistics, the facts, the hard truths, really propel you towards that ultimate finishing line? Would knowing what is and is not wanted, what’s hot in the market, what’s commercial, be of any benefit at all?

Would knowing just how amazing your book has to be help you reach your potential?

I don’t think so.

Lines that were once so clear get twisted. Suddenly you’re half trying to mould your book to what the market wants. Even though, really, who knows what the market is going to want in the future? Is the market predictable? I mean, who saw Harry Potter and Twilight coming? Wizards and vampires? Really?

By the time you’d be ready to hop on the ‘what’s hot’ train, it would have passed. And you’d be left, standing alone in a wasteland, clutching your out-of-date ticket. Or not alone. Surrounded in isolation by the thousands who missed it too.

For me, my stories were set. I snubbed all manner of trains. But what happened to me, when I thought about publishing too soon, is the words dried up. You learn rules you didn’t want to know. Like adjectives are the devil, description is death and ‘telling’ is torture. Between the odds and the rules there’s no room left for writing.

And here’s the kicker.

You weren’t finished writing. You really weren’t. There was so much more to do. Parts to flesh out, sections to cut, scenes to write in. There were knots to untangle, holes to fill, new depths to be dug. So right after the first writing of your book is a terrible time to lose the ability, or dare I say the will, to write.

There is a time to explore the publishing world. Time to eye-up that pot of gold, throw it wink and eyebrow waggle. That time is after your first full edit. After the rewrite, if you need one. After you’ve made your book everything you wanted it to be.

 

 

 

 

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The Hunt.

Over a year ago, I was halfway through my first novel.

I was writing in a bubble; just me and my story. The larger world ceased to exist. It had no bearing on the words pouring out.

Long before I consciously acknowledged and accepted it, I knew I was writing a series. At the time I thought it would be a trilogy, but that’s really up to Ara. As I sailed past the 20k and 30k word landmarks, and read back over my chapters, I realised that I would love for other people to read the story.

Read it and love it, ideally.

I’ve never seen an empty shelf in a bookshop, unless it was waiting to house the books in the box at its feet.

A world of books was out there; some with fantastic writing, others with such captivating stories that the standard of writing holds little importance. I thought my novel could have a place among the many and varied published works. This was the foundation which lay beneath my first thought of publishing.

How hard could it be?

So I did a little research.

Bafflement struck. Where were all the Irish Publishers?

I thought Ireland was a rather literary place. In fairness, there are around fifty publishers in Ireland. Most publish non-fiction, religious or educational books. Those who take fiction had a list of genres they publish.

Want to know how many listed science fiction and fantasy?

None.

Penguin and Poolbeg press were the only ones I could consider submitting to. Whatever about Penguin, Poolbeg would definitely not want my book.

My merry cyber-adventure continued.

I broadened my horizons. Well, I looked to the UK. I found a whole host of publishers to sink my teeth into.

As I sifted through the throngs, I learned that most publishing houses would not look at my ‘unsolicited manuscript’. I couldn’t send them my work. Undeterred, I proceed to learn that they accept manuscripts from ‘literary agents’ instead.

So I had to get an agent, and then they would get the publishing deal.

I exhaled a sigh of contentment. Negotiating a publishing deal ought to be left to an expert.

I am not an expert.

I decided to broaden my horizons again and invested in the Writer’s Handbook 2011. The proof that I was not entirely mistaken and Ireland did in fact have hordes of publishers was in the pages. Ireland had six pages, the UK had eighty-eight. But I was searching for an agent then, not publishers. The UK had thirty two pages, Ireland had one and a bit.

Oh my.

Anyway, I began looking for a literary agent who would take my genre.

 If I had a bestseller for every time I read ‘no sci-fi or fantasy’…   

As I worked though the thirty-two pages and searched on the internet, I discovered that not all agents were in the handbook.

(It’s called a handbook, but I could knock someone out with it.  And I could not carry it with one hand if my future in publishing depended on it.)

Moreover, the agent who deals exclusively with sci-fi and fantasy was not listed. Others who were open to the genre were not included either.

I reverted to purely searching online and slowly comprised a short list of agents who deal with sci-fi and fantasy.I was sure there were more, but my editing stint was over and I was back to pure writing. Research went hand in hand with *not* editing.

I didn’t resume my search with strong intent until this week.

If you type ‘literary agents taking science-fiction and fantasy’ in google, most results read no science fiction or fantasy.’

My sigh of contentment had long passed. It was replaced by hyperventilation. A friend found a list of all UK agents who deal with my genre.

It’s a list of thirteen.

Some aren’t taking submissions right now, and seem to do so sporadically. My little list created months ago was in fact exhaustive.

The odds of one out of a handful of agents loving my book, believing in its marketability, trusting me as an author, and being in a position to take on a new client are…slim.

I’d say it’s a very good thing I’m not writing to just get published.

The start

I finished my first book at the beginning. It’s the first of a science fiction series. The ending came to me easily. I could feel that it was the end as I wrote it, and it felt wonderful.

How naive I was; I thought I was finished!

I wasn’t.

I’m now doubting it’s possible to finish a book; finish in an ‘I’m entirely satisfied with this’ type of way.

I realise that I’m contradicting my opening line, but it feels true nonetheless. Today I finished. My opening chapter, rewritten countless times, was written for the last time today…I hope. I have that feeling of pure excitement, but I’ve been wrong before.

And now, reading it, it really doesn’t matter whether or not literary agents fall in love with my first line. I love it. It is the opening chapter I wanted to write. I know my main character approves. So why would it matter what someone else thinks?

I guess it comes down to why I write.

I write for my story. I write for the characters living in my mind. I write because, if i didn’t, the words whirling about in my mind would clog it up completely.

While publishing seems like the logical next step to finishing a book, I don’t think it should ever be the sole point.Writing to get published is not writing; it’s an enterprise. I imagine it feels like work, like a chore.

I hate chores.

And it must be stifling. All that worrying about how agents, editors, and readers will respond must really throw a rod into the creative cogs. Or maybe freeze them entirely. Liquid nitrogen poured over that creative process anyone?

Getting back to my point, I write for me.

I will be supremely happy when I have completed my series; when I have told the story that I, who loves reading, would love to read. Once I achieve that I will print out each book, design a cover, and they will exist in my bedroom if nowhere else.

That sounds so sad!

But I would take it over altering the story for the sake of marketability. I would change how some parts are told, of course. I would work with an editor. But change the actual story?Nuh uh.

The story simply is. It doesn’t change.

With that mentality, the search for an agent or publisher becomes a calm affair. Rejections mean that one person didn’t love it. But I do, and that is what will keep me safe.

And while I would be happy with the books existing in my room, I would love for millions of people to read and love them. And for that, I need to enter the alarmingly-slim-chance-of-success world of publishing.

Now that I have finished the beginning, I’m ready to step into that world.

“Better to write for yourself and have no public than to write for the public and have no self.”Writer Cyril Connolly.