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.

 

 

 

 

Taking the first step

Need to write a scene filled with heart-clenching fear? Want to feel that shivery sweat and shaking breath?

No problem!

Here’s what you do- think about taking the first step.

And what is the first step? Well obviously writing the…precious creation? Sum of all imaginative works? Epitome of literary wonders? Doesn’t ‘book’ sound a little too drab now? People are writing books left right and centre. Once you peek into the circle they all float about in the word ‘book’ suddenly seems a little less grandiose.

Nonsense. You wrote, or are writing, a book.

This is big. Even if it’s big for a scary number of other people too.

Back to coming at my point from the side…

Living vicariously through our writing is either totally sad or totally awesome. Sad because, come on, get a real life. Awesome because your own scene has you in a twist.

Could it have someone else in a twist too?

(See how I crept up on that?)

But that’s how it happens. That outside-of-your-personal-writing-bubble thought sneaks in. And you think, you wonder, you almost sort of hope- is it just me? Am I the only one who likes this? Could mammy dearest like it? What about harsh best friend? What about the world?

The first step, the first toe-dip, into the world of publishing is letting someone read your work.

Your heart’s beating a little faster, isn’t it?

When it’s just you, there’s no censor. Sure you already know you’re half cracked. You know you have convoluted corridors leading to dark corners. You know you can be diehardedly romantic, deliciously sinister and unashamedly steamy. You’re not judging you.

But having the inner workings of your mind exposed? Gah.

The thing is, a book containing only what the author feels safe having the world read is going to be one hell of a bore. It would be nice and polite.

It would be-

‘How are you?’

‘I’m fine!’

Instead of-

‘How are you?’

‘I’ve just been reliving last night in my head, so I’m a bit turned on right now.’

That brings me to my first point- if you’re embarrassed about the content, it’s probably a good thing.

(If you’re dim-witted enough to scrawl truly embarrassing stuff, then you’re too dim-witted to know about it.)

The next thing is the writing.

Chances are you know your book is not ready.  It’s not done or finished or any other absolute that I don’t think can ever truly be applied to a book.

You hope that the reader will see past the not quite there yet straight to the masterpiece beneath. You’re afraid they won’t.

So, how do you press send?

Somehow you’ve moved from ‘would someone else like this?’ to ‘will you give this a read for me?’

You’re freaking out now. How do you prepare? You want a perfection brush that you can varnish every sentence with. Because as you panic, even though you were good enough to write the book, you sudden think that you just don’t cut it. You think you can’t make it good enough.

What do you do?

Read it. Read it out loud. Read it for things that don’t sound right. Read it to make sure that what you think you wrote is the same as what you actually did write. Read it for heart-gripping blunders. Read it for yourself, because you might be afraid to look at it for a while once it goes out.

And then shut your eyes.

You won’t have caught everything. It doesn’t matter. So you sometimes screw up and say’ threw’ instead of ‘through’. I’ve said ‘right’ instead of ‘write’ twice in this blog already. Whoever you’ve asked to read your work, be it someone you know or an online community, will not judge you on the odd slip. If you can’t write worth a damn it will be clear in every sentence. One wrong word won’t sway the verdict. But if you can write, if you really do know that ‘your’ is not ‘you are’, it will show. It will show in the work as a whole. A handful of mistakes will not throw your skill as a writer into doubt. If the person who is going to read your work is a writer too then they know how often those mistakes happen. And they’ll know how easily they hide from your searching eyes. They screw up too.

Now this is something I really want to stress.

Making excuses for your work. Lying. Just don’t, ok?

Like ‘it’s just the first draft’ (ahem, been over it six times.) Or ‘rough draft, just want to know if it’s worth the bother’ (it’s my beating heart; I’ve poured over it for days.)

Don’t.

Don’t say that you didn’t read over what you’ve sent them to read over. Don’t say it’s unedited. Don’t say it’s fresh from your fingers or hot off the printing press. (Unless of course it’s being sent to a friend and is the absolute truth).

You’re expecting them to read it and give you feedback. Don’t let them think you didn’t bother spending time on it.

Be brave. Be honest.

Don’t give excuses alongside your work.

What you should give alongside your work is anything you want them to look out for. Guide their feedback.

Feedback? How exciting! Or terrifying. Or both. That’s the next step- dealing with feedback. So if you have a suspense scene to write, save it for just before you open their reply!

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