Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Writing vs. publication




On a message board where I post, someone said their writing group suggested that they write the first three chapters of a book and submit that to agents (along with a synopsis). This would save them the trouble of writing the entire book and then not being able to find representation.

This would work for nonfiction, which is typically queried with proposals, or for established novelists. For aspiring fiction writers, it’s not good advice. It implies that the priority is representation and publication, and writing is just the means to the end to get there. And even then, the means is short-changed by not being completed. If I’ve written three chapters of a good book, I would have to finish it; the fun would be in telling the story, watching events unfold and things get blowed up real good at the end. I can’t control whether or not an editor accepts the book, but I can control just how good I make my writing, so I can’t imagine truncating the latter stage in favor of hurrying on to the former. Someone who thinks of writing a book as trouble or labor - unpleasant but sadly necessary for publication – may be in the wrong line of work.

Not everything written may be saleable, but that’s par for the course. I’ll bet that Michelle Kwan didn’t get a medal each time she stepped on the rink in front of an audience. But if she had decided to save herself the trouble of skating a program and then not being able to stand on the podium, she would never have ended up there at all. Even an unsaleable book is a learning experience, and it can be revised if the writer knows what didn’t work about it – though it can’t be rewritten if it was never written in the first place.

Another danger of following the writing group’s advice would be that an agent might like the partial and request the full manuscript. The writer would have to buckle down then, completing and editing the book as fast as possible, and the agent may not be willing to wait three or six months or however long it takes. Some writers believe that an agent’s request will give them the incentive to finish the book, but personally, I write because I enjoy writing, not because I have a full request breathing down my neck. This thread is a great example of a worst case scenario – the writer sent out a manuscript which "wasn't polished or at least even a solid first draft" (his words). The agent asked for the full, and when that didn’t arrive, called to follow up. Panicked by the pressure, the writer avoided the calls and didn’t return them.

Keeping publication a priority is an excellent thing. I just don't believe it should be a writer's first priority - such that writing itself takes second place (at best).

6 comments:

Angela said...

GREAT POST!

On a message board where I post, someone said their writing group suggested that they write the first three chapters of a book and submit that to agents (along with a synopsis). This would save them the trouble of writing the entire book and then not being able to find representation.


This drives me crazy when people give off hand advice when they haven't researched it first.

Rant

NEVER query an agent or editor on an unfinished product unless it's NF. I know that the temptation is there to query before ready, just because often Eds and Agents can take so long to get back to us. But I also know some who get back within minutes of the query. Then what? You're stuck between rushing to get the story out that won't be your best work, or burning a bridge and admitting the novel isn't quite ready and asking for more time.

The saying, 'You never get a second change to make a first impression' is especially true in the publishing world. Only send out your best work, no matter how long it takes to complete. Once you get a No, you'll have to move on with the novel. Why waste an opportunity?

/rant

kiwi said...

... absolutely agree.

Imagine the horror of having a contract on a trilogy which you're struggling to write! Writings a challenging profession even when you enjoy it. It's pure torture when things aren't going well.Word to the wise; don't bother picking up a pen or turning on your computer unless you love writing. It's just not worth the trouble and pain.

Marian said...

I know that the temptation is there to query before ready, just because often Eds and Agents can take so long to get back to us.

angela - good point. Some people might justify premature querying this way. But agents or editors would probably reply that the time they take to get back to you is time well spent in writing the next book - which would be another selling point in your favor.

In any case, people who are impatient with the early stages will probably be climbing up the walls when the agent asks for revisions, when the manuscript goes out on submission, when the agent has to prod the editors, when the editors ask for revisions, when the agent reads the revisions and gives you feedback, etc.

And that's all before the book is even accepted! Truly, this is a labor of love. :)

Marian said...

Word to the wise; don't bother picking up a pen or turning on your computer unless you love writing. It's just not worth the trouble and pain.

Unfortunately there are a plethora of vanity presses or clueless wannabe publishers which are happy to give people the mantle of Published Author without much effort on anyone's part. So the connection between a love of writing + hard work + perseverance and publication is kind of blurred for many people these days.

kiwi said...

Unfortunately there are a plethora of vanity presses or clueless wannabe publishers which are happy to give people the mantle of Published Author without much effort on anyone's part.

What? I so disagree. There's often huge effort expended, problem is, it's often a case of well intended wannabes (authors and pub,ishers alike) chopping down trees in the wrong forest.

I also think the mantle of published author, while technically correct for all folks who don't pay to have their work in print, is a little redundant when you might, if you're luck, sell a hundred books. Hardly an bludgeoning readership :). Not even a publishing credit. In fact more likely a stigma.

Marian said...

You're right about the effort. I was being cynical. I started compiling a list of all the vanity press, scam, just plain bad idea or out-of-business publishers mentioned on the Beware forum at AW, and got over thirty names from the first ten pages alone. It seems pretty easy to start up a company and call oneself a publisher, but as you said, a lot of them probably do have good intentions and give it the conscious best they can before being defeated by the odds - lack of distribution, competition and so on.