Best Book Forward?

At the Writer’s Coffeehouse this weekend, another writer asked what they should do when they have four novels, all finished, each in a different genre, that they want to pitch to agents. Should they target each book’s query to a different agent? Should they mention they have other novels when querying one of them?

The answer — which surprised me — was no to both.

Don’t mention the other novels when first querying. Save that for later, if they want to talk more.

And instead of sending out queries based on the book, pick the agents you’d like to represent you, and send them the book you think has the greatest commercial potential.

Agents will want to represent everything you have. But by querying with the book that will likely sell the best, it’ll be easier for them to imagine selling your book to a publisher, which will increase your chances of convincing them to represent you.

So now I’m confronted with the question: have I been editing the wrong book?

A frustrating question to have, when I’m only one editing pass away from being totally done. And I’ve already written the synopsis. And the query letter. And have agents picked out.

But maybe I’d be querying the wrong book? Of the three, I think my most recent one’s the strongest draft. The second one’s the best story, though, and my beta readers’ favorite. The first one is, of course, the only one that’s actually done, in the sense of being a final draft.

So which one do I query with?

My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland

Fantastic. Absolutely nails the smugness and insincerity of the South, along with the surprise of finding help in unexpected places. Protagonist is a perfect mix of insecurity and snark.

Thank the gods it’s a series; can’t wait to read the next one.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • Narrating a character’s internal debate in long-form is fine, so long as it’s in the right place: when the character is away from other people. Don’t do it during dialog.
  • You don’t need dialect to write Southern characters. Getting their facial expressions and hypocrisy right is enough.
  • Finding a real-life struggle that mirrors the fantasy one is a good way to ground it.

The End is Near

Novel edits are coming along faster than I thought. Might actually get them all done by the end of the month 🙂

It’s weird to see the novel being reshaped under my editing scalpel. I can feel the book getting better, little by little: its characters more consistent, the world more fully realized, the pacing tighter.

I’m remembering my plans for a follow-on book, and looking forward to writing it. Can editing a novel make you excited to write the sequel?

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

Masterful. Incredibly well-crafted series of nested narratives that simultaneously did a deep dive into Dracula lore and sucked me into a single family’s generations-long saga. Just…wow. So well done.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • You can use flashbacks to cover over narrative time that would otherwise be boring, like train (or plane) travel
  • To make an old myth feel fresh, look for the side that’s not usually given a starring role (like the Turkish side of the Dracula legend), and explore it.
  • Journals and letters are a great way to both nest stories, and keep each story personal, told by the person that lived it

Emperor of the Eight Islands by Lian Hearn

Beautiful. Simple, tight prose, telling a deeply moving story.

Can’t wait to read the next one.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • What a society condemns is just as important to making it feel lived-in as what it praises.
  • Characters don’t always have to be imposing their will on the world. They can show their inner character by the opportunities they take advantage of, as well.
  • In a world of bad choices and flawed people, heroes can be cruel and cowardly, and villains can show mercy.

Everyone Gets a Pass

My original plan for editing the first novel turned out to be…rather naive.

I thought it would be enough to fix the female protagonist’s plotline, then make a few description tweaks, and be done.

Instead, I’m looking at making a dozen or more editing passes over the novel, each one picking out a thing to fix and make consistent through the book.

I’ve had to change character appearances, character names, city names, backstory, world history…nearly every element needs to be tweaked one way or another to line up better with what I think the novel should be.

So I’m keeping a running list of things to fix as I go, jotting them down as I find them. That way I can focus on just one editing task at a time, getting one thing right all the way through the book before going back to the beginning and starting on the next fix.

My goal was to have these edits done by the end of the month (for a total of three months of editing), so I could spend the next three months editing my second novel. But we’re a third of the way through March, and, well…my list keeps growing.

Still, I’ll push on. I’m finding I still like this novel, still like the characters. I want to do them justice, give them the best book I can. So I’ll keep working through the list, till the list is done.

The Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Eerily prescient. Takes place in a California where water is scarce, most government has been privatized, and the President uses racial politics to push through reforms that weaken protections for workers and the poor.

Felt all too familiar. And she predicted all this over twenty years ago.

I usually don’t like post-apocalyptic books, especially ones that go in for the “slow apocalypse” where everything just collapses over time as people stop taking care of the things that keep civilization going. It’s depressing reading, but Butler’s writing is so compelling, I had to see it through.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • Scarcities in society will be reflected in the social order. If food is scarce, being fat is a sign of wealth. If water is scarce, being clean (taking baths) will be seen luxurious. In both cases, being poor and engaging in “rich” behavior will be seen as uppity.
  • There’s life in the hero’s journey yet, if explored from different angles. Here the young protagonist grows up in a small town, yet feels called to greatness, then compelled to become a leader when driven out of their home.
  • Adopting a diary structure can let you skip past boring parts of the story will zooming in on the important ones. A well-written diary will do that, and still give you a chance to convey the rhythms of life, since it’s the story the person is telling themselves, as they live it.

Editing as Worldbuilding

We’re here! Made it into San Diego last week, despite freezing rain (Flagstaff), gusty winds (most of New Mexico), and fog (Cuyamaca Mountains).

No, we’re not unpacked yet. Yes, I unpacked the books first 🙂

So, back to work. And also back to writing.

I’ve decided to do another editing pass on the first novel. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about writing in just the last few months, and I’d like to apply what I’ve learned to it, see if it makes it better.

I’d also like to go back and fill in a lot of the worldbuilding details I left vague in the first two drafts. Flesh out character backgrounds, city histories, etc. I don’t want to add a huge info-dump to the book, but I do want to make sure everything holds together better, the various pieces of book matching up to make a more powerful whole.

And after thinking through the plot more, I’m really not satisfied with the way I’ve handled the female protagonist. That’s part of why I need to flesh out the character backgrounds, specifically hers. I realized her character arc is muted, a victim of me being unsure who I wanted to be the protagonist in the first draft.

She deserves better, so I’m going to pull out her conflicts and struggles into its own storyline, an independent path to follow while she also contributes to the central plot. I think it’ll make the book stronger, and the ending more compelling.

Some of these changes will be dialog or description tweaks. Some of this will probably end up being major surgery. But I’ve got to try.

Wish me luck.

Outline as Compass

Novel’s at 39,412 words.

Decided to brainstorm my way out of being lost. I took the climax I’m working toward, and mapped out short, medium, and long ways to get there.

They all had scenes in common, but only the long path gave me the chance to wrap up all of the plotlines I’ve got going.

So I’m taking the long path.

It’s still likely to end up a short novel. I’m definitely in the final third of the book, so I know I need to pile on the pressure to build things toward my climax.

With luck (and a lot of work), I’ll be finished somewhere around the first of the year.

Then I can turn back to editing my second novel, and maybe doing another pass on my first novel, and another edit on this short story I wrote in September…

*sighs* Maybe best to ignore that for now. One story at a time.

Where Am I?

Novel’s at 33,986 words.

I’m at a point where I’m not sure how much story is left to tell.

I could be two-thirds of the way through, and so on my way to the end. If so, I should be quickening the pace in each scene, pushing the narrative forward faster and faster to reach the climax.

Or I could just be halfway through. In which case, I should be steadily building toward the next major turning point in the story, pacing things so that the reader’s not exhausted by the end of the book.

I feel like this is something I should know.

I’ve got the rest of the book outlined (even if it’s in my head). I know the scene for the story’s climax. I know the characters that are there, and what happens afterward. But damned if I don’t know how they got there, or how much time there is between the scene I’m currently writing and the last one.

It mystifies me that the only way to find out is for me to write it. As if I weren’t writing a story, but reporting on events. And until those events happen, I’ve got nothing to report.