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?

Persona by Genevieve Valentine

Disappointing.

Starts out well, action pumping and character backstories fleshed out just enough to make you care, but not enough to stop the flow of the story.

But the world around them never congeals for me, and the atmosphere of threat and double-cross the story needs can’t happen without it.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • Switching perspective characters early on is a great opportunity to give more context to what’s happening, since it’s another angle on the world
  • In a modern setting, you really can cut descriptions down to the bone, to put the focus on dialog and action
  • Can do character backstory in a single chapter, covering years of someone’s life, with breaks in-between

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

Cranking Through

Managed to whittle the list of editing passes from twelve to twenty and now back to thirteen.

Which means I didn’t finish them by the end of March, like I wanted.

I *did* finish the biggest of the changes, though: giving each chapter to either the male or the female protagonist, swapping evenly between the two, and filling out her narrative arc so that her storyline has equal weight.

The changes I have left are much smaller: revising character appearances, adding touches to scene descriptions, and making sure everything is consistent.

Still, I’m setting weekly goals, aiming for three editing passes done each week. At that rate, I’ll be finished with the edits in early May :/

Much later than I’d like, but I tell myself that’s better than not doing them, or worse yet, continuing to tweak and edit for a year or more.

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.

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.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Easily worthy of the awards it won. Fantastic ideas, presented through conflicts with interesting characters, and writing that describes just enough and no more.

And I almost stopped halfway through.

There’s a point where the protagonist does something so amazingly dumb, that I wanted to put the book down in frustration. But I kept going, and I’m glad I did. Because it only got better from there.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • Beware delaying explanations for too long. A character that says “I don’t know why I did X” too often, before their inability to explain is outlined to the reader, can lead to frustration.
  • Don’t have to wait for the character to say “and then I told them my story” to tell that story to the reader. Can layer it in, piece by piece, via flashback chapters.
  • Small touches, like bare hands being considered vulgar, when followed-through, can do a lot of work to make a culture feel real.

Idle Hands

No writing this week. The novel’s done (for now), so I’ve been focused on the upcoming move, getting everything boxed and labeled and loaded. 

It’s like having our lives flash frozen, to be thawed on arrival in California.

Not having a writing project to work on is, as ever, weird. It’s as if school exams have been canceled, but just for me: I feel like I should be studying, but I’m not. Because I don’t have to.

Not that my brain has noticed. Woke up in the middle of the night with an idea for another story. I think it’s a flash fiction piece, but there might be more there. Have to write it and find out.

It’ll have to wait its turn, though. Behind the move, and the novel edits, and the short story edits, and querying agents, and the…ye gods, I’ve got a lot of work to do.

Excuse me, I need to go write.

Done!

Novel’s complete at 50,122 words!

At least, I think it’s complete. Last time I thought it was done, there turned out to be another 45,000 words of story to tell in there.

The cut-off point this time felt more natural, but could seem just as arbitrary to a reader.

Only way to find out for sure is to hand it off to those brave friends willing to read and offer feedback on something so rough and ragged (bless you all).

Till then, it’s back to editing my other projects. I’ve had some ideas for how to trim my first novel into a better shape. *cracks knuckles*

Hope you have a Happy New Year! May your words sparkle, your stories captivate, and your edits be painless 🙂