Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Why I shelved a novel

I wrote a story about a girl who’s half dragon and her best friend is half troll. They get into some shenanigans and run across the Southwestern US chasing down some would be kidnappers. Every scrap of feedback I’ve gotten on this project has been positive. I’ve entered it in contests, gotten feedback, all manner of things. Everyone, by all reports, loves it and would “totally read the rest of that book.”

Except agents.

Every bit of feedback I’ve gotten from agents is that paranormal is pretty much done. In fact, I’m seeing more and more that they want to see anything but paranormal.

So what does a girl do with a ho-hum professional result? Well, I don’t know what the smart people do, but I sat back and took stock of what was going on. I liked that MS. I’ve edited the capunkas out of it, but it still has issues. Weeks ago I decided that I probably ought to set it aside. The more time I spend away from it I realize that it wasn’t a very good lead off project anyway.

It’s not that it was such been there done that project, but I have to sort of realize what that novel really was: practice. Yeah, it looks like I wrote a practice novel. It’s not like I tried really hard to reach out for new concepts, or new views on anything, and in YA right now, it’s pretty tough.

I’m getting used to my voice, and part of that is figuring out how to make it work for other people. Which really means I need to spend more time writing before I can think about publishing. It’s a strange place to be able to sit back and think, Yeah, my voice could really use another novel or two to develop before I try to publish. That runs so contrary to my little voice of grandeur—you know, the one screaming that I should finish my WIP and query it ASAP because it’s awesome sauce on toast—but I know that voice is a liar.

And then there’s the other side of things. Yes, I loved that ms, but it had some big issues (namely with voice) that would basically require rewriting much of it. While it would be good practice, if I spent all that time rewriting a book that is unmarketable, I would be pretty pissed to have a fantastic, unsellable project.

The second aspect of leaving an MS behind.

I loved that book, but honestly, I didn’t. I know, that sounds like a load of swamp gas reflecting off of the clouds of Venus, but it’s true. I enjoyed the story. It was fluffy. It was fun. There was even a moment of truth in it, but it was really teenage girls go on road trip and save their friends from trouble. It was a, well, I guess you could call it a ‘small’ story. Cute, sweet, but it wasn’t the kind of story I want to tell. From a purely professional stand point, how could I put myself behind a story that wouldn’t be anything like my next? And by nothing like, I mean the only thing it would share with my next set of projects would be that it was told in first person.

I really couldn’t query a project that is somewhere at three sigma for me. I wrote that story to be more like what I’m reading in YA, and that was fun and all, it just wasn’t me. And how could I try to start a career with something that wasn’t even my best, most representative of me? It’s stupid, but as I sent out my query letter, I had this nagging little voice ‘What if they like it and they want you to write a sequel? What if they want you to write the next ten books in that world?’

That thought made me want to puke. The MS was fun, but there wasn’t enough substance to that world to make me happy. It needed more. More what, I’m not sure, but more. Lots more.

In short, the process is really too long to write for anyone else, so you have to write for yourself. And that’s why I couldn’t bear the thought of trying to run the query gauntlet with the “I just didn’t love it,” rejections. How could I blame an agent for having the same feelings I have about the manuscript? What if I found the agent who absolutely loved it? Yikes! How could we be a good match if they loved something I was almost ready to park on the curb, call it a practice jalopy and move on? So I barely queried it, but I am moving on.

And the annoying thing is that it really does come down to voice. Agents always harp on it “I want voice” they say, but what does it mean, writers ask. Well, now I know. More and more I understand voice, and specifically my voice, but it’s tricky. I thought I’d nailed my voice in my practice jalopy. But no, not really, it’s already evolving in my WIP. I’m 35,000 words in, and I already have to go back and rewrite the first five chapters to match up my voice (which is fine because I just flew out the gates on that novel, and it needs more structure and support up front). And my voice is still evolving (a lot and rapidly). I’m starting to worry that I’ll need another ten novels just to nail it down (just shoot me now). But if that’s the case, I can always go back and rewrite my earlier ideas.

So, I’ve moved on. I’ll update my projects page. And who knows, maybe someday, I’ll know what my half-dragon needed to really come to life. In the mean time, it’s middle aged super hero takes on cosmic star eating badass. Check out the prologue and let me know if you hate it or love it (or if you hate or love prologues in general).


  1. In the end, it seems like this was great practice for you, but you're right to shelve it.

  2. It takes wisdom to do this. It sounds like you've learned plenty from this book, all of which will make the next one awesome :-)

  3. Man, shelving a novel is one of the hardest things to do, but once you've made that decision it feels like a weight is off your shoulder.

    I wholeheartedly believe that writing novels and then realizing they aren't good enough is a crucial part of the writing process. It's not a waste of time--no writing is--but the act of planning, writing, and revising a novel, even if it's not "there yet" will still put you closer to publication.

    And as you said, I find myself returning to bits and ideas from trunk novels, with a better idea how to handle the book.

  4. Jenna: Yes! it was such great practice, almost liberating to realize I could do what I tried with it.

    Sarah: Thanks, I don't know how much wisdom is there, but yes, that MS taught me a lot.

    Elizabeth: It is such a relief to have the novel safely put away. It's like I'm now really free to pursue my SNI.

  5. It is hard to realize that something isn't "the one' but it sounds like you handled it pretty well. The Prologue sounds SO fun. Glad you found something you are enjoying.


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