Thursday, December 15, 2011

Shelving Beloveds

When I decided to be a writer, I wrote a few novels. Books that taught me about plot and pacing and character development that were never meant to be read outside a very specific audience of people I knew and loved. After I reached a certain level, I dove into the deep end of the writing world and began to write the first novel I had ever written with the goal of publication. I fell completely in love with the characters. I loved the setting. It had a magic system that was different and so very much fun. The book was awesome and I was completely and totally invested in it.

After writing The End, I took a step back and looked at it. Since I had immersed myself so fully in learning about the craft during the ten months it took to draft it, I knew that the end was written much more skillfully than the beginning. Revising was going to be a huge job. I also knew I had reached a skill level where I could do it.

So as I looked at this completed draft I loved on my left, and the promise of a new story in a blank document on my right, I asked myself what might be one of the most important questions to ask yourself.

If I queried this book and all my publication dreams
came true, is this the book I want to lead with?

As you sell books, you build an audience. That audience will keep coming back to you for largely the same type of book. Think of some of your favorite authors— the ones you keep going back to. If they suddenly wrote a vastly different book and you got it because you loved the author, you’d likely think, “What the heck kind of book is this?! This is NOT what I signed up for!” More or less, right? There are authors that have genre-jumped and done it well, but they also have to do a huge amount of new audience building along with it. So you’ve got to think, is this the genre I want to write in for a while? Is THIS the book that I want to have as the first book to represent me as an author?

For that book that I loved, the answer was no. It wasn’t right.

I don’t write fast. So I knew that the decision meant a time sacrifice as well. That my dream of publication would probably be pushed back by my decision. (At the same time, though, I knew that going through the massive job of polishing a book to perfection that might not sell would also slow my journey.)

But I bit back a tear, gave it a hug, thanked this book I loved more than cheesecake and summer sunshine for being the embodiment of what it took to get me where I was, and gently placed it on the shelf. It still sits there now, selflessly sacrificing for the greater good its chance to not only live dust-free, but to be read by more than four people.

Yes, it stung to shelf a book I was in love with. But do you know what? That book is fine. I’m fine. And I fell even more in love with my next book.

And there’s really nothing quite like a blank document and the promise of a new book that you just know is going to rock.

How about you? Have you ever shelved a book? Tried to shelf one and couldn’t part with it? Not to the point where you’ve had to make that decision yet? I want to know!


Kelly Polark said...

That is a brave choice!!!
I've never shelved my book, but I have revised and revised and revised!!

Sarah Pearson said...

I have four books, each in a different genre. I worry about this very thing. I still don't know what my genre is :-)

Shell Flower said...

I have shelved two books now, my first being over 140,000 words when I wrote "The End". I loved them both for a time, but alas, I couldn't bear the re-writes needed to make them great. Hopefully, the third book is the charm.

JeffO said...

When I 'finished' last year's NaNo, I had the inspiration for something else, and knew the NaNo wasn't good enough. I've revised that viewpoint a bit, and can see that, with a lot of work, that story could be something good. The book I've spent the last year writing, I like. A lot. And I think it could be published (with more work, of course). raise a really good point, something I hadn't really considered, with the question: "Is this the book I want to lead with?" Because you're absolutely right, people will expect something similar next time out, and I may not be able to deliver that. I have more stories to tell, but they're not the same.


Cristina said...

that's a really good point. There are some authors that I love, and were they to genre hop, I would hop along with them, because they are master storytellers. And I'd read whatever they write.

I completely understand though that readers have expectations and they might be pissed if you out of nowhere change on them.

I'm working on my first novel and I'm pretty sure that once I finish it, I will do a couple rounds of revisions, and then shelve it.

As much as I LOVE my story, I still have so much to learn. And when I publish that first book, I don't want people to say, eh, that was okay and not care of I ever publish another book. I want readers to say HOLY CRAP! that was amazing.. I can't wait to read more from her.

is that too much to ask?? one can dream, right? :)

Leigh Ann said...

I literally just shelved my first one. Like, two days ago. It hurts - kind of a lot - but I was prepared to do it. And I guess it hurts less than continuing to query it ad nauseum (it's been out for five months now) and getting even more rejections.

In a way, it's kind of nice. The book will always be my cheesecake and sunshine, and I'll always love those characters and that story in a very unique way.

THANK GOD I started a new WiP the same week I stared querying this one. Now the WiP is juuuust about ready to send to my CPs. So it's pretty much the only thing keeping me out of sackcloth and ashes at this point.

(Oh! And I love the WiP just as much...just in a very different way.)

Amanda Olivieri said...

You bring up great points! I've never shelved a book, exactly, but I do have a finished draft that I've set aside for an unknown amount of time while I write the book I believe should be my first published work. I still love the book I've set aside, but it needs endless work that I'm just not ready to give to it. Maybe I'm in denial, but I don't consider myself completely "done" with it. I really do want to finish it eventually. :)

Angela Cothran said...

Sometimes it makes me sad that readers expect the same kind of book over and over from authors. I get it, I really do, but as an author who likes to write different kinds of books, I need to come to terms with this. *sigh*

prerna pickett said...

I wrote about this very thing on my blog last week! And yes, I have one that is sitting in my dusty desktop, that I don't think I'll ever be able to completely put away.

Kristine said...

That must have been hard. I think it's a very courageous thing too do!

I still want to read that first one!

Leigh Covington said...

Oh man. This makes me want to cry. But at the same time, you make a great point. You are so smart when it comes to all of this stuff and I love that you share this insight with us. Thank you :)

Melanie Fowler said...

I guess technically I have, when I was in high school.

But I have been working on the same book since 2007, and I have put away 2 full manuscripts and at least 10 that were half way through. It's hard to do, but it's for the better.

FOr you though, one day you can come back to them, pull them out and recreate the magic.

Chantele Sedgwick said...

I've put four books aside and each one was very hard. I think I'll go back to two of them, but the other two, probably not. Each of those books hold a piece of me though, so I'll never delete them or throw them away. :)

Anonymous said...

Considering my two current projects, I'm totally fine staying in post-apocalyptia.

Jenny S. Morris said...

You make a great point with looking at your book as how people will see you. The first book I wrote is truthfully not the way I would want to start out (maybe later on) but the one I'm working on now is defiantly how I'd want to start. I did put the 1st one on the shelf and have recently revisited it, only to have parked it again. I'm not sure if that one will ever be read by more than just a few people.

Donna K. Weaver said...

That does worry me a bit at times because I've got books three different genres.

"is this the book I want to lead with?"

Great question to ask.

David P. King said...

Yep. I have five on the shelf. It would be great to visit them again, but I had to move on and try new things. It's been helpful so far. Excellent thoughts, Peggy! :)

Mara Rae said...

My first two novels are permanently shelved (even though I believe in the ideas behind them, they need way more work than I'm willing to give them). The second two I still believe in. I think maybe it just wasn't their time yet. But my fifth book is definitely the one I'd want to start my career. I couldn't have known that for sure if I hadn't written those other novels, but now I ask myself all the time - why didn't I try YA in the first place?! It just feels like the right fit. :)

Nancy Thompson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nancy Thompson said...

You're very brave and obviously much stronger than I am. I simply cannot give up on my book. At least, not yet. I've read 10 books on craft this year and I know I have a good story well written. So I just can't shelve it yet. That's not to say I won't move on to something else, but I'll keep querying and muscling through the rejections. I may be in denial, but I don't think so. I know I have a good thing.

Jessie Humphries said...

Oh heck yes I've shelved! But not like you, where its actually shelved--like literally printed out, and put on a shelf! So funny. In retrospect I am so happy I did that because that was not the genre I want to be in anymore.

Leigh Ann said...

Well, dress me up and call me Virginia Woolf. Just pulled that sucker down off the shelf for just one more full req today.

Huh. Maybe I need to comment here about sad writing-life things more often.

Imogen said...

I put away my first novel, which I loved because it just wasn't the right one. To tell the truth, it was the hardest thing I've had to do writing-wise.

Carrie Butler said...

You betcha.

I wrote three, novel-length pieces for fun (and practice), before I got serious. I didn't pin my hopes and dreams on any of them, so it wasn't that hard to move on. I just miss the freedom. ;)

Iain said...

All of my MS's have been written with the idea of being published. I think that I would be happy for all of them to be the start of my published career, as I had at least three follow books planned. Sadly, for the first three, my writing ability let me down considerably.
On the sybject of changing genres, I remember when Douglas Adams wrote the Dirk Gently book. I rushed out and bought it, only to find that it was a very different path than the previous Hitch Hikers books. It took me well over a decade to appreciate it for the clever piece of work that it was.

LisaAnn said...

Amazing post. I'm playing with the idea of shelving a book I'm absolutely in love with right now, and your post has made me feel a bit more confident about this decision. Thank you for sharing this.

Bea Sempere (Denise Baer) said...

Great post, Peggy.

I shelved my first novel because my writing was poor. It was a romance.

The book I'll be publishing soon is a dark, psychological suspense. I don't know where the story came from but I love it and I don't want to worry whether it's what I want to start with or not. I'm not sure I'll continue writing in this genre. I actually thought about my next book being humor.

I guess it sounds like I'm writing for myself and not for my audience. YIKES! Oh well..

Have a nice evening.

Kristen Pelfrey said...

I think this is a great question. I need to think about it. I think you showed a great deal of forbearance!

Hannah Hounshell said...

Does shelving the manuscript I wrote when I was twelve count? I used a lot of it for "New Beginnings", so I'm not sure if it should count. :)

If it doesn't, then I'm not at that point yet. Maybe in a few years when my trilogy is done. :D

Kelley said...

This is probably the post i needed most right now. I have a manuscript that I love. It actually got bid on over at the Baker's Dozen Agent Auction at Miss Snark's. But my Nano project? Wow. THAT is what I'm supposed to write.

So...I think I'm going to have to shelve the one that is showing great promise. Because, you're right. What do I want to lead with?

Stacy S. Jensen said...

Great question to ask yourself and very brave to put it on the shelf.

Susanna Leonard Hill said...

I have shelved books, but not for your loftier reasons - mine are shelved because they are not fit to see the light of day :) Maybe once you've published a few other books your beloved will have a chance to shine - when it's not the first :)

Jamie Grey said...

It's always such a hard decision to shelve a book that you love and have sweated and bled over. I've done it myself two times before, but I know those were learning books, books that have helped me grow and I'll always be grateful to them.

I might even put them in my acknowledgments one day :) Great post, Peggy and good luck with your next WIP!

Taffy said...

Darn you, Peggy!
Your post was awesome and inspiring.
Now I too must kiss my MS which I loved writing (not more than cheesecake or summer sunshine though) and gently place it in my "drawer." I needed your post to give me the courage to do just that.
I LOVE the question you forced me to ask myself: Is this the book I want to lead with?
Love you girl!

Peggy Eddleman said...

Kelly-- It didn't feel brave; it just felt right. :) Congrats on figuring out what you wanted to lead with from the start so you never had to shelf a book!

Sarah-- Good for you, writing in all those genres to figure out what you like best! I've always wanted to do that, but really only ended up writing in two.

Shell-- Rewrites on a 140k book do sound daunting! I know the feeling of thinking that if you just start another book with your increased skill, the next book won't need so many revisions. It's one of the perks of honing your skills as you go. :D Best of luck on your third!

JeffO-- I don't know that they need to be so close... just not so far apart, you know? But I bet it's so awesome to have two great books to choose between when it comes to which one you want to lead with!

Cristina-- Yes! Getting "HOLY CRAP! that was amazing. I can't wait to read more from her!" is really what it's all about. :D

Leigh Ann-- First, having an awesome new WIP that rocks definitely helps to ease the sting of shelving another. Second, CONGRATS on the full req! I'm so very excited for you!! Seriously. Come post sad writing stuff as often as you'd like. ;)

Amanda-- I know that feeling! Someday it'll be the one that calls your name the loudest. :)

Angela C-- Sigh. I know. But it is what it is. I guess you've just got to do what's going to keep your audience, or be willing to work hard for a new one.

Prerna-- So awesome! I'm heading over to find it and read it right after I get off work.

Kristine-- Someday. Maybe. :)

Leigh-- I'd like to thank you for your kind words, and apologize for making you want to cry. Doh!

Melanie-- It sounds like you've really found the one! The one worth shelving all other manuscripts for! :D

Chantele-- They never really stop holding a piece of you, do they? They totally deserve to, though. After all, they're what have gotten us to this point!

Joshua-- I heart post-apocalypic.

Jenny-- So exciting to find the one where you know it's definitely how you want to start! Congrats!

Donna-- I don't envy your choice! It's hard when you want to write in multiple genres. And it's definitely not that you can't.

David-- I think every single novel is helpful! Whether it's helpfulness is done once it's placed on a shelf or not. :)

Mara-- Yay! I'm excited for you that you not only found your perfect genre, but that you found your perfect lead in book! I wish you all the good fortune in the world.

Nancy-- When you know you have a good thing, and it IS what you want to lead with, definitely muscle through! I admire that kind of perseverance. Best of luck with it all!

Jessie-- It's actually not printed-out-shelved. I printed a title page, and put it on top of my print-outs for TTBB. It's was more of a tangible picture for something entirely less tangible. :)

Leigh Ann-- I just want to say congrats!! again. :)

Imogen-- It IS hard!

Peggy Eddleman said...

Carrie-- Oh, my gosh yes. My first few weren't hard at all to shelf, since I wrote them with the intention of shelving them. But it was so much fun to write whatever, without worrying about it's saleability!

Iain-- What foresight you have to have figured out exactly what you wanted to do from the start!

LisaAnn-- Awww! Thank YOU for sharing that. It can be such a hard decision!

Bea-- I think there's an audience for everything- you've just got to find them. And if you're always writing what most fascinates you, it will come out in your writing hugely! It'll always show to your readers.

Kristen-- Why thank you. :)

Hannah-- Sure it counts! And best of luck with your writing. A trilogy is such a huge commitment and accomplishment!

Kelley-- That gave me chills about your nano project! Gosh. It sounds like either way you go, you'll be set. Best of luck with it all!

Stacy-- I think it is an important question and yes. Requires bravery. :)

Susanna-- I don't know- shelving them because they shouldn't see the light of day isn't too much of a different reason. Both are because you don't want them out there representing you, right? :D

Jamie-- Haha! Great idea, putting them in the acknowledgements. :) And thank you!

Taffy-- Awww. I gave you courage? You're so sweet. I love you, too!

Nick Wilford said...

Nice post. I shelved my first book because I didn't think it could make the grade, but I still have a fondness for it. I think you do with anything you've spent a lot of time and effort on. It hadn't occurred to me though that I might get cast in a certain genre! My book was a thriller and I like them but they're not my favourite genre. Mind you, my new WIP is leaning that way as well though - but it's not something I'm consciously aiming for!

I suppose one answer if you want to write very different genres would be to use pseudonyms. But that would feel oddly like living a double (or triple) life - different readerships etc.

Nice to meet you, BTW. Came here via Jessie Humphries' blog.

Peggy Eddleman said...

Nick-- I agree! Lots of fondness for anything you've spent that much time on. And yeah- I guess it would be like leading a double life! Hm. I wonder how that'd be....

I'm glad to meet you, too! Jessie's blog is awesome.