(Kate Flora here, in for Al today, with apologies for posting twice in one week) Now that’s a crazy assertion, isn’t it? In a world full of people striving to be published, stacking up rejection letters, desperately searching for an agent, and falling into the slough of despond whenever they get that terse “no thanks” or “not right for our list” how could there possibly be anything good about being unpublished?
But there is. While you’re in the unpublished writer’s corner, the relationship is just between you and your work. It has a kind of uninterrupted intensity and a kind of purity that will never exist again. You control the story, you shape your characters, the work is entirely the product of your imagination. And why is this special? Because once your work is in the hands of agents, editors, and readers, that intimate, private, sometimes obsessive relationship with your story and characters is changed.
Agents may want changes. Editors almost certainly will. And while it’s true that a good editorial agent or a good editor can make us better writers, it is here that you begin to share ownership of your story. Someone else’s vision intrudes. Someone else’s opinions matter. Someone else is suggesting changes. Very often for the better. But now it is no longer you and your imagination and that empty screen you are filling with story. Now someone else is imagining your characters and tweaking your plot. Now it is a shared storytelling.
And then the thing you’ve always dreamed of happens: the story is published. And now you become part of a writing triangle. There is your relationship with your characters and story. There is a new world of readers who develop relationships with your characters and story. And your readers begin to develop a relationship with you and work. Much in the way that having a child changes the family dynamic, publishing your work and sending it out into the world changes the writerly dynamic. In our world, especially when we’re writing a mystery series, the way that readers development relationships with our characters is something we will ever after have to consider as we write.
Not convinced that there could be anything good about being unpublished? How about the way your time will fragment. What about publicity, promotion, speaking, blogging, working social media, and learning to do the “buy my book” dance. It all takes time. Lots and lots of time. Years ago, the writer might be able to write for nine months and promote for three. These days, the promotion side never goes away. Publish your first book and now you have a whole new, time-consuming job: marketing.
Last, but far from least, is the dreaded deadline. That first book was leisurely. There may have been intensity in the writing, but basically, you had all the time in the world to imagine it, shape it, and edit it. But now, if the world of publication has been kind, publishing a book will mean you have to produce a second book, and this time, you’ll only have a year. Not two or three or five or ten or the lifetime that led up to that first one. And that year will be complicated by the aforementioned marketing.
So, disbelievers, sit back for a moment, take a deep breath, and consider. Maybe there is something about life in the unpublished writer’s corner that isn’t so miserable after all.
True words! And sometimes you have only seven months between deadlines.
I do have some nostalgia for a life without deadlines. But I’d never go back.
I have occasionally told my husband I wanted to go back. Stop marketing, stop worrying, stop the craziness, and just go back to the pure joy of writing. Of course, that pressure created by the desire to be published and the box of rejection letters made that hard. I only wanted, with this post, to remind writers that there is an upside to those prepublished years.
Your post came at a good time, Kate. I was thinking about this same things yesterday, as I was explaining to a doctor about what it was like to write under deadlines. (I have three months each to write my next two books, per deadlines.) As I put it, without thinking, “I’m writing more now, but enjoying it less.” My own words haunted me for the rest of the day, for all the reasons in this post.
We always want what we don’t have, eh? Wise words, Kate. As a newbie on the published side of the line I often feel as though I’m juggling all day long.
Thank you, Kate. This is how I feel. The annual – even seven months, hence the notorious “book jail” – deadlines scare the words right back into my heart. They make me want to have two books in a series ready to go with the third well-plotted before I start shopping around.
Rhonda…when I sold my first book, it was actually my fourth! And I had #5 ready to go. Long time in the unpublished writer’s corner. It does create a bit of breathing room.
Good information and useful reminders. Thank you Kate.
Kate, These are some of the truest words written. I wrote a lot before being published, and that’s helped me when the deadlines started coming in. But you are absolutely right, once published, you can never return to that pure place where it’s just you and your story. It is a valuable thing to cherish. Good post!
Yes, Diane. I do still sometimes long for those days. There was a purity to it that gets messed up when the mornings always start with: check the calendar, think about a blog post, find something clever for twitter, etc. Still magical to find myself dreaming story, or in those moments when the words seems to write themselves or the characters take off flying and my fingers have to rush to keep up.
This is just the sort of thing I needed to hear today as I sit muddling through the second book in a unpublished series while sending out query letters.
I related to the part about the triangle–readers’ relationships with characters. Some reviews of the third book in my series (Snake Face) focused so much on my protagonist’s personal life, and whether or not a certain man would be good for her, I realized just how strong that reader-character relationship can be. It was as if these readers were talking about a real person and wanting to give her advice. Now I find myself thinking about the potential reader reactions to the relationship plot line in fourth book when it comes out this month.
That business of the reader becoming a party to the story is pretty fascinating, isn’t it? I’ve heard a lot of writers talk about an imaginary reader that they keep in mind while they’re writing. I don’t do that, but do have a head full of the comments and questions readers have asked along the way.
Very interesting post and comments. Is it essential to let publication schedules ruin (or at least take the fun out of) the writing experience? Do the pressures come from the system under which commercial publication exists, or does the problem come from the choices we make as writers? I’m thinking of the economics of self publishing on the writer’s schedule and selling fewer books at a greater margin, vs jumping on the commercial bandwagon, for possibly more sales but at smaller margins. Just wondering…
David…it’s not so much that we let publication schedules ruin the experience, as that the necessity to write faster, after that first book, along with making time for promotion, becomes part of the writer’s reality. Whether you self-publish–now referred to as indy publishing–or go with a traditional publisher, no one will find you, or the books, unless you market, and that takes time and sustained effort. You can’t just write the book, get it into print, and then sit back and wait for the world to beat a path to your door.
Kate, I have really wondered about all this. I took a class on publishing your novel and was so discouraged about the whole intense social media part. I have no interest in it. I am not a public person and don’t really want to be. I also don’t write to make money. I write because there is a story in me that needs to come out. I am in the final edits to my novel before I send it out to agents. What happened to publishers managing the marketing of a book?? When did that fall back on the author? I have started my second novel and framed the rest out. Still thinking about how to proceed! I don’t know what I want!
True words! When no one’s looking over your shoulder (publisher, agent, readers, critics) you’re free to write for the joy of it.
That’s it exactly, Tess…something about the pure,unalloyed joy for writer and story.
I can relate to where you’re coming from, but the truth is deep down I’d love to have a major publisher pick up one of my manuscripts – a novel or a short story collection. I’ve had literally thousands of rejections over the past 35 years. Now even the local bookstores won’t even carry those books I’ve self-published. I’m beginning to think I’ll have the become a dead author first before my work – 11 titles so far – will ever be published.
By the way, several publishers have asked me to make changes in my MS, but I’ve refused because they just didn’t get what I wrote.
Hugh…I have to say that, hard as it is, getting published most often requires makes the changes that editors request. I’ve found, over the years, that a good editor can make me a far better writer. Learning to embrace rewrite is part of the journey.
An astute observation, Kate. I enjoyed a close and happy relationship with my characters and their story, especially in the last draft. Editing and publishing changed that “friendship,” despite the fact that my publisher did good work. My characters became a “package” I needed to talk about— and cell.
I wrote a novel that the publisher wanted me to change from a first person telling to third person. I refused because the story told by the narrator was his story in which he was the central actor.
Another publisher who read my stories about managing a business demanded that the book be changed to a how-to collection. What this publisher didn’t understand that everyone prefers a story to the dull essay form. I refused and self-published it where I sold many thousands of copies.
Of course I do have an editor who freelance edits for several major publishers. She has edited all my books. By the way, she had sent the edited MS of the novel to a publisher of the first book indicated above and was shocked when it was rejected on the basis of the way it was written.