Friday, December 10, 2010

write what you want to write

"I want to write a book about vampires, but all the agents say vampires are over."
"I want to write a contemporary YA, but all the 6-figure deals are for dystopian stories."
"I have this really great idea, but I just heard about a book with almost the exact same concept."

but.. but.. but NOTHING!

i see all of the above lines and many more from authors lamenting how the story they want to write, isn't what they should be writing, if they want to get published.
well, here is a huge, not-so-secret-but-hard-to-believe fact i have learned: the #1 way to get published is to write the best book you can.
and in my opinion, the best book you can write is the one you want to write, have to write - the one with the characters who keep you up at night. even if they ARE vampires.
that's the good news - freedom to write the story you want.
here's the bad news: you're right. it might not get published. this post is about why that's OKAY.

JM Tohline put together a great blog post today on the biggest mistakes writers make when querying agents. (when you're done here, go check it out. he got excellent input from tons of agents and compiled it all in one neat post for you.)

one of the agents JM quoted on his blog said something that really resonated with me:

Cameron McClure (of the Donald Maass Agency) added this: "Most writers query too soon – either before the book is really ready to be read by an industry professional, or with a book that is a learning book, or a starter book, where the writer is working through the themes that will come out in later books with more clarity, getting things out of their system,making mistakes that most beginners make, finding their voice."
the bold is mine. i wrote that book - that "starter" book - and it was everything McClure says. it was my training ground for the kind of themes i wanted to write about, for practicing plot and pace, for learning whether 1st or 3rd person worked better for me and above all, for finding my voice.

fortunately, i never made the mistake of querying that novel. during the year i spent pecking away at it, i also learned a lot about publishing. by the time i was done, i could see all the reasons it didn't work. so i recognized it for what it was - a book i had to write for me, and not for anyone else.

one of the first conversations i had with my agent was about this very thing - about the books you have to write versus the books you might actually want to sell. we were talking about my other WIPs/ideas, and i was asking what kind of stories she'd like to see... and she told me she would never discourage a client from writing anything, because there are stories in us that just have to be told - even if we only ever tell them to our laptops.

i guess it's impossible to know, when you start a new manuscript, whether it's one of the stories you'd be proud to put out in the world or one of the stories you need to learn something from. but i would argue: it's equally important, either way.

if i hadn't written LOSERS, i'm 100% certain i never would have been able to write BUTTER.
i have started taking lines and scenes from L and working them into new manuscripts. i basically stole one of the characters and made him the MC in BILLY D.
i will probably keep deconstructing L until there is nothing left but the concept, and then i might steal that too, and write the whole thing over again from scratch.
for all of these reasons, i know, without a doubt, that my time was not wasted on that first manuscript.

if you feel compelled to write something - write it. the story that never gets published may very well be the most important one you ever write.

7 comments:

Susanne Winnacker said...

Wonderful post!

Meredith said...

I hate those moments of self doubt, but you're right: we should write the books we want to write, because anything else won't have that same spark. Great advice!

Bri said...

Very encouraging post, and one I needed to read. Thanks :)

Jennifer Hoffine said...

Yes, wonderful post. Getting published is a process that almost always takes more than one book, so it's best to give in to that process and write what matters most instead of with an eye to the market.

Lydia Kang said...

Great post. I queried my starter novels, but still, it was all education for me. I am so glad I wrote them!

Michelle said...

Ugh! I queried my starter novels and instantly regretted it - a year later I'm querying the best novel that came of that starter novel. It's exciting! Thanks for the awesome, encouraging post.

erinjade said...

thanks all!
and Michelle, best of luck with your query!!