View Full Version : Strategy Question

12-18-2004, 09:30 AM
It seems that people who publish tend to get the lowest amount of attention, and renumeration from their first books.

Is it better then to save your best works for last, because your first work, regardless of quality, isn't likely to have the same respect?

Obviously this is a loaded question, because your second and third best works better be highly marketable, or your best work might not ever see the light of day.

This is a legitamate question. I have a trilogy, which I have hope for, but I have some other projects that I could finish off and try to submit first.

aka eraser
12-19-2004, 10:17 PM
My gut feeling is that this is not a good strategy. Would you go to the prom in your 2nd, or 3rd best dress, only half your makeup on and arrive in a rented 1971 Gremlin instead of a limo?

You always need to put your best face forward to get into a publisher's door. Once you're in, you need to improve (at least in sales if not your craft) with each successive book if you want to stay in the game.

And, although I'm sure exceptions are out there, most writers do indeed improve their skills with time and practice.

Unless you hit them with your best shot, you may never become a 1st-time published author.

12-19-2004, 11:15 PM
Always write your BEST work. You will only improve that way, over time.

Besides, there's something to say about starting strong. You want a "career," and not a "one-book wonder."

John Grisham still believes "A Time to Kill" is his best work... and the book (sold only 5000 the first time around) has found life in reprint and a screen adaptation, etc. after he became famous because he continued to write good books...

I thought my first novel was my best work. Seriously. Now I'm writing my second, I think it's better than the first, even in draft form. I like that.

12-20-2004, 01:19 AM
Thank you both. And your point is taken, and I'll certainly think about your advice very seriously.

Maybe I need to clarify this, in that it's not a matter of offering the worst of three. When I'm saying "Best", it is in terms of which has the most potential overall. And that includes, "Most likely to have potential for a movie script", not which is a good or great read. Some stories lend themselves for a movie deal down the line, and I may be outrageously over-optomistic in thinking it may indeed be that good of a story.

I fear that if I went into the market now, and was fortunate enough to win over a publisher, I'd have no leverage, and ultimately that might put me into a place of "take it or leave it," which is to me a bad place to be in if you are thinking about control of your story.

Even with this strategy, I'd never dare present anything that I didn't feel was a great story. I'm already doing massive re-writes with the hopes to make these works of art. And obviously, if these other works weren't good enough, an agent would let me know.

What do you think about putting samples on the samples thread? I wouldn't want to share a great deal of anything that I write, but I'm not sure what serious writers think about doing that: I.E- Cry for help and affirmation? Or has that thread actually opened doors for anyone? I haven't been here long enough to know?

aka eraser
12-20-2004, 04:47 AM
I think the Share Your Work forum works best for those still harbouring some doubts about their work. Most posters I'm sure are hoping for affirmation, that's just human nature. But I think it's a very useful stepping stone if you've not yet made the leap to regularly submitting your work to the scrutiny of objective, professional editors.

Critiques can help in a couple of important ways; the most obvious is in improving your work, but nearly as important is helping you develop the thick skin needed for dealing with those professional editors looming in your future. It can also help modify the Golden Word Syndrome most of us suffer from in varying degrees.

And as far as worrying about the movie rights; if you land an agent first, those will be taken care of. If you end up going unagented, with a small pub, you can still negotiate keeping subsidiary rights. You just might be looking too far down the road right now. Focus on writing a great book first. When that's done, then worry about step 2.

12-22-2004, 06:46 AM
It's hard to answer this question without sounding arrogant. But I think I've written a great trilogy, and that if a publisher took it, and allowed an editor to work with me to fine tune it, that it would be a fantastic story as is.

But I see some caution flags just in the fact that "book one" as is, would be a submission that exceeds the industry standard length , especially for first time writers. Because of this, I want to go over the story with a freelance editor.

I'm not kidding in that I want this story to be a classic out of the gates, and for that to happen, I believe it would be wise to edit it before it goes to a publisher.

Why? If I pay an editor, and it comes to an interested publisher completely polished, I feel that I will have a little more control.

But here are my concerns. I'll state them outright.

1) This story is long. Is it wiser for me to give up the "trilogy" idea, and just break it down into a series, which means more rewrites? Rather than try to find someone willing to come to me, why not come to them, if I can do that?

Even if in my mind it is a "Classic", shelf space will be considered from the get go, and so, I may have to pair down book one. But in the end, that may help in that instead of having three books, I could have up to five books in an initial series.

2) Then there is a logistical question. I don't mean to keep making LOTR comparison's, because it is not really like LOTR, but this helps explain the second question. In LOTR, after the breakup of the fellowship, you have three story lines, and events taking place here and there. In like manner, my story has multiple plots within the story that run concurrent. But that also means that the order of the chapters can be changed, and I'd like to get an expert opinion on this.

3) Likewise, should I shorten some of the battles? I'm actually willing to make major edits if I trust that I have a wise editor. I'd even slash an entire chapter out of the story, if they feel that helps the flow. In a sense I see Peter Jackson's movies as being excellent, but I've seen all of the EE, and not every scene made the story better. Some should have been slashed.

4) Should I take the beginning chapter and place it in the appendix? I crafted a letter from the protagonist to a friend, in the form of a warning, which wets the whistle of the reader, incorporating tiny elements of what they will find in the story. It is a fast paced letter, if there is such a thing, but I know it bucks the tradition of starting with action. Technically, you start with whatever works, but again, I'll defer to the opinion of an expert on this one. They'll either confirm it was well written enough to buck the traditional opening, or they'll say, "Not on my watch! Go with what we know works."

%) This is somewhat my last consideration, which throws me somewhat back to square one. I've continued writing "the next part of the series", and I've added some elements to the latter story, which I really love.

However, if you look at my "mythos" as somewhat like LOTR, a story where you need a consistent mythology, that is built upon the "Silmarillion", then you are forced to make the whole thing consistent.

I can actually make this story even better, which is problematic, in that it would delay my first submission.

Should I add these changes "which I love" to the entire myth, which means some rewrites in the first books, or do I go with it as is, and then just leave it out of the later story.

It really comes down to a philosophical dilemma. Do I want to hurry up and print, or do I want to attempt to make this the best epic fantasy it could possibly be.

Either way, I feel it is daunting. I'm constrained to submit something, but in a sense, this is the "project", and not just a story.

I may be delusional, which I hope isn't the case. But I'm convinced this could rank with the best fantasies of all time. And since the industry has "heard that before" by "who said that?", I'm still crafting away in hopes of making it the case.

aka eraser
12-22-2004, 11:28 PM
My 2 cents: If you have an idea that will make the whole series, including the first book, better - then you aren't done writing it.

An important question: Does the first book, at whatever length it ends up, come to a conclusion that satisfies the reader? It must stand alone on its own merits if you want to maximize your chances of placing it (and consequently the following books).

Instead of paying what might amount to a goodly chunk of money to get one person's opinion/expertise, why not make that person your prospective agent or publisher? I understand the rationale of wanting to make the good, better and the great, greater - but there's no guarantee that will happen. You obviously believe in the book(s). You're just as obviously not a totally wet-behind-the-ears newbie.

I think you'd be just as well served by having a trusted beta reader or two go over the first book when its done. If you don't have anyone in that category in your life, you might find someone here, in the AW community who'd be willing, perhaps in exchange for a beta read of their own ms.

But at some point you're just going to have to let the baby fly and hope that someone in the publishing world agrees with your assessment.

Btw, I'm a huge fan of fantasy, and I look for "fat" books. Fat good books. Of all the genres, I think fantasy pubs have the highest tolerance for longer-than-average books, even by first-timers. I haven't done the math, but I'd wager the average fantasy novel is some 20,000+ words longer than what is considered the generally-accepted norm in novel circles.

I wish you luck. And I'm looking forward to reading it. In paperback. I'm one of those eking-out-an-existence full time writers, as opposed to the making-a-living kind. ;)

12-25-2004, 06:57 AM
You don't know how much I value your advice. At some point, I've thought about asking someone here on the boards to view parts of the story, but didn't want to dump on anyone, or take advantage of their kindness. I can afford to pay someone, plus I have some friends who have links with editors/authors, and the only thing that is stopping me from contacting them, is that I decided earlier this week to incorporate the elements that I loved from the later story. And I'll explain it a little bit.

In the initial story, "suspense" was paramount. I didn't want people to know the nature of "evil" up front, or what was happening. I wanted it to be confusing on purpose.

This Lent to the idea that evil is often subtle, vague, and doesn't jump out at and say, "Hey, I'm evil!" Discovery was a part of the plot-line. The story gets darker as you go.

Now, if you read the beginning of the story, you wouldn't even know it was a mystery, or fantasy, unless you found it in the fantasy section of the bookstore. Why? It's a great write, and knew that if people would take the risk, they'd find it a many layered deep story that starts out fairly whimsical. Well, a publisher wants to grab then right up front. And since I don't have a name, I understand why.

The first of the central characters is as innocent as Frodo. His life isn't about understanding the evils of the world, but the adventures of the world.

Well, life happens, and he is thrust into the story.

Everyone, six readers in all that read this opening, loved it, and all of them fell in love with the characters. Well, they know me, so they'll take my word that this is an Epic Fantasy from the get go.

My concern was that since I have to sell agents, publishers, etc, metaphorically, I felt that perhaps it was wisest to use a method similar to the prelude to the movie LOTR, and introducing evil first, even as a snippet.

My first thought was- introduce tiny snippets through an after the fact letter, warning the next generation not to let down their guard, and without telling the story, hinting what they'll find. (But that is a risk, since convention says, "Start with action")

Once people are hooked, I can start any way I'd like, because they'd know the goods were there.

So, considering the hoops one has to jump to get into the business, I've decided on a third solution.

I'll move the letter into an appendix in one of the books. I'm pushing chapter one back, which will add increased tension. Because you are now seeing a powerful evil, and doing this creates a new tension, because the protagonists journey is now an immediate risk, whereas before it was somewhat whimsical.

And now, I will put a face upon evil in the first chapter, which is nothing but movement after movement. My only concern with this approach, is that it changes the entire nature of the story.

I have always had an ability to personify evil, and in this case an evil alliance. But in doing so, I'm concerned that I've done something I didn't intend, and that is to make some of the evil characters somewhat sympathetic, which I don't want to do. I don't want a "Gollum" who is redeemable. Yet, in the hierarchy of evil, you can almost feel sorry for the footworkers.

So, there is a drawback to the change. The second drawback, is that I've added names, which readers will want to see later. So, now when I reference the antagonists, they can't be faceless, which will require further rewrites. However, I am convinced that it is now immediately captivating from the first paragraph. If someone likes fantasy/sci-fi/horror/suspense, they should be immediately drawn in.

And then when they meet the protagonist, my gut feeling is that they now won't be able to wait to see how he fits in.

I have five Beta Readers- all of them avid readers. One a Tad Williams fan. One a Stephen King fan. Two of them are Tolkien fans. Another doesn't read fiction/fantasy, but likes deep writing. They are all very intelligent people.

12-25-2004, 09:06 AM
Expectation is a bitch. Publishers/editors/agents all want to pigeon-hole your ms into a genre, even for mainstream stuff... they want to know what exactly it's about. So when you query them, you will have to decide (or maybe not, depending on the agents) if your book is a fantasy, mystery or whatever. And once you tell them it's a "fantasy," for example, I think they already have an idea how your book's supposed to read...

Originally, my first novel opens like a romantic novel -- boy meets girl, etc. then midway through it changes course and (unexpectedly) becomes sort of a mystery. Well, it didn't sit well with some of the first agents. They read it, expecting it to be a love story, then boom, it changes. They didn't like it. It didn't meet their expectations...

Now, does that mean you should always follow a "path" especially when writing a genre? I don't know. Genre exists for a reason and they have certain expectations. And publishing is a business, and business has expectations. It's an interesting problem to have, as a writer. It's very difficult, sometimes, to step away from the writer's self (artist) and put on the business hat and see what sells and what not. Sometimes your business self and your artist self have to sit down and negotiate.

Now, as for starting your book... I don't know. What feels right to you? Obviously, you need to give your readers something to care about -- good vs. evil, or a good character(s) or what not -- so they will be "hooked." However, unlike movies, books can be read more leisurely... Some books are one thrill every page, some are luxurious, leisurely read. You need to decide for yourself how your want your story to unfold. Do you want they to know about the evil immediately, then drop back to narrative? Or do you want to present them an ordinary world (the risk with that is, the readers will ask: why should I care?) I think both are fine, as long as you have something compelling right off the bat to make the readers want to turn the page.

If you have good betas, trust them. If all of them tell the same thing, maybe you should listen. Same with agents. If one tells you you should start a book this way, and the other tells you something else, sit back and think about it. But if ten agents tell you the same thing, perhaps you should listen.

Do what works.

Sorry about the rambling...

12-25-2004, 11:36 AM
It's not rambling at all. I'm enjoying your comments.

Yes, this sucker crosses so many Genres, but that's why it is not a fantasy, but an Epic Fantasy.

You have kingdoms, you have villains. But you also have that supernatural element, where worlds are colliding.

In one place I liken it to a chess game, where the question is, "Who are the players, and who are the pawns?" You have this constant interplay between humans and "no spoilers."

So the answer is that both are players and pawns, in that each ones fate is somewhat in their own hands, and in the others as well. Yet, ultimately, victory is dependent upon which one understands the game.

With this, you have to not only follow the protagonist, but to learn the rules of the game.

Now, aside from this game, where men and "blank" are at war, you have men fighting men. You have kingdoms, civil wars, and betrayals.

Throw in multiple concurrent love stories, where the outcomes are anything but predictable.

Then throw in that there are many secrets, multiple people who are not what they seem.

Add to that for multiple of the characters, it is a book of personal growth, where the journey is a revelation to themselves about who they are.

Throw in that the stage also requires a history lesson, understanding the mistakes of previous generations.

There are mythical places, and mythical figures, each a book within a book.

And as one pointed out, each of the characters seem to be alive, completely unpredictable, like you are watching real people, and not characters in a book. Just when you think you can anticipate that someone is simply a foil to move the chapter, they take on life.

Again, I've always felt that my characters all came from some place. They all have a past, and a future (should they survive), where at the end of the book, you will have countless people wondering what they did next. ( I mean after the series)

Where some day, I hope that people will be digging deep. And I intended it that way. Even props have meaning. The placement of an object has significance, whether you looked up, or looked down.

And there are games embedded. People who've read my stories love this. I've been prone to play word games, where something is a riddle, and it isn't relative to the story if you aren't aware of it. However, once you are aware of it, people will be unscrambling words some day, (Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds debate anyone?)

There are profound meanings in things. Yet, you don't have to know that or look for that, because it is constructed as a story to be read as a story, so that without having any clue that all of that is embedded, anyone can simply enjoy it for what it is, a story.

However, I do not doubt that (if it gets published) that someone will eventually want to make it into a video game, simply because the "rules of the game" is extremely fascinating.

Oh, and lastly, I use "numbers" in a symbolic way, which is also something that I'll leave for (hopefully) the day when people are taking out their microscopes to see if there was a secret microfilmed code embedded in a period somewhere in the book. No, but that would be a great idea, and there's still time between the first and last book to do such a thing.

12-29-2004, 10:46 AM
I'm saddened that publishers can't see your work for what it is. I hate the "safety factor". I think it's the same in music as it is in books. They want nice neat little formulaic packages that work.

I'm convinced that Tolkien would have been overlooked by much of the industry, because frankly, todays publishers wouldn't get him.

Nor would Sergeant Pepper have passed the scrutiny of todays market, who are looking for the next "Mouseketeer" or "boy band", or "Hip hop", or whatever the flavor of the month happens to be.

But that all comes down to "Marketing Mentality", not "artistic thinking" And because of that, works of true art, that would become classics are replaced by a Burger King of Novels, because Burger King is safe, since they know they have an audience that will eat there regularly.

aka eraser
12-30-2004, 01:59 AM
I fought long and hard with the marketing poobahs regarding my book. They insisted it had to be sold as a "how-to" since there were instructional elements. I was equally adamant that the anecdotes and humour sprinkled throughout made it a hybrid of sorts, and more than just a how-to.

Most of the sabre rattling took place over the title. They wanted it to begin with the words "How To" --- (SomethingAboutFishing.) I'm so glad I won that particular battle. (I'd altered the contract to say that the title had to be mutually-acceptable.)

But there's a very important consideration from their end that needs to be understood from ours; and it's more important from a novel's standpoint than from a book like mine: In what section of the bookstore does this book belong? Mine was a no-brainer - it was going into the Outdoors/Recreation section.

The marketing gurus need to pigeonhole the product in some way that's immediately understandable to the bookstore. It serves no one, least of all the author, to have a question mark beside the book's listing in the publisher's catalogue or for the bookstore clerks to scratch their heads when unpacking the box, wondering where the heck this is gonna go.

Therefore, to a certain extent, we need to accept the fact that it's a fantasy, or a mystery, or even a how-to.

The important thing is to write a book that's so good they buy it first and worry about the labeling later.

12-30-2004, 10:15 AM
I hear you AKA. Perhaps there's a non-conformist gene in that I like to go against the grain, and I'm fighting it here.

I've taken some comments on these boards very seriously, and it is making me take a different look at my book. Unfortunately, being that its a trilogy-now looking more like a series, this is a strenuous undertaking.

I wrote a faster paced first chapter. That not only means moving things around, but it means changes throughout the story.

I'm making the antagonists less obscure off the bat, throwing them into the first chapter.

I'm throwing in dramatic tension in places which were more relaxed, so that you have a little more MTV pacing, which I dislike, but which a generation has developed a taste for. Drama-slight pause-Drama-slight pause. Sam and Frodo wouldn't get a chance to stop and smell a flower.

And since they have this idea of a particular length, I've got to cut off book one earlier, and rewrite an ending.

The plus side is that if this book catches, I'll have the potential for five to six books instead of three, should I not want to crawl into a cave before its all said and done.

It's discouraging, but I figure, there's wisdom in a multitude of council, and if many people say the same things, listen and learn.

Well, my friends, either this will be one of the greatest stories ever written, or one of the greatest boondogals.