View Full Version : What Would You Do

10-11-2007, 01:31 AM
I'd be interested in the various directions people here might take with what I'm about to describe. I'll disclaim right away by saying that I've already made my decision, after long consideration, but I know that it's likely the wrong one in terms of sales and sales ability to an agent.

I'm six months into a straight non-fiction account of something catastrophic that happened in the 1870s as it pertained to one small town in the South. I have the permissions and full cooperation from descendants of families directly involved in the subject. I have developed friendships with them.

During the course of research I came across, specific to one integral locale and family in the story, a chain of misery, unproven murder, and gothic mayhem, all verifiable and true, continuing through the generations to present day. They are in the papers as I speak. Had I found all this earlier I might well have taken the book in another direction, or into a fictional account. By the time I discovered it I was in good graces with all, hence my decision to avoid it.

Has anyone else run into this, and has it changed the course of your project? And, more generally, has research ever turned your book or story into something else entirely? I'd love to hear any other experiences with non-fiction projects getting turned turtle, or, challenges to staying with the original intent.

Or any general thoughts or comments. Which might be, damn, write the murder stuff! Which I still wrestle with, even though I've decided not to.

10-11-2007, 03:33 AM
If you are as yet unpublished, you might be guided by the advice: "Write the book that is most likely to find a market."

And that may not be the book you planned at the beginning.

Tish Davidson
10-11-2007, 04:22 AM
Anything that brings the incidents into the present day is going to find a larger audience than an accounting of events from a century or more ago.

10-11-2007, 05:20 AM
It seems that you've decided to avoid the present-day connections to your story. That not only is bad for potential sales. It's bad for the story. Sounds like what you have is a multigenerational tale of epic proportions, and you're choosing to castrate it. I strongly urge you to go ahead with bringing the story into the present day. Sounds like there is real drama in that, something that will get readers thinking of their own family and town histories. Who knows? Those people you are on so-called good terms with may enjoy all the attention when it's published. And if the facts are in the papers, what are they going to do? Sue you? Not likely, if it's all documented.

Think of writers and artists today risking their personal safety, even their lives, in Burma, Iran and China, to tell true stories of what they know is happening around them. And you're worried about a few neighbors?

aka eraser
10-11-2007, 08:54 PM
I'm going to swim against the tide on this one. I think you made the right decision. Friendships are worth more than (potentially) increased sales.

10-12-2007, 12:20 AM
That is a tough call, but including the details you came across, sounds more interesting (and better book sale-wise also). Having said that, I'd probably go with not including the material. Perhaps two versions, two proposals to publishers?

10-12-2007, 01:05 AM
I agree with Shelley and Eraser--you made the right decision. You have forged such good relationships with the subjects of the book and while the new stuff that you've learned may indeed be juicy and worthy of publication, I wouldn't include it. Maybe it is worthy of a second publication, especially as things may continue to unfold, and after the first one comes out, and you (hopefully) are able to maintain the new friendships, maybe they'll be willing to work with you on book #2. Maybe if something super juicy comes up and others will be clammoring to write about it, because you already have an established a relationship and trust with the families, you can get first rights to the "new" story or something? (I'm not sure how that actually works, but it's just a suggestion.)
Good luck with it all! :)

Mr. Fix
10-12-2007, 01:23 AM

You can keep your friends.

Publish under a psedonym.

I think if you have a great 'Epic tale' you should go with it. Think of the future generations that may learn something from your research. Yes, its important to keep your friends, and I'm sure someone placed their trust in you so that you could 'discover' some of your facts. So, do you betray the trust placed on you to reveal the truth? Tough call... But it is your call!

So I am asking you as a fan of history and research to consider letting the truth out for the betterment of future generations. You may be denying them (the legacy) of something important - understanding their history. What if the family of Anne Frank decided that 'too much personal information' was being revealled by the publication of her diary?

Just a thought...

10-12-2007, 01:53 AM
This is all good food for thought.

In the end, I think if I used everything I found it would be interpreted as a betrayal, because I secured peoples' cooperation under specific terms i.e. the original premise of the book. These people have been a writer's dream and gone out of their way to help me and talk with me. Plus I have some interest in doing similar projects in future, and a betrayal on my part would be ruinous to my rep as an interviewer/historian.

It will be a much "smaller" book this way in terms of mainstream sales, it's true, and much harder to get an agent to consider it. I know. :cry: Although, the original subject as it is does have plenty of drama on its own, which is what attracted me to it to begin with.

Maybe a separate fictionalized account later on . . . you guys have got me thinking, and that's a good thing. Any further comments/thoughts are definitely welcome. I'm certain I'll stay with my initial decision, because to do otherwise would hurt people who freely gave me their trust and friendship, but it's helpful for me to see what others think.

Mr. Fix
10-12-2007, 01:56 AM
I look forward to reviewing your work!

10-12-2007, 02:04 AM
LOL, well, I won't be tossing it into SYW, but if I can get the thing published, review away by all means!


10-12-2007, 07:10 PM
This is all good food for thought.


It will be a much "smaller" book this way in terms of mainstream sales, it's true, and much harder to get an agent to consider it. I know. :cry: Although, the original subject as it is does have plenty of drama on its own, which is what attracted me to it to begin with... .

I think here is where some serious "homework" comes into play regarding the salability. Look for the agents who really focus on the type of work that you've done, and maybe only consider querying/sending proposal to those agents. That way, you increase the odds of the salability, since they'll be excited about the mss. And, I have to say this because of what I went through with the potential salability of my first solely-authored book that didn't do as well as it should have or could have...make sure you've got a good platform. Aside from your uberfabulous manuscript, your platform will help with the salability in terms of the numbers. (IMHO, anyway.)

Sorry for the run-on sentences and comma splices (especially in my earlier post). I make a few exceptions for myself when typing on the 'net. (LOL)

10-12-2007, 07:59 PM
Quite right, and I'm looking closely/carefully at who might have an interest in at least taking a look at it. Good advice, thanks.

Well, we'll see how it goes. It's a lickety-split readable story, sort of carries itself along on its own. Not a dry history account.

Too, if it ends up getting 1000s of rejections I'm willing to either re-work it or maybe fictionalize it. Right now I still believe in it on its non-fiction merits, but if it turns out that I'm the only one who does I'll consider taking other directions with it.

10-14-2007, 12:42 AM
Lots of luck with it! :)
Keep us posted!

10-14-2007, 01:06 AM
Thank you, and I will. I hope I didn't sound dismissive when I said I'd made a decision - I have made it, and yet, I've saved this thread on my desktop and I do mull it over. I find myself in a weird place with this project now. But I value these new friendships I've made during my research and want to keep them. They're not just "neighbors" as someone mentioned - in fact only one lives nearby. A couple of them are respected and published writers themselves, and a few are topnotch academics. I'm not just talking to the little old lady next door. (Besides, she's cranky and talks to no one - just sits out and stares at people.)

Feh. I have appreciated every word that's been said here. If I can get the project noticed I'll certainly post that! I know I'm making the "wrong" decision agent- and market-wise. I realize this.