Saturday, December 4, 2010

Agent Advice – Why This Writer Disagrees

Ok, I can no longer keep my silence…
I’ve heard it expressed by several literary agents over the course of my writing journey that you should not write sequels to a book in advance of the first one receiving a publication deal.  Some of their arguments I understand.  But I think they’re missing one key point when they issue a blanket statement against writing sequels.
Every writer uses a different process.
Let me tell you why this advice really doesn’t work for me and my writing style.
When I began writing it was out of inspiration, some of you may have heard this before, but please bear with me.  A story came to mind and I wanted to know where those characters went and what their story would hold.  The only way to discover this was to write.  So I did, literally, on to-do list pads with a pen.   When I had what I thought was about three books worth of writing, I stopped and asked myself what I should do next.  Then I typed it into a computer, discovered I had two good length books worth of writing, edited that and began finding readers.  After more editing and more readers and more editing, I began to research publishing.
So, now you’re thinking that the reason their advice doesn’t resonate well with me is because I have more than one book in my series written.  Well, true, but there’s more to it than that.
When I write I get emotionally connected with my characters.  They fill my daydreams with their conversations until I can barely stand it.  I must write on, I must get that scene down, we must move on together.  Because they fill my head so much I really get to know their voices.  Sometimes I even find myself thinking like them when I’m not thinking for them.  So what happens when I walk away from that story and move on to another one?  I lose a bit of that connection. 
Since I began writing novel length MS’s I’ve learned that if I’m really connected to a story it doesn’t pay to leave it behind, thinking I’ll return to it later.  I’ve found that it’s nearly impossible for me to get back into the mood and voice of the characters.  I’ve left behind stories that I loved, stories that I poured myself into, when the lure of a new one came along.  I had every intention of going back and finishing it, yet whenever I do I just can’t reach that place where those voices flowed so easily from before.  I traded my love away instead of telling the new story to wait patiently.  I have two such stories, and it hurts to see them there, with all their notes in line and characters waiting for me.  Will I ever get their voices back?  I hope so.  Time will tell.
So if I’m in love with a story, if I have an inspiration and a vision for where those characters are going, it doesn’t pay for me to abandon them.  I want to know the ending and no one else will tell me, so I better stick around to find out for myself.  I’ve already invested countless hours into the connection with the characters and story, the voice is perfected and I don’t want to lose it.  That’s how I write best.

So, let’s confront the arguments against writing more than one book in a series prior to publication.  Here are some of the common things I’ve heard:
-You can’t query on a follow-up unless it works as a standalone.
-In the publication process there may be many things changed in the first book affecting the follow up book(s).
-Changes required in follow ups would not have been necessary if they weren’t pre-written.
-Without the first one being published the rest are “useless”.
-You look “amateurish” if you write more than one in a series prior to being published.

Ok, to be honest, some of these arguments I find really upsetting.  But, I’ll try to keep my answers on a more technical writing level instead of an emotional one (try).
Ok, true, you can’t write the follow ups intending to query them.  But that’s probably not why you did it anyway.  I understand that if the first book goes to publication there may be many changes requested that will affect the follow up(s).  Wouldn’t it be better though to have a follow-up you can go through and make changes on rather than be stuck with a three book deal and have trouble getting back the voices of your characters in order to begin writing?  I don’t doubt it’s possible, especially with the added incentive of actual publication, but still…  If you have a flow going and the writing is coming easy and the story is moving well, then why stifle it so that you won’t look “amateurish” to an agent?  Besides, if we’re even talking about the subject then I must not already have an agent and you could probably say I’m an armature just for that (an armature at being an author for sure).
Now the point of the follow-up(s) being “useless” without the first one being published is where I’m really having trouble holding back.  If they’re “useless” then so is every blessed thing I have ever written that wasn’t snatched up for publication.  The first book in the series was “useless”, anything I wrote in high school is “useless”, my cards to my mother are “useless”, my blog posts are “useless”, all the books that I have written are “useless”!  But…  As most writers come to realize over time, everything you write is valuable.  It helps you grow.  It helps you learn your craft.  It helps you get better at what you do.  Add on top of that the fact that you’ve produced a completed work that brought joy to those who did read it, or joy to the one person who wrote it, you, isn’t that reason enough for having written it in the first place?
Yes, I wrote 200,000 words.  I wrote two books, in a series.  I’m trying to find an agent for the first one.  I have more planned in that series that I haven’t started yet.  There were changes that made it a good place to stop, where I know that losing the voice won’t be a problem.
I have another book written that I see could be part of a series.  I stopped after the first one and it’s out with readers right now.  After it’s edited I might just go ahead and start the second book while the voices are fresh in my mind.  Because that’s how I do my best writing.  I’m working on something new in the meantime and I’ll finish it before going on to anything else.  I won’t leave another work unfinished if I can help it, because that’s not how I do my best writing.
I’ve been told not to mention that I have a follow-up completed on the series I’m querying.  I’ve been told not to mention it’s even part of a series.  Well, yes, that’s probably fine advice for the querying process itself.  But I hope that the agent I connect with isn’t one that makes me feel like I need to hide the projects I’ve completed.  I want to be able to openly and honestly reveal my stores to them.  I want them to value what I’ve done, because it makes me a better writer, even if it isn’t as marketable as something else I’ve done.  I also want them to know my personal writing process, so they can understand how to get the best work they can out of me.
In the end I think all writers have to know themselves before they throw their hearts into the writing marketplace.  I know how I write best.  I know what makes writing enjoyable to me.  I know how I produce more, better, faster.  So if an agent doesn’t like how I write, then they’re probably not the one for me.  That’s ok. 
Writers should be careful not to listen to all advice that others may give on how to produce their work in the best possible way.
            You are the writer.  You know what you need.  You know how you work. 
            Value what you do, but also value how you do it.
I write for me.  I want to know the end to the story that just took over my brain.  If the story is so good that I fall in love with it and can’t get enough, then I’ll want to share that story.  If I want to share the story then I’ll be willing to change it in ways that make it better, or more accessible to the reader.  If the reader falls in love with it, then they’ll want more.  Thus the cycle continues…

I want to say that I truly value the work that agents do.  I don’t have their skills or the desire to do the things that they are experts at.  I respect them, the tough position they are in so much of the time, and the amazing support they are to the writers they represent.  I hesitated writing this post because they get so much negative feedback from writers that it tarnishes how they view us all.   However this, to me, is a topic more related to how and why you write than it is about being published.  Maybe that’s where our differences of opinion sometimes lie.

Thank you for stopping by to listen to a frustrated writer who wants you to write however you write best.

(As always, comments are welcome.)


Anonymous said...

Well Done! I really enjoyed your post and I would have to say I agree. Kind of like parenting in a way. You can't take everyones advice, you have to do what makes you happy and what works best for you. Any other way simply won't work for you as a individual. I applaud your courage to speak your mind in a well thought out way :)

Nicole MacDonald said...

In exactly the same place EXCEPT I've decided to self publish. I'm watching a friend go through the 'submission' process and she's gone from loving her story to hating it because they want so many (unnecessary) changes. So I've written Book One of the BirthRight Trilogy and as soon as it's published on Amazon (1.1.2011) I'm starting book two (actually may have started it a little already - but can't get it out of my head!!)

Stuff the 'traditional' method of publishing. It doesn't prove skill or worth simply what is popular at the time. And writing is my hobby, I can do as I please ;p

BirthRight The Arrival, on Amazon 1.1.2011

Julie Geistfeld said...

Thank you Nicole and Nikki for your comments.
This journey toward publishing is full of interesting twists and turns for sure!

Jennifer Hillier said...

I echo that writers should write however they write best. Tell the stories you want to tell. Know that it may or may not get published. But everything in publishing is a crapshoot, so at the very least, we should write what we love.