Thursday, February 8, 2007

Everything I write is gold!

Er, maybe not. Did you read my last post? In talking about How Not To Get Published, I invoked my experiences with my first-ever finished book, CAYENNE, as an example of what not to do in publishing. And all of that was true (if a little loopy. I wrote that last night, and it had been a long day at work, even though I do love my job).

Anyway, I want to go on and clear one thing up: sure, part of the reason that CAYENNE didn't get published was because I approached the industry all wrong. I didn't do a very good job of research (though, in my defense, the 2001 Internet didn't hold a candle to the 2007 Internet), etc. All of that is still true.

But, the fact remains, even if I had done things right, the only difference would have been a bigger collection of rejection letters. And I bet I wouldn't have gotten any personal notes. I have some friends who legitimately loved the story in CAYENNE, but they were my friends... and very forgiving of all my many faults as a writer at the time. They slogged through the uninteresting 15 page prologue, they read all the page-long, italicized, "history of my science fiction world" blurbs at the start of every chapter. They even kept their suspension of disbelief through wonky plot twists that had (normal, non-magic) knights in full armor dodging bullets!

I'd love to say "bless them" here, but that's not really something I say. Hmm. But you get the idea.

Here's the deal: I really liked the book when I finished it. I mean, I liked the story. Most of it. When the book was really following the story, there were some parts that I really loved--and still do. However, there was also a fair bit of what I call "running around." You see this in action movies all the time, but it's okay then because you have car chases and explosions and gun battles. It's not exclusive to action movies--Beverly Swerling has called them "highways and byways that don't get you where you want to go", and I think that's apt. It happens in a lot of books, and perhaps even more movies--anything that's not quite as well written as it should be has those sequences where there's a lot of motion, but nothing's really happening.

Well, when I finished the book, I knew it had these flaws. I doubt I would have admitted it at the time, but I could tell. The book was so full of stuff that was just a little off key that I doubt even the best editor would have been all that much help. I spent over three months trying to edit the thing myself, chasing these phantom issues, but the most notable thing I was able to accomplish was to change 70% of the character's names (I'm not kidding. My pilot readers really didn't like that).

But here's the thing I kept coming back to: I had finished a book. I figured I had to be able to get it published, even if I knew it wasn't my best work. I didn't personally know anyone else who had ever finished a book, and my impression was that anyone who did so was more-or-less going to get it published. I mean, there are enough not-so-good books on supermarket racks that you can see where I would get this impression. So I submitted it, and you already know how poorly that went.

That could have been the end of it. I guess for a lot of people it is--by the time I knew that CAYENNE was hopeless, I had spent seven years trying to write and publish a first novel. You might think it would have been difficult to try to start the next project. But the funny thing was, I wasn't even that discouraged. I mean, in some ways I hardly even noticed.

Because I was already on to the next project. If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation with your first book, and you're really a writer, you won't give up. You won't be able to. Hopefully, you're already past this point in your career, or are never going to hit this point, but for those of you who are there now: take comfort in the fact that you're not the only one. In fact, if you skipped the "first finished failure" step of your career, I think you're in the minority. You probably know all the stories of the massive numbers of rejections to various famous authors as well as I do. Mark Twain, John Grisham, Frank Herbert. It's just part of the writing process.

But when you have your next book, the one that's really ready for prime time, remember not to mention that first book in your query letter. It doesn't give the right impression--did I give the right impression here? I hope this wasn't the first thing you've ever read by me! Consider.


Anonymous said...

Good luck. I hope your successful in finding an agent/publisher. I've been enjoying your posts.

I've read your excerpt from the Guardian. Are you open to comments from readers?

Christopher M. Park said...

Hi mig,
Thanks for the well wishes, and I'm glad you've been enjoying the blog.

As far as reader comments on THE GUARDIAN, I am of course open to that! I've had a number of beta readers, and everyone sees something different (and the majority of my beta readers were not themselves writers). Feedback is always invaluable, in my opinion. So, feel free to fire away!