Monday, April 1, 2013

Which novel should I sell first?

This is a trick question, because there's no simple answer. You might not have more than one novel to try to sell. On the other hand, you might have more than one idea, and be wondering where to start first. Or, you might have had an idea that you've been working on for a long time, and you might have come up with another one just to challenge yourself, to see if you have more than one idea (this is what happened to me).

So you know, I do have more than one idea. But the fact of the matter is I have one CORE GIGANTIC IDEA. My core gigantic idea is Varin. I've developed it for nearly thirty years. And yes, I have other ideas - I have another whole novel all written, in fact - but the fact remains that Varin is in my heart.

So what does this mean?

Well, because Varin was my big idea from the beginning, the first novel I ever tried to sell was a Varin novel. And it wasn't ready. This should come as no surprise to you internet experts. It needed more time. I needed to write more, and I needed to solidify my craft and develop my voice and all that. One of the ways I did that was by testing myself to see if I had any other ideas.

I did. I had a really good idea, that turned into a pretty cool novel that I still really really like. But at this point I'm realizing I may have been lucky not to sell it when it was ready. Why? Because one's debut novel should be indicative of one's future career writings. The novel with which one woos an agent should be indicative of the path of one's future, so that the agent knows what he or she will be representing in the future. After all, you want your agent to be ultra-excited about you, and that means having your agent be ultra-excited about what lies at your core.

So here I am, and I finally have a Varin novel that really does Varin justice. And I'm realizing, not only that this is what I should sell first, but that it is what I should always have planned to sell first. It represents not only a bunch of work on a cool idea, but an entire world in which there are more stories than I can count. It's a little scary. Maybe a little like having all your eggs in one basket. But I believe in Varin, and I need to try my hardest to make it work.

So what does this mean for you?

I'm not sure, but I think it means that you have to follow your heart. You have to identify what you love, love, LOVE to write, and write it. Make sure you don't decide it's "done" and can't be improved, though. Don't be afraid to revise. The book you want to write - the book that everyone will love as much as you do - is out there, and if you keep imagining, and you keep looking, and keep working, you can find it. It's hard to wait, I know. Ten years ago I was already thinking, "I want to be published now now now!" But I think it's better to be standing here, unpublished in novels and holding in my hand a novel that I truly love, than to have set the wrong expectations in the first place.

It's something to think about.


  1. I think you're probably right. Not that I'm even close to submitting yet. But I'm rather glad I haven't finished Meridia yet, the first story I really had a full concept for, because my skills were super weak when I started it. Now I've not only learned enough to write better, I can go back and salvage the freshness and voice of the characters I'd started to lose. I've written the beginning so many times, but other than parts of the first couple scenes, I think I'm finally on the right track. Working on my other ideas allowed me time to develop my skills and work out sticking points. I don't know yet which will be the first one ready to publish, but I'm glad I've gone the route I have with them, despite being spread out.

  2. Every time you mention Varin, in examples, in the many, many topics you've written about, I've wondered: where are the novels in this universe? It seemed impolite to ask - but the amount of thought and scholarship that went into each of these posts - and I've only been reading them for a relatively short while - was and is impressive.

    If the novels weren't ready - then they weren't ready. Only the creator of a world/universe gets to decide that. Maybe being published would have forced you to come up with more before you had enough stories worked out in Varin - especially if you are aiming for traditional publishing: there isn't a lot of slack in that system, particularly for new authors.

    What is your next step?

    1. To tell you the truth, ABE, the novel I finished last October (For Love, For Power) was the first one I'd written where I really felt I was "getting it right." The feel of the world was finally right, and that meant toning down the obvious components of the worldbuilding until things could come across as subtly as I wanted. I may be old-fashioned in the eyes of some, but I'm still aiming for traditional publishing at this point. As for my next step, I've just left my previous agent, who wasn't a good match for the Varin works (bless him, because he's very good at what he does). So I'm trying to hit the ground running with the completed novel and we'll see where that goes. Hopefully somewhere good! I'd love to be able to point all of you to books that demonstrate what I'm talking about!

    2. I think that one of the things you get from an agent/publisher combination is the validation of your own belief that the book is READY. An external confirmation of your own feeling that you were "getting it right."

      There ARE established channels for fantasy. Traditional fans look there for it.

      If you don't get an agent suitable for the fantasy, or don't get one quickly enough, or don't get a publisher (but by trying these avenues you may consume an inordinate amount of time), there ARE other options.

      I, who can't imagine finding a publisher in the niche I'm writing, will self-publish. I think I know who my possible audience members are, my 'tribe,' and I'm more worried about finding them and letting them know I've written something they might enjoy reading. It's on the scale of people who don't read much, but loved the 'Left Behind' series, and kids who didn't read much, but were bowled over by Harry Potter.

      You DO know who your potential fans are - the next questions will be 1) can they afford to buy you, and 2) how much of that will you be entitled to keep. But I'm sure you've done that kind of questioning already.

      I'm waiting to hear the answers after you pursue your chosen path.

  3. This really warrants a lot of thought for me. I tend to write across form and genre. The major thing that remains consistent in my fiction are elements of the fantastic, while plays are generally rooted in realism.

    1. Everyone's different, Reggie. I guess I was really ambitious when I came up with Varin, because I wanted it to break all sorts of expectations. It ended up becoming much larger than I imagined it could have. I think it's great that you have such diversity in your work. An agent who wants to sell a thousand mystery novels by you probably wouldn't be happy with that, but that only means that wouldn't be the right agent for you. You should still write what is in your heart.