A Year in the Life: Week 19

Catie MurphyCatie Murphy
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I think we’re up to about week 19 of A Year in the Life. Close enough, anyway!

Actually, the past month has been quite a disappointment in writing terms. I’ve finished a short story and done some more book proposals, or at least the first stages of them–synopses.

The first synopsis is for the Big New Project I discussed several weeks ago. At the moment I’ve got about 2000 words written on what is very much a high-level, first pass version of the synopsis. Normally I would think that was actually enough, but the size and depth of this particular project suggests to me that I’m probably going to need to triple the length of the synopsis. And also write a separate world building file, which I assure you I have never done before. :) I anticipate the actual proposal–the rough draft chapters of the book–to come in at a couple hundred pages, or around 50,000 words, because I think it’s going to take that much to delve far enough into the story for editors to get the right feel for what they’re looking at.

It is by far the largest thing I’ve ever proposed, and let me tell you, it’s a little nerve-wracking to know I’m going to be spending probably two solid months of worktime, maybe more, on a project that could possibly never sell.

But this is part of the job. Most of the time, after their first books, writers sell on proposal: a synopsis, chapters, something that says “This is generally what you’re getting.” If you’re proposing books 4-6 in a series that’s selling well, you can be reasonably confident that you’re not wasting time and energy, but sometimes series end, or you just want to do something new.

So, for example, at the beginning of this year I wrote a proposal that I love. Lovelovelove, with sugar on top. I think it’s a wonderful catchy idea with an obvious marketing thrust behind it, and I was very hopeful about the proposal. It was solid, more than fifty pages, and because it’s set in the 1940s it required a fair amount of research on my part, so there was some real time put into it. My agent sent it out, and so far I’ve gotten 5 rejections (out of 7 houses it’s been sent to). One just didn’t like it, one loved it but didn’t like the series story arc (and I’m not sure she’s wrong), two thought it wasn’t a breakout book, and one was concerned about it being set in the 40s. (And the last two are notoriously slow about responding. :))

Anyway, so the point is: proposals aren’t sure things. (Of course, not much in this business is a sure thing…) So knowing I’ll be investing a whole lot of time and energy in this Big Project is on one hand intimidating, because gad, what if I throw the party and nobody comes? But the flip side is that if someone does bite on it, I’ll have a really good grounding to begin from. And if they don’t–it’s annoying, it’s cliched, but it’s also true: I’ll have learned things from doing as much as I intend to do. It’s a different style, a different genre, a different everything from what I’ve been doing, and so that’s going to be worth it on its own.

I think you have to have a certain belief that that’s true, to do this job. I mean, not just a belief that your work is worth reading, but that putting time into something that may not take off is worth doing. That you’re going to learn from it, and that you’re going to in some way improve your skills by doing it. Otherwise I think we’d lose our minds (which of course may be a danger anyway…:)).

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7 comments to A Year in the Life: Week 19

  • Catie, totally agree. Totally totally.

    This business is a lot like being a contractor. A contractor and a potential house buyer look at plans together, and discuss changes and suggestions and desires. The contractor creates a plan just for them, comes up with a price and, if they agree, he starts to build the project.

    Or like being a consultant. Oftentimes, a consultant is brought in, shown a job / problem, and told to offer up a plan of action. If the plan looks good and the two (business and consultant) can agree on a price, the consultant dives in and does the work.

    But the footwork, the pre-planning, is vital and is never a sure thing. The consultant or contractor might not get the job and the early work is not paid for. Which is why we all tell people: If you can do anything (ANYTHING) else except write, do it.

    Many of you know that I keep a full time job for the benefits. But it’s also there as a safety net because my hubby is self employed and does not bring a regular income: his is more spotty, and hit or miss, like mine.

  • “I’m learning.” That’s exactly what I keep telling myself when I realize that my I-thought-it-was-finished-WIP needs *more* revisions before I send it out. And when I get rejected, too. Great advice, Carrie! :)

  • The moment I sat down and said to myself, “Girl, now we are writing a book.” I realised exactly what I was doing. I was going to (and still am actually) investing time and effort into something that might end up in a drawer. I wish there were some guarantees that if I work hard on it my book will sell. But I know now, looking at examples of other writers, that the road to success leads through rejections. And that success is not achievable to everyone. I might never succeed.
    But I also know I will try.

    But in the same time, I work as an editor and content provider in a small but ambitious company, because I am not making any money on my writing or blogging.
    So although I wish I could spend every waking moment writing, I know I cannot.

    Sometimes it’s hard to keep alive the excitement and joy of being a writer. When all the practical and mundane things come into play like synopses, queries, rejections, submissions, revisions and rewrites.

    It’s good to know in moments like that, that we are not alone in this.
    Therefore, I want to thank you for reminding me of that.

  • sagablessed

    We are writers. We have already lost our minds. :P
    Yet we keep doing it. Why? Because we rock, and no one else can keep those worlds alive. Even if we do not make money, the stories must be written.

  • Exactly. I’m not writing my WIP to have something good to read, it’s because people invade my mind from some odd place and make me do this. I can run but I can’t hide. The story *will* get told, it’s merely a matter of how long it takes me.

  • I’m sure I’m going to have a bit of an issue with my recent novel WIP (odd I have to differentiate between novel, short story, or song lyrics now ;) ). I’m kind of going sort of as David started with Thieftaker, as an alternate but similar to earth world sort of deal around our 1940s era. Using a fictitious city. It’s a somewhat pulp era vigilante hero type deal, hearkening back to old film noir and the pulp novels and comics, so I wanted it to have that “not-quite-earth” feel. I’m loving the tone of the piece, but I do have to push aside the thought that the alternate earth bit might be a mark against the work. I’m doing a bit of research as I go as well, but also thinking on how I can tweak our tech and history to make it a different place, playing the what-if game, so to speak. We’ll see, I guess.

  • Oh, whew. People did comment. *laughs* For some reason MW didn’t send the comments to me and I was like “…did I even POST that thing?” But obviously it took a while to come have a look. :)

    Faith: yeah, this is contract work, innit? The parallels are rife. :)

    I’m very pleased, actually, that readers here really do seem to recognize the vagueries of this job. I mean, one /has/ to be ambitious to become a professional writer, but also understanding the risks is important. My hat is off to you guys, it really is.