Saturday, 3 October 2020

Week Forty-Eight: Breathing New Life Into Old Projects

Back in the early noughties, I had a sudden flash of apocalyptic vision and wrote a Young Adult adventure fantasy called The Book of Tongues. It ran to about 50,000 words, which was about right for the time, and involved a princess, magic, a quest, and the eponymous Book, of course.

But it was the first in a series, and I wasn't sure where it would go after Book One, or even if I'd taken it far enough in Book One for the first instalment to make a satisfactory read. I ummed and ahhed over it, did some rewriting, but ultimately had no idea what to do with it ...

In those days, I no longer had an agent. And easy self-publishing on Amazon did not yet exist. Only so-called 'vanity' outlets which would have embarrassed me - not to mention cost me more money than I had, still an impoverished poet with barely a penny to my name!

I was also busy churning out babies at the time, so my novel-writing career consisted merely of writing the occasional saucy novel under a dubious pen-name in order to a.) survive and b.) keep my hand in the fiction game while bringing up a parcel of tiny infants.

So The Book of Tongues went into the proverbial bottom drawer, as I really had no idea what to do with it.

Fast-forward about ten years to 2013, and my career as a commercial novelist had been kickstarted. I now had a new agent and was actively writing and selling novels, including a YA paranormal romance Trilogy. One of those books - Witchstruck - even won the Romantic Novelists Association YA Novel of the Year Award in 2013.

Now more aware of the YA market, I picked up Book of Tongues and re-read it. Having developed greater skill as a novelist, various issues leapt out at me immediately, and I saw at once how to fix them. But the long-term trajectory of the series still escaped me. I had a great set-up, but something was 'off' about the overall world of this fantasy.

So I sat down and worked on a range of possibilities for where the series would go next, and in doing so, I stumbled across the reason why my first book felt wrong in some way. I had been basing everything on a certain well-worn trope in fantasy ... and now I realised how to escape that trope by introducing a different story strand altogether, and so bring something wholly unexpected to the story!

I rewrote the book with this new plot idea in the mix, and enlarged the book at the same time, as during those intervening ten years, YA Fantasy had become much larger and longer, almost unwieldy in length. So the 50K book grew to 75K.

I sent it to my agent, with high hopes of finding a publisher ... and had those hopes dashed.

The idea was exciting, my agent said kindly, and the writing excellent, but the characters were under-developed and some of the confrontations between my main characters and the antagonist were too complex and therefore confusing. 

In other words, the idea was sound but the manuscript still needed work.

At the time, I was snowed under with other projects. I'd just come out of two 3-book contracts with Random House, and was embarking on a third 3-book contract with Hodder. I was also working on some side projects for self-publishing, as Amazon KDP had come along and I'd started self-publishing shorter and unsold fiction manuscripts. 

So I put Book of Tongues back in the drawer.

Fast-forward another seven years to early 2020. (Do you see how long this book has been in development?)

The pandemic of Covid-19 strikes. We are in lockdown. Everyone has decided they have a novel in them, so I'm not alone in spending my days slaving over a hot keyboard.

I have about three projects on the go, under contract. But I finish all those during the lockdown, and look about restlessly for something 'different' to work on before I need to start my next contracted thriller. (I get bored writing in the same genre all the time, and need to blow off steam periodically with different genres and styles of writing.)

The Book of Tongues calls to me.

I re-read it yet again, while studying my agent's notes from 2013. Suddenly, I can see what needs to be done, which was not easy while I was still so close to the project. I find a new thread between my main characters that allows them to bond in a richer, more provocative way.

And I rewrite the book for the third time!

Here's what I think the problem was. When you're fresh from writing a book, especially if that book has been developed over a long period, you can suffer from 'brain fatigue' and feel exhausted at the thought of rewriting it yet again! So although you may get great notes on a manuscript, your brain can't get to grips with what they mean in real terms, and unless you're up against a contractual deadline - which introduces adrenalin and fear into the mix, so allowing your brain to function again! - you are likely to throw the messed-up manuscript away from you and start something else, something less taxing to consider.

This time, I had no brain fatigue but was eager to work on something different.

So I saw the editorial notes clearly and was able to act on them, also drawing on my increased skill and experience as a novelist since back in 2013 to improve other elements of the story and create a smoother read overall.

I also changed the title to THE SPELLWORKER, as I felt the original title, The Book of Tongues, might struggle in today's market. But I retained that concept in my series title.

The book is now nearly 90,000 words long!

So, off it went to my agent again.

Reader, she declined it.

The YA market is tough right now, my agent told me, and the book has elements which might make it less appealing to publishers in 2020 than would have been the case back in the early noughties. There may also be other similar or clashing projects out there right now. Better not to send it out to publishers when I can write something more apposite to the times and find a buyer more easily.

Back to square one, it seems.

Happily though, I still believe in the book, and in 2020 I have options that were not readily available to me in earlier iterations.

I ask my agent's blessing to self-publish and generously she gives it.

As with everything I've self-published, I believe in this book, even if others might not, and I want it to find readers out there, and I also want to be able to write Book Two knowing there are people waiting for it.

The YA market is incredibly tough, I agree. And finding YA readers without going through the usual channels of a traditional publisher is going to be extremely tricky - perhaps even impossible.

But unless I want this book to languish forever unread in a dusty bottom drawer or - these days - in a forgotten computer file, then I must take the plunge and self-publish. Life is short.

Finding value in abandoned manuscripts involves seeing what worked when it was first written that won't work now, because times and the market place have changed, but also what was good about the project and should be preserved. 

It also allows you to see the whole thing with more clarity than was possible when you were still too close to it, perhaps even bringing a little indifference to its fate, so making edits easier to implement.

But you must have full confidence in the project and in yourself as a writer. 

Just because others have said NO to what you've written, and even if it never sells more than a few dozen copies, almost seeming to justify that negative opinion, you must retain confidence in your ability and judgement as a writer. 

Because THAT is all we have, deep down. 


That's what it's all about for writers. So embrace your confidence, and enjoy what comes with it. And don't let anyone tell you no. If you believe in the work, then let's see it.

And here is The Spellworker, a YA Fantasy which I have just indie published under my YA writing name, Victoria Lamb ...




Available NOW in ebook, paperback, and via Kindle Unlimited: support indie authors!





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