November 14th, 2003

A Pocket Full of Murder

I am an idiot (but we knew that)

I was just going through my old writing files the other day, and paused to flip through the contents of my "Publishers" file. Like many other would-be pros, I have my share of "Dear Contributor ... we regret that this manuscript does not suit our present needs" letters. But I also have a rare gem -- a detailed report on my manuscript from a first reader at a major fantasy publisher.

A first reader, if I understand the concept correctly, is a junior editor or employee at a publishing house assigned to read through a manuscript and write up a summary and comments to help the senior editors make up their minds about whether to buy the book or not.

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As I was reading this over the other day, it struck me how stupid I was not to take this for what it really is -- an extremely positive sign that Knife is a saleable manuscript, including specific, helpful, constructive advice on how to make the novel even more effective. I did take the first reader's comments to heart so far as to try and revise the opening chapters, as well as explaining the motivation in the latter passage to which he'd objected. But since then I've really done very little to try and get the book published. I approached one agent with it (she said the mss. was intriguing but she was too busy to take on any new clients), and entered it in one competition, the Warner Aspect First Novel contest (Tim Powers turned it down). But even that was way back in 1998-99. Since then, though -- nothing.

Why is it so hard for me to work up the motivation to print the thing out, put it in a box, and mail it? Why, when I spent hour after hour writing the thing and dreaming about how wonderful it would be to see it published, do I find myself getting all parsimonious about how much toner it would take to print it and how much it would cost to make a photocopy and pay the requisite postage? Why, when I have let this thing gather dust on my hard drive for the past five years, is my mind still grumbling about how unfair it is that simultaneous submissions are discouraged when it takes anywhere from nine months to two years before a publisher returns an unwanted manuscript? Sheesh, if I'd just kept turning the book around and sending it out, I could have run it through seven or eight publishers by now, and one of them might even have bought it.

In life and creativity, I am an optimist. In marketing and self-promotion, I am a fatalist. "Why bother? Who's going to want an 85,000 word mystery / suspense / fantasy / romance novel with a cast that's 98% female anyway?"

Nevertheless, the book's been sidling closer and closer to the forefront of my mind lately. When I was mulling over what art project to tackle next, I decided what I most felt like doing was an illustration for Knife. And today I found myself writing a new scene for the Prologue: the very first scene in the novel, in fact. And although I ended up throwing out about half of what I'd written, I was pleased with the end result. It gives a much better idea of what the reader can expect from the rest of the book.

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The problem is, though, I ended up reading forward a few chapters and thinking, "You know, if I were writing this book today... a lot of things would be different." Since I first wrote the novel in 1993-94, my style's changed, my approach to character, my perspective on life, even. Part of me doesn't want to try selling the novel until I've rewritten it in my new, more mature style. And yet I know that's just my inner perfectionist/procrastinator speaking: it's a perfectly readable book as it is. Or at least, some people think it is. Whether a publisher will think so... that's another matter. But I won't know that until I give some more publishers, or agents, a chance.

Sigh. How can something so simple be so hard? I can't even blame it on fear of rejection. It's more like... inertia.

Anyway, if anybody wants to read the rest of that chapter, you can find it here. Oh, what the heck, have the first four chapters and tell me if you think they're still too juvenile-sounding or not interesting enough:

Prologue -- Chapter One -- Chapter Two -- Chapter Three -- Chapter Four

Comments and criticisms gratefully received.
A Pocket Full of Murder

(no subject)

There is a long and thoughtful post about the status of my original fantasy novel Knife over in the LiveJournal.

Or if you're just bored and looking for something to read, you can skip all the musing and go straight to the bottom of the entry, where you will find links to the Prologue and first four chapters of the novel.