The scary part (of writing)

Here’s a post from Nathan Bransford:

I see very few people talk about this part, while they’re actually in it, where you’ve finished something and you have literally no idea what is going to happen with it. No idea whether it’s going to be a success or disappear into a drawer never to be heard from again. No idea whether there will be a happy ending for all those struggles and whether it will actually feel worth it in the end. The part where you’re just plain vulnerable.

Did I write something the market doesn’t want? Did I go too far against the grain? Did I not listen to other people enough? Was the whole thing several years of misguided work?


Oh, that so resonates right now! The really long book I wrote super-fast last summer, TUYO? My agent thinks that 20 years ago, it might have worked better for acquiring editors than it is likely to right now. She suggests re-writing the first half, about 300 pages, to start with the two countries embroiled in a serious war rather than poised with potential war on the near horizon.

I am actually poking at that right now, just to see how it works.

I see two possible scenarios at this point, and I’m not even entirely sure which I would prefer. Oh, wait, in theory I see three possible scenarios.

a) Don’t revise. Go back to the version that is 192,000 words and cut that in half at a suitable cliffhanger — I have JUST the correct point in mind. This would take only very minimal revision of the ending of the first and the beginning of the second.

Then simultaneously self-publish both books of the duology, with a lower price on the first half and a slightly higher price on the second half. I think that would help lower the perceived investment cost if potential readers weren’t sure, while letting me set an overall reasonable price on what is, after all, a really long story.

If I did that, the second half would be a tiny bit short by my standards, slightly under 300 pages, which seems too short for a novel to me. So I would either expand it a trifle, potentially bringing back some of the material previously cut, or write a novella to fill in the length. By a remarkable coincidence, I have a half-completed novella sitting right here that fills in an incident referred to in the main story. (Craig, if you’re interested, it’s Nikoles Ianan’s story. That was a compelling little anecdote when he related it to Ryo halfway through the novel.)

b) Revise as suggested. I’m kind of doing that now, as I said, but I’m not sure how it will go. It does require completely removing some chapters (at least one great chapter might have to go, sob), and completely rewriting others. As a bonus, however, this substantial a revision should make it relatively easy to drop the wordcount from 178,000 words (starting length of this version) to 160,000 words, which is the maximum my agent feels it should be.

However, it occurs to me that this scenario then potentially splits into two versions, like so

b1) Revise as suggested, and the book promptly finds a home with a traditional publisher that offers an acceptable advance. Let the book go.

b2) Revise as suggested, but the book does not find a home quickly enough; ie, within a year or so. In that case, I could in theory go back to option (a), above. But I could alternatively do something much weirder that I have not seen any other authors doing, but that I think might be interesting.

Should I get to this point, I would have no fewer than three complete drafts, each of which is fairly radically different from the others.

Draft 1: This is the longest version. The overall pace is slower, plus the draft encompasses quite a nice couple of chapters that disappeared from subsequent versions; plus it has a fairly different ending.

Draft 2: Substantially tightened up, thus losing about five chapters from the middle of the original draft. However, this draft does have the addition of various important scenes toward the beginning. It also includes significant revision to the climax, and also to the ending. This is the currently complete version that I prefer, although I do hate to lose those chapters from the first draft.

Draft 3: Of course I haven’t nearly finished this draft yet, but if completed, it will have very dramatic differences to the entire first half, with everyone embroiled in a much more active war at the beginning and a ton of differences that ramify through the story because of that change.

Now, I have never seen any author do this, and may be it would be a stupid idea, but it seems like it might be kind of interesting to self-publish all three version, marking them very clearly as different versions of the same story because I would not want anyone to buy two versions and then feel cheated. But wouldn’t it be interesting to some readers to see exactly how a story changes radically during revisions?

For example, the reader could see how cutting some of those early chapters prevents a sudden lag in pace, at the cost of losing one of the (few, in this story) interesting and important female characters. Or how trying to make the protagonist more central to the action in the climax also forces him to confront his greatest terror, thus amping up the intensity of the whole story. And, of course, given that I complete the current revision, the interested reader could decide whether it was a good idea to start off embroiled in a terrible war, rather than hovering on the brink of a terrible war.

Anyway, just a thought! No need for me to seriously consider any of this yet. First, I need to see if the current revision seems to want to move forward at all.

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9 thoughts on “The scary part (of writing)”

  1. Mary Beth Decker

    Oh wow, I love the idea of 3 separate views of a story (I’m a sucker for deleted scenes). And think about the fun we’d all have arguing over our preferred canon! (Like Clue, in a way, except perhaps with alternate beginnings instead of endings?)

    Really loved the first chapter you posted a few months back, though, so I hope that scene stays in wherever iteration you decide to take.

  2. Rachel Neumeier

    Good to know you don’t think the whole idea seems worthless!

    The introductory scene has been trimmed a bit, and in the most current revision it’s been altered somewhat, but that *fundamental* scene is in all three versions. I really like it too!

  3. Maggie Stiefvater did something like that in The Anatomy of Curiosity, where she and her coauthors provided annotated novellas showing the editing process.

    I think it could be an interesting experiment, but as a non-writer with limited reading time I’d still want to know what the recommended version was so I could choose to just read one (the “best”, as subjective as that determination might be)

  4. Rachel Neumeier

    I agree, I would need to clearly label one my personal pick, or make the back cover copy clear enough to let people choose one, or both.

  5. I would also be very interested in reading all three. Maybe label: what I was told publishers want; what I prefer; and.. whatever the appropriate label for the 3rd version would be.

  6. I would be interested in your A/B versions.
    Maybe not everyone else’s.

    I read a paperback once that was a romance that ticked off every cliché in the “bodice-ripper” checklist of the early 80s. With all its faults, the book stayed in my memory because the author had a real point to make and it was a poignant, gut-wrenching point at that.

    So when the author re-acquired the rights and republished the book as an “author’s cut” version, I read the Kindle version. Then I went back and studied the paperback version, which I happened to have kept (because I belong to the subspecies known as Homo Sapiens PackRatus).

    The author wrote a new foreword for the Kindle version, wherein she bitterly complained about how the original editor had ruined the book with her edits. As far as I can determine, the difference between the first and second versions was the inclusion in the latter of three sentences that made a romance scene more graphic than it had been before. That’s it.

    If this author ever puts out a new “author’s cut” version of a book, I’m going to pass.

  7. Rachel Neumeier

    I was not at all impressed by King’s special edition of The Stand, either.

  8. Allan Shampine

    I was trying to think of when I’ve seen anything similar, and only two instances came to mind. The first was The Stand, which was already mentioned. Upon reading the original, unedited version, I quickly concluded the editor had done a great job and all the stuff cut should, in fact, have been cut. But having said that, I enjoyed reading both versions. The other implementation is a small book called The Gist. This little magical realism short story is about translation, and the gimmick is that the book contains three versions — the original English version, a translation into French (done without any input by the author), then a translation from the French back into English (again done without any input by the author). I found this fascinating. A lot like the game of Telephone.

    So, this would be an unusual exercise. Personally, I would be interested in it. However, I think it’s important to keep in mind that this is a big ask for the readership. The Gist works because it’s a short story, so reading three versions (or two if you don’t read French) is quick. The Stand worked because it had a huge fandom that was deeply invested in the original version. Here, you’re talking about a pretty long work with no preexisting fanbase. If the main selling point is comparing three versions of the story, and each story is individually lengthy, readers may be concerned about the cumulative length and the possibility that they may not like the base story all that much. I suspect that would really limit sales.
    My advice would be to focus on publishing the most saleable version and consider releasing the other two versions as add-ons or bonus content. Ilona Andrews does a lot of that sort of thing. I don’t know commercially whether it helps them or not, though.

  9. Allan, bonus content seems like a good suggestion … though an entire similar-but-different novel is one heck of a chunk of bonus content. But still, maybe I’ll think about framing it that way, if it comes to it.

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