Friday, October 29, 2010

Eating the Elephant

Most writers learn about the publishing industry and all that getting published entails well before they complete, or even start, a book.  Me, on the other hand, I came into the world backwards and continue my journey in a bassackwards kind of way. I didn’t even think about these things until the manuscript was complete. The day I actually sat down and started researching what my next step should be, I discovered I would be spending a lot of hours revising and rewriting. After that, I would have to tackle the dreaded query letter, then craft a concise and interesting synopsis.  And while I'm doing this, I needed to wade through hundreds of agents and find a good match who might be interested in what I'd written. Who said writing the book was the hard part?  If I ever find who said that I’m going to flog them. Writing the book was the easy part! 

I had no clue about queries, synopses, and literary agents.  I had no idea that between 80K and 120K words was the preferred size for a first manuscript.  Who knew that shelf space and paper costs played that much of a role in getting published.  For me, a 400 page novel is a quick read.  I’m one of those who skips over the thin books and goes for the nice long read; I want to live with characters for a while. Unfortunately, I write the same way I read.  Imagine my horror when I realized I had a 270K tome that had to be pared significantly, well beyond the obvious rewrite into two books. Needless to say, the day I learned these things I felt like beating my head against the wall. I went from the sheer joy of having finished a manuscript to complete and utter despair in a matter of minutes. 

Then I remembered the elephant.  How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time. So, that’s what I did; I focused on eating the damn elephant.  I gagged on it the first week of my new diet, then I started developing a taste for it the more I consumed. That was about three weeks ago. I trimmed all the fat from the book. If it didn’t move the story and play a significant role it got cut; if it could be rephrased more efficiently, it was. I was brutal. I rearranged, brought conflict and action to the fore; I did all the things I learned you are supposed to do. As a result, I have a much tighter book. Next, I tackled the query, where you condense the essence of the story into one or two intriguing paragraphs that will hook the reader and make them want to read more.  I never knew two paragraphs could be so difficult. That was an elephant unto itself. The synopsis may be the worst of all three efforts. Imagine squeezing a 400 page story into six, making it enticing. I wrote the synopsis yesterday, it is done, ready to send.

The elephant is nothing more than a heap of bones.  Who knows, I may decide to stew those bones for soup.  I can only hope that one of the queried agents will be interested enough to ask me to do exactly that.