Monday, October 29, 2012

Is There Ever a Time to Give Up On that Book?

A few weeks ago a tweep asked me this question and it got me thinking. I've shelved a project I love. It's a book I still plan on getting published one way or the other, but for now, it's mouldering away in my virtual drawer. Why? There are a number of reasons actually - and any one of them could be enough on it's own.

Now, it's important to note that the book market has changed so much since I started trying to get published in 2009, this question has a different flavor than it used to.

For one, with self-publishing successes on the rise and e-readers gaining steadily on paperback, you can always publish a book. There's nothing to stop anyone from putting their story out there. So this question probably applies more to someone who's still pursuing the traditional route.

That said, if you want to make real money in publishing, some of these questions might apply even to a self-published project. Especially if it's your debut.

How do I know what I'm talking about? Well, maybe I don't. But here's a few questions I asked myself when it came time for me to make the decision. If you're considering putting a project aside, maybe they'll help you too:

1. Have you taken the story as far as you're capable of going for now?

As writers we're constantly growing and improving. But sometimes you reach a point with a book where your revisions are little more than reading through and changing a few sentences around, or nit-picking over word choices again. If you've reached the point where your story hasn't changed in six months and you're at a loss as to how to make it better, it might be time to put it aside for a while and work on something else.

2. Is the market saturated?

The book that I've shelved is the first book of an urban fantasy trilogy. Sound familiar? I finished the first draft in 2009 - and had a lot of agent interest over several months. Unfortunately, my writing wasn't as developed as my premise. And by the time my skill caught up with my ideas, the agents were starting to say things like "...I'm just weary of this genre..."

Now, I'm a pragmatist at heart. I know that urban fantasy is here to stay, and sometime in the future it might even be back in vogue. So putting my book aside doesn't mean it will never find an audience. It just means the timing isn't right right now.

3. Are there real problems with the story, characters or premise?

Can we put our pride aside for a moment and just admit that sometimes we get it wrong? Sometimes the story in our heads doesn't match what readers receive on the page. Or maybe a character that captures our hearts doesn't have the same draw for others? Maybe we got so caught up in what we loved that we can't see the flaws? Or maybe the book has been critiqued several time and the same feedback keeps coming - but it's changes we don't want to make.

Whatever the problem, sometimes we have to admit that a problem exists. Again, that doesn't mean the book will never see the light of day. But maybe it's time for it to sit in the shadows for a while so we can focus on something new. Because, as writers, we have to hone our skills. And sometimes in order to get better we have to move the goal-posts.

4. Are you hanging on to the story out of fear?

This might be the biggest question of the lot. It certainly kept me paralyzed for a while. If you've been pursuing publication for a book that you love for a long time, if you've invested months or years into characters you know better than you know yourself, or if the idea of starting something completely new when you weren't even successful this one makes you quake, you might be holding onto that project out of fear.

Consider this: Most published authors I know didn't get published with their first book. Sure, it happens. But not for the majority of authors. Like every other career, there are often steps on the ladder. For authors there are books under their belts (and in their drawers).

Not finding international success your first time out of the gate isn't failure. It's par for the course. Don't let that hold you back. What if your next book is the one? What if this project will be a success in three years, as your second release, or third?

What if by postponing starting on that new idea, you're actually postponing your own success?

Don't be afraid of the work to come. You've learned a lot by sticking with this book. Now, take those new skills and apply them to something else. You've had a lot of practice. The next one might not be easier to write - but it will be comparably better at the end of the first draft because you're a better writer.

Don't let fear hold you back.

5. Finally, do you need a break, rather than a farewell?

Sometimes none of the above problems exist. Sometimes it's just a matter of a story needing more time to percolate, or a writer growing weary of their own world.

If you find yourself dragging at the idea of heading back to the keyboard, or skimming your own work when you're revising, maybe the time has come not to give up, but to take a break.

Maybe what you need is a story vacation? Maybe it's time to explore a new world, safe in the knowledge that this one is ready and waiting for you to come back to it when the passion returns?

Regardless of what issues you face, the most important thing to remember at this point in your journey is that changing projects doesn't equal failure. Do you know that NYT Bestselling author, Beth Revis wrote ten books before she churned out Across the Universe?

Did you know that Lauren DeStefano wrote a book that garnered her a top agent, but the agent couldn't sell that first book? It wasn't until she started on a short-story that turned into a little dystopian novel called Wither that she became one of 2011's biggest success stories?

Conversely, do you know that it took John Grisham over five years to write and get an agent for A Time to Kill?

If you're a writer, you're a writer. Whether this book is your breakout novel or not, it's a step towards what you define as success. Don't be afraid to try something new. But also don't recoil from the hard work involved if it isn't time to put this one aside.

Because your next step might just be the next step.

Your Turn: Are you grappling with the idea of putting a project aside? What could help you make the decision one way or the other?



  1. Aimee, I love this post. For months I have been fighting with a story that I love... but some of the details I couldn't quite figure out. I decided to take a break, started writing a different story, and the answers to my original WIP manifested in the new story. The answers only came when I relaxed and shifted my focus. Yes - vacations sometimes hold the answers to our questions. Great post!

    1. I know exactly what you mean! I had a similar experience. Good luck with both your projects!

  2. New follower here, and this was exactly what I needed. Not that I had an epiphany, but these are the perfect questions for me to ponder. Thanks so much!

    1. Nice to meet you, Elaine! Thanks for joining our little community :) glad to help. Let us know how you go, maybe your experience will help someone else? See you soon!

  3. Great post Aimee. I think these are wonderful questions to ask. For me I. Think I was letting fear hold me back. Working with some CP's got me thinking thatI needed a story vacation. :)

  4. Thank you for posting this topic. I am at the stage of shelving a book I've worked on for nearly a year but feel I've ran into a mental road block. I've started two other projects but keep thinking about the first. I'm glad you posted this topoic because honestly I thought I lost the passion I've had my entire life. Now I see it's a normal process and going to allow myself a break! I would love to find a CP group but live in an area where there aren't any and I don't want to ask friends or family. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Thanks again.

  5. A really great post Aimee. When I first started taking my writing seriously I noticed all sorts of authors had several manuscripts in their drawers before publication. When you LOVE your first novel it's hard to think it will ever be left to languish, but you give so many good reasons why it can (and did) happen (*sighs*). Hopefully those beloved pages will find an audience oneday when, passion, skill and reader demand line up!

  6. A really great post Aimee. When I first started taking my writing seriously I noticed all sorts of authors had several manuscripts in their drawers before publication. When you LOVE your first novel it's hard to think it will ever be left to languish, but you give so many good reasons why it can (and did) happen (*sighs*). Hopefully those beloved pages will find an audience oneday when, passion, skill and reader demand line up!

  7. Brilliant stuff! You're so right - and working on other projects, especially a second, third, fourth novel, is always a good idea! It's only going to improve my writing. It's probably going to be better than that which came before. Its a tough call pretty much every writer has to make for themselves, but in the case of first novels that have been rejected by a good range of agents and publishers, I'd say, work on book two. Put book 1 in a drawer. If you want to be a writer then you have more than one book in you, and maybe the first one you wrote won't be the first one you publish.

  8. This is a great post, and these questions are exactly what I need to ask myself about my current. Thanks! New follower