Friday, November 12, 2010

Ambitious and Strategic

Free-form Friday

Several years ago I learned that my first novel was too ambitious to be my first novel.

What do I mean by that?

Lots of people talk about writing the "break-out" novel, but before you do that, you need to write the "break-in" novel.

There are many areas of endeavor where you've got to prove your ability before you're given free reign. I don't think we should be surprised that commercial publishing is one of them.

We often encourage writers to follow their dreams, reach for the stars, go for the gusto, but many of the ambitious people who have attained a measure of success understand that passion must be tempered and disciplined with strategy.

Serendipitously, I came across a reference to a post by Aprilynne Pike on writing firsts. I recommend you read her entire post, but here's a sample:
"Okay, I have been thinking a lot about firsts lately. And by first I mean, your first agent, your first book deal, your first publisher, etc. In case you are not familiar with my history, I spent almost two years looking for an agent and then spent a year with that agent (and two different books) before I got a contract. By the time I got an agent, I was basically desperate enough that I probably would have taken any legit agent I could get. By the time I got published, I would have taken just about any legit publisher I could get. I know a lot of aspiring authors have felt and do feel the same way.

"But maybe it's not that simple.

"I owe my agent connection to luck. I will state that right out front. But because I did end up with my incredible, fabulous agent, she matched me with a wonderful editor and a house I could not be more happy with. But, also luck, I managed to get the idea for a genre I am more than happy to spend my whole career writing in. All of my firsts, set me on the path I want to be in. On the path that my fit my goals. But, what was not luck, is that when it became obvious that my book was not going to sell, I looked for another way to meet my goals. I wrote another book. It eventually lead me to the career I have now."
For good or ill, publishing is very much about pigeon holes. Strategic writers take care to choose a pigeon hole with which they are comfortable.

Aprilynne goes on to say that she's watched others who took the first agent or deal they got find themselves in places other than where they wanted to be (e.g, a small press, or a genre that isn't their first love).

Here's her final admonition:
"Not everyone is going to be a bestseller/lead title/ next big things/etc. That's not the point. But whatever your personal goals are, don't settle for less just because the other option is shelving your book and trying again. Those firsts are so important. Make them the right firsts."
November on the writing calendar is overshadowed by NaNoWriMo. I know this month is all about getting the words down--and I don't mean to distract--but when you can't get to the keyboard, it might not hurt to consider the bigger picture: what are your goals and your strategy to reach them?

Image: Photography by BJWOK /

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