At the beginning of the month, I mysteriously mentioned that I was "reconsidering publishing tactics." Well, since then I have spent about half a dozen journal pages--and a fair bit o' brainspace--tossing the ideas about. Though it scares me a little to move these thoughts from a private journal and personal conversations to a place as public as a blog . . . I shall bare my soul. (Not really. Just inform you of my thought processes on this topic.)
The blog post that knocked me over
In July, I read a post on She's Novel that tossed all my plans upside down. (By the by, if you've never checked out Kristen Kieffer's blog, you're missing out on some awesomely detailed writing advice!) In How to Create a Smart + Savvy Publishing Plan, Kristen talks about how your first novel is not necessarily the one you should publish first.
The whole post is golden, but what really jumped out at me was this: for a publishing house, signing a brand new author is always a risk. But it's riskier to publish a debut author's first-book-in-a-series than it is to publish a debut standalone novel. Because what if that first-in-a-series flops? They're left with an unfinished series, which is kind of awkward for everyone involved. If it's a standalone (especially one with series potential) however, it's not as big a deal if it bombs; and if it succeeds, they can capitalize on it by having the author write follow-up books.
Or--here's another thing--if you have a series you want to publish, but you're a new author . . . You could publish a standalone in the same (or similar) genre to prove to publishers, "Hey, I can actually sell genre X. I have an audience! They like what I'm writing! And, just a little aside, I also have a four-book series in that genre I'd like to get out there."
And the publisher might say, "What's that? A series in the same genre? Can we have that too, please and thank you?"
Because you've got a track record, taking on your series is now less risky.
What does this mean?
Remember my long-time baby, The Prophet's Quest? For years, it's been my dream and my plan to publish that first, and to follow it up with The Prophet's Key and at least a couple more books in the series. Epic high fantasy with dragons and world-hopping--that's my jam. It's a series I've poured time and effort and pieces of myself into since I was twelve.
Now all of a sudden, I'm hearing advice that suggests delaying that plan. Again. If there was one word that could sum up the journey of writing this Journeys of the Chosen series, it would be DELAY.
I read the She's Novel post, nodded along to some parts, but kind of passed off the rest as a "that might be good for you, but not for me" sort of thing. (Don't we all like to think we're the exception to the rule?) But I gave it some more thought, and uncomfortably realized she made a lot of sense. Plus, I don't relish the idea of shopping The Prophet's Quest around for months, if not years, waiting for a bite.
Now I'm thinking it would be the wisest course of action to first put out a YA fantasy standalone, and then get TPQ & Company into the big, wide world.
The next question is what that standalone should be. Why, The Brightest Thread, of course! While trimming it down to size for the Five Magic Spindles contest last year, I ached because there was so much more story to explore, and the word limit kept me from doing so. But even in its lean, streamlined form, this story made it to the top ten list,* which gives me hope that it could become a successful debut novel--once I expand it, of course.
*I'm still in shock when I think about it!
There was something special about writing The Brightest Thread. I felt as if I'd truly discovered my voice. The story and I just clicked, and though there were struggles along the way, most of the writing felt very natural. Very much me. In the context of a fairy tale world, I could paint in vivid color and deepest black. I could craft my sentences with musicality and rhythm and punch. I could draw out themes in a fantastical way different from the more grounded Journeys of the Chosen books. Thinking back on Luci, Hadrian, Aleida, and Vyntyri, I sense they have a fuller story to tell.
But reaching this decision was not one resolute nod of the head and squaring of the shoulders. Like I do with many big decisions, I deliberated. A lot.
- It feels like abandoning my "baby," Journeys of the Chosen. I've never been the type to leave a good story in the dust to chase after a shiny new one. I hate quitting things I'm passionate about.
- It feels like betraying the mentors who helped me so vastly with The Prophet's Quest.
- I'm scared that after expanding and publishing The Brightest Thread, I would return to my series and discover I've outgrown it. And if my love for it does grow cold, maybe TPQ was never meant to see the light of day. Oh, it pains me to entertain such thoughts!
My brain offered arguments against all three hesitations, however.
- It's not abandonment, just postponement. I don't want to give up Journeys! I will come back to it, just at a later date than expected.
- Practically speaking, it's not betrayal. The mentorship I've received has affected all of my writing, not just this series.
- I have outgrown them numerous times, and each time the series has evolved along with me. Every break away only fosters my love for it, so that when I come back, it's new and exciting again.
So what's the plan?
Once I get back into agent research, this means I'll be researching with The Brightest Thread foremost in my mind, and Journeys second. And it probably also means I won't begin querying this year like I thought. There's information to gather and things to write first.
But I don't like leaving one project hanging unfinished for long, so I will finish drafting The Prophet's Key before moving on. It's currently sitting at just under 60k words. I've been consistently adding approximately 10k a month, so at this rate I expect to finish sometime between the end of 2016 and the end of my first year of college. That's a big window, I know, but it's impossible to predict how much I'll be able to work on it while in school!
TPK is trying to throw a bit of a wrench into those loose plans, though. It's telling me it needs to be split into two books. Say what now? Well, the pacing is weird. According to my outline, I kind of have two climaxes. There's a very distinct line between the first half of the book and the second half--and the first is becoming quite a large half, even though there are lots of details I've left out. We'll see. I'll have a better idea of whether or not to split it up once I reach that halfway point.
(And today is not the day to get into the concern that if I split it, book 2 will be a letdown for readers. After spending most of book 1 in Alewar, who's going to want to hang out on Earth for a whole book? But I said I wouldn't go into that . . .)
Anywhozens. Once that draft of TPK is complete, whether it's half my outline or the whole kit and caboodle, I want to rewrite an expanded version of The Brightest Thread.
And then we shall think about querying agents and such!
It's my not-so-secret hope to go to the Realm Makers writing conference . . . hopefully next year? It's being held in Reno, Nevada, which is a long ways away for me--but Ted Dekker is going to be the keynote speaker. (!!!) I mention this now because wouldn't it be the most awesome thing ever to have The Brightest Thread rewritten in time to pitch it to agents at the conference?! Big dreams, yes, but it's something to shoot for, right?
Flexibility is key!
Some of these things are next to impossible to plan because there's no way of knowing how full life will be or how well the stories will flow. If nothing else, I have the sequence of events laid out--finish drafting The Prophet's Key, write the new and improved The Brightest Thread, get TBT published, then start publishing the Journeys of the Chosen series. It's the timeline that is very much subject to change!
And now I've talked about myself for more than long enough. I wanted to keep y'all in the loop, but didn't mean to get so longwinded.