Never become married to a concept. To do so can kill you. It can bury your work so deeply it will never see the light of day, let alone a publishing house.
It might be argued I am not the one to discourse authoritatively on such matters, never having been published… to date. Still, I have been on this path for several years and I am rapidly approaching the million word mark: the minimum number many allege one must write to polish one’s craft sufficiently. Agents are beginning to pay my work serious attention and provide encouraging feedback—not the rejections I used to receive. And I am learning to listen, both to those in the industry who have read what I’ve written, as well as to my gut.
When I attended the PNWA Summer Conference in Bellevue, Washington last summer (The Path to Publication – Part 2, BIWP August 2011 posts), I pitched my thriller, The Messenger, in which the protagonist is visited by an angel. Genre bender, I thought. I’ll bridge two markets: readers of the paranormal and thriller enthusiasts. It turns out I was wrong. While agents and editors alike were excited about the book’s political component, they were without exception turned off by the angel. One editor gave my writing high praise, but said, “I am going to ask you to do one thing and you’re going to hate me for it.” I thought a moment, then replied, “Get rid of the paranormal.” “Yes!” she exclaimed. “Do that and you’ve written a tight, compelling political thriller.”
Guess what? I am much of the way through a massive rewrite and the book is far stronger than I had originally envisioned. When I told one agent what I was doing —someone who loved my writing but confessed she could not think to whom she could sell the paranormal aspect—she asked to review the manuscript once it was finished, as did another.
On top of these encouraging requests, I’ve shed some tension. Nowadays, every commercial success demands a sequel. Anticipating eventual publication—I can dream, can’t I?—I had been working on one. While the core, political concept was coming along nicely, I could find no way to reintroduce the angel. My protagonist had performed the task she had assigned him. What then?
But once I had decided to eighty-six her, why, piece of cake. Endless story concepts began to emerge. Should I ever be so fortunate to find my way into print, I have years of writing ahead stemming from a sound, original, well-received concept. All I have to do now is produce the book the story deserves.
To be continued.