In my quest to help others produce high-quality books, I’m exploring the various options available to whip a manuscript into publication-ready condition. Conveniently, I already have a couple of completed novel drafts – stories with a beginning, middle and end – that I can put through the publishing process. Note: While I am planning to…
Joseph Dobrian is a freelance writer/editor with more than 25 years of experience. He self-published his first novel, Willie Wilden, in 2011, and his second novel, Ambitions, will be released this fall.
You’ve completed two novels at this point. What is your writing process, and how do you know when you’re done?
For Willie Wilden, the process began with a brief conversation with another author, Joyce Maynard, at a party. Joyce was enjoying considerable fame in those pre-Facebook days, and there was a lot of action on her website’s message board. Joyce and I are always polite, but there’s always been a lot of tension between us. I told her, “Joyce, I’ve got a challenge for you. You say you’re a fast writer; let’s you and I have a race to see which of us can be first to complete a roman à clef using some of the people who post to your board.” She said, “I’ll leave you to do that; that’s not what I write.”
So, Willie started out as a book about a based-on-Joseph character, in conflict with a based-on-Joyce character. Joyce had a friend whom I despised, and he became Martin Wandervogel. As I was brainstorming, I got ideas for other characters. I took a girl I’d had a crush on in high school, and imagined what she might be like in middle age. That became Dora Fox. Because I set the novel in upstate New York, I thought of a couple I knew from up there, who became Frank and Lois Leahy.
Once I had those characters, I forgot about basing the story on Joyce’s message board. Eventually, my brainstorming led to the idea of a “campus novel” about a conservative professor who’s trying to preserve the college’s Indian mascot. That was much more compelling to me. So that’s the story I wrote.
Here’s an experiment in public humiliation: chronicling the publishing process, starting with two completed novel drafts – one for which I’m pursuing a traditional publisher and one that I’m planning to self-publish.
Following is a quick overview of the two (very different) manuscripts in question:
- Traditional. A mainstream novel with experimental aspects, including alternating story lines and one chapter that combines both stories. I’m currently revising the manuscript based on extensive feedback generously provided by an agent I queried.
- Self-publishing. My first NaNoWriMo effort, which is currently chick-lit-gone-awry. The initial draft was 50,000 words. I’m working on draft three or four. The latest manuscript sits at 120,000 words or so with no end in sight. In short, it’s a mess.
The former is far more complicated than the latter, yet it came together much more quickly (solid working draft in nine months) because I spent six months planning it carefully. The NaNoWriMo manuscript covered a full story arc in 30 days, but a decade later, it’s nowhere near ready for public consumption.
Back in the Dark Ages, only the bravest – or dumbest – of souls would confess to being a writer. Such an admission spurred the tiniest flicker of interest, followed by the dreaded question:
“Have you published?”
Most polite people know better than to ask, but manners seem to have fallen out of fashion around the same time as digital watches and rotary phones.
Still, publication has always represented a critical line of demarcation between aspiring writers and those whose efforts have been “blessed” by the mystical publishing industry.
But today we live in a brave new world.
Has anyone been following the battle between Amazon and Hachette? I’ve been reading snippets in the PW Daily newsletter, but I haven’t paid close attention, having grown used to stories about Amazon versus the publishing industry.
Yesterday’s article in The New York Times captured the situation for me in a way that PW Daily’s coverage did not. In short, Amazon wants to free content – specifically, the books that have historically been curated and cultivated by the traditional publishing industry. No more gatekeepers. Let everyone publish, and leave commercial success in the hands of the readers.
As a writer, the prospect of marginalizing the publishing industry terrifies me.