Thursday, August 16, 2012

Fall Passionately in Love with Your Book

Yesterday, dozens of us 2013 debut kid-lit authors offered writing and marketing advice at WriteOnCon. I feel like I need to expand upon the advice I gave over there, so I'm going to continue my thoughts here.

This is what I said:

Make sure you’ve fallen passionately in love with your book before you try selling it. If you don’t love it, readers won’t either. It’s also perfectly fine to call the book a practice run and move on to a completely new project.

If you're an aspiring writer and you're not feeling passionate about your current project, I don't mean to leave you shaking in your boots. I'm not suggesting you immediately scrap the entire draft of the troublesome manuscript you're tackling. But let me offer some food for thought...

Writing a book isn't easy. You're mapping out plots, struggling to make your characters fascinating and three dimensional, avoiding awkward sentences, keeping grammar in check, etc., all at the same time.

You NEED to have passion to keep you going. If your story is feeling more like a business relationship—something you feel obligated to sit down and do each day—and less like the rush of a brand-new romance, perhaps you should question yourself, "Why am I writing this book?" Is it because everyone else on Twitter is announcing their daily word counts and you want to keep up? Is is because you once caught the writing bug and are fighting to get it back? Or is it because you truly have a story inside you that needs to be told?

In the Shadow of Blackbirds is my first major book success story, but it's not the first manuscript I ever wrote. I started penning a few novels as a kid, completed my first book in high school, and finished another one in college. Those books were set aside. They were practice runs, not ready to head out to the world.

After I graduated from college in the mid-90s, I fell madly in love with an idea for a historical novel geared toward adult readers. I sat down and churned out the pages and daydreamed about my plot on my drive to work and while shopping in the grocery store. I was brimming over with the need to share this book with the world, and I was more than happy to revise it and polish it like crazy after receiving feedback from other writers.

That was the first book that landed me an agent.

The book never sold because of marketing reasons, and I did have to put it aside and move onward. But I learned that my own passion for a story would translate into other people falling in love with it.

Fast forward to 2007. I fell in love with another book idea, which led to me signing with a new agent. The book also didn't sell for marketing reasons. 

Fast forward again, this time to 2009: A brand-new romance bloomed. I fell head over heels in love with an idea for a WWI-era YA ghost tale. I was calling the manuscript simply Blackbirds at the time, and I knew in my gut this book was extra special. Yes, some scenes didn't come easily, and I would end up reworking the entire manuscript numerous times, but I loved the story dearly and always looked forward to sitting down with my characters. My agent and I sold In the Shadow of Blackbirds to Amulet Books in the fall of 2011, seventeen years after I started writing the first book that I sold to an agent.

Were there other books in between that didn't inspire as much passion in me? Yes. Definitely. I had many practice runs along the way—manuscripts I was rushing through just to try to sell anything, but those novels didn't garner agent interest. I knew deep down they weren't my best work, but I was trying to write books I thought would sell... not books I truly loved.

Can you eventually feel passionate about a manuscript that initially feels more like work than pleasure? Yes. I'm working on a new book right now, and earlier this year, that story started feeling more like a business relationship than a romance. After I put the manuscript aside a couple times to work on In the Shadow of Blackbirds edits, some serious character changes hit me, and I found myself daydreaming about the book at the grocery store, in the car, etc. In fact, I'm feeling the itch to work on the new manuscript as soon as I finish this post.

Why do you write? Is it just to put words down on paper in hopes that someoneanyone—will read them? Or is it because you have a story you want and need to share?

Your love for your story will become our love for the story. Find your passion, and you'll eventually find success.  


Rowenna said...

Such an awesome point. I followed you over here from the WriteOn post because of it :) I sometimes think writing a novel is like getting married--it can't just be temporary infatuation, you have to be in it for the long haul! And sometimes that means working at loving your book--at least for me, I have to devote a little time between the long stretches of writing to remember why I love the story so much.

Cat Winters said...

Thanks so much for following me over from the WriteOnCon post, Rowenna. I'm thrilled to hear my advice helped!

YES, I completely agree that a novel often feels like a marriage. In fact, when I was still in the earlier stages of working on IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS, I wrote a post called "My Manuscript and I Have Left the Honeymoon Stage":

Anonymous said...

It's great advice: follow your passion. But what does it mean when a book doesn't sell for marketing reasons?


Cat Winters said...

Great question, Carol. Sorry I didn't explain that in the post.

For a book to sell, an acquisitions editor at a publishing company has to get various departments on board before he or she can make an offer to an author's agent. With my previous two books, it mainly seemed to be the marketing departments that turned the books down, even though acquisitions editors were excited about my manuscripts. When I was trying to sell a historical novel in the late-90s, that genre was considered extremely unmarketable by most publishers, so new authors writing historicals were considered too much of a risk to sign.

Historical fiction still isn't easy to sell, but it's not impossible.

Ara Burklund said...

GREAT post, C!!! Love all of your advice! Makes me excited to get writing again! : )

Cat Winters said...

Thanks, Ara! I hope you get a chance to write again soon. I followed my own advice and wholeheartedly embraced my new book after writing this post. :)