After I finished writing the first draft of my latest novel, I thought I had succeeded in crafting a new genre.
How unaware I was of the dangerous second draft.
Upon rereading the manuscript, I noticed the story fell apart in the middle, although the ending was exceedingly strong. My intention was only to fix the glue between “Once upon a Time” and “The End.”
After editing the first 100 pages, I hit the middle. The sludge depressed me. How was I going to make sense of the mess? The characters had evolved, but not consistently. The conflict had escalated, but unrealistically. The complications were more complicated, but required charts, graphs, and a Power Point presentation to understand it.
Luckily, my daughter came to the rescue. She sat down with me one evening and asked me why my mood reflected the rain clouds in the overcast sky. I confided how I was mired in the middle of my story.
“What should I do?” I asked.
My daughter thought it over. “If I was the main character, I would go to my best friend.”
It seemed like such a simple action, but it cut through the dense confusion that I almost cried from relief.
Immediately, 50 pages disappeared from the manuscript. I started writing where my daughter suggested and a whole new middle unfolded effortlessly.
By the time I reached the third act, the characters had evolved and the conflict needed a new resolution. What was I going to do? I loved the original ending. It was strong. It was unconventional. But it no longer worked.
I had to write a new ending.
Is the second draft perfect? Hardly. But it is one step closer on the road toward publication.
People ask why I haven’t published my young adult novel although the unpublished manuscript has won awards.
The answer is simple: I haven’t received a good contract.
Sure, I’ve had offers, but they’ve all been lacking in one way or another. Because I don’t have an agent, I’ve had to review and negotiate the terms and conditions on my own. Most publishers have been reluctant to address any of my concerns. They prefer not to alter any of their broiler plate language unless agents or attorneys are involved.
Here are the top five contract deal breakers and how to avoid them:
1. No advance. Traditional publishers are willing to pay a sum of money to an author before the manuscript is published. Often they will pay half of the money upon signing the contract and the other half upon delivery of the final manuscript. After all, authors need money to fund research and writing expenses as well as pay their bills. Without an advance, authors must rely on royalty payments, which are often paid only quarterly after the book’s release. With the traditional publishing cycle taking an average of one year between acceptance and publication date, an author without an advance must find another source of income.
2. Exclusive right to everything. Most publishers will want exclusive rights to print and electronic formats of a manuscript for a certain period of time. Some publishers, however, want blanket rights to everything related to the manuscript, from movie options to merchandising rights, often without extra payment. If an author signs a contract with blanket rights, that author could be missing out on additional sources of income.
3. No promotional plan or budget. Even with the proliferation of free online marketing, a publisher unwilling or unable to offer either a promotional plan or budget is setting the author and the book up for failure. Many authors do not have the luxury of spending their advance on book tours, advertising, and a full-time publicist. Publishers need to partner with their authors to ensure the book’s success.
4. One way termination clauses. Many contracts stipulate that if an author does not deliver an “acceptable” final manuscript by a certain deadline, the publisher reserves the right to terminate the contract and demand repayment of the author’s advance. What about the publisher not delivering an “acceptable” finished product or fulfilling its obligations in the marketing plan? Unless an author stipulates in the contract the terms and conditions in which the author can cancel the contract, the one way termination clause does not prevent the fallout that can happen during mergers and acquisitions in which books get canceled before publication because they no longer “fit” on the publisher’s list.
5. First rights to purchase future manuscripts. It can be flattering to be offered a contract in which the publisher reserves first rights to accept the author’s next manuscript. Although this agreement can work well for both parties, troubles exist if the author doesn’t like working with the publisher on the first book and is now obligated to sell the second book to them. More problems arise if the first book does exceptionally well and the publisher refuses to negotiate a more equitable contract.
When I find a publisher willing to accept my deal breakers, then I will sign a contract to publish my young adult novel.
Until then…enjoy the books I’ve already published.
Writing a novel is like being pregnant. You can write whatever you want without anyone judging you just as you can eat whatever you want without anyone judging you. People ask with interest about the progress of your novel just as people ask about the stage of a pregnancy. “Oh, I’m halfway through the first draft,” you say, which is the equivalent of saying, “I’m in the start of my second trimester. The queasiness is over. The fatigue is gone. And I feel great!”
The closer you get to the finish, however, things change. People become annoyed by how many social obligations you miss and how distracted you seem to be because you’re caught up in another world. Just as at the last stage of pregnancy, you become irritable and uncomfortable, unable to eat without heartburn and unable to find a comfortable position to sleep because you are so big you feel like a beached whale. You want to finish the book; give birth to the baby. Have the excitement and the misery end.
But once you type, “The End,” the elation and relief ebb away. Anxiety and depression sometimes follow. All those months spent on high alert, jotting down notes in the middle of dinner, waking up in the middle of the night hearing your narrator’s voice, suddenly evaporate. The adrenalin rush crashes, and suddenly you find yourself deflated and empty. The road that stretches before you is miles and miles of toil and work. The baby has been born. Now the anticipation has been replaced with the real work of the frequent feedings, diaper changes, and mothering to raise the child into a good human being. Just the anticipation of writing a novel is replaced with the real work of editing, publishing, and marketing.
Finishing a novel is a lot like giving birth. You have the same feelings of fear and anxiety, elation and relief once you get to the final chapter and type “The End.”
I always go through postpartum depression whenever I finish a novel. All those weeks leading up to the finish, full of adrenaline and excitement, working non-stop around the clock between my everyday life and the life of my fictional world suddenly deflates once the book has been written. Gone is a whole half of what I have been engaged in, and the lost is enormous.
Now I wake up and glance at the clock and wonder who will greet me when I rush to the computer. Sure, I could start the edit or the next book in the series and plunge right back into the world, but I prefer to work with breaks. Sometimes the breaks stretch too long and suddenly I am stranded in what would look to others as writer’s block. Most times, however, I engage in smaller, more manageable projects to keep my creative juices flowing. This time I feel the need to return to my painting, which has been sorely neglected during this last novel.
Sure, there are other tasks that involve writing: the one-sentence pitch, the back copy blurb, the marketing materials that will be printed on bookmarks and postcards and press releases and online in blogs and forums. But that’s different. It is the business side of writing, and it is very different than being immersed in a separate world where things are happening, stakes are high, and emotions even higher.
The postpartum phase of finishing a novel is a natural part of the writing process. It does not have to end in depression, although mine always tend to. I think it’s because I immerse myself deeply in my work and experience “The End” as a loss rather than a celebration. Joy comes from writing, not having written. If I am not writing, I am not a writer. I’m only a part of who I am, and I think that adds to the sense of loss.