When Best Laid Plans Go Astray~~~
Robert Burns is oft quoted about best laid plans. A fine Scotsman, he had the right of it―they can surely go astray!
Sometimes, this business is not about what you have done or will do, but it’s about realities that pop up in your journey and how you handle them. Any writer serious about being a career author should learn the business. It’s vital. Knowledge is, as they say, power. The more you learn about publishers and editors, the better your chances are of getting that call. You might have the next Gone With the Wind penned, but unless you pay attention to what a publisher is selling, submitting your work to the wrong publisher or editor nearly always guarantees a rejection. Good doesn’t always sell. Why? Publishers have a style, and they are searching for authors who match that. Therefore, knowing what their style is, that imprint, and what an editor likes, can really put you ahead of the game.
Once a serious writer gets that far, then they should develop a long range plan. Not just pushing for the sales of that current WIP, but what books three, four and five will be if you sell book number one! Generally, publishers buy two to three books plus an option in a contract. You have that Gone With the Wind to sell and happy they want it. Then comes the big question…what is your second book? After that you face what is your option book? If you haven’t planned that far ahead, then you are in big trouble. I’ve seen this happen to friends, and they quickly toss out some idea to land that contract, locking themselves into a half-baked concept and setting up a weaker second book. So plan ahead. Know where you are going with your books. It doesn’t have to be a series, mind, but see what books you will be writing in the future. I am never solely focused on the current project, but books one to two years down the road. This business moves fast and it won’t wait for you to figure out where you want to go with your career.
That said, once you become the efficient, well-planned author, you must learn to cultivate a crucial trait for survival―the ability to adapt. Why? After all, you are organized now, knowledgeable and ready to face New York and all it has to toss at you. Because until you sell that first book and go through the whole process, you really don’t know just what you will be facing in being a published author. Well, duh? True, it is slightly rhetorical to make that statement. Only, until you are on the other side of the process, you will never understand the frantic demands on your time that detracts from your writing. Interviews, PR, chats, loop chats, book ads, book signings, conventions, and blogging―all this gobbles up your valuable writing time that you need to make those deadlines. You are used to producing a book in two-to-four months, and think you can do two to three novels in a year? Sure. Piece of cake, right? When you give those promises to a publisher you are not figuring in the time for all the PR. Most writers will tell you they had no idea just how much precious writing time is lost promoting your book.
Worse, life has a way of coming along and tossing a spanner in the works. Health is one issue you have to keep on top of. Becoming sick can really mess up schedules. Family time and issues are another. If you are still working, factor in possible overtime, etc. We won’t discuss natural disasters such at Katrina, tornadoes or floods! An author is like a performer up on the high wire―balancing on the ball of his foot, holding a chair by the leg in one hand, a broomstick with a spinning plate in the other, and trying to keep a ball from falling off the tip of his nose. If one thing falls, it all comes tumbling down!
Aside from the practicalities of time scheduling, health and planning for your future WIPs, you face the most aggravating thing of all―actual shifts in your writing plans. This time, it’s summoned by troublesome characters who think they know best―and often do―or publishers suddenly asking for a novella for an anthology or even a book you hadn’t thought up much less plotted out.
Such is the case of my historical novels. Originally, my Dragons of Challon series for Kensington Zebra Historicals (A Restless Knight, June 2006; In Her Bed, July 2007) were part of a series of seven books. As I was going to contract on the second set of two books in the series last August, I was working feverishly on Guillaume’s story, to be followed by Simon’s. Well, as the contract was negotiated, my editor suddenly asked me to do a Christmas book for my third book. Super plum! Naturally, I jumped at the chance. Christmas novels are a coveted slotting; they sell more than your regular books since readers will buy it simply because it’s a Christmas story. It’s a quick way to double your reader base. So, I had to scramble to come up with One Snowy Knight (October 2009). Being an adaptable writer who loves a challenge, that didn’t prove too hard to come up with a whole new book in my series. But then, as I was finishing up this novel, and beginning work on Guillaume story (Yield to the Knight, TBA), another book I had set as book seven, Redemption, suddenly started clamoring to be written. I spoke to my editor to see if I could move Guillaume story back, yet again, and do this one in its place. Fortunately, it hadn’t gone into physical production (covers and PR, etc.) so I was able to move it up in the series. Poor Guillaume will have to wait until book five to have his romance with Rowanne finished.
Being an author with contracts to two different publishers, and having series with both, this situation is doubled for me. My Sisters of Colford Hall for Dorchester (The Invasion of Falgannon Isle, December 2006; Riding the Thunder, October 2007) is moving into the third and fourth books. A Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing is set for June 2009. The series was set on seven sisters finding love better the second time around, so that much is fixed. However, one sister is already screaming to be moved up in the queue!
So get clued-up. Plan, plan, plan. But then, expect the unexpected and learn to rock with changes, as they may happen for the very best.
~~~ Deborah Macgillivray
Deborah is author of four novels and twelve novellas in the past two years. Her novels have been sold for translation in Germany, Japan and Brazil. They have won many awards, including Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, The Beacon, The Laurie, The Lories, More than Magic, PEARL Award Winner and more. She is also a reviewer for Paranormal Romance Reviews, The Best Reviews and Sensual Romance Reviews.
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