Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Changing for the better

At my day job, we're always reminding ourselves, each other and employees about the inevitability of change. "Gotta be flexible," we say. "The world is different; it's never going to be the same." To emphasize that reality and help workers accept it, there are books like, Who Moved My Cheese and scores of other business resources that tout the same basic principle: Nothing stays the same. As much as I live and breathe this thought at work, I didn't really apply it to my writing life the same way.

And it's not just me. Colleagues seem to lament upheavals in an industry that is very busy turning itself inside out these days. Doesn't this seem silly from a group of people who individually and collectively can not exercise enough self-control to look at a manuscript page without editing or revising something? Isn't change what we do under the guise of polishing and perfecting?

When I wrote Where Souls Collide, the title changed umpteen times. It was called Inkling at that point and even finalled in a writing contest. After the contest win though, I too, the book's good score as a sign to change the story. "You didn't win," I told myself. "So something needs to be fixed."

That fix resulted in me deleting about 60 percent of the story. What I came to realize when I finished writing Inkling was that the world had changed -- a lot -- in the five years since I started the story. Heroines no longer had an entire book to complete a character arc that left them savvy and empowered. No, kick-ass was in and my girl had to get some attitude. Oh, and I changed the title.

The book sold within the year.

But after that first sale, came the selling of the book itself. Since I was lucky enough to have a day job as a communications professional, I knew how to develop a marketing plan and where to find resources to help execute that plan. Then, I went out and advertised, promoted, interviewed, updated my web site, and so much more. Including starting a blog.

Fast forward a couple of years, and my second anthology is due out in two weeks. With this story, I'm happy to report, no gutting took place because I have a better understanding of plotting and story structure. There's a marketing plan with the same basic tactics I applied to my debut, but this time online promotion gets its very own page in my plan. And my writing process has changed once more to reflect the reality of a publisher's deadline and not my own forgiving timetable.

Are the changes in my writing world easier to make than the ones in my working life? Sometimes. While altering your favorite scene in the book of your heart can be tough, more often you're driven by the desire to sell your story -- whether that's to an editor, a reviewer or a reader. You want the story your imagination concocted to be liked. It's change that writer's accept; the kind that helps people "get" your story. That's good.

But change that cuts your cost-of-living raise, increases your duties, or eliminates your job, well, that's bad. For me, this kind of change is harder to take and to make because I have so little control over the factors that led to the change or even the outcome of those changes. With a book, if I want my heroine to become more aggressive, I have control over my hero's reaction and the couple's happily-ever-after.

More importantly, the overall changes that I've gone through as a writer, now published author, have led to a deep sense of personal and professional growth I would not have achieved if I'd chosen to remain stagnant and not flex with the publishing industry.

The digital era is descending on books, the way downloaded music crashed into that industry. What's important to remember is that iTunes may have replaced the distribution point, but it didn't stop the music from being made. Those who can work within that change have a better chance of selling CDs in the new world than those who throw up their hands and refuse to accept the evolution.

As long as I continue to learn, produce quality stories, and like what I'm doing in the process, I'll flex (within limits) to make writing work for me. But what about you? What are you willing to change within a story or yourself in order to make a sale? What industry changes are you looking forward to -- or not? What have you learned about yourself as a writer since your beginnings? Let us know! And thanks for stopping by to share my musings and yours.



Danica Avet said...

This is a great topic. I was at a panel where this was discussed by published authors and editors. What they said made sense, but I worried that a lot of new authors (like myself) are so keen on just getting published, they'll lose sight of what their story was about.

I don't mind change. I want my story to be the best it can be, every author does. But how far is too far? What happens if the changes they suggest are so extensive that it changes the entire story? At what point do you say 'I don't think this is going to work'?

Lol, you were asking questions and now I'm asking them back! Sorry! Great post :)

Jewel Amethyst said...

Just this morning I was working on a post about writing as a hobby as opposed to writing as a career, and a lot of the things in your post touched on the differences.

Definitely your writing changes once you begin to understand what publishers are likely to invest in.

Stefanie Worth said...

Danica -
You added to the question list, but I think it's important that writers ask themselves what they want out of their pursuits -- solely pleasure or sales and publication. While you do need to be marketable to sell, I also think everyone should have their "deal breaker" item; something they refuse to change just to be published. Otherwise, if you'll change anything to any extent, I don't think you believe in what you've written. Make sense?

Stefanie Worth said...

Jewel -- I think your writing does shift once you're published. Having a taste of the business side definitely provides a different perspective on being an author.

Farrah Rochon said...

Hmm...just cut 30,000 words from a story I loved in order to make it sellable. That's something I thought I'd never be able to do.

Very interesting to read about how you've grown and accepted changes in your own writing, Stefanie.

Stefanie Worth said...

Farrah --

I've been negotiating this thought process from the beginning. Where Souls Collide was not written as a romance. But when it sold to Dorchester on proposal, I knew that I'd sent it to a romance line and that it needed a happily-ever-after to get published. You cut 30K to make your work sellable, I added 2500 words to define my characters' HEA.

I think we walk a fine line but I don't think writing what you want and writing what will sell have to be mutually exclusive. It's just a matter of what each of us sets as our personal goal. For me, extending the ending of my story didn't change its core, but it sealed the sale. Voile.

Liane Spicer said...

Conundrums within conundrums. My title stayed the same from before the book was written right up to publication. The agent never asked me to change a thing. The editor asked little of me but to delete a dream sequence somewhere near the end. I sighed and did it because I knew the excision wouldn't detract from the story. That was the first book.

The second book is a whole different story. Agent suggested changes. I thought they were fair and did them - eventually. Then she asked me to cut a lot of the story out - even parts I loved! (She didn't specify which parts, but I can guess.) I did some soul searching, discussed the issue with a couple other writers, and read articles on the subject by some pretty savvy pros. I decided I'd make no more changes until/unless the book sold and an editor required them. My agent is probably right. She's been selling books for many years and she knows the industry. I respect that, but there will always be limits to the compromises I'm willing to make, and I accept that some stories might not be sold as a result. Who knows - I might change my position on this in time. It's all part of the process.

Then there are the changes I initiate myself. I wrote the first draft of Cafe au Lait in 1997 when few people here had mobile phones. Years later when I was polishing the MS I realized that a critical scene could not work because a landslide and downed land line no longer meant complete isolation from a world in which everyone had at least one cell phone. Changes, changes. Rewrites.

Years of experience in living come between my first book and my second. I've lost a lot of the naivete and I'm more grounded in reality, so I cannot write ingenue heroines any more. I'm tougher, and so are my heroines. I've had to grapple with hard times, tough issues and rough characters. So do they.

I've come not only to accept the fact that everything changes, but to expect it.

Stefanie Worth said...

Liane -- I'm sure that as we move further along in our careers we'll have more choices to grapple with and new basics we've mastered.

I love it when a new singer hits the record charts who brings a totally different sound than what's currently being played on the air. Next thing you know, copycats abound. I'd love to be so true to myself that I'm at the forefront of a publishing trend rather than changing to keep up.