Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Dust Off Those Manuscripts

by Velda Brotherton

How long we’ve been writing dictates how many manuscripts are stuffed into plastic storage boxes along with research and notes. Nowadays, those old manuscripts are probably on files or stored in a hard drive or on a CD. Mine dated back so far that all I had were paper bound copies. A couple of times I’d gone through them and discarded a few here and there.

However, I learned the hard way to never throw them away. One just might come in handy one day.

Authors have been told for years not to write for the market but to write what they like to write. Nothing could be more true, yet sometimes we have to skid a little sideways, so to speak. The first books I wrote were mainstream meant for hard cover – strange of me to have such dreams, hmmm? Then I had no thoughts of being published, so why not write what I liked to read?

When a contest came along for western historicals, I decided to give it a try. I loved westerns like True Grit, and movies where the good guy and bad guy wore white hats and black, rode gorgeous horses and depicted our past fascinated me. So I wrote three chapters about a tough woman abandoned by her family and left in a soddy on the prairie. She would leave and go west before she either starved to death or shot herself. The three chapters and a synopsis won first place and the judge urged me to finish the book and submit it to a New York Publisher. Finishing that book I discovered that I loved researching and writing in this genre, and my husband enjoyed researching for me as well. And it sold to Penguin.

Lesson #1 – enter contests in genres in which you don’t normally write. You may discover something new and exciting about yourself.

Oh, back to the dust gathering manuscripts. I’m coming to a lesson learned there too. After being published in western historical romance for six years, the New York debacle occurred. If you’ve been in the business very long you know that 30 or more publishers melded into five or six, and New York became a difficult if not impossible goal.

Because I’d discovered a love for researching the history or our country, I decided I could turn that into writing regional nonfiction books.

Lesson #2 – Don’t quit when all seems against you. Find another avenue where your talent can go to work.

After six regional nonfiction books, during which time I was hired by a local newspaper to create and write a historical page for their paper, I discovered something else. I liked working with small presses. They were more personal, one on one, actually answered emails and phone calls, and so I wondered if maybe I ought to get back into fiction, my first love. Small presses were cropping up to replace those lost in New York.

So I dug out the western manuscript I had written just prior to “the debacle” and submitted it to a small publisher, The Wild Rose Press. They took it and wanted more. Since then number four, Rowena’s Hellion, is set to come out Oct. 24.

Lesson #3 – Once again, don’t throw away something that’s been rejected a few times. Place a hard copy somewhere safe, you may go through several computers and lose the manuscript there.

Now, because we’re running out of space, comes the final lesson. Remember back when I was writing those long books suited toward mainstream? One just happened to be on a subject that is much in the news today. Veteran’s issues and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I’d spent six months researching the Vietnam War and issues about the men returning with no place to turn to help them live in a peaceful atmosphere after being subjected to the the killing fields for two or three tours. My agent loved it and did his best to sell it, but it was 1986 and no one wanted to discuss this matter. That was my first novel. Nothing in the computer, a floppy disk in Word Star, but by golly I’d kept one bound copy, now covered in dust.

Out it came and I began a complete rewrite. Jump to happy ending. The book, Beyond the Moon, contracted by a publisher and released in hard cover, paper and ebook, will be released Sept. 30. It’s big, it’s beautiful and my publisher has a lot of faith in it, so much so that he took the time and spent the money to submit it for a Pulitzer Prize.

Lesson #4 – Work, keep working, don’t hesitate to rewrite something over and over and never let rejection get in the way of your success. That book gathering dust? Pay attention. Its time will come.


Charles Gramlich said...

I never throw anything away. I also have for some stories all kinds of variants of it with different focuses. Sometimes that works.

Liane Spicer said...

What a wonderful post, Velda! I threw away a short story once, then had to rewrite it from scratch later. It was excruciating and I'm convinced I did not do the original justice. So no more throwaways for me.

Huge congratulations on the upcoming releases!

Shauna Roberts said...

Just for the hell of it, in 2012 I self-published my dissertation from 1984 (after taking away the rights of the U. Mich's partner to sell it ... at about $80). I'm charging less than $10, and to my surprise it's been a slow but steady seller. You never know what people will buy.

William Doonan said...

I've written some gems that are far better off thrown away!

Jewel Amethyst said...

Congratulations Velda. I never throw away anything, however, my computers have been known to quit on me and my old stuff become lost in the shuffle. Definitely I will keep hard copies going forward (and use multiple back ups).

Stefanie Worth said...

I keep electronic files of every idea I can capture and print outs of every version I write. Thanks for validating my craziness. Great (and inspiring) post!