Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Day 51 of 365: The Hard Truth About My Manuscripts

I have two completed manuscripts under my belt. On is roughly 89,000 words; the other, swimming around 70,000. I'm currently working on my third. I have three novellas started (three novellas that will hopefully wind around each other and form a nice, if not disjointed, full novel), and I have purchased a few books for the research of my fourth (my fourth manuscript being my "serious" novel, an idea that has been outlined to death, but intentionally put on hold because, like running a marathon, I know I'm not to the level that I need to be for this particular book, and I'm writing my comedies and my "serious" novellas the same way I'm training for my half-marathon).

I have a very specific routine on mornings that I am not teaching tai chi: I feed the various animals of the house (cats, guinea pig, and chickens), I do a little morning yoga, I write my blog entry for the day, I do a lesson or two of Spanish, and I do something with my manuscripts. It doesn't matter exactly what or exactly with which manuscript, but I have to do something. Send out yet another query for my first manuscript. Edit my second. Write more for my third. Does not matter, so long as it happens.

I have been doing the agency hunt for my first manuscript for a little over two years now. What started out as a manic spray-and-pray has turned into an occasional, "Oh yeah," activity. Almost something I do when I really don't feel like editing or writing.

At this point in the game, I don't expect much. With a little bit of luck, I'll find a regional publisher who does not require an agent to play middleman and have my book published locally (and digitally). It's barely a step up from self-publishing, but still a step up and slightly more regarded in the eyes of the writing world (since any schmuck can put their work on Smashwords and call themselves a "published author"). But, really, even that is a bit of a pipe dream.

Because, when I get into the harsh truth about my manuscripts, I fully recognize how unlikely it is that anything big will come across either of the first two.

My first manuscript is a parody/homage to the chick lit trope. It deconstructs a beloved genre, all the while playing along with the rules (think Scream, but with slightly less blood). I love this manuscript. The people who have read it love this manuscript. The best compliment I ever received was when a former college classmate of mine admitted to having to bury her face in her arms because she was laughing too loud and feared she'd disturb the rest of the library. It's a story that any Gen Yer can relate to, especially Gen Yers who have a liberal arts degree (and, really, these are the only people buying books these days, save for Sci-Fi/Fantasy nerds).

However, we live in an age of irony and deconstruction. We have reached a point in our society that parody is about as common as the thing it parodies. Which doesn't really make my manuscript stick out very well. And -- the same way we really only need one Weird Al for every string of mainstream pop hits -- the world isn't champing at the bit for more parody.

My second manuscript is an absurd, almost slapstick comedy, about the world's most dysfunctional childcare center. From teachers planning a military coup to take over the business to toddler rooms run with the efficiency of a German factory line, from bosses who use the childcare center as a front for her online retail store scam to boyfriends who treat their grocery store job like government espionage. It's one of those books where you don't have to have experience in the childcare world to enjoy. In fact, knowing nothing about how childcare centers operate probably makes the book even more enjoyable. It's silly and it's comical and it touches upon the darker side of childcare without going bitter.

However, even though the story would be entertaining for those not involved in childcare, the book itself is a very hard sell because the assumption would be that one must be involved in childcare to enjoy it. Not to mention that the phrase "absurdist comedy" makes people suck in their breath and associate my book with the countless "intelligent" absurdist books that are really just nonsense blathered out in hopes that someone will think the author a genius.

Either of these manuscripts would have a rough time selling if I were an established writer. However, when you factor in that I'm an unknown, the difficulty becomes exponentially bigger. Sure, I have a solid paragraph or two to write about my publishing credits, but, in the digital world, publishing credits are not exactly hard to come by. I could say I write for the Huffington Post and it won't mean much, as any blogger with a decent opinion can get their work on at least one of their sections. And, since we live in a digital world, publishers expect writers to have cultivated their own audience before even releasing a book. And by audience, I mean audience -- the fact that my crafts blog gets 5,000 hits a month means diddly. You essentially have to create a video, pray it goes viral, and then cash in on the 15 minutes of fame.

I don't feel like going into too much detail when it comes to my third manuscript, as I've barely written 3 or 4 chapters and I'm not one to talk too publically about a manuscript until it is finished (and I've sent in the copyright paperwork). But I have a good feeling about this one. With any luck, I'll get the first two manuscripts out in some fashion. And, while I expect very little to come from it, I hope that it will provide enough of a foundation that, when I attempt to hawk my third manuscript, I'm not sinking where I stand.

It is a rough world out there for any creative type. There is very little money in the creative world, and even less when you factor in all the would-be writers who would gladly give up their time and energy (and art) for free. But, as any writer knows, we don't write to get published. We write because we have to. Because the ideas are burning up inside us and we'll surely combust if we don't get them out. We just log in the hours in hopes that our end result will not just be a relief from our creative minds, but something that maybe, just maybe, will pay the bills.

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