What the Princess Said

A Guest Post By Quincy Allen

What was it Princess Irulan said?   <strokes goatee thoughtfully>

Oh, yeah… “A beginning is a very delicate time.”

Granted, she was talking about galactic turmoil, spice, and the Kwisatz Haderach, but the point is a valid one across virtually all endeavors… including writing careers.

Very few writers are born. The rest must work fingers to the bone, day in and day out, paying bills with other gigs while trying to crack the code of the publishing industry—all in hopes that some gatekeeper will let us through the door.

I am, of course, referring to traditional publishing. Self/Indie publishing is another beast, but traditional publishing is not unlike trying to break into Clarke’s monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Not even nukes work. It’s a tough, whimsical, very subjective sort of business. What gatekeepers think is hawt today is not what they thought was hawt yesterday. And “hawt” can be very different from one gatekeeper to the next.

So, what happens when you discover a crack in the armor? When one of the gatekeepers responds to a query letter with, “I love the concept… but I need you to make changes.”

This is not a moment for brash decisions.

One one hand, we’re talking about your hard labors, hour after hour, week after week, grinding away at a keyboard, taking a beating in writing groups, secluded like a friar in a monastery, crafting the perfect novel. In a business as subjective as the publishing industry, how does one know that the request from a gatekeeper is a valid or reasonable one?

On the other hand, we are talking business. Every writer is a manufacturer of goods. We produce a prototype from which a master die is cut. If we’re lucky, mass production ensues. That’s the whole point, right? Get our work in front of as many people as you can manage. It’s about sales.

Let me give you my take on this little conundrum. Make of it what you will.

I lean towards treating every word I write as business… in the classic Godfatheresque sense of the word. If you have someone on the hook who might be willing to open a door for you, then it’s probably in your best interest to make the compromises. Of course, you have to weigh how likely it is that they actually could open the door, and how far into the room they could get you once they did. All of that factors in. But getting through the door is critical.

And here’s the part that makes this decision easy. Ask yourself one question: “Is this the last thing I’m going to write?”

If you’re in this game for the long haul, if you plan on writing books till you die, then write off this first book as a marketing expense. Make the changes. Get it sold. Get your name out there. And when you’ve managed to get through the door, when you’re standing amidst other established authors, then you can stick to your guns on how you want something written.

Oh, and one last thing: KEEP YOUR ORIGINAL.

Regardless of how many changes and compromises you make at their behest, the gatekeeper in question might still say “I just didn’t’ fall in love with it.”

That’s life in the big city.

So be careful. Be thoughtful. Be compromising when it’s appropriate and resolute when it’s appropriate. For a beginning is a very delicate time.

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Also, for the bio, you can use   "Learn more about this cross-genre author at www.quincyallen.com, and be sure to friend him up at https://www.facebook.com/Quincy.Allen.Author... he's lonely and doesn't have enough friends.

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3 Responses

  1. Quincy Allen says:

    About a lifetime and a half ago, my one and only mentor–a little East Indian guy who was a cross between Stephen Hawking, Gandhi, and a New York pimp–taught me something that applies to damn near every facet of life.

    Know which hills to die on, and if you decide this is “the one,” then go in armed for bear and don’t take any prisoners. It seems to me that in cases where you’re unwilling or uninterested to make compromises, don’t send it down the traditional publishing pipeline.

    Consider the difference between the graphic designer who does book covers for a living and then does his paintings on the side. The paintings make no compromises, and they may or may not receive accolades when displayed at a gallery. Then again, they may become “Blue” which sold for 1.2 million dollars.

    It boils down to balancing your “art” with your profession. You make the call that serves both your heart and your pocketbook… and then you live with it.


  2. Amen, but what if the book you’ve written you adore. And what if you wrote thirteen other books before this, and will write thirteen books after this, but that book, that one book, is the golden child? What if?

    Don’t write books you adore. Write books that mildly please you because then when the hatcheting starts, it’s not your baby. Unless the gods say otherwise, I’m going to self-pub my baby. Other books, eh, who cares, but my baby, Lord my baby…

    • Nathan Barra says:

      I see this differently than you, Aaron. I have often been able to clearly define my writer’s hat from my editor’s hat. When I am writing, I try to be engaged in and love everything I create. However, when it comes time to edit, my book is a product, and killing my darlings is often necessary. Sometimes, the emotional involvement isn’t as clearly cut as that. Lord knows that some darlings have lived well beyond when they should have been culled, but maintaining an editor’s emotional distance is a skill, a matter of experience and practice.

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