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The readiness is all

We’ve all heard that old cliché about the timing of a relationship just not being right. On paper it all looked good. He was smart and funny. So was she. They were both crazy about dogs and children. They both loved country music and British humor. You get the picture. They were perfect for each other. But the relationship fizzled after a passionate start and when they looked back on that interlude, they told themselves that the timing just hadn’t been right. And, occasionally you hear the story of a couple who find each other after many years apart and discover that the spark that initially drew them together is still there. Only now they are in a place in their lives where they can finally make it work. Sure, it’s a Lifetime movie or a Nicholas Sparks book, but it also happens more often than one would imagine.

I’ve been working on a lot of fiction lately and have been blown away by some of the new novels I’ve come across and underwhelmed by others. Generally speaking, the difference in my reactions is not due to a great disparity in the authors’ talents. We’re privileged to represent some very gifted writers around here and when something doesn’t “work” it is, like those star-crossed relationships, often due to timing.

When I say timing, I don’t mean that a novel has to hit some kind of zeitgeist nerve in order to be publishable. Sometimes, it’s about letting a subject, an idea, a character…whatever…percolate, get seasoned, and simmer until it’s fully cooked. All writers know what a difference a few days or weeks can make in terms of their perception of their own work. The manuscript you thought represented the second coming of Proust the day you typed the final period seems like an incoherent mess a month later and that day is when the real work of editing and polishing should begin. This kind of bad timing stems from falling in love with a premise/idea, no matter how flawed, and wanting to unleash it on the world before all the kinks have been worked out. The good new is that as long as an author is able to be somewhat objective and, more important, willing to dig deep and revise until the novel is ready, this is the best bad timing problem to have.

The worst kind of bad timing is when the book is good, maybe even great, but for external reasons—the market is suddenly glutted with chick lit, vampire books, memoirs, etc., or a news event makes the subject seem in poor taste or offensive, for instance—it will be impossible to sell. Then, there is nothing for it but to take that lovingly crafted manuscript, put it on a shelf and let it percolate for a few months, maybe even years, until the time is right to unleash it on the world.

One of our authors just published a novel she’d been working on for years. A new title, a new publisher (not the one who originally bought it) and a lot of seasoning and it’s finally on the shelves. The readiness is all….

Do you all have stories of projects that worked or didn’t because of bad timing? We certainly do.

4 Responses to The readiness is all

  1. Ciara says:

    I think that’s a nightmare. I can’t imagine working on something and having it fail because of timing. It must be so frustrating. It’s one thing if you realise your first novel is not as good as you thought and it’s time to start on the second but having written a great novel that’s just not right for the market? Heartbreaking!

  2. Many years ago, I submitted a book concept to a friend in publishing about adults taking up athletic pursuits that they followed with dedication & fulfillment, even though they hadn’t necessarily been high-performing athletes earlier in life. It looked at how to take up distance running, biking, tennis and other lifetime sports.

    She passed it around and came back to me with, no one quite gets this. A couple years later, Jim Fixx came out with The Complete Book of Running and the running boom got off the ground.

    Can’t say my concept for the book was exactly right, but the timing was definitely a bit too early.

  3. Digging deep is running theme today. You mentioned it above with regard to revising a novel, and author Lisa See also uses the same language when commenting on her recent two-book deal with Random House, “I was a midlist writer with not much of a future when I first came to Random House. Bob Loomis pushed me to work deeper and harder. With his guidance and with the support of everyone at Random House, I’ve blossomed as a writer.”

    Timing is important, even vital, to the successful sale of a book. Sometimes it’s only the very idea of it that has ripened and a book is subsequently commissioned. I’ve had that experience in journalism. However, writing the work itself is another matter entirely. In working on a book, plumbing your psyche for inspiration is never an easy task, nor is it always productive each and every day. Digging deeply is something I think that most writers hope to do, strive for, and often accomplish. However, no one is ever able to define the expression, “digging deeply” as it a subjective standard that can only be determined on a case by case basis. I be interested what the term means to other writers and to an agent.

  4. Digging deep is running theme today. You mentioned it above with regard to revising a novel, and author Lisa See also uses the same language when commenting on her recent two-book deal with Random House, “I was a midlist writer with not much of a future when I first came to Random House. Bob Loomis pushed me to work deeper and harder. With his guidance and with the support of everyone at Random House, I’ve blossomed as a writer.”

    Timing is important, even vital, to the successful sale of a book. Sometimes it’s only the very idea of it that has ripened and a book is subsequently commissioned. I’ve had that experience in journalism. However, writing the work itself is another matter entirely. In working on a book, plumbing your psyche for inspiration is never an easy task, nor is it always productive each and every day. Digging deeply is something I think that most writers hope to do, strive for, and often accomplish. However, no one is ever able to define the expression, “digging deeply” as it a subjective standard that can only be determined on a case by case basis. I be interested in what the term means to other writers and to an agent.

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