W.I.P. until I R.I.P.

A Work in Progress
Authors often refer to their current project as their w.i.p. or work in progess. If you’re a writer, you have at least one. I write books a lot like I read them. I usually have at least two books going at one time; it’s the same with my novels. I almost always have one or two at differing points of completion. This system would make a lot of readers/writers crazy. It’s just what works for me. As a writer, I’m often asked about writer’s block. I think this system is one reason why I can always answer that I’ve never experienced it. If the words and ideas just aren’t flowing with one w.i.p., I can turn to another one.

Today I finished what has to be at least the fifth re-write of my current w.i.p., and tonight I’m starting what I hope will be the last. Each time, the process moves much quicker, the story gets a little tighter, the language more descriptive, and the characters more drawn out. I’d compare it to staining woodwork; it’s just a matter of putting on layers until you get the shade exactly right. For those who know better, trust me, I’ve never stained anything in my life except the front of my shirts, but you get the idea.

The other day, I was thinking about that abbreviation, w.i.p., and I thought how much the phrase “a work in progress” actually applies to me and people in general. Whenever my kids fall a bit short of our parental expectations or their own potentialities, I remind my wife that it’s okay because they are still works in progress. I also know that I am constantly “re-writing” who I am. I know that the version currently writing this blog entry won’t be around for long, as I’m still trying to deepen my stain. I always tell my students that when I see them in the future, I hope I don’t recognize them because they will have grown so much from the year I spent with them when they were seventeen or eighteen-years old. I don’t think there are many things sadder than stasis.

In his poem Ulysses, Tennyson, in the voice of Ulysses himself, says “How dull it is to pause, to make an end / To rust unburnished.” I totally agree with Tennyson. Therefore, the title of this article and one of my many philosophies on life. I hope to be a W.I.P. until I R.I.P.

Status Update

I “finished” (Trust me, “finished” is a relative term in the publishing industry.) the second novel this week (for the fourth or fifth time) in my contract and sent it to my agent for another read and edit from her end. If she feels it’s ready, she forward it to my editor at Random House/Delacorte for her approval and another round or two of edits. What’s funny is that with So Shelly set to debut in less than a month, I can hardly remember what survived the editing process in that novel. I’m going to have to re-read it in the next few weeks in order to be able in to discuss it intelligently. My head has been so in the second novel for the past year.

 The coming weeks in the run-up to the February 8th release date will primarily be spent in marketing So Shelly. I have several blog interviews to complete along with original pieces for various blog sites and my own. I’m expanding my friend base on Facebook, which has had the ancillary benefit of re-connecting me with some very cool friends and former students from the past. The bad news is that I spend too much time on their pages catching up on what I’ve missed in the intervening years. I’m also attempting to expand my platform on Twitter by increasing the number I follow. Twittering has provided the benefit of opening up brand new relationships with people from literally around the world. I’m also planning a launch party and several signing/reading events. Check on Facebook (Friend me if you haven’t already.) and/or on my web page http://www.tyrothbooks.com/ty.php in coming days for a listing of appearances, reviews of Shelly, interviews, and additional blog entries.

Today, believe it or not, my thoughts turned to a possible third novel. One, do I even want to write another (It’s an exhausting and time-demanding endeavor and probably wouldn’t hit a bookshelf until, at least, the spring of 2013.), and two, if so, what would I like to write about. Should there be a demand for one, I do have a sequel for Shelly already begun and largely outlined in my head. If not, I’m not sure what’s next. Oh well, I guess there’s time to stew on it for a little while.

Good but not Good Enough

Crusaders is the working title of my second novel. As currently planned with my agent and publisher, it will not be a serial continuation of the plot of So Shelly; however, it will share a setting and will include several of the minor characters from my first novel. The goal is to make the reader feel immediately at home when they recognize the environment and see a few familiar faces in the new novel. Should So Shelly be successful, a more direct sequel will be considered and is actually already partially written, but only time and sales will tell.

 Although it received a very enthusiastic endorsement from my agent as it is, I am currently giving Crusaders a complete overhaul. The revision process on this project has been quite extensive and challenging. I learned a great deal from my editor during the revision stage of completing So Shelly.  I feel that I have arrived at that stage with Crusaders, and  I am better prepared to complete it without the need of so much input from her.  Hopefully, by the time the manuscript lands on her desk this winter, it will be in a much more polished form than that in which the first novel was delivered.

 You might ask, “If your agent recognizes ‘hit potential’ [her words], why the revisionary overhaul?” The answer is that in my mind, as is, Crusaders is very good.  It would stand up quite nicely with the majority of YA novels currently on shelves.  My problem with it is that it is “very good,” but it’s not yet great, and it is too much like those other novels. It would be an interesting and entertaining read, but I don’t think it would cut deeply into the readers’ psyche, and if a book doesn’t do that, why write or read it?

 So, I am currently experimenting with the point-of-view, forming more rounded and idiosyncratic characters, turning some of the descriptive passages into action, and sharpening the thematic edges of Crusaders. If I’m successful, I truly believe it has potential to be a special book.  If I fail, it’s just a book. I’ll write another.

Choosing a Title and a Cover Design

Yesterday, I received a full-color mock-up for the cover of my debut novel, SO SHELLY, set for a February 2011 release from Delacorte/Random House. It led me to thinking about the process of title selection and cover design and the surprisingly limited control the author retains over each. Of course, the given exception is the well-established author with a proven track record whose input, I’m sure, is much more seriously weighed than that of a debut novelist.

As for titles, the fact is that the title under which a novel is acquired by a publisher is often jettisoned for one conjured by whatever magic formula editors utilize and through whatever market research has revealed to qualify as eye candy for potential buyers. As for my experience, I was one of the lucky ones. The first words I typed when I began SO SHELLY were exactly that: So Shelly, flushed right with the page number. In fact, I’ve written four complete novels (two sold) and have at least four partials wallowing in limbo. In each case, I’ve had a title before I penned a single word of narrative. My agent warned that in all likelihood the title would be changed. With each editorial letter, I expected a new title to be foisted upon me. However, that day never came, and yesterday, as I opened the attachment containing the cover, there it was, SO SHELLY: just quirky enough to invite interest and to serve as an inside joke to be shared by those who venture between the covers and roll around inside of Shelly’s sheets.

The cover design was a different story. At best, I had marginal input, and from the beginning, I liked it that way. I’m fully aware of my limitations. I’m no William Blake. Whatever limited artistic talents I have begin and end with words. From the outset, my philosophy regarding the cover was to let the professionals do their jobs. Actually, that not only applies to the cover design but also to the editing process. For good reason, I very well may have been the most compliant author in publishing history: editing is a unique talent for which I have the upmost respect, and my editor, Michelle Poploff, is one of the best. During the process of designing the cover art, Michelle asked for my input and kept me abreast on proposals, but my contributions were minimal. In the end, the team at Random produced a cover that, I believe, visually captures the heart of Shelly, and I have faith that, eventually, it will capture the eye of book browsers.

My advice? Stick to what you do best. Telling a compelling story is your job. Once you’ve sold a few million books, perhaps, you will have earned the right to expand your influence over titling and cover design. Until then, do your job and trust the other professionals invested in your project to do theirs.