Publish or perish?
What ought to be the fate of a first, flawed (fatally?) novel?
My second novel is pretty good, with no obvious structural flaws—although there are, of course, still flaws—and perhaps worth the effort to find an agent and, with luck, a publisher.
But the first, mm, the first is most definitely a first novel. Too much of this, not enough of that: the motivation for one if not two of the main characters remains murky, and however human the characters are (I am pretty good with character), they are a bit, tsssss, how do I put this, too wise?
Still, even with the over-knowingness, the characters are appealing, and I’d like to give them a chance. Hence the dilemma.
E-publishing removes almost all of the obstacles to publication, which is both a good and a bad thing. If an author thinks a novel is engaging enough, she can bypass all of the gatekeepers to print publication and go direct to the cybersphere. But gatekeepers are not always bad, and can keep an author from putting out something for which she feels affection, but which is also perhaps not ready for prime time.
Kill your darlings, said Faulkner, and I agree, wholeheartedly. I’ve struck beautiful sentences, etched out lyrical paragraphs, and consigned lovely metaphors to the trash bin, all because they didn’t advance the tale or the argument. The play’s the thing, said another well-known author (albeit in a different context), and it is because I ardently believe that the overall purpose matters more than any part that I am willing to kill my darlings.
But what if the entire play—or novel, in this case—is your darling?
I never, er, well, not since I was a kid, did I expect to write a novel, and then whooosh, this one (tentatively named Unexpected People) poured out of me. I wrote it in three months, after getting home from the late shift at work, and it came out clean. There was editing and trimming, of course, but I wrote and I wrote and then as I neared the end I wondered how it would end and then it did.
I wrote, and then I was done. What an amazing feeling!
The second novel was more complicated, which in turn required more discipline, more editing, more time; it is, on the whole, a more involved novel. But it also wouldn’t have happened without that first one, with what I learned in the writing of the first one, with what I learned I could do.
So do I chalk up Unexpected People as a kind of exercise, the practice before the performance?
That seems wrong, not least because it wasn’t an exercise, but a thing in itself: the stories, the characters, matter in themselves.
There is another way to deal with this, of course: try to fix those flaws. When I’d considered this previously, I thought, Oh, no, any surgery would kill the patient. But now I’m not so sure: I just sent a copy to C. (she’s helping me with a possible cover for a Smashwords version) and, just for kicks, decided to re-read it. The problems are evident—so much so I’m worried about what C. will say—but I still like the people in the story, still want to find out (even though I already know) what happens.
(Yes, I’m more hesitant to have a friend read this than strangers. That’s how it is.)
So I’ll finish reading it, then consider ways to shrink the flaws, perhaps by cutting back on the knowingness (i.e., the talkiness) of the characters, and hear what C. has to say.
I both do and do not want to publish this on Smashwords. There’s the whole matter of trying to get readers for it and marketing and shit would I have to Tweet and. . . tchaaaaarrgh maybe open a fucking. . . Facebook! account and all of the other issues of self-publishing.
But those are all technicalities, and secondary to the main question: Do I kill this darling, or let it find its way?