Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My Du-ology (with apologies to Becky)

by Sophie Littlefield

How long should a series run?

I was wondering if I had an original thought on this subject, feeling pretty certain that the other CM's know far more about it than I, when I saw an opportunity to pull off a neat trick: *appear* to be sticking to the topic while wandering off in another direction entirely.

Let me tell you about how my young adult series came to be a series of...two. (In Becky's words, that's a "du-ology.")

I wrote a young adult novel a while back. I submitted th manuscript and detailed outline for a second and third book to my agent. A whole bunch of stuff happened in the manuscript, setting up a dramatic story problem for book two and a satisfying twisty resolution for book three. I was feeling, I must admit, a little smug. I thought I had really *nailed* this series thing. Yeah, I still have a way to go before I'm the sort of author who can sell on a proposal and three chapters, but I was on my way, right?

When Barbara (my extraordinary agent) did her thing and came up with an enthusiastic editor for the project, I was even more excited and impressed with myself. Ha! I thought - this publishing thing's not so hard after all, right?

Then came the "Aaaaaaand...."

Now when Barbara says "aaaaand" in that particular way she has, I have learned that I need to put the phone down, walk to the kitchen and pour myself a generous single malt, take a large enough gulp that it leaves dribbles down my chin, walk back to the office, lie down on the floor, close my eyes, cry for thirty seconds, and only then pick up the phone again and ask her to continue.

But I didn't know that then.

Barbara said "Aaaaaaand" and I said "Mmm hmmm?" and she said "It turns out they already have enough trilogies on the schedule so this is going to be a two-book series. Oh, and she has a few concerns about the story direction. It's a great starting place, though."

I'll spare you the next eight months of re-writes. Suffice it to say that the book I turned in was related to the original manuscript much in the way that, say, Paris, France is related to Paris Hilton.

And to think that, the day Barbara called me, my worry was how I was going to compress books 2 and 3 into a single book. Ha! Ha! Ha ha ha!

What's the point of this story, you're wondering? (Other than the valuable tip I've given you on translating me, you're gonna want to write that one down.)

Well, it's this: my series is now beautiful. Wish I could take credit, but it's the result of an editor who was willing to give me ample guidance, who knows what my target reader responds to, and who was unafraid to send me back again and again until I got it right. Left to my own devices I would have quit when it wasn't close to baked. Instead I got the job done.

So today's lesson is...

Sometimes editors know what they're doing.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Just for fun, I'll give you the answer I used to think was true before I learned otherwise.

How many books should there be in a series? Same answer as for any "How much" question: Just enough to leave them wanting more.

(If you doubt this, give it a try. Answer the following:
"How many Doritos should I have?"
"How many pages should I write in my fifth grade report about Abraham Lincoln?"
"How long should I stand on the porch kissing Matt Spicer?"*** )

***high school boyfriend...


Jen Forbus said...

Oh, so that's the trick? I think I always eat enough Doritos that they make me sick and I don't want anymore for a year! LOL Fun post, Sophie. I loved learning about your publishing experience.

Bpoelle said...

Um, I am glad you brought this up because I wanted to drop you a line and tell you how fabulous you are. Aaaaaaaaaaaand....

Sophie Littlefield said...

See what I mean? See what I mean?????

Jen, i bet I can eat more Doritos than you. Want to have a contest? :) I think the perfect beverage would be diet Canada Dry ginger ale. And we'll need some handi-wipes for the orange crud that gets under your nails...

Pop Culture Nerd said...

Sophie, I'm so grateful you said that wonderful thing about editors. I've freelanced as an editor and sometimes struggle with how to tell a writer they have to rework their entire book and not have said writer send a Mafia thug to my house. (One writer said, "Why don't YOU just rewrite it, then, you have so many ideas?!")

Single malt or not, you seem to take notes well so your editor is lucky to work with you.

Jen Forbus said...

Sure Sophie! You're on! Death by Doritos!

Sophie Littlefield said...

Well, PCN, I can't say I was thrilled at first to learn that I needed a total rewrite. I wasn't mad, just scared..."what if I can't fix it" scared.

But what I have learned is that an editor who will push you hard is worth her weight in gold. It's like with push-ups. I started this push-up challenge with my friends, and when I'm lying there moaning and nearly throwing up on the carpet because I *think* I can't do another one, my lacrosse-playing son will bellow "Come on! Try harder! Man up! You can do more!" ....and somehow I do more.

Maybe some people have all the juice they need already - but I personally appreciate a kick in the pants. At the end of the day I'll do nearly anything if it means making the book better.

Pop Culture Nerd said...

"I'll do nearly anything if it means making the book better."

Sophie, you owe me a Coke! My thought exactly. I HATE telling writers their manuscript isn't perfect because I know it's their baby, but I'll risk being the mean lady if it helps improve the final product.

I can't imagine anyone having all the juice they need already. Who are these people and what are they drinking?!

Your push-up challenge is impressive. If I'm lying on the floor moaning, it's usually because I ate too many egg rolls.