Most pro writers who write for traditional publishers have book proposals that aren’t finished manuscripts. Even self or hybrid authors can start a project, only to run out of steam.
Writing Tip for Today: Let’s discuss tips for what to do with stalled book proposals or unpublished work:
As you develop your skill set, you will likely want to keep more than one project going at a time. I’ve advised writers to have a mix of short (articles, poems or essays) and long (book-length work) going at any time. When you hit a roadblock with one project, let your writer-mind retool by switching for a time to one of your other works-in-progress.
By keeping several works at a time, you won’t face the blinking cursor and ask yourself, “What shall I write next?” I find it helpful to toggle between short and long projects to keep my writer’s palate cleansed. That is, I’m less likely to go down rabbit holes or lose important ideas. And each time I return to my major WIP, I am a bit more objective than when I was neck-deep in scenes.
Another benefit to juggling more than one project is that with short works like essays or articles, you can build up a writer’s resume of credits while you finish that big novel or other book. Nothing says “pro” quite like some solid bylines. It doesn’t matter as much if the publication pays or not—although it’s a nice bonus. Ideally, you’ll write short for the same audience as your longer work, but it’s not necessary.
Another idea for dealing with book-length work that hasn’t found a home in traditional publishing or is somehow not working for self or hybrid publishing is to transform your work into something new. I read a great blog post about taking a full-length novel and adapting it to a novella (or vice versa) that might sell in an anthology. Think outside the box and you may uncover a new use for your book-length work that’s sitting in a drawer.
Try writing a short version of your fiction. Or fictionalize your memoir into an essay. Nonfiction writers might consider self-pubbing a pamphlet and using it as a welcome gift for newsletter subscribers. Use your imagination to get these “rejects” out of the drawer and into use.
Sometimes, the book you’re writing may benefit from reframing. Write your novel from another character’s point of view. Take your nonfiction topic and either narrow or widen it. I have a whole list of partial manuscripts that I’ve reframed over and over until I hit on the right slant that will interest publishers and readers.
Reframe longer work into short pieces–or the other way around.
Know When to Fold
If you’ve done all you can and have tried to adapt your work and still have no takers, take heart. In my early days of learning the writing craft, I had to let go of many projects and ideas that just weren’t going to find homes. This was before digital self-publishing, but I learned to make peace with these failed stories. If you can chalk up some of your work to practicing for 10,000 hours, nothing you’ve written has gone to waste.
Yes, it’s painful to give up on a piece or book. Hold a little funeral for it if you wish. But if you feel strongly about an idea or a character, let the manuscript die but keep the good stuff. Bring these nuggets into your future efforts, writing that may be much improved from your initial efforts.
In the end, you want to be passionate about what you write. You are more likely to succeed with material that you can’t wait to get to every writing session. Don’t count out those rejects too soon—they might be a diamond disguised as a lump of coal, waiting for you to polish it and offer it to the world.