Can This Book Be Saved?

Remember those articles in women’s magazines that asked the burning question, “Can this marriage be saved?” Sometimes I have to ask myself a similar question, and then decide whether or not to finish the book.

A lot of factors play in that decision. Is it your first book? Has the market you aimed it for undergone changes? Have you learned information about building plot or creating characters that tells you to rethink your story? Will the book require a major revamp that would take more time than creating a new book from scratch?

If it’s your first book, you might want to stick with it. A first book is a huge learning experience, and the confidence you get from telling your story from beginning to end is one of the biggest boosts you’ll ever receive.

If the market has changed, you can search for a new one. Or you can see if the book can be tailored to the new requirements. If you’ve grown in your craft, you might want to finish the book out while making notes for changes in your second draft.

A major revamp of a book takes time and energy. Unless an editor has requested the changes, if people you trust tell you this baby just ain’t flyin’, you might want to bury it and start with something fresh.

I have a heavily sensuous futuristic romance that features a ménage a trois. There are three and a half chapters written on it. It has too many characters in it, the consummation scenes are in the wrong place, and it was written as an attempt to begin with physical intimacy and move to emotional intimacy. Oh, and it has a hidden baby subplot in it as well.

Since it’s not the book of my heart and might be difficult to market, it’s a good bet I won’t finish out Never Love in Vain. But boy, it’s hard to let all that work go. Maybe, I’ll keep it in my files one more year….


Reese Mobley said...

Great post, Jeannie. Finishing your first book is such a rush. Heck, finishing your fourth or any book is a great feeling. I'm like you, I save the work and hope that someday it can be reworked enough to fit somewhere else. I know it's hard to throw away those scenes but this is a business. You wouldn't keep doing something at your job that wasn't beneficial to the bottom line either. We have the advantage of saving them though--just in case!

Rox Delaney said...

I think Susan Meier does a workshop on Can this Manuscript Be Saved? She does several online workshops throughout the year. Some are listed on her website,

Rox Delaney said...

Some can be reworked later.

Yes, it can pay off to save a manuscript for later. My August book and Jan. 2010 book were originally written about 12 years ago and never submitted. I entered both in contests where they had decent scores, but never felt they were ready for submitting--conflict problems, and I knew it! :) Of course there was a lot of rewriting done before finally submitting them, and the stories changed some, thanks to finding the right conflict for the characters.

I'm not the only one who's "saved" a manuscript. Lots of writers do it and end up later selling them. Each time we put words to paper, we learn something we can use, maybe in rewriting something we've written in the past.

Starla Kaye said...

It is always tough to let go of your first book, or any book that you've put a lot of time and heart into. Like Roxann, I have recently sold a much revised version of the very first book I wrote (and, boy, looking back on it, was it bad!). But I've finished the rewrites, submitted the whole thing, and sold it. I feel really great about that. My "ugly" baby wasn't so ugly after all.

Pat Davids said...

Sorry I'm so late responding. Great post. You have a gift for getting to the heart of the question. I'd say you nailed it.

By all means save your story. I'm one of those people who didn't sell the first book I wrote. I sold my third one first and my first book, heavily reworked, became my second sale. The second book I wrote has never found a home, but I'm hanging on to it until doomsday. I love the story.

Joan Vincent said...

Ditto for what Pat said! That's what Explorer ate last night instead of posting for me. My first probably won't get published and I've a regency that I've overworked to death without a good fix and have shelved. But I do have a Roman Breton story that I do intend to rewrite and sell. Keep the stories--you never know when inspiration on how to work them will hit.

Nina Sipes said...

I don't see anything wrong with keeping all of your work. I encourage young writers to do so--especially after reading about what museum directors have to go through to get display material of writer's work. There are people out there studying the writer's process and there is a great lack of material. Think Famous Person--the early works. What would a story from Stephen King's fifth grade brain be worth now? Romance is being studied. Leave some material. Keep those favorite bits and pieces. I have two pages of a kick butt story. One scene--two days in the story. I'm beginning to believe it is finished because I can't think of anything to add to it that wouldn't detract. But what do you do with two pages? As for others I've bits and pieces of--well, I enjoy reading them. They make me think I have talent.

Penny Rader said...

I have a hard time saying good-bye to stories and characters. Probably because it takes me so long to actually come up with them.

I've heard of authors referred to as seven year overnight successes. They sell a book and then bam! They sign contracts for a number of books that are released fairly quickly. Many of those are stories that didn't sell the first, second, or even third time out.

I guess you have to go with your gut. I never could quite let go of Sapphire and Gold and it finally found a home.

Rox Delaney said...

Out of curiosity, I checked the other day to see how many unsold stories I have taking up space on my hard drive. I see 8 that were written before I sold my first book, but I think there are a couple missing. Can they be saved? Maybe, but only with a LOT of work.

And just so everyone is clear, published authors get rejections, too. Since April of 2000, I've received 16 rejections. That's obviously far more than the number of books I've sold. There are 3 books in those 16 that were revised and sold, another I intend to revise, and at least one I'll completely rework.

So the moral is, hang onto everything. Be a packrat like me! (grin)