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Topic of the Week - "Trunk" novels

Hi everyone, and thanks for not making fun of me for forgetting the TotW last week due to the long holiday weekend and convention-induced brain-deadedness.   ;-)

This week's topic came out of my own mind (or what's left of it).  It concerns those unpublished manuscripts we wrote before we received our first contracts.  Some of them deserve to see the light of day; some are what could more delicately be called, "valuable learning experiences."  I've heard them referred to as "trunk novels," because after they've made the rounds of rejection, they tend to be shoved away in a trunk or closet.

So my question is: how many of you, after receiving a contract, have attempted to publish your 'trunk' novels?  Any success? Did you submit them as is or revise them?  If the latter, how much work was needed--just a fresh coat of paint, or a complete dismantling and rebuilding?

Perhaps there's a point at which an old idea is an old idea, and no matter how much we tinker with the ancient manuscript, it's better just to move on and develop newer, fresher projects.  If the manuscript was rejected, maybe there was a reason.  Even if it wasn't rejected but merely abandoned, does it matter that it was written by a former version of you?

If there are any agents/editors watching, I would love to hear your input as well.  This goes for aspiring authors, too--do you plan to submit older finished projects in the event your current submission is picked up by a publisher? 

Leave your comments in the post, and as always, I'm looking for new topics, so send them to jeri AT jerismithready DOT com.

Have a great week!

--Jeri Smith-Ready


( 29 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 2nd, 2008 02:06 pm (UTC)
I'm an unpublished and suspect that novel I'm working on at the moment is inevitably a trunk novel. I want to finish it, and I like it enough to perservere, and even to think that when it's finished and polished people will want to read it. But I have a definite feeling it's not going to be the one that gets me looked at. Springing it on editors later when they know me and might be inclined to help with the polishing seems like an OK long term plan.

I'll watch this thread with interest to see whether that's worked out for anyone else. :)
Jun. 2nd, 2008 02:15 pm (UTC)
I'm at the stage where I'm scared to open the trunk... I don't wanna hoist my early mediocrity on my agent and I don't wanna make mah own eyes bleed from teh suck.

However, that temptation to pull them out and try to do something with them IS pulling at me, but right now they'd just be a distraction from continuing to write the stuff that is actually selling...
Jun. 2nd, 2008 02:25 pm (UTC)
I'd way I'm not going to try and publish any of my trunk novels, because to me, the ones that deserve that term are the ones I have consciously retired (for good reasons).

But I write pretty fast, and editors read pretty slow when you're unagented, so I completed six novels before selling one. Of those six: one sold, three I really really want to publish someday, one I would love to publish after I give it its second big rewrite, and one will never see the light of day. But my current publisher isn't looking for the type of thing I'm doing in the three I want to publish, so they're on hold until I reach a career point where branching out into those makes sense.

The trunk one . . . it could probably be revised into something worthwhile, but I just don't see the point. I don't love the idea enough to have any enthusiasm for putting in the kind of work that would require -- especially not when I have other ideas shouting and jumping up and down for my attention.
Jun. 2nd, 2008 02:35 pm (UTC)
I'm not going to. I realize now just HOW much work it would take, how big of an autopsy it would be to get even a useful seed out of that first book, and it's not worth it to me. I love it, broken and flawed as it may be. It's okay with me if it's my ugly baby no one knows but me. It's still my baby.


Edited at 2008-06-02 02:36 pm (UTC)
Jun. 2nd, 2008 08:00 pm (UTC)
Good way of putting it!

Jun. 2nd, 2008 02:48 pm (UTC)
Trunkity Trunk Trunk
I have a special love/hate with my trunk novels.

I love them all. I hate them all. ;)

I tend to write pretty fast, so I have 8 sitting in the trunk, waiting for me to swing back around again. I'll probably never return to the first 4 at all, and consider them 'learners'. These would require a ground-up dismantling, a re-plot, and a lobotomy for a few of the characters. I'm not going to do it.

The other 4 I have a weird relationship with. I'll get a wild hair, pull it out and start revising...and then dump it again. I still like the concepts, but I don't like the execution. Maybe the POV is wrong, or it's missing a POV. Maybe the plot feels flimsy. Sometimes a character comes off awful on the page and I realize that nobody (including myself) wants to read about this jerk. *g*

Will I go back and revise the latter 4 for publication? Maybe. I think there's one or two that could be great, with the proper hacking-and-slashing. But my current projects hold my love, and new ideas are constantly budding, so I honestly think they'll stay in my trunk for good (unless I hit a really bad dry spell).

But I cannibalize bits out of the old novels all of the time, and I enjoyed the heck out of writing them...and I still love each and every one of them. Trunk novels are never a waste. They're just not ready for prime time. :)

- Jill Myles
Jun. 2nd, 2008 02:58 pm (UTC)
Re: Trunkity Trunk Trunk
I'll probably never return to the first 4 at all, and consider them 'learners'.

Interestingly, my Truly Trunk Novel was my third. Doppelganger was my second, and my first is one of the ones I really want to sell. It got a massive rewrite about two years before I broke through, but it was a rewrite of execution, not of idea; the concepts and even plot stayed more or less the same.

Sounds strange until you realize the last basic skill I mastered was the ability to finish things. I had the fundamentals of plot and character and so on down long before I got the hang of telling a complete story.

Also weird, though -- and a little depressing -- to realize that one's progression as a writer isn't necessarily always uphill; your next book is not necessarily better than your last. Actually, the worst novel I've ever written was the original draft of the fourth book; I rewrote it from scratch almost immediately, and it's still the one that needs another overhaul.
Jun. 2nd, 2008 03:05 pm (UTC)
Re: Trunkity Trunk Trunk
You are 100% right about that - my trunk novels are 1-4 (that I won't ever revisit) but I liked #4 enough to try and rewrite it as #11. But #11 turned out pretty horrible too, so it's a trunk as well. Sigh.

So far for me, #5, #7, #9 and #12 worked where I am truly happy with the results. Those novels in-betwen just end up endlessly frustrating you and making you wonder what you're doing wrong.

To be honest, I think for a novel to be successful, it has to have that perfect combination of character, plot, setting, and voice. If you get any of those wrong, the entire thing can derail.

(At least, for me)
Re: Trunkity Trunk Trunk - swan_tower - Jun. 2nd, 2008 03:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 2nd, 2008 03:06 pm (UTC)
Re: Trunkity Trunk Trunk
The 'finishing' thing is interesting, actually (going back to this) because I learned to finish stuff early on, and then I became obsessed with finishing stuff, even when it didn't work for me. Hence all the trunking.

Plus, I'm a little flighty and tend to lose interest fast. So whereas someone else might take one of those 'bad' novels and spend the 6 months to rework it from the ground up, I can't be bothered. :)
Re: Trunkity Trunk Trunk - swan_tower - Jun. 2nd, 2008 03:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 3rd, 2008 09:02 pm (UTC)
Re: Trunkity Trunk Trunk
Yeah, I wrote my trunk novel after writing four successful ones, too. What linear progression? :-) (On the other hand, I finally know why it's a trunk novel, and some years ago pulled it from circulation so that I could rework it one day.)
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Jun. 2nd, 2008 02:59 pm (UTC)
Letting career considerations guide you isn't a bad way to go, imho. If one of them is in a genre your editor really likes, or seems a good follow-up to something you've done more recently, then it might be a good idea to dust them off and do some revision. Otherwise, maybe the new ideas are the way to go.
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(no subject) - opportunemoment - Jun. 2nd, 2008 03:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 2nd, 2008 03:26 pm (UTC)
Ah, great topic
After I sold my second and third novels, I heavily revised my first and sold it, too. I have several old partials that I'm perfectly content to abandon forever, though, because a. I don't write like that anymore; my style has shifted and b. it's too much freaking work to revise something old when I could just write something new, and it'd be better.
Jun. 2nd, 2008 04:02 pm (UTC)
Re: Ah, great topic
I agree about the "too much work to revise, easier to start from scratch" statement. I wonder too if that's because our writing styles HAVE changed so much that it's like herding cats to get the "old" ms into the kind of order you'd like to see it in based on how you write now?

Jun. 2nd, 2008 04:20 pm (UTC)
Re: Ah, great topic
Love the herding cats analogy. *g* I think it's partly style, partly just plain growth. I'd make different choices now about just about every aspect, so it really is easier to take the same idea and start over. There's a world of difference between the writer I was on my first book and the writer I am at #20.
Jun. 2nd, 2008 04:06 pm (UTC)
I only have one full manuscript and one full novella sitting on my hard drive. The full ms needs an entire overhaul and the novella is a great paranormal story that just needs to be edited but I've been too busy on other projects to work on it. Other than those two, I have at least six partials. Of those partials, I'd say...three are ones I'd like to do something with one day.
Jun. 2nd, 2008 06:14 pm (UTC)
I actually sold my first book, and then I started selling on proposal, so I don't have many "trunk novels," just a lot of trunk proposals. I think I have four complete novels that haven't sold. One is a complete waste and will never see the light of day again. One is for a market I no longer have any desire to write for, so it will likely remain buried, although I have stolen its setting and one of its characters for an entirely different book. Another has been mutated a few times in my head, and I think I might be able to salvage the characters and basic situation into a new story that works, but the market for that kind of book is kind of dead at the moment, so there's not much point. The fourth, I think the basic story and the characters are quite worthy, but at the time I wrote that book, my writing wasn't good enough to do them justice. I have plans to totally rewrite that book from scratch, not even looking at the original version, and see what I can do with it now.
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 2nd, 2008 07:40 pm (UTC)
Never delete! You'll miss it once you do.

I always go back to my first manuscript for a good laugh. I thought it was BRILLIANT back then.

Keep it to remind yourself of how far you've come. :)

- Jill Myles
Jun. 6th, 2008 05:31 pm (UTC)
I'm also an aspiring writer--haven't sold (or tried to sell) anything yet. I actually did delete/burn what would be my trunk novels. I remember thier horrors vividly enough that I don't miss them, and never bothered to finish most. :-P I was younger then. I wouldn't do it with anything I'm working on now.

My current WIP I love to death, and plan to revise until it's as close to perfect as I can get, and if it doesn't sell, I'll write and try to sell another with the hope that I can come back to the first someday.
Jun. 2nd, 2008 07:37 pm (UTC)
Good topic-- I have two straight mysteries that I'd love to do something with. But when I submitted the first as a proposal to my agent, he wasn't so keen on it. He wants me to focus on the UF and I do agree with that. Someday, maybe....

Jun. 2nd, 2008 07:59 pm (UTC)
Nope...in fact, my agent ASKED for mine (there are seven) and I told her no way--they're being burnt when I'm cremated, whenever that day may come. They aren't good enough to be published and I'd be embarrassed by the quality of work I was writing then. Period. When I told an editor friend about them and that I wasn't going to do anything about them, she said she wished more authors would do the same.

Jun. 2nd, 2008 10:27 pm (UTC)
I have currently 3 partials and one full book in the trunk that I might someday dust off and work on. Problem is, I have too many books on my to-be-written list, so I'm not even sure that will ever get done.

The full novel and 1 partial are actually on my list. Then there's the novella I finished in 2005 that's waiting for a rewrite...

I know I'm a better writer than I was 5 years ago. I'm also somewhat slow due to using voice recognition as opposed to typing (although I am getting faster) so sometimes it's a question of what NEEDS to be written now vs what can reasonably wait.

And what should never see the light of day. I think 2 of those partials are it.

Very interesting topic!

Jun. 3rd, 2008 02:52 pm (UTC)
I have four and absolutely not. Though I love them all and learned so much writing each of them. To start with, most are in a genre I discovered I wasn't so great at. To finish, I have developed so much as a writer with every book I've written, the idea of going back...

The closest I've come is stealing a character out of one of those old books and putting her in my newest. Different name, slightly different purpose, but at her heart, the same girl.
Jun. 3rd, 2008 04:05 pm (UTC)
Oh for goodness' sake
That's me and I can't figure out why I don't stay logged in!
Jun. 3rd, 2008 08:05 pm (UTC)
I must be atypical. I have no trunk novels at all. The only thing I wrote which wasn't sold was a nonfiction memoir about police work, and I mined a lot of it to use in my first two novels, mysteries.

I think one of the reasons for this is that I write so slowly. If something isn't working, I know it by page 30 and either work on it until it does, or start fresh.

But I've had to cut large sections from novels, and I never throw anything away -- I'm too lazy to toss something that took me a month to write. And it's not that it's bad; it just didn't work for the book. Sooner or later, I can use that stuff, although in different form, in a future book.
Jun. 3rd, 2008 09:04 pm (UTC)
I have a lot more trunk fragments than trunk novels, but I do have one trunk novel--written after several successful ones--that I hope to rework and resubmit one day.

I learned a ton in the writing of it, though--things I needed for the next novel I finished, in fact; and I realized I'd also learned a ton more after writing it when I finally figured out why it still needed work. :-)
Jun. 5th, 2008 12:52 am (UTC)
Great Topic!

I have only a few trunk novels but dozens of ideas/partials that I’ve started over the years. The novels and more than a few of the started ideas I hope to get back to one day. They naturally need to be re-written but the soul and idea of the story is still good. It can be salvaged and I love many of the ideas too much to let them go.

I do have one traditional fantasy series that I am positively dying to get back to. However, it’s not time yet. I don’t feel like I’m a strong enough writer to do it justice. I love the characters, the world, the idea too much to let it go, but as a writer, I’m just not in that place yet.

That’s not to say that many of the ideas aren’t total crap and need to be destroyed before I kick the bucket. I can’t let the world know that I wrote something so horrible.
( 29 comments — Leave a comment )


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