The Hardest Part: Jenna Black on writing a full novel after having sold it on proposal

Durham author Jenna Black’s next novel publication is a re-issue of her 2006 novel Watchers in the Night, which begins her series The Guardians of the Night, all set for re-release in 2014 starting with book one next week. With two additional series also in print, Faeriewalker and Morgan Kingsley, she has two more series ongoing, her Nikki Glass urban fantasy series and her new near future YA dystopia Replica, and with all these novels she’s had plenty of time to examine and exercise her craft. Here she writes about one of the consistently difficult parts of her career.

Jenna Black Watchers in the Night

By Jenna Black:

It’s very difficult to single out the hardest part of writing a novel. It tends to be different with each one. With sixteen novels on the market, I have plenty of hard parts to choose from. But one thing that I’ve found consistently hard over the years is writing a full novel after I’ve sold it on proposal.

A book proposal for a novel includes a synopsis and some sample chapters. I usually do two or three sample chapters, depending on the length of my chapters. I sit down to write these chapters when I am at the height of my enthusiasm for a project. It’s the new! shiny! idea that I just can’t wait to work on. Sure, those chapters are often slow and difficult to write, because I don’t know my characters all that well yet and I haven’t developed the world fully. But they’re fun. There’s no deadline, and no one has to see them if it turns out I don’t like them. So no pressure.

Then comes the submission process, which in the New York publishing world moves about as fast as a glacier. Even with an agented, established author, it can take months to start getting replies from publishers, especially if the submission happens during the summer or near the holidays. Then once the initial offer comes in, it can take weeks to get all the details hammered out and figure out what your deadlines are.

If you’re selling a new series at a new-to-you publisher, you can assume your first book won’t come out for at least a year, maybe more like eighteen months. So even once you have all the contract details hammered out, you probably still have several months before your deadline for handing in that book.

Fast forward to crunch time, when you actually have to sit down and write the book you’ve proposed. It could be as much as a year since you last looked at those sample chapters. The enthusiasm and excitement about the new! shiny! idea has completely worn off. You lost any writing momentum you might have gathered when you were writing those sample chapters, and you’re now under deadline. With expectations out the wazoo, both from yourself and your agent and your publisher. There is pressure.

I have done this a number of times now, and it never seems to get any easier. It feels almost like I’m trying to finish a book someone else started. It’s usually the slowest writing I ever do, and I am so badly plagued by my internal editor that every word feels like a struggle. The good news is that I will eventually regain momentum and excitement. At least I always have so far. But even knowing that, starting on that project after a long layoff is definitely the hardest part for me.

—-

Author Jenna Black writes paranormal romance books and young adult novels, including Shadowspell and Watchers in the Night, which was nominated for the 2006 Paranormal Excellence in Romantic Literature (PEARL) award. She’s your typical writer: an experience junkie. Once upon a time, she dreamed she would be the next Jane Goodall, camping in the bush and making fabulous discoveries about primate behavior. She went to Duke University to study physical anthropology. Then, during her senior year, she made a shocking discovery: primates spend something like 80% of their time doing such exciting things as sleeping and eating. Narrowly escaping the boring life of a primatologist, she moved on to such varied pastimes as grooming dogs and writing technical documentation. Among her other experiences: ballroom dancing, traveling to all seven continents–yes, even Antarctica–becoming a Life Master in Bridge, and singing in a barbershop chorus.

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3 Comments on “The Hardest Part: Jenna Black on writing a full novel after having sold it on proposal”

  1. […] December 31), Cate Tiernan,  and Faith Hunter, along with the first in Tor’s re-releases of Jenna Black‘s Guardians of the Night series, a new paperback edition of Ariel Djanikian’s […]

  2. Joyce Tremel says:

    I just sold a cozy series on proposal, so this was interesting reading! My ms isn’t due until October, but I’m planning on getting a draft done as soon as possible–then outline the next book. Unlike you, though, I’m very excited about this book. It was hard not to keep writing it after I sent the proposal to my agent, but I didn’t want to spend time on something that may not have sold. Been there, done that.


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