Drafts

Last summer, thanks to some friendly university archivists,  I had the opportunity to study the first drafts of a certain American writer’s unpublished novels. But all I can think about in regards to those manuscripts, which were both wonderful and awful at the same time, is  had they been written today instead of nearly a hundred years ago, they would be up for sale on Amazon Kindle already, in their raw, incomplete form, their flaws glaringly obvious to any intelligent reader who might happen to stumble upon them. Makes me wonder: Does anyone still go through drafts anymore, when putting together a novel? Don’t think so.

I can say this with some confidence, based on my current participation in the Kindle Scout program—not as a nominee, but as a nominator of other books. I’m not doing the tit-for-tat thing with my fellow authors; I won’t nominate a book unless I feel it’s ready to be published. But so few are. It harkens back to my days as a fiction-reader at old McCall’s magazine: I was officially a copy editor there, but would assist the fiction editor Helen DelMonte with her slush pile from time to time—my ultimate reward being that Helen eventually published my first short story  in McCall’s, thus launching my fiction career. (And she made me rewrite it five times!)  So I’ve been going through the nominees at the KS site, trying to distract myself from my own campaign by finding other worthy books to support and nominate. And dear readers, I confess I am having a very hard time of it…

I’m not even looking at covers, pitch lines or blurbs; and I could care less whether you’re Hot & Trendy, now that I know how much dough you spent to get there.  I only care about how good your writing is. Of course, it’s hard when you only have the first few chapters or so to look at. But it’s the modern, online slush pile, pure and simple. Like the old  pile of paper which used to sit on top of Helen DelMonte’s file cabinet, it runs the spectrum from the very, very bad to…the almost good enough. And I give Kindle Press credit for picking so few of them. It’s the almost-good-enough ones that break my heart. Overall, there’s a fair amount of talent out there. But we writers are so impatient! I’ve found at least a dozen books that really just needed a few more drafts to polish them out, make them work as novels. And I’m not discriminating according to genre, I read them all. But those aspiring to literary status are perhaps the most disappointing of all.

Drafts need not be a function of time: It only took me six months to write Wives of the Saints, but I pushed it through many, many drafts after it flowed from my brain like magic.  It may have felt spiritually inspired, but that first version was complete dreck. It needed a LOT of editing. It’s grueling, boring work, time consuming, requiring many evenings when you’d rather be slumped in front of the TV; I even worked on it during my coffee breaks at the language school—Hey, I can drink coffee and edit at the same time! It’s painful when you have to eliminate that chapter you love but doesn’t work overall, or a character you thought was funny, but ultimately unnecessary. It’s making sure every word in the manuscript pulls its weight, and eliminating all the self-indulgent, meaningless drivel. Most of all, it means switching places, from proud author to potential reader. Would you want to read this crap? That’s why I always recommend putting the thing away for a while, distancing yourself from it. But again, that takes time. And we authors are so impatient to be published, and recognized.

So, do I think this improves my own chances of getting selected? Possibly, but I don’t know how much weight the editors are giving to other factors, such as those vaunted page clicks or my cover, which I admit is unimpressive. Also, everything, I think, depends on the first reader: If they don’t, for whatever reason, take to your book right away, then you’re toast. So I’m thinking my chances are pretty slim, but still, I’ve already reaped a lot of benefits, exposure and experience from this whole thing, so it almost doesn’t matter how it ends. So why not throw in a plug: Six days left, go take a look: https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/2FG91Y0LS2F58

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