Posted in Backstory, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing books

Reviving old manuscripts: 5 things a writer might consider

life without endMany years ago – in a former lifetime even before my academic career – I worked in the field of organ transplantation. I was called an “organ procurement officer.” An odd title, you say? Yes, odd indeed. My responsibilities included overseeing the transplant coordinators who were tasked with ensuring donor organs made it to appropriate recipients (kidneys and livers mostly in those days), and the public education programming for increasing organ donations. This latter responsibility involved developing strategic promotion plans, writing about organ donation and making copious numbers of public presentations. All in a day’s work.

While I was working in the field I became fascinated with the myriad ethical dilemmas posed by the transplantation process itself, but more so by the way the health professionals involved in transplantation demonstrated a kind of fervour, often bordering on the religious, about their chosen medical field. It was this fascination that led me to research and write my very first non-fiction book many years ago.

Life Without End: The Transplant Story was my take on the ethics and politics of organ transplantation in Canada at the time, and I think it’s fair to say that not all of what I wrote made the folks I had worked with happy. Some of them were very unhappy indeed.

That was my last job in the real world before I started my academic career, but stories about organ transplantation never really left my monkey mind. So, not long after that first book was published I started writing a novel about what might happen if that kind of religious fervour about transplantation got out of hand. When I finished the manuscript I shopped it around to agents which resulted in finding one who actually loved the story and decided to take it on. She did her job (or at least I guess she did – we never did meet only talked on the phone), sending me detailed lists of where she had sent the manuscript and what the results were. She never did sell it, so I filed it away in the depths of my electronic writing files and almost, but not quite, forgot about it.

With the advent of electronic publishing the idea of reviving old manuscripts in my files began to take shape. I’m a firm believer, though, that not everything we write needs to be published, or even should it be published. Sometimes our writing is either for our eyes only (or ought to be) or it is our writing practice. I had never thought of this novel as being practice, though; rather I had believed it was ready to make its way out into the world. So I finally decided that The Body Traders would see the light of day.THE Body Traders cover FINAL for print front

First I reread it and found that I still loved the story. Then I spent a lot of time over the past year rewriting and updating it. You can well imagine that a book written more than a decade ago would need a tweak or two: for example, back when I worked in transplantation we carried pagers – no one even had a cell phone! Updating was indeed required!

I considered shopping it again, but in the end decided to self-publish. So, what did I learn from this process? I learned that there are several things you need to consider when deciding to revive an old manuscript.

  1. Ask yourself why you want to publish it now. Do you just want to see it in print (electronic or otherwise)? If the answer is yes, I suggest you need a better reason. There are a lot of books out there these days that no one will ever read. If you really don’t care if anyone else reads it, perhaps you need to put it away. “Publication” and “publish” both refer to “public” meaning that the work should be for the public.
  2. Reread it to see if you still feel as enthusiastic about it now as you did when you finished it. If you don’t, put it back in the electronic drawer and step away.
  3. Analyse it for it currency. Are the ideas still resonant? Will current readers appreciate the themes? If you aren’t sure, ask someone whose opinion you value to read it. Perhaps even consider beta readers.
  4. Edit the manuscript for specifics that will bring the details up to date. For example, if the protagonist still uses payphone, unless it’s part of a quirky character trait, you need to do a bit of updating.
  5. When you have finished the rewrite based on your own analysis, feedback from others’ and your update, read it again to see if you still feel enthusiastic. If the answer is yes, you’re ready to press the publish button!
Posted in Publishing, Traditional Publishing, Writing, Writing books

Writer: Know Thyself!

I was perusing my bookshelf this morning (in truth I was looking for a couple of books with the right spine width to wedge under a door my husband was re-installing – but I digress), when I happened upon one of my favourite old books. Over the years I’ve culled my book collection mercilessly, but there are a few that still remain on my shelf. Written by literary agent John Boswell, this one has remained one book that I do re-read from time to time, just to keep me grounded as a writer.

the awful truthIt is titled The Awful Truth About Publishing: Why they always reject your manuscript – and what you can do about it. In spite of its age (it was published in 1986 by Warner Books), and the concomitant fact that it was published long before the advent of the eBook era and the avalanche of self-publishing, it remains one of the best reads to help a writer with her head in the clouds to keep her feet on the ground – which is the only place to be if any real success is to follow.

As I cracked the cover (hard cover at that) I opened the book at Chapter 4: “The Awful Truth About Yourself.” And it does seem to me in these days when the “cult of the amateur” shrouds just about every facet of artistic endeavour (movie-making, music production and, yes, you guessed it, writing) it might be worthwhile for aspiring and other writers to do a bit of navel-gazing. Are we always aware of the truth about ourselves? Based on some of the drivel I’ve read recently, coupled with the book-marketing noise on the Web, it seems that many “writers” are, indeed, blind to some truths about themselves. And I put myself in that category from time to time.

Boswell offers this: “Writing, for the gifted few, is an art, and the chances of reaching this level are about as good as they are of becoming a prima ballerina or a major league second baseman” (The awful truth about publishing, p. 41). I love to be reminded that writing is indeed one of the arts, a factoid that seems to be forgotten by those among us who harp on ‘authorpreueurship’. While I’m all for the notion of self-help even in writing, let’s be clear that if you’re writing a book with the clear objective of making money, then this isn’t art.  It’s content creation and it’s okay. But it isn’t art. Some of my own work – or at least work in progress – seems to bend in that direction, while other work is simply seeing if I can create a piece of art that will entertain and perhaps even provoke.

He then goes on to make a statement that, had he been able to gaze into a crystal ball and see the future of publishing as we know it today he would have realized is even more profound. “Fortunately,” he writes, “…writing is also a craft and one which can indeed be learned by almost anyone. But…it is still not something that can be learned overnight, or a skill that pops into your head, fully honed once you ’get around’ to putting your publishable thoughts on paper…” (p. 41). And here is where it gets really muddy these days.

Boswell poses a question that I’ve often asked my own students – and use to ask myself. Do you want to be an “author” or do you want to write? It’s much the same question as do you want to write, or simply to “have written”? And these days we might also ask: do you want to be a writer or a content creator? One is not fundamentally better than the other, but they are different. They have different objectives, processes and audiences. In my view it’s really only a matter of knowing yourself. I’m trying.

[I’ve written about ‘content creators ‘ here ]

Posted in Writing, Writing books

Maybe you shouldn’t be a writer

[Excerpted from Who Will Read Your Book?  The Unknown Writer’s Guide to the Realities of Writing & Publishing forthcoming from Patricia Parsons]

This is worth considering.  If you want to be a writer, and are considering who you are as a writer, it might be a useful exercise to consider all the reasons you shouldn’t write a book.  If you do this and at the end still believe that you should write your book and work to get it published, then you’ll be stronger as you move through the process.

Lots of people have put together lists of why you shouldn’t write. For example Susannah Breslin, writing in Forbes online, suggests the following three reasons you shouldn’t write: (1) you’re not good at it; (2) it’s too hard; and (3) it’s too hard to make money.[i] These are all valid points in my view. What’s so interesting is that in a later post, she says that her short piece on why you shouldn’t be a writer is the one that readers hated most.[ii]  It seems those who want to write a book don’t want to be told the reasons why they shouldn’t pursue it.  But you do need to hear this before you move forward.

Blogger Karen Yates has a few more ideas about why you shouldn’t write that book.  She suggests that you back away from that computer if (1) you want to write because you think it will be fun or easy; (2) you want to write because you have a lot of Twitter followers; (3) you think the topic is one you think you can sell even if you’re not passionate about it; (4) if you can’t take criticism (she says editorial: I think you need to have a thick skin in general); and/or (5) you’re not willing to promote your book.[iii] Again, these are all good considerations.

After a couple of decades of writing books myself, I’ve determined that people should write if they want to: what they shouldn’t necessarily do is publish.  If you want to write, remember that it will be a difficult process, but go ahead regardless of what anyone tells you.  Then take that manuscript and put it away to read in your dotage.  Don’t try to sell it to a publisher, and under no circumstances should you self-publish it. That is unless you remember the following which are my personal reasons that should give wannabe writers pause.

Do not publish your writing even one of the following statements applies to you:

  1. You’re writing as a form of catharsis. That’s what your private, personal journals are for.
  2. You’re writing because you’re angry about something. At least don’t publish anything until the anger subsides and you can look at the matter more objectively.
  3. You’re writing on a topic only because you think it will sell. If you are not passionate about it, it’s not worth writing about.
  4. You don’t believe that writers read. Any published writer worth his or her salt reads a lot and reads widely.
  5. You aren’t willing to do the research that will be necessary regardless of genre.
  6. You aren’t willing to work to continually improve your writing.
  7. You think that you’ll simply sit down in front of the computer and the words will flow.
  8. You can’t stand revising.
  9. You don’t have a thick skin.
  10. You spend more time talking to others in person and online about your writing than you do writing.

Once you have looked inward and can honestly say that none of these statements applies to you, it’s time to get on with finishing your book.


[i] Susannah Breslin.  Why you shouldn’t’ be a writer. Forbes online.

[ii] Susannah Breslin. Why you should be a writer. Forbes online.

[iii] Karen Yates. 5 reasons you shouldn’t write that book.