Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Outlining vs Winging It

My new middle grade book just came out and it's been a long road to publication. What started as a basic outline soon eventually became a detailed story of four thirteen-year-old kids who create and crack codes to solve a mystery.

When I gave a talk about the book the other day, the question arose--as it always does--Do I outline my story before you write it? While the other writers often write “organically,” I need a map. Seriously. I get lost going from one place to another, and if it weren’t for my GPS, I might never make it to my destination.

So I use a sort of GPS/outline when creating my stories that includes how the book begins, all the way through who dunnit. That doesn’t mean I don’t take a wrong turn now and then, or deliberately go off the main road to explore an unfamiliar neighborhood. But it helps to know that I have a backup plan in case that left turn into Timbuktoo leads to a dead end.

Here’s an example of how I might outline a book on “How to Get your Book Published.”

       A.   Outline book

       B.  Actually write the book

       C.    Or just think about writing the book but don’t actually do it.

II.     Finish The Book

       A.    Send it to… 

                I.    Relatives
                       1.    Gets lots of praise
                       2.    Write thank you notes to relatives

               II.    Agents
                       1.    Get lots of rejections
                       2.    Wonder what’s wrong with agents

              III.    Publisher
                       1.    Get more rejections
                       2.    Consider giving up

      B.    Give up or keep sending…

                 I.    Bury the book in the backyard and wallpaper bathroom with rejection slips

                II.    Drink bottle of wine and keep sending out the book

     C.    Finally get agent representation…

                 I.    Celebrate with rest of bottle of wine

                II.    Be thankful you’re avoiding the slush pile

               III.    Consider proposing marriage to agent

     D.    Get a publishing contract…

                  I.    Make a good advance, thanks to agent’s negotiating skills

                 II.    Give 15% to agent and wonder why

                III.    Work with editor/publisher who wants you to rewrite the book

                 IV.    Work with copyeditor who wonders if you’ve taken any English classes

     E.    Spend the next year…

                   I.    Working with art director on cover

                  II.    Working with editor on back cover blurb

                 III.    Working with publicist on reviews

                  IV.    Preparing promotional materials at your expense

                  V.    Arranging your own book tours

                 VI.    Doing media events, blogs, websites, Jerry Springer

                VII.    Spend entire advance on the above

      F.    Book publication date arrives

                  I.    Book is a bestseller

                          1.    Sell movie rights to Hollywood
                          2.    Appear on Oprah Network
                          3.    Begin next blockbuster
                          4.    Be worshipped

                  II.    Book just sells through

                          1.    Barely make back advance
                          2.    Appear in local newspaper
                          3.    Begin new midlist book
                          4.    Don’t quit day job

                 III.    Book goes to remainder pile

                           1.    Sell book door-to-door
                           2.    Handout coupons for deep discount
                           3.    Begin updating old resume
                          4.    Apply to Burger King

III. Write new outline...

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