Or drawer. Or hard drive. Under the mattress at your great aunt Tilly’s house. WHEREVER your old manuscripts are (of course that's what this post is about! What did you think?!), for the love of coffee, if you’re waffling over whether to write something new or raise the dead…KEEP them there.
I’m not saying there’s no possible way they’ll sell, or that they aren’t any good. Timing plays a large factor in when things are picked up in publishing, and sure, the timing on an old manuscript may not have been ideal and now it is (i.e., your NA five years ago vs. NA now). And many authors are seeing success with self publishing novels that don’t get picked up.
But if I have a client who says, “Oh hey, you know, I’m not quite sure what I’ll work on next, and I haven’t done anything new, but I have these short stories I did when I was twelve – want to take a look at those?”
I think: No. No, I really do not.
I will probably say, “Sure.”
I mean, I won’t just discount the possibility that an old dusty manuscript a client wants to send to me just needs some polishing and voila! Again, see the comment on timing above. But how many stories do you hear of where the author touts, “Oh, I had this just sitting around for years, and all of a sudden, I thought, why not, I’ll send this off and see what happens!”
Not many. Because many times these manuscripts are what I would call “starter manuscripts”; the drafts written to hone and perfect your craft. It is highly unlikely a manuscript from five years ago is going to be as good as anything new you could write. Not even speaking just to craft and style; speaking also to marketability and dated references. The audience you were writing to is also aged, and a new one moving in; is that new audience going to like what the old did?
There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind. -C.S. Lewis
So. If you MUST take them out again and want to contemplate sending them off into the big wide world (I know it’s tempting) PLEASE re-read them ALL THE WAY THROUGH FIRST. Then decide what you want to do. Is it REALLY the next best foot forward you can present? REALLY a victim of poor timing/market glutting that should and could be revived, either traditionally or via self-publishing? Or is it a starter manuscript you’re desperately trying to fill a gap of writer’s block with?
The truth is, one of the hardest things a writer has to think about is having tomes of unpublished drafts and works that just…won’t ever go anywhere. But guess what: it doesn’t make you a bad writer – it makes you a career writer. A writer who writes…just for the love of writing, whether published or not.
And that’s the kind of writer I want to work with.
You can't start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading your last one. -Michael McMillan