Wait, You Want Me to Write the Book Before You Buy It?

March 8, 2011

I sold my first non-fiction book based on a one page query and a list of potential chapters that I wrote over lunch in the break room of the bagel company where I worked at the time. The book was called TV Toys and the Shows That Inspired Them and Krause Publications (a major hobby publisher) offered me a nifty advance that would be paid out in three payments that would act as a salary as I wrote.

Back then, I had a clunky computer that was a stone and a tablet compared to the one I have today. Unsure if I’d be able to even handle writing a whole book on the poor thing, I asked if I could have more of the advance up front so I could buy a new computer. They agreed and a few weeks later I was typing away on a cool PC (which, in retrospect was still pretty low tech compared even to my iPhone.)

I sold two other books this way, including the Official Buffy the Vampire Slayer Pop Quiz which got me not only a nice advance but a copy of every Buffy script written so I could use it to pull trivia. I read TV scripts for fun so this was quite a score.

Years later, I decided to try my hand at fiction. I’d been writing fiction since I was a kid and I amused my friends with tons of Fan Fiction based on my favorite TV shows but I hadn’t tried authoring a fiction novel. With the goal of getting published in mind, I started submitting queries to publishers and found out a crazy thing, they all wanted to see a finished manuscript before they made a decision.

What? You expect me to labor over a manuscript, pour my heart and soul into it for months on end and then, maybe, you’ll look at it? What’s up with that?

Three publishing companies had paid me to write books based only on my query. Why, suddenly, did I have to write the full book before I could make a sale?

Alas, this is the lot of the newbie fiction author.  So you write and write and you rewrite and even then there’s no guarantee that anyone will ever buy the book, so why do we do it? I guess, because in a way, we can’t not do it. And, I suppose, that most newbie fiction writers haven’t had the non-fiction, upfront payment experience, so they’re not jaded.

For me, this “no money upfront” concept has been hard to get around. Since I write non-fiction for a living, every moment I write fiction feels like a waste. What if the book never sells? Just think of all the paid non-fiction I could have written in its place!

And before you say, writing isn’t about the money, I’ll take money out of the equation. It wasn’t just that publishers gave me an advance, but it’s the fact that they gave me a guarantee. My work would be published and read by somebody. That’s all I’m looking for on my novel, the promise that somebody who doesn’t know me or owe me will read it when I’m done.

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3 Responses to “Wait, You Want Me to Write the Book Before You Buy It?”


  1. Talk about a big difference between non-fiction and fiction writing! Do you think it’s because non-fiction is fact-based writing and often structured, and therefore there is less of a chance for a writer to hit a block or veer in an unwanted direction?

    Elley

    • Cynthia Says:

      I would imagine so but even still, I was a first time author so I was surprised to get the advance. But then, if I hadn’t finished the book, I would have owed them the money back.

  2. taristhread Says:

    But, what a great way to get the new computer….before you write the book!!!

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