So, what would be the point of submitting the same book again? I myself have tended to drift on to new work following each round of rejections, but I know that other people continue to cut and prune their magnum opus for resubmission at a later date. There is a hidden calendar involved, and it is worth keeping tabs on the publishing industry through any societies, magazines and trade publications you may have access to. If you hear that Such-and-such the publisher is looking to begin a new imprint that would suit the subject of your writing, then it’s a good time to submit. Find out, ideally, who the editor in charge of the proposed imprint is. It’s likely that this individual is actively looking for a few new names. There are hidden tides that may save or damn you.
Also, it’s worth paying close attention to precisely what you are submitting. What impression does the bleary-eyed, coffee-ridden reader get of your great work? Some books start with a bang, some start quietly and build slowly. However, that reader has only a few chapters, and of those, the first few pages are key. Your first chapter is the strumpet that you are pimping, and she is best tricked out in all the finery you can scavenge. Paint an inch thick.
This is a shame, frankly. There are many ways of structuring a plot, and not all of them need a warm-up act. There are many classic novels, probably the great majority, that start slow and work up, rather than sending in the clowns in Act I Scene 1. However, as a green new writer, your work must grab the interest of the reader from the start, and then hold it, hold it with hooks and claws and raptorial killing arms, until the reader gets to the end of the pages you have sent and thinks, “I could do with more of that…” Whether the reader is a literary agent or from a publishing house, that is what you must accomplish, and so your first few chapters must explode off the page. If you have a book that is reeking with action, adventure, mystery and magic, but which begins in a quiet and sedate manner (the children yet to discover the door to the magic kingdom, let’s say) then it may be worth turning your mind to the humble prologue. Fantasy prologues have a certain reputation, and you do run into a lot of rather similar ones (1). However, if there is a tremendously exciting monster/mystery/war/metaphysical conundrum later on in your book, that will make men weep, women gasp and children nag their parents until they get bought the action figures, all’s one unless you can indicate its existence to your current audience of one, who only has your first three chapters to go on. A prologue where the tail of the monster is glimpsed (3) may not go amiss.
Aside from that, keep writing, either revising the same or starting afresh. As mentioned I’ve skipped on to new pastures each time, because I find that I need to seize ideas when they occur or the momentum is lost, and constant new writing is one way to hone your skills. As a sequitur, a word about sequels.
The fantasy genre, particularly, thrives off the series. It’s easy to blame Tolkien, but he wanted his mammoth work to be a single volume, divided internally into six tranches. At his publisher’s insistence it was released as three wodges (4), each containing two of Tolkien’s subdivisions. So it was that the fantasy trilogy, that oft-mocked stereotype, was born. Except that the stereotype is grievously behind the times. It’s a rare thing now for a series to stop at three. Looking at Jordan and Erikson will demonstrate that the current trend can run as far as ten or more volumes, and each large enough to stun a bear if hurled with moderate force (5). So: you’ve written your book one. What do you write next?
For a very long time indeed I wrote no sequels. Everything I wrote was capable of being followed by a “volume 2 of…”, but all those volume twos are yet to claw their way out of my brain. My logic was that, following the rejection of the first book, why waste time on sequels when I could be writing some fresh first volume to submit? Except…
Except that, some several years ago, I started writing a book based on an old setting of mine, that had seen light in a tabletop campaign once, and had been kicked about and mulled over since before my university days, but that had never actually got as far as the written page. So came forth Empire in Black and Gold, which I enjoyed writing a great deal. When I finished it, rather than reach for my Writers’ and Artists’ Handbook, I made the decision to just keep on writing. I knew that if I submitted it and received the usual round of rejections, I would not have the wherewithal to finish the later books. So it was that, a few years later, I was sitting on a trilogy.
Then I submitted Empire. I did not make much play of the sequels. In fact, I thought it would come across as presumptuous to try and flog three books to people out of the blue. The interesting moment came, to jump ahead a step, when I actually got as far as meeting my soon-to-be agent. I, rather optimistically as I thought, took along copies of books 2 and 3, just in case the subject should come up. I was still thinking how cheeky this would be, at such an early stage.
It was not cheeky, it turns out. It was very well received. What I hadn’t considered was the publisher’s eye view. You have a writer with a book, that has sequel potential. In the alternative you have a writer with a book who has completed a sequel or two. There’s a certain reassurance in those later books actually existing, even in an unpolished format, and it allows the publisher control over the release schedule, as fast or slow as it prefers, rather than having to gamble on book two being finished by any given date, or at all. It surprised the hell out of me at the time, but turning up with a series, rather than a singular, seems to be a definite advantage once the first book has snagged some interest. It does involve considerable investment of time on your part, and you have to be confident enough about the book, but maybe that in itself is not a bad litmus test.
(1) Principally “evil dark lord commits a small atrocity and expounds upon his plans” or “prophecy and omens mitigate against making any long-term investments (2)”
(2) Or, in extreme cases, starting any long books.
(3) Or an opening skirmish of the war, or a clue to the mystery, or a syllogism of the conundrum, or whatever.
(4) It’s the official term for a quantity of Tolkien. Honest. It derives from the old Numenorian “ewoejen” meaning “lumps of the stuff.”
(5) And that’s just the paperback. A solid fantasy hardback could breach tank armour.