Fulfilling your contract: So, what is an “option book” anyway?

For the past two weeks I have been working on the “option book” as required by my contract.

What is an option book?

My contract with Month9Books was for a three book series with an option for the fourth.  That means I agreed to write three complete novels. (Already done. Yay!) Once those are done, the publisher has the “option” to request a fourth book.

The next step in the process for me was to provide a summary for the fourth book (This will vary by publisher and by author/book. I have friends who have been asked for outlines, first chapters, first fifty pages, etc.)

So, in my mind, I figured they just wanted a rough idea of what I had in mind. After all, they have three books from me already, right? They are familiar with my writing style.

So what I did was write out a rough, fairly detailed outline.  This is very similar to how I would start any book … just hitting on the key points, figuring I would fill in all the “holes” as I write (Which is my normal process.)

Since I had two large signing events back to back weekends before this was due, I shot it off two weeks early so I could check something off my to-do list.  Yay! I felt accomplished!

Imagine my surprise when the next morning I got an email from Month9Books, asking for a phone meeting that same day.

Yikes!

Well… I found out that I hadn’t quite done my summary right. What they were looking for was a complete, highly detailed summary so they would know, without a shadow of a doubt, that this would be a book they would want to contract even before I had written it.

So then started the conversation … Why did this happen?  What about this? Did you realize that this part contradicts that part? What does this scene even look like? Why? Who? Which? Huh? Etc, Etc, Etc…

As humiliating as this sounds, I found it incredibly useful.  My editor was able to see problems in the manuscript before I had even written it. (This is the kind of stuff my beta readers would see later and I would have to fix) She asked questions that got my wheels turning, and we came up with ideas together to strengthen scenes before they were even written, and come up with a few that weren’t even there yet.

Now I have pages and pages of notes to strengthen my story.  Total score.

Due to the extremely intricate nature of the book I am proposing, my next step is to submit a detailed timeline. Since a few things happen at the same time, she needs to see how the timelines run together, and how they intersect.  I have one month to do this.

This is a lot harder to do this that it might seem, since the book isn’t even written yet. Like I said earlier, I usually plot only major points in the story, and then I write each day trying to get my characters to that point.  A lot of my ideas come “on the fly”. Coming up with them when I’m not completely engrossed in the story?  Really, really hard.

Think GirlBut what this exercise is forcing me to do, is to really THINK about the story scenes, and how they interrelate.  I am finding that I need another scene here, another there. There is not enough time for this scene in this spot. I need to move it over here… and so on. I am really glad they asked for this exercise, because there is a lot to this story, and as she told me, “We need to nail this or it will bite us.” Nope, don’t wanna be bitten.

So, that’s what I’m working on at the moment. Once this is done, if they take the option, it will be interesting to see if this extremely detailed timeline, summary, and subsequent notes from our phone meeting help me to write faster, of if they will stifle my creative mojo.

How detailed a plan do you come up with before you start writing?

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11 responses to “Fulfilling your contract: So, what is an “option book” anyway?

  1. I am not a planner, principally because I like to see where the characters will lead me, and planning closes too many doors. However, once the book is written I do go through it and make a summary of each chapter, so I can get a sort of running precis that will fit on a page. I find I cut out a lot of BS this way, and if there are plot anomalies, it is an easy way to detect them,

    • I think the idea of doing this is you get to cut out those anomalies before you take the time to write them. From that perspective I can see it would be helpful.

  2. I’m a planner, myself. I want to know the beginning, middle, and have an idea about the end. This is not to say that the story will end up that way, but I need something to keep me going–and glued to my computer. As always, Jennifer, I wish you all the luck. You can do anything, and if I can help or read, just let me know. ~Victoria Marie Lees

  3. Yikes, nothing that detailed has ever preceded my writing! While I do prepare a basic outline now, I don’t fill in all the steps to get from “A to G to Q to Z.” That’s where the spontaneity kicks in. I’m not sure I could come up with something so detailed in such a short time-frame!

  4. I just keep learning new things from you. Thanks.

  5. I love Month9Books. They’re an amazing publisher. I love hearing that they worked with you so intently on this!! Makes me want to stick with their books forever!

  6. Dang. I’m more of a pantser than a planner so this would be a brutal exercise for me.

    Good luck, my friend!

  7. I have only worked with a brief outline, the main points of the story leading to where the end as I imagine it now. This detailed outline you talk about sounds fascinating. It will be interesting to hear how it works for you in regards to stifling your writing or not. 🙂

  8. I found this to be excellent advice years ago when I attended a writing seminar by Robert Macomber. He had boards and boards of datelines and timelines and stressed the importance of both. He said he learned the lesson the hard way when he’d written a character in one of his first books who was pregnant for over a year. I have papers upon papers, notebooks upon notebooks with my datelines and timelines and it has helped a lot!! I wish you all the luck on this one, and of course, I’ll be more than happy to read it when you’re ready.