Trunked manuscripts . . . after you’re already published

Years ago, a friend told me that getting published was the easy part. It was staying published that was difficult.

I laughed a little. I died inside.

I was still trying to get published the first time, let alone a second or third time, and I wasn’t having a whole lot of success.

But perseverance won, and eventually I did get published. And because I was one of those annoying overachievers, I’d already written first drafts of the second and third books in my trilogy by the time I turned in my first book, which meant that I had some free time.

I wrote another — unrelated — book, revised it a bit, shared it with a few critique partners and my agent, and when I had another stretch of free time, I went back to it to make the manuscript shine.

But something was wrong. There were huge parts of the book that I loved, but I knew it had problems, and I wasn’t sure how to fix them. I knew the book wasn’t strong enough to give to my publisher, so I put it aside to wait for a spark of brilliance to tell me how to fix it.

That book is still waiting. I had to move on. So I finished writing my first series (again), and I wrote another new book. I gave it to critique partners. I gave it to my agent. I revised the snot out of it. And I thought it was ready, so I gave it to my publisher. They said they didn’t think this was the very best followup to my first series.


I started thinking about that thing my friend had said years before. I started wondering if maybe she was right. I’d been published! People liked my book! But I’d put one new book aside because I knew it wasn’t ready, and I’d had to put the other new book aside because my career wasn’t ready.

But because I had no desire to starve to death and a very strong desire to keep my career in motion, I wrote yet another new thing (while finishing working on my first trilogy). All the necessary people liked it and approved it, and that book became my second series. (For those wondering if that pattern continued, it did not. There were no books between that one and what will be my third series.)

I’m sharing all this because I think a lot of writers believe that once you’re published, you can hand in new books and a couple of years later, they appear on shelves. Not true! New books must go through the same rigorous acquisitions process as the first one, but this time with sales records of your previous books as a key factor in what the publisher decides to do.

I know a lot of authors who’ve written new things after they’ve been published, and for one reason another, had to trunk them. Maybe they knew from the start it wasn’t ready. Maybe their agent said it wasn’t ready. Maybe their publisher said it wasn’t ready.

And you know, there’s no shame in that. Trunked manuscripts — no matter what stage of your career they were written — are still useful creatures. There are no wasted words in writing, even if those words never make it to the bookshelves. All that experiences goes into the next new thing, which will be even stronger than the last ones.

We all have trunked manuscripts. Lots come before getting published the first time, but they happen after, too. For a lot of writers.

And it’s totally okay. Just keep writing. Keep looking forward. (And hopefully one day, you can resurrect the trunked manuscripts you particularly love. That is my plan!)


5 Responses to Trunked manuscripts . . . after you’re already published

  1. Heather Jackson Mar 16 2016 at 9:47 am #

    This is encouraging, but at the same time scary! I was really hoping that trunked manuscripts were something writers could eventually leave behind.

    • Jodi Mar 16 2016 at 9:50 am #

      I really wish!

      And yes, it can be scary, but it’s also part of the learning process for most of us. We’re still figuring out what’s best for our careers, what kind of books we want to publish, and where we want to be in 5, 10, 30 years. 🙂

  2. lisa ciarfella Mar 17 2016 at 1:02 am #

    thanks for this jodi!

  3. Kayla Mar 23 2016 at 1:53 pm #

    This is actually really reassuring, even if I’m sure it’s just as disheartening as being rejected the first time around! I mean, I’d love to get to a point where I know what I’m doing with my writing and never feel like it just isn’t right yet, but knowing it’s a thing that everyone experiences makes it a little better 🙂

  4. Linette Reynolds Jun 3 2016 at 8:59 am #

    Jodi, Your blogs are so inspiring, particularly so because most writers (unless they are the exception), are in the same boat, breathlessly waiting for a manuscript to be acknowledged, let alone accepted for publishing. Deflation of self esteem though rejection may be hopefully we keep going.

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