Monday, April 8, 2013

Trunked Novels

It was recently announced that actor Jason Segel is going to be the latest celebrity to write a YA novel. What's interesting is that he's basing it on an unproduced screenplay he wrote when he was 21. I wonder how many authors, once they get published, return to trunked novels and ideas and try to make them shine.

From one Siegel/Segel to another, good luck! (photo via

I'm sure authors have been tempted. Your publisher is asking for a second novel in half the time you wrote the first one. And oh, look. Here's this completed novel that was subpar when I first wrote it, but that was before someone considered my work publishable. A little read-through and some spackle, and tada -- shiny new manuscript. Right?

Should trunked novels stay trunked?

There's a reason why a novel was trunked, and it wasn't because you had to get published first. Nobody wins by you trying to prove that everything you've ever written is worthy of getting published. I have two trunked novels. The first one is near and dear to my heart, and I gave up on it after four drafts. I always loved the writing in it, but something wasn't clicking storywise. I'll admit, though, once THE BREAK-UP ARTIST sold, I seriously considered polishing it up and sending it off to my agent. I even had a writer friend read it and give me notes -- notes that were nearly identical to the feedback I'd received years ago.

That's when I realized that this novel wasn't a failure. It was a moment in time, a point on my journey as a writer. The problems I saw in this novel I've since overcome on my next books. When I look back on my two trunked novels, I don't see failure. I see progress. I pinpointed where those books floundered and applied that moving forward. Trying to fix them up and make them publishable would diminish their value. You don't need to validate your trunked novels, your aborted attempts, your former SNI's. If you can learn and grow from those experiences, then they are all successes.

Don't go backward. Keep moving forward. If you want to have a career as a writer, you'll need to develop new ideas. If you are *seriously* attached to an old story, don't salvage the old manuscript. Use the idea and redraft from scratch. Make it your own, for the improved, wiser you.

Do you try to rework trunked novels? Have you recycled old ideas?


  1. I think this is one of the biggest problems with self-publishing today. Sometimes it's hard for a writer to tell when it's really subpar and when it's maybe not right for the market. If you start self-pubbing everything, you're gonna look back and cringe by the time you get to a marketable product...but by then you may have already built yourself a brand as a weak author.

  2. I think the key thing missing here is *why* it was trunked. My beloved past manuscript that was trunked because the tone was sort of uneven and the pacing was way off and had a trope that even I'm sick of seeing by now? Oh yeah, that can stay dead and buried. My past manuscript that was trunked because after a bunch of full requests a few years ago, I was repeatedly told that books set in college are too tough a sell? You better believe I'm trying to bring those back (albeit in a tiny way) now that the market is far more welcoming to that particular setting.

  3. I just have to agree with Taryn and Dahlia - especially on the point of certain trunked novels being brought back over others. Like Dahlia, there's one series that has an irritating trope, lots of flaws, and even I, the author, can't stomach it any longer. But there are others that I was told to keep going on, even if they wouldn't sell on the current market, and those are the ones I'd try to revive in another way.

  4. @Dahlia - I think that's a really good point. There are some trunked novels that are quality but were trunked because of marketplace issues totally out of the writer's control. I think, though, if the writer did get a book deal then tried to get this trunked novel trad. published, he/she would face the same problems. Also, I believe writers improve with each book they write. So said trunked novel may be good, but future books they write will be better.

  5. I agree with all you guys (man, this comments section is gold ...) Sometimes I think about self-publishing one of my trunked novels, because I love it and I think self-publishing would be a fun adventure. But that probably isn't a good enough reason to potentially tie it to my career (such that it is) forever. A "moment in time" is a great way to describe some of those manuscripts.

    Bit of a sidenote ... I almost wonder if this is why so many self-published authors are using pseudonyms for those self-published novels, and then only revealing themselves once the novel does well. If you can't quite tell the difference between a project that is legitimately self-publishable and something that's mostly based in your vanity, I suppose there's nothing wrong with putting it out there and waiting to see what happens. (Or maybe I'm the only one who has noticed that happening a lot lately.)

  6. I agree with all of the comments here. My trunked novel is trunked bc I was too lazy to do revisions/edits/worldbuilding, and I realized ALL my ideas were contemporary where my first novel/trunked was a fantasy. I hope Dahlia's book sees the light of day. I just saw some decent sounding NA being picked up on Publisher's Weekly today :) *cross fingers*

  7. I have many trunked books that I someday may revisit. I believe in the books even if no one else did.

  8. I've made the mistake of revisting a few partial slush novels to see if I could complete them, and within a few days (or weeks as I'm always pressed for time), the reason why they became partial slushes to begin with became depressingly clear.

    But I do agree with your point of always moving on and moving forward. So I'm working on what is for the moment, a personal slush novel. If it comes out the way I want it, then I'll move on to the next steps of editing, tweaking, etc.