Recently I was a guest lecturer at a college class in writing fiction. Toward the end of the class, after all the students had asked questions, the instructor who invited me (she’s a writer as well as a teacher) asked a question nobody had ever asked me before. Yet it’s one I think about several times a year. The question was: You have published approximately 200 books. How many unpublished books do you have in your files?To answer the question, I had to think quickly and calculate just as quickly. I write adult fiction and nonfiction, middle grades fiction and nonfiction, picture books, beginning readers, early readers. And poetry. How many of these various manuscripts are in my files, still unpublished? I answered that there may be as many as 25. And then I took the question a step further by saying that of the 25, I hope and expect that 7 or 8 will be published.
Now that I’m home in my office, let me walk to my file cabinet and examine my unpublished manuscripts, just to see how accurate my reply was. Here’s what I have:
2 adult novels — one mystery, one thriller
1 adult nonfiction — anthology
1 YA novel — it’s a work in progress
2 Middle Grades nonfiction
3 Middle Grades fiction
7 Early Readers
2 Picture Books, poetry
6 Picture Books, prose
That’s a total of 24 unpublished manuscripts: very, very close to my estimate of 25.
When I look at them now and evaluate them, and know which ones I can and will rewrite, my guess is that 7 of these can and will be published. Sooner or later. That, too, is close to my original guess.
This doesn’t mean that I rule out the possibility of publication for the other manuscripts. The manuscripts I no longer think worthy of continued rewriting are long gone from my files.
The ones I keep around still speak to me in one way or another — it’s up to me to find the heart of the story in each of them and, with luck, publish them for the world to read.