Friday, February 18, 2011

To Prologue or Not to Prologue

I started my first book almost a decade ago. It was September of 2001. I didn't write it consistently. When I was in school, I didn't write much at all. It was when I finally broke up with Seminary (it's not you, Seminary, it's me) that I finally got the book finished. Well, for this entire almost decade that I've been working on my first book, I've always intended for it to have a prologue.

I've written a prologue, in fact, I've written and rewritten a prologue. I have edited it many times, making it what I thought was something pretty good. But in my latest agent research, I've learned that a lot of literary agents just don't like prologues. I've discovered that they especially don't like prologues that give a huge back story or that take place years and years before the actual story takes place.

My prologue is one of these.

Now, I think it would be fairly easy to eliminate my prologue completely by putting the details of it into my story. I can think of a way to do this without changing too much to the story line, if anything at all. And I guess that would probably be the wisest thing to do--to just get rid of my prologue and make sure to put any pertinent details from it into my story. That would make the agents happy...maybe.

The trouble is, I've worked hard on this book and on this prologue over the years. I've always envisioned this book as a series, and I've always envisioned my prologue for the first book to be kind of a prologue to the whole series. I've always pictured the first two words of this series to be the first two words in my prologue, and nothing else ever seemed right to me. If I get rid of the prologue, then all these things I've envisioned will be gone.

I'm torn between a couple of different thoughts. On one hand, since I've put so much work into this project, it's probably a good idea for me to put just a little more work into it by making it something that more agents would appreciate--and that means nixing the prologue. On the other hand, since I've put so much work into this project, I really have come to love it just the way it is. That's not to say there are not still some minor things I can do to edit it and polish it up a little more. It's just that after I've already done so much, I kind of don't just want to throw that work away.

And my fear is that the agents are probably right about a lot of things--I mean, they usually are. Literary agents know the market. They know what is probably going to do well, and if most readers out there are anti-prologue, then that's a strike against my book if I keep the prologue in it. But I'm also thinking that even though the agents know the market well, they don't know my book. They don't know this story that's been in my head for the last ten years of my life. I just think my story is better with the prologue than without it. I am naive enough to believe that I've written an intriguing prologue. Maybe what I think of as intrigue is really just the same cliche crap that countless other unpublished writers have written. I don't know.

And so my dilemma is this: Do I do what is most likely to get me a literary agent, or do I do what I think is best for my story? I have honestly gotta say, at this point, I'd feel like a sell-out if I got rid of my prologue, but what do I know? I'm just the "author" (I don't feel right calling myself an author until I've actually gotten something published). Do I just risk it and leave my story as it is and hope that somewhere out there is some crazy agent who actually likes prologues (or who is willing to take a chance on mine)?

Well, if I am completely honest with myself, I've gotta say that even if I do nix my prologue, there's still only a slim chance that anyone will want to represent my book. I'm not saying it's not good. I'm not saying I'm not a good writer. I'm saying that this market is tough, and I'm just not sure that my book is going to do well in the current market. It's a YA epic fantasy. There are so many of those out there, and right now readers are gravitating towards a different kind of book anyway. So maybe it's time to turn my attention back to the idea of going through a small publisher.

This is my first book. It's the book where I made tons of mistakes. It's like a first child. I had to figure out what worked and what didn't. And now that I'm done with it, I kind of just want to say, "No, I can't change it. It is what it is." And I kind of like what it is, I'm just not sure agents will agree. I kind of want to give my book a chance without having it torn apart by agents and editors who don't understand it. I know that's their job...I'm just thinking I might go small time with this one and try to find an agent for a more recent project. I've learned a lot since this first book, after all.


I'm not giving up, though. I mean, what do I always say? "Quitting is for sissies, pansies, and people who never get published." Yes. That's the one. You may quote A. R. Campbell. I think I just need to continue to try to find a literary agent. I'm just not sure whether to try to sell my book as is, or without a prologue.

What do you think? Do you like prologues? Do you hate prologues? I just want some different ideas, thoughts, whatever. Thanks!

1 comment:

  1. I can personally say I LOVE prologues. There's something about them that makes me feel like the author cared enough to make sure I knew the history of the characters. That the people I am about to read about are important enough that I must TRULY understand them and thus I must delve a little deeper outside the current tale before I'm allowed to peek into their lives. I feel like it's a trust issue, I'm about to be let in on a secret, but I need to know the context first. It also makes me more invested in the characters. (I feel the same way about epilogues--like the author knows ahead of time that I'm about to fall so totally in love with these people that I will NEED to know more that just the story being told.)