Trunking Exposed: 4 Reasons to Trunk a Novel

Photo by Niels CC
Photo by Niels CC

A few weeks ago I wrote about the great untrunking of Harper Lee’s GO SET A WATCHMAN. It sparked much debate in our comments section. Many felt Lee’s book was never intended for public eyes and should have stayed trunked. While others felt glad the book came out of hiding.

True confessions time: I’m a trunker. And you should know I’m also guilty of untrunking.

All summer I’ve been hacking away at a trucked project, mostly because I needed some time away from the horror novel I’m working on. I reached the conclusion that while my kids are home on their school break, I can’t capture the right mind-set for writing super dark, gritty mayhem. There is just too much giggling and high-speed fun going on all around me to get my goth on. Since starting a new project seemed unwise, I reached back into my hard drive and reviewed my options. I found a book in second draft stage I’d abandoned. After reassessing the project I found I rather liked it. This led me to question why I trunked this novel in the first place. Since I have four trunked projects hiding away in my hard drive attic, I decided to expose my dark trunking secrets. Today I will tell you why each project earned a spot in my deep and dusty manuscript vault.

Bad timing:
Although the publishing market is always changing, I managed to write a book that is perpetually in the wrong place at the wrong time. For one thing it’s in an overexposed and dying genre. Second there are negative geopolitical forces at work that make the chosen setting of the book a publishing pariah. There’s not much any writer can do about poor timing. The options are release the book through self publishing and make the best of a bad situation, or trunk the book and hope the market forces improves. Trends cycle. If I wait long enough it’s possible the political situation and genre saturation might improve.

Branding considerations:
Sometimes releasing the wrong manuscript can sabotage a writer’s long-term career goals. Most writers have their eye on the future; they want to write books for the rest of their lives and build a solid fan base. To do that, you need branding. The first few books any writer puts out set expectations and create a tone. Being consistent in terms of reader demographics and genre is going to help any new writer create a recognizable brand. Since my plan is to be a young adult writer, there are no advantages to releasing my contemporary suspense novel written for adults. An established author with faithful readers can skirt the expectations of their author brand. But a fledgling writer (like me) will only confuse my brand by releasing a book that hops to a different genre and age demographic.

Personal growth deficits:
Sometimes it takes more or a different life experience to write the story the way you know it should be written. I’ve trunked a project based on a tragic historical event because, although I love the story with all my heart and soul, I wasn’t doing the story justice. I felt I owed the survivors of this horrible event more passion! I knew if my version didn’t resonate with me, it would never touch a reader. I’m hopeful I just need more time and with it I will gain the right kind of perspective to make this story something special. However, if that personal growth never happens, I would rather see the project permanently trunked than released.

Quality Control:
One of my first YA books never came together the way I’d hoped it would. The second act felt slow and predictable. The first 2/3 of the book has a great voice, but near the end of the novel I lost it. The plot was a little tired and the plot twist didn’t work. Plus I ended up with a romance element that might be too saturated with bad boy karma for my taste. This was the first book I wrote with a Hispanic protagonist, so it will always be near and dear to me, but just having character diversity is not enough to warrant keeping a book alive.

I’m not going to tell you which project I’ve untrunked, not until I see if I’ve been successful or not. But if you want to take a guess in the comments, or give me your reasons for why I should untrunk one of these projects, I will be fascinated to hear your thoughts. Also feel free to share your own untrunking success or failure stories. We are all here to learn, and we do that best when we share our experiences!

Author: Robin Rivera

Robin trained as a professional historian and worked as a museum curator, an educator and historical consultant. She writes dark young adult fiction, with diverse characters. She's currently querying a novel, and working on two new manuscripts that started off as NaNoWriMo projects. You can follow her on Facebook(https://www.facebook.com/robin.rivera.90813) or on Twitter @robinrwrites. However, Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/RRWrites/) is where her inner magpie is happiest of all.

12 thoughts on “Trunking Exposed: 4 Reasons to Trunk a Novel”

  1. A memoir/essayist perspective: Sometimes, the thing isn’t settled or solved, or the emotions are too raw/not ready yet. I have one project that comes out for a while, then needs to be put back for a while (even years). Then it comes back out again. Depends on how close to the subject and how ready I am to truly tell it.

    I don’t think I’ve ever trunked anything forever, non-fiction or fiction. I also think if the story wants to come out, it will. The form just may change over time (you could write something, trunk it, and not write THAT, but then write something similar down the road).

    Regardless of whether my work is in the trunk or not, my brain is always working on something. 🙂 That’s the ultimate trunk…….

    1. Hi Tara,
      I think that is a great way of looking at it, the brain is the ultimate trunk! I have also done exactly what you described, killed something that didn’t work out, only to find the same idea with changes appeared in a new piece. That’s part of the magic of being a writer, these ideas don’t go away! They float around gathering steam until that big day when we finally figure out the best way to express them. : )

  2. Hi – I’m curious to know which genre you feel is overexposed and dying. Thanks for this. Since I’m only a wannabe writer at this point, I have several ‘trunked’ projects. I like the ideas for all of them, but can’t get my creative genius to come along beside me to complete them. 🙂
    @dino0726 from 
    FictionZeal – Impartial, Straighforward Fiction Book Reviews

    1. Funny you noticed that part, Diane. As a book reviewer you may think all genres are fair game and popular, but in the publishing world some genres get over saturated. Once these books stop selling the agents and publishers start to pull back from requesting them. I heard back from agents repeatedly the genre was not selling before I trunked my project. But as I said, things do tend to cycle back around again. I have hope!

  3. Personal growth deficits are the number one reason I trunk anything… I started a novel when I was 14 and knew then it was way too complicated for me… so I wrote my visual ideas down, developed the characters a bit, then trunked it.

    For my first NaNoWriMo three years ago, I untrunked it, and got an outline together….. write 50k words of decent quality… but trunked it again. Something still feels like it is missing, and I don’t want to let down the potential I feel the story has. In the meantime… it’s trunked, but never forgotten!

    Great post. 🙂

    1. I think all writers must trunk. You need to write because your brain starts getting cluttered up with ideas if you don’t, but not every idea is worthy of publication. And if you just start sending out every little thing you write you will eventually burn your good name as a writer. I love that your project from when you were 14 still haunts you. You must write that one day!

  4. You’ve raised all valid reasons to trunk. It’s funny that you post about this today, because I was just reading one of my very early novels and thought, “Huh. This might be salvageable one day.”

    1. It’s a great feeling to think you can untrunk something isn’t it? It’s like you know how much you’ve grown as a writer and it’s enough to see the mistakes and know how to fix them. Plus for me, the emotional baggage is finally gone with these projects. I can look at these manuscript with some objectivity now, see both the good and the bad. You can do it Sue, untrunk that book! But not before you ship the current novel to the publisher. : )

    1. Thanks, Sarah. Trunking is a subject most writers understand and can relate too. Not a happy one, but still all part of the writer life. It feels good to tell everyone. It’s like having a dark secret that has been bothering me for ages, and finally letting it out.

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