This is the second post in a series offering advice to moms who are interested in trying to get a novel published. I’ve had so many friends and acquaintances ask me for this information that I thought others might be interested as well – plus it makes things easier on me; I can just point everybody here, where they can find the information all in one place. I hope folks find it helpful–or at least interesting! I’ll post more about my debut novel, RIVAL, when the release date nears.
Do you dream of getting a novel published? Have you ever fantasized about landing the kind of book deal that lets you quit your day job and move to some quaint small town, where you can alternate spending time with your children and crafting books from the comforts of a sunny office in your own home?
Well, go read my first post on this topic. Then shake off the ice water, and if you’re still interested in trying to get published, I’ll give you my first tip on how to go about it.
Here it is – Sara’s Tip #1 for Getting a Novel Published:
Finish Your Book.
I hear from people all the time who say they have a great idea for a novel, do I think a publishing house would offer a contract based solely on that?
The answer is no. Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time (and I’m only saying 99.9% because I don’t like to speak in absolutes), editors (and agents) want to see a complete manuscript. There are several reasons for this:
1. They need to see you’ve got the goods. Writing a complete, well-crafted novel is hard. Often a writer will turn in awesome opening chapters, only to have the plot fall apart a third of the way through and then unravel toward the end.
2. They need to know you can finish a book. Can you imagine paying someone to replace your roof and then having them go AWOL or lose interest, or have a family emergency that leaves the project half-done?
3. They want to make sure the idea holds up. What if you sell me an idea about psychic dogs, and I get excited about matchmaking poodles, but you really wanted to write about Dobermans that help find missing children? When you turn in your manuscript, we’re going to have a big disconnect.
Fiction writers do sell on concepts and proposals alone – but that privilege usually comes when you’ve already got a book under contract, and folks are confident you’ll deliver. If you’re not an established author, there’s no getting around it: You need to finish your book before you can even think about trying to get it published.
If you need advice on how to write a novel, you’ll find no shortage of books on the subject. I can’t recommend any because I personally don’t use writing books – I’m more a trial and error type of writer; I learn by doing and by reading other writers, studying how they tackle various challenges.
I can, however, offer the most valuable tip you’ll ever get on how to finish a novel: Write it. It’s as simple as that. Sit your butt in the chair and write. Don’t fret about whether your muse has visited you. Don’t turn on the TV and watch Dancing with the Stars instead. Don’t fret that you don’t feel like writing. Put yourself in front of the keyboard and put words on the screen. Give yourself a daily word count – when I’m working on a book, I don’t let myself go to bed each night until I’ve done 500 new words. And I don’t believe in writer’s block. If I’m stuck, I skip to a section of the story that I can get more excited about. If I feel like my writing is crap that day, I give myself permission to write crap. I can always revise it later (the funny thing, though, is that often what I thought was crap turns out to be not that bad when I read it the next day).
All of that was a long-winded way of saying that writers write. They don’t wait for the perfect moment to invite the goddess in. They recognize that creativity is something you do, not something you wait to be blessed with. They approach writing as a job. They recognize that sometimes finishing a novel is akin to an endurance sport. In short, they are willing to put in the work.
So OK. You’ve served your BIC (“Butt In Chair”) time. You’ve made it to “The End!” You’re finished! Now what?
Accept this fact: You’re not finished. Not by a long shot.
What you have now is a first draft. Now you need feedback. You need to find critique partners who will tell you what’s working about the story and what isn’t. You want someone who’s going to be tough yet fair. Someone who’s going to “get” your story and then work to help you improve it.
Finding good critique partners isn’t easy. You may have to try a few before you find someone with whom you click. Many cities have writing groups you could join, or you can try networking with other writers online. I’ve had great luck with this.
Once you’ve found your critique partners, you’re in for the toughest part of finishing a novel: revising.
Revising is not polishing things up and tweaking little bits here and there. You need to get a thick skin, swallow your pride and really fix whatever isn’t working. You have to be willing to cut scenes and kill characters you love. You have to be able to rip the book apart and put the pieces back together in a different order, if necessary. Before I call a book finished, it’s usually been read by about 4 critique partners and been thoroughly revised at least twice. RIVAL, my debut novel, went through a number of full revisions, two of which were requested by my editor before she ever agreed to buy the book.
It’s all about finding the balance between believing in yourself and having the humility to look honestly at your work. Too often, new writers will say, “Well, this is my creative expression. No one can tell me it’s not right.” No, but we can tell you it’s not communicating the way it should. We can tell you it probably won’t sell the way you’ve got it. And if you don’t believe us, you can take the unrevised book out on the market and see for yourself how it does. Critique and revision are your friends. Embrace them.
So how do you know when your book is finished, then? The answer is that it may never be completely done – I know authors who still make little edits when they go to do readings. But if you’re hearing from your critique partners that it’s ready, and you feel in your bones that all of your hard work has produced the best possible story you can write, then you might just be ready to move onto the next step: Looking for a Literary Agent.
And that’s where Tip #2 comes in. I’ll post that tip in a week or so. Until then, get your butt in that chair and write, write, write!!