by: Jill Smolinski
Think it’s hard to get a novel published? For most writers, it is – but it’s certainly not impossible. I’ve had two hit the shelves-in 10 countries, and with book club and movie rights picked up. People often ask me how I did it, and the truth is simple. All it takes is, 1) talent, and 2) actually writing the thing.
As much as I hate to admit it, the second is the more important factor.
Fact is, plenty of great novels go unfinished. The statistics are staggering: of those who start writing a novel, only about 3% will finish. And unless you’re the child of a rock star or Shakespeare’s long-lost descendent, no agent or publisher will look at your novel unless it’s complete. Only in rare instances will a publisher make an offer to a newbie novelist based on a partial manuscript.
On my first novel, Flip-Flopped, I actually did have interest from an editor at a major publishing house before I was finished. I’d been taking a writing class, and the teacher passed along a short description of my book to an editor acquaintance of hers, who professed interest. I’d written about 100 pages at the time and was elated – that is, until my teacher added, “Of course, she doesn’t want to see it until it’s done.”
It may seem unfair. If your novel starts with a bang, why can’t you just give a few chapters and an outline? Surely that’s enough to prove your mettle. But publishers want evidence of more than writing skills. They need to see you can go the distance. In the world of writing, a novel is the marathon. A finished manuscript is the only way to show you can cross the finish line in the same sort of shape you started.
It took me two years to write my first novel. Even with an editor waiting – and knowing she wouldn’t wait forever – I nearly gave up many times along the way. A single mom with a full-time job, my only writing time was in the early hours before work and during my son’s naptime on weekends. I not only had to learn novel basics like how to plot and create strong characters, I had to learn how to stick with it.
If you’re struggling with finishing your novel, these tips may help:
1. Tell yourself a little white lie: that you have a real deadline. One of the main reasons writers give up is because they begin to question whether anyone really cares. Pretend there’s an editor or agent waiting, drumming his or her fingers, eager for that completed manuscript to arrive.
2. Set a daily goal. I set a minimum of two hours a day, every day. You may prefer to designate a certain number of pages, such as three to five. Writing is a lot like dieting: people who approach it reasonably on a daily basis are more likely to meet with success than those who try a crash program.
3. Don’t write a novel – write a first draft. A first draft can be imperfect – and in fact, it will be. That’s okay. Just get the pages down. You can fix it on the second draft.
4. Be careful whom you show it to. It can be helpful to get feedback as you go, but choose your readers carefully. Giving your precious pages to someone who is frustrated at their own inability to write a novel is like handing them a gun … pointed right at you.
5. Spend more time writing than you spend planning. It can be helpful to have an outline and some basic research, but typically writers who mire themselves in creating lengthy drafts of what they’re going to write rarely get around to actually writing.
6. Feel the joy. Remind yourself why you’re writing a novel. Few people if any set out to write a first novel because they have to. They do it because they have something to say…a passion for the written word…a dream of seeing their name on a shelf next to writers they admire. Hard work may be the backbone of a writing career, but it’s the joy of creating something amazing that keeps us going.
So keep going!