A Novel Experience

Okay, let me tell you something right upfront about this blog entry. It’s my longest blog to date. But if you read it, and you’re serious about your writing, I think you will benefit in the end. Alright, let’s get started.

What is the first question a writer must ask himself before he writes one word of his first novel? Frankly, I never thought about this question before I started writing my first novel, yet it was the first question agents asked me when I completed it. Let’s state the question from the agent‘s point of view and we’ll make it a multiple choice test. Ready?

A. What do you really want to say in this book?

B. Is the premise substantial enough to warrant a book?

C. Is this idea publishable?

D. Do you have a platform?

E. Will you be able to complete an entire novel?

F. Is there a sufficient market for this book?

Allow me to answer using the process of elimination. An agent might ask you Question F if they love your novel but that would imply that they actually read the entire manuscript first. Not likely. They would ask this question long before they invested the time to read your book.

They won’t ask Question A because if you don’t know what you really want to say it will be obvious in your fuzzy query letter. (And an unclear query will not only get you an instant rejection, page one will never see the light of day.) The same goes for Questions B and C. (An agent will know the answers to these questions before they finish reading your query letter.) They won’t ask Question E because a novel is a work of fiction and you must complete the entire novel before you can submit it to an agent for representation. That leaves Question D. Do you have a platform? Huh? Platform? What’s a platform?

I never saw this question coming. Although I had been published in many magazines, I had never written a novel before. Like most new novelists I was so anxious to put my idea on paper that I never considered how I would sell the book. And why would I? After all, when I began writing the novel I was more worried about finishing it than selling it. Still, rookie mistake.

At the time, I didn’t realize that a platform is like a pulpit. It’s the way you present yourself or make yourself visible to your readers. Do you have a substantial fan base? What type of social media following, speaker’s forum, or local celebrity status do you have? In other words, how many people do you know (or can readily influence) to buy your book? (And we’re not talking about Mom, Dad, Sis and Aunt Sue.)

If you don’t have a significant platform today, an agent may not take you on—even if your writing is stellar. You need a sufficient following to help market your book and, as the author, you are primarily responsible for selling the novel. (Did you think the publisher was primarily responsible for selling your novel? So did I. Surprise!)

I answered all of the other questions above, but not a platform. The publisher is in the business of selling books and making money. The author must do everything he can to help them make money—on your work. They won’t invest in you unless they can reduce their risk and you can help them maximize their profits. In return, your book may get published (that is, if they think it is any good).

As I mentioned in my Why Writers Write (and should never stop writing) blog, I worked on my first novel for three years. One year to write it (during which time my father died a slow death with Alzheimer’s), one year contacting agents and waiting for their replies. At the end of the day, 25 agents rejected the original draft but one agent believed in it—and me. But my manuscript needed a doctor—a book doctor. So the agent referred me to a freelance editor and I completely rewrote the book converting it from first person to third person omniscient narrator. Then I added ten chapters to  strengthened the story line and flesh out the main characters. Finally, I layered in multiple subplots. That cost me a third year.

This is where I tell you that this agent finally agreed to represent me, right? Nope. Unfortunately, she later passed on the novel too. Now what? Suddenly, I had nothing to show for three years of work.

Okay, this must be where I tell you I finally gave up and warn you to never write your first novel to avoid becoming disillusioned. Wrong!

So, where is the silver lining?

Well, for starters, I now have a much better novel to send to agents. It’s deeper, richer, more compelling, and fully developed. The reader will be much more sympathetic to the main character and will identify with his quest to forgive and be forgiven. I have a broader understanding of the complexities of the book publishing process. I have a talented freelance editor as a future resource. I have an agent, who although is not representing this novel, has left the door open for future work and an ongoing dialogue. I have learned how to write a novel. I am now confident I can complete a novel. I discovered I have more than one novel in me. I am currently building my platform. (This blog is one example.) And finally, and perhaps most importantly, I believe I’m a better writer; smarter at least.

Why am I telling you all this? Because there may be a book in you. A book that will somehow make a difference in your corner of the world. And I want you to write it! Most of all, I want you to remember when you run into a brick wall (and you will), never give up. Never.


By the way, if you are wondering what happened to my first novel? It’s in the hands of an agent right now. I don’t know if it will ever be published. But no matter what happens, this process was indeed a novel experience. And the lessons learned are now being invested—in book two.

Your Turn:  Tell us about one of your writing victories.

Watch for weekly blog posts here at The Writer’s Refuge.

Blogs will be posted every Thursday.

If this was helpful, would you please “like” and “share” this post?

Leave a comment or you may reach me at:  jcmchips1@yahoo.com.

Published in: on June 22, 2011 at 7:12 pm  Comments (1)  
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