Friday, 3 November 2017

These things I have learned

Don't get any big ideas

So, two months ago I self-published my debut novel, Drawn To The Deep End. That followed ten months of hawking it around agents and publishers, which in turn followed nearly a year of editing and five years of writing.

At the time of writing this, that novel has sold two dozen copies. Subtract the copies bought by family and close friends and you can probably halve that number. Subtract those bought by former colleagues and schoolmates who are curious, and you can probably reduce that number to zero.

So what have I learned from the whole, painful process?

  • If, like me, you take five years to write 80,000 words of novel, you've been prevaricating and, as Harold Bishop once said, prevarication is the enemy of achievement. I know it can be hard to find the time, but make time. There will always be other things to do, so prioritise. Writers write, right?
  • Don't edit alone. Yes, do the first and second pass edits yourself but then you need to bring other people in. Not only will they spot things you don't, they're also not biased about your precious words and will have no issue with ripping up that para you think is the best thing since sliced bread (but really isn't).
  • Target your submissions. There are only so many publishers that accept unagented works... so focus on agents. And revise. If your novel is a space-opera, don't waste the time of agents looking for historical fiction. And if the agency has more than one agent, take the time to read their profiles online, and then pick the one (i.e. don't carpet-bomb them all) whose interests align closest with what you've written.
  • Be realistic when you get feedback. It's easy to be flattered by phrases like "whilst your story stood out" or "whilst this shows promise", but they still begin with a "whilst" get-out clause; you're still being rejected, as in that other phrase "I'm afraid this isn't for me". Realise that agents receive untold submissions and there's a good chance that the response you get will incorporate some boilerplate text.
  • And now something specific to my attempted submissions: if you write a novel about a grief-ridden 30-something slacker who wants to die but can't kill himself, so instead sets off on a destructive path of increasingly erratic and reprehensible behaviour, surrounded by unlikeable characters, all doing unpleasant things, you might have to accept that this novel is not widely marketable and will not be for most people. And that most people includes agents and publishers.
  • When you self-publish a novel and it sells two dozen copies in its first seven weeks, don't get too excited. That's your family, friends, and social media acquaintances being polite and/or curious. You can't give up the day job just yet...

What did I miss?

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