On September 26, 2022, I signed a contract with Elk Lake Publishing, a traditional publisher, to publish my debut novel, True Status. It should be available in spring 2023. I’m grateful to God to have reached this point. I hope my journey will encourage you on yours.
My efforts began in January 2018 after Jillian, our youngest, enrolled in a creative writing course. Jillian’s comments about the class were intriguing enough for me to try my hand at writing a short piece of fiction, but I had no intention of writing a novel. However, Jillian enjoyed the piece and wanted to know what happened to the characters. Brittany, our eldest, identified that I didn’t know how to properly punctuate dialog. So after I downloaded and studied an e-book entitled Punctuation in Dialogue, I felt encouraged enough to continue the story. The next three years I worked on writing True Status. There was only one small problem. I had no idea of how to write a novel, but I didn’t know that then.
In early 2021, I sent out ten proposals mostly to literary agents. I hoped to sign with an agent who would sell True Status to a publisher. The response was no response at all or a very brief rejection email, but I did receive feedback from three publishing professionals. All three people shared kind and encouraging words; the quotes I list below are criticisms that highlight things I needed to work on.
- “Your current writing style is didactic.”
- “Convey the message you want to convey without the reader feeling preached at.”
- “The pace often gets interrupted by too much description.”
- “We encourage you to work on pacing and showing rather than telling.”
- “The book often includes random details that don’t add to the story.”
- “Certain chapters and passages read more like a Bible tract than a novel.”
Wow! How could my wonderful story need so much work?
I recall a phone conversation with Jillian about this feedback and she said, “You sound sad.”
I was sad, because I had no idea how to fix the problems. I have been a business consultant and teacher for most of my career, looking back I see I was trying to teach a lesson when I should have been trying to tell a story. When you pick up a novel you don’t want a lecture, you want a good story. My first step was to stop writing this blog. You may have noticed that its been over eighteen months since my last blog post. My free time went into researching the craft of writing fiction and re-writing True Status.
Since March 2021, I’ve read seven novels and studied thirteen books on writing. In additional, I subscribed to several blogs on writing, and I read new content almost every day.
I cut out forty percent of the original manuscript and added more new material than I cut because it moved the story forward better. I used a spreadsheet to layout each chapter and determined what needed to happen in each chapter. I moved scenes around so the manuscript would fit common story structure, so the book would more closely fit what my readers would expect. The re-write resulted in a much better story, and it was more fun to write. I sent out four new proposals, two to agents and two to publishers. Three of the four were not interested, but one publisher, Elk Lake accepted the proposal. I’m now working with an Elk Lake editor to make the manuscript even better.
For me lessons include:
Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.
I don’t remember where I first heard this saying, but there is a lot of truth in it. You have to start somewhere, so don’t be afraid to start. Like many activities better writing is the result of an iterative process. The first or second effort is usually not the best product. Persistence and ongoing effort is required.
Seek and apply good advice.
No one knows everything. We all need to find people who have the experience and expertise we lack. It’s amazing how much free and low cost guidance is available. The information that helped me the most was free on websites or in books that cost less than $20. Learn and adapt, don’t stubbornly persist in doing things the wrong way.
Find your niche, even the best product is not for everyone.
Submissions of my much improved manuscript still resulted in a rejection three times out of four. We all need to locate our audience and find partners who appreciate our work and whose purpose, interests, and desires align with ours.
Stick to your dream.
Sometimes well-meaning people will suggest a course of action that violates your goals and values. Be careful to not follow such advice.
What do you think? What advice do you have to share about pursuing goals? Please reply in the comments.