Saturday 10 September 2011

What to do with a novel that’s ‘almost there’

 If you know your book’s good, if you’ve come pretty damn close to selling it but the deal is still elusive, you have four choices:  
  1. Keep trying — there are lots of small presses as well as mainstream publishers. Maybe the next editor it goes to will be the one who falls in love with it.
  2. Self-publish — a respectable option these days. Many authors self-publish very successfully. Not to be confused with vanity publishing.
  3. Put it aside and start a new book — good option if you've another idea that excites you. Many authors have actually published earlier novels after their debut.
  4. Put it aside for a substantial amount of time so you can really get some distance — at least six months is good, 9-12 months is better.

The fourth option is the one I chose a year ago. Most writers put work away for a couple of weeks as a matter of course, and even this little bit of distance helps show up things like typos, repeated words, clumsy sentences, unnecessary words/phrases, and tense slips  etc. I’ve just hauled my novel out of its virtual drawer after a year. I’ve read it again with fresh eyes, which sounds a bit like something you’d buy at a cheap butcher’s but you know what I mean, and I asked myself the following questions:

·         Does the narrative drag in places?

·         Are there areas where the pace is a little hectic?

·         Have I been telling when I should be showing?

·         Have I over-explained?  

·         Will my reader care about my characters as much as I do?

These are the questions I feel are appropriate to my novel – you may have others, e.g. does the story start in the right place? Whose story is it? Is there enough tension? Is the ending satisfying?  I’m not saying every writer needs to put every book away for a year – with a bit of luck, you’ll get that publishing deal on the first round of submissions! But if you’ve come very near to a deal but not quite made it and you know that you, your writer friends and even your agent are way too close to see the problems, putting the novel away for a big chunk of time might be the answer.

So, this week, I’ve been going through my manuscript with highlighter pens in various colours, marking out areas that need attention. I’m happy to say that overall, I enjoyed my novel, and there are bits that still make me cry. But there are areas that need improving, and I plan to tackle these over the next few weeks. Watch this space!

The food bit

This week, I’m only going to introduce the food bit, because the writing bit is slightly longer than I’d planned and I don’t want anyone dozing off.  I am passionate about food, and still occasionally work as a chef. My cooking life has become more interesting of late because of my husband’s interest in veganism.  Now, vegetarianism is easy-peasy; you can even do fine dining for veggies. But I’m finding veganism a little more challenging. I’m on a quest, people. I won’t be cooking vegan every day, I won’t even be cooking vegetarian every day - I still eat fish, and very occasionally, chicken - but I’m massively reducing my consumption of these and of dairy produce. So, I’m on a mission to produce delicious vegan meals, as well as the odd non-vegan meal. Again, watch this space!


  1. I've done the same with my novel as soon as I'd finished the first draft and a quick proofing, and I can definitely see the advantages in doing so. A writer friend was going to proof it for me and ended up editing it six months later and that's also been extremely helpful for seeing how my words were (mis)interpreted - very handy indeed!

    Now, the difference between vanity press and self publishing is something I'd like to know more about. What's the difference?

  2. Yes, very interesting to see how our words are interpreted. The problem is that we can see it all clearly in our minds, but the reader doesn't have those 'pictures'.

    As far as I understand it, vanity publishingis where companies flatter authors into parting with large sums of money by satying the manuscript is wonderful and then printing it with little or bno editing or proofreading. The result is a poor quality productoin of what may be a poor quality book. Self-publishing is where the author undertakes much of the work and the costs associated with publication in the reasonable expectation that he/she will be able to sell the book. Many self-published books do very well. I might address this whole subject in a future blog post!

  3. Ah, I see the difference now. Thanks Susan.

  4. ... and you only have to look at my comment to see what happens when you don't proofread!!