Write, learn, edit – just stick to it
This time I’d really do it. No more abortive attempts. No giving up after one reject of a short story I took all of a month to write and thought was pretty good. No, this time I was serious. This time I was ready to be a fiction writer. After all, I’d read a lot of it. And I wrote as part of my paying job: correspondence, reports, studies, guidance, briefings, and things like that. Okay, so it wasn’t fiction, not intentionally anyway, but it was writing. It still had to present a point clearly and have decent spelling and punctuation. Yep, I had everything to finally realize my ambition of being a published fiction author.
So when a major news story gave me an idea for a great plot for a novel, I decided now was the time. I started working in my spare time on the idea and quickly did an outline, a rough synopsis, and timeline. I wrote character sheets based on those I’d done for role playing games for all of the major and most of the minor characters. And I started writing, doing a bit here and a bit there whenever I could make time–weekends, vacations, even during lunch breaks on those few occasions I could afford to take one. After a few years, I had a couple hundred thousand words written of what I felt certain would be an instant breakthrough novel. All I had to do now was get an agent and let them run with it. I didn’t really care much about making much money from it. I just wanted it to be read.
This is when reality hit me in the face in the form of two almost instant rejects from agents. What was wrong? I had done my homework. I got a book from the library on how to submit a manuscript and I followed the standard format and even wrote a kick ass query letter. The rejects were form letter emails and I wasn’t quite sure what they meant. One told me simply that the project was not right for them. The other said it didn’t meet the current needs of their list. WTF? I had a great and clearly unique novel and they didn’t even want to see it? Okay, no problem. Just a bit of polishing, right? Maybe I should do a bit of research about the publishing industry first though. Just to make sure.
I should have done this before I started writing. Traditional publishing, I soon learned, is a highly competitive business and arguably in decline. Agents reject over 99% of the submissions they get from new writers. They know, statistically anyway, that the work of new authors needs more editing and is harder to sell than that of established writers. Not only do new authors need a great first novel, they need something to make it and themselves stand out from all of the other great first novels. I didn’t have a clue how to do that. And the more I read about the industry, the more I suspected my great first novel might not actually be all that great.
But I had told myself that this was the time and I wasn’t about to give up so easily. So I read even more about writing and publishing. Some of it seemed contradictory but I learned a lot. I joined a critique group. I learned I needed a Twitter account to keep up with what agents and publishers were saying. Did that. I needed a website to get my name “out there.” Did that too. And I kept writing.
With my new insights, I went back to my original manuscript with a better ability to see what was good and not so good about it. I reviewed my work as objectively as I could. I realized I had made some common mistakes and had avoided some others. All in all, I still had a pretty good first draft in my admittedly biased opinion. Nothing I can’t fix. I’ve made time for this, I’ve long wanted to do it, I’ve got things to say, and this time it will happen.