(More) Things I Learned about Novels

The novel is finished.  It’s the third one I’ve written (well, that I count, because the early attempts were just that…attempts).

This novel kicked my ass.  I don’t think I’ve ever found a writing project to be so difficult before.  But I learned some valuable lessons.

1) In the future when choosing to write a novel in a genre I’ve never so much as tried writing a short story in, allow more time than I think I’ll need.  A lot more.  Like twice as much or better.  This will be very important to keep in mind if I’m ever under contract, because I’ll need to allow for a further out deadline than I might otherwise.

2) Just because a book has a lot going on and multiple points of view doesn’t mean it will be long.  I figured that once I added a third semi-major view-point character that I’d be good on the length problem.  No the case (though closer than the book would have come otherwise).

3) Fast pacing doesn’t mean skipping description.  I think I also finally started to grasp the idea that “setting is character opinion” better in this book, so even if the rest of it is a giant fail, I got to practice pacing and setting.

4) It doesn’t have to be good, because frankly, in the middle of a book, I don’t even know what good is anyway.  All I can see is the thousands of words standing in the way of finishing and the giant mess that might be on the page behind me.  Done is good.  Done is my new definition of good.

So.  That’s over.  Now, if my brain will stop trying to write sequels, I’m going back to short fiction and working on the e-book project until the end of the year.  I miss short fiction.  Being able to begin and end something in a single session sounds like heaven right now.  And I’ve got five (yes…five! I’m so behind on admin work) stories that need to go out to markets.

As for the finished book, I have no idea.  It’s being workshopped this next weekend and the query will go out to editors.  I’ve given it to a couple first readers as well.  Whenever they get back to me is when I’ll drag it out into daylight again and see about adding enough words (5-7k should do it) to make it commercially viable.  Unless it gets a full request before then, in which case I’ll go into panic mode and do whatever needs doing at that point.

10 Responses to “(More) Things I Learned about Novels”

  1. Jeff Baerveldt

    Congratulations on finishing!!

    “Done is my new definition of good.”


    Some questions: I’m about 15K-word away from finishing my novel. You mentioned something about query letters, but also mentioned that you still need to “fix” the novel. Are you doing this at the same time? What advice/help could you offer? What’s your plan of action?

    • izanobu

      Jeff- yeah, basically at the same time. I’ll have the query letter, synopsis, and first three chapters as perfect as I can get them. Then, while waiting for responses from the first five editors I query, I’ll work on fixing the novel and cleaning it up (I’m dyslexic, so I make a lot of typos). Publishing is so damn slow that I see no reason to wait when I’m going to have probably 2-6 months before I get any response at all on my queries.
      And in the end, if an editor gets back to me immediately and wants a full, it won’t take me more than a week to clean up the manuscript, so there’s really no reason to wait on sending it out. I’m not going to be making any major changes, after all.

      If you can, I’d recommend attending one of Dean Wesley Smith’s novel workshops (he’s doing a couple next year, I believe). If not, basically the procedure is to mail the query/3 chapters/synopsis to 5 editors (and as responses come in, keep it at 5). I use Publisher’s Marketplace to look up contact information and do market research (it tells you who is buying what). It’s a pretty simple process.

  2. Jeff Baerveldt

    Thanks for the help. I read about the query package and keeping it out to five editors at a time on Dean’s blog in the comment section. But I really like the idea of double-tasking submissions and minor changes. Didn’t know about Publisher’s Marketplace, however. I’ll need to look into that.

    I’d love to go to one of DWS’s workshops … but I also like to try to go to Orson Scott Card’s literary bootcamp next year. I’ll only be able to choose one; can’t ask more than that of my wife and kids.

    Something to think about.

  3. Jeff Baerveldt

    One more question. I know there’s a raging debate — at least among aspiring writers — as to what constitutes proper manuscript format and how to calculate word count. I personally like the old fashioned way: Courier, 1-inch margins, 25-lines per page, and word count equals “250 x page count.”

    Does Dean have anything to say about this?

    • izanobu

      Dean sez “readable and not too small”, so basically no more than 250 words per page. As for word count, he advises not to put it in cover letters.

      I round up to nearest 1000, personally, going off MS Word wordcount, not 250 words per page. And I use courier new.

      Basically, as long as it looks professional (no staples, no tiny word size, address clearly marked at top of query, sample, and synopsis etc…), that’s all that really matters.

  4. Alex J. Kane

    “Setting is character opinion”? Please elaborate. Does this mean setting description should be based upon the way the character’s individual personality would observe it? Makes sense, but I’ve never heard this “rule” before.

    • izanobu

      Alex- DWS told me this back in Feb and it has taken about that long to finally start to grasp the idea. But basically I think it means that everything is filtered through characters, but also that setting IS a character in a story.

      I don’t know, I’m still working on my descriptions and settings, and my character opinions.

      • Jeff Baerveldt

        I’d guess DWS means what the late John Gardner meant in THE ART OF FICTION — that setting has to reveal a character’s emotional and story state.

        Here’s something to think about. Take a photo of a setting. Any setting will do, it doesn’t matter.

        Now, without stating what a character is thinking, how would you describe the setting as it’s experienced by:

        a.) a woman who is newly engaged to her high-school sweetheart.

        b.) a father who has just learned his teenage son had died of a drug overdose.

        c.) an angry man on his way to murder his wife’s lover.

        All three are in the same setting. You have to describe the setting as each would experience it in such that you communicate their own situation in the subtext of your description.


      • Alex J. Kane

        That’s pretty much what I thought, I guess. Jeff’s illustration is apt. I think this is especially important in stories where atmosphere is a big focus — like horror. But the idea of setting as a character is an intriguing way to think about things. I’ll have to keep that in mind when I do my horror story about plants. 🙂

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