We talk a lot here on Suspense Your Disbelief about how to publish a novel, but a few recent emails have me thinking about a whole other side to things.
How do you know when to publish your novel?
“Saleable” is a term bandied about in the industry, but the fact that this word is never approved by my spell check should’ve given me some clue as to its iffy, nebulous nature.
What the heck does saleable mean?
Bad books sell–we’ve all read them. Good books fail to sell–we’ve all heard about them. Maybe you’ve even written one of them.
So let’s say right at the outset that whatever saleable refers to, it’s no sure thing. There are no guarantees, as my first agent cautioned me. (Man, was she right).
So what is there instead?
Well, there are guidelines. And in this post I intend to offer a few I feel confident about. I’d love it if you offered more of your own in the comments.
So, cuing the spectral tone from David Letterman, the top 10 things you can do to make your novel saleable are:
10. Let the ms sit after you’ve finished it. For at least two weeks. Preferably for two months.
9. Read the ms over after that and, once you’ve gotten over the shock of all the work it still needs (two weeks/two months ago you called it done!) do the work.
8. Now it’s time to find independent readers. As many of ‘em as possible. Contrary to popular wisdom, I don’t believe these “trusty readers” can’t be friends or family. By all means rely on friends and family–just so long as they are a) voracious readers b) articulate about what they do and don’t like and c) willing to criticize the ms you are now sure is utterly perfect. Or if you believe it sucks–it’s considerably harder to criticize you then.
7. Consider hiring an independent editor. Unless you’re getting help from industry professionals (agents, editors at presses/houses, authors, writing teachers) you will need people from the biz to recognize how this work is going to strike industry professionals. Does this advice change if you intend to independently publish? Yes. Sort of. But that’s for another post. In any event, if you can afford it, having a professional editor will never hurt you. I know of some if you go looking.
6. Take all the responses you have gotten and divide them into three categories A) This is the best piece of feedback I’ve ever gotten–thank Something I didn’t publish my book already B) This feedback sucks, you suck, especially because you’re right C) This feedback sucks, no really, it does suck. B) takes at least a few days to arrive at. C) is negated if more than three or four of your trustys said the same thing. Switch that baby over to A) and get on with being thankful. Now start revising. I know, again.
5. We’re only at 5?!?! Hey, don’t blame me. Who ever said this thing was easy? But just to give you a break I’ll make this tip the simple recognition that this business isn’t easy–and it’s not supposed to be. You don’t want your book coming into the world easily. Yesterday on the Kindle boards, a very wise writer named Monya Clayton quoted Ernest Hemingway: “If it reads easy, it was writ hard.”
4. Start querying or submitting in small batches. If you’re lucky enough to get personal responses, you might very well get feedback that sends you running back to the ms again. (Yes, I know, but novels, particularly first novels, often run into the double digits for drafts). And trust me, there’s little to make a writer more itchy than the feeling that this is the version you wish you were sending around.
3. If you get twenty form rejections–not so much as one encouraging extra line–know that either your query isn’t working or your partial isn’t. You could (and should) be participating in online forums to help hone your query–such as Query Shark. You might want to consider taking an online or in person writing class. (Hey! In the fall I’ll be teaching “Polished & Published: Readying a Book for a Changing Industry” for NYWW). Or maybe now is the time to look for that freelancer. Either way, 20 form rejections are either a stellar run of bad luck or worthwhile information.
2. Reach out to authors whose work you admire. Go to their readings. Buy their books. Gift their books. Be a fan. Some may have contests offering to look at sample pages. Some may agree to do so because they’re saints. And sometimes you will build real and lasting friendships, and friends do things for each other. However it may happen, if an author whose book has kept you up late into the night says that yours left her gasping–or didn’t–this is very important information to have about whether it’s saleable yet. Not everyone can do this for you, of course–in fact, almost no one can. But occasionally you might get lucky and it will make all the difference.
And–the number 1 way you can know if your novel is saleable is–
1. Try to sell it. Now clearly, this tip isn’t for everyone. If your heart is set on traditional publishing, then tips 10-2 are more applicable. But if you are willing to go the indie route, and you have faith that your book is in good shape, this tip can prove or disprove it. Good novels, like cream, will rise. If your book is out there, and you do a little effective marketing (say 1-2 hours/day), you will have an awful lot of digital readers (the people, not the device) there to say if you’re on the right track. I’m not saying to use e publishing as a proving ground–I’m saying it can prove saleability, either to you, or potential publishers, if you still want one once you’ve begun selling.
Well, there they are. Ten Tips to Top. Or argue with. Or even follow.
Good luck! Be sure to let me know when your baby is born!