February 19, 2014 – I have been a writer for my entire life. As a young man, I wrote countless short stories. But the prospect of writing a novel always seemed so far away and so difficult. If you are an author, you might feel the same way.
People often ask me: “How do you write a novel?” My response is always the same. “You start. You work at it consistently without stopping. One day, it’s done.” I know that seems idiotic and obvious, but there is really no other way to describe it. Writing a novel takes elbow grease.
Publishing is a different matter. To get a novel up to the standards agents and publishers are looking for, you must hone your craft. Like any other skill, good writing takes practice. It’s like learning a musical instrument. To hit the quality standards the industry demands, you must dedicate yourself to learning good technique. That means studying books about writing, reading hundreds of novels from all genres, and most of all putting your own words down on paper.
Apart from agented authors, I believe that self-published authors share a responsibility to ensure that their work is top notch in quality. I’ve regularly tell self-published authors to follow two rules: 1) make sure your work is as good as anything published by large publishers, and 2) don’t give your long-form work away for free. Self-published authors who do not follow these rules make it difficult for serious indie authors who want to make money.
Obviously, I eventually breached the world of novel writing. But I measure my writing on high plane of standards. My first three novels will never see the light of day. This is because I don’t feel I was mature enough as a writer to hit the standards demanded by the market. I felt it would have been unfair to waste my readers’ time by subjecting them to sub-standard work. Hence, I have only shared these early novels with very few close friends.
For the sake of disclosure, here are the titles and brief synopsis for my first three unreleased manuscripts:
Holler-man (my first novel)
A high-pressure CEO loses his PR firm in a hostile takeover. With nothing to do and plenty of time, he decides to track down his blood parents. His adventure leads him to a shut off society hidden in the Blue Ridge Mountains. He soon finds himself caught in the middle between two rivaling hillbilly clans.
Dark Ashes (first in an unfinished fantasy trilogy)
A small band of soldiers sets out to bring back their King’s daughter–an anti-slave activist who has gone to a subterranean prison colony to stop a slave abduction and reprogramming syndicate. As the rescuers set out on their sea voyage, they discover that the ship’s captain is addicted to a drug called Dark Ashe and that he will do anything he can, including selling the ship’s passengers into slavery, to get it.
Undaar (second in an unfinished fantasy trilogy)
The sequel to Dark Ashes. A small band of soldiers visits an underground slave colony with the goal of finding their king’s daughter and bringing her home to safety. Their plans go awry when they are captured by a crime syndicate and put into a slave-reprogramming program.
There are many reasons I will not release these novels. Quality tops the list. Cliché also makes its ugly face known. I mean, rescue the king’s daughter? Come on, Craig, what were you thinking.
However, I view these novels as extremely important to my writing career. Since writing them, I have published three books–two novels, and one non-fiction volume. I have finished three other first drafts of novels and I do plan to release them eventually. That makes six volumes either on the market or in development. Perhaps the most important thing I learned after finishing my first book, Holler-man, so many years ago was that I could actually finish a novel.
Here’s the good news. If I can do it, you can do it too. But I caution you, straight out of the gate, most authors don’t have what it takes to walk up to the demands of today’s sophisticated readers. Perhaps you should consider shelving your first, second, and possibly third novels. Consider them practice. Work hard. Write hard. Hone your craft to the point where you can confidently release your work. If you release sub-standard work, it will only hurt you.