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Is my novel good enough to be published?

Dear Editor | Is My Novel Good Enough to Publish?

I recently completed a manuscript assessment for a new client. After I’d given her my feedback (a lot of feedback), she emailed back with a number of questions. One stood out:

Is My Manuscript Good Enough to Publish?

Easy answer: yes.

The advent of ebooks and print on demand (POD) technology means everything is publishable. But, to misquote 1 Corinthians, you might have the ability to self-publish, but that doesn’t make it a good idea.

It’s especially not a good idea to self-publish through some “service” aka a vanity press—apart from the quality issues, it’s not good Christian stewardship to spend thousands on something you could organise yourself for a fraction of the cost.

So is My Manuscript Good Enough to Publish?

Hard answer: not yet.

Why not?

Anyone can publish anything at any time. But just because we can doesn’t mean we should. And when people say “publish”, they usually mean published by a reputable publisher. Is your novel good enough for your dream publisher?

It depends.

It depends on who you want to publish your novel: a major US publisher, a smaller US publisher, or a local (e.g. Australian) publisher. Attracting your dream publisher will depend on your book scoring well in these areas:

  • Representation
  • Setting
  • Writing Craft
Is your novel good enough for your dream publisher? That depends on representation, setting, and writing craft. #WriteTip #PublishingTip Click To Tweet

Representation

You’ll need to be represented by a literary agent to have a shot at any of the big-name US CBA publishers like Bethany House or Thomas Nelson. You don’t want just any agent—you want an agent with a track record of selling to the major CBA publishers. (Check out my post on how to find a Christian literary agent.)

In order to get signed by an agent, you’ll need to have credibility as a writer. One way to build credibility is to enter and final in major writing contests.

And you’ll probably need to attend a major US Christian writers’ conference such as the American Christian Fiction Writers conference, as major conferences give you the opportunity to meet agents and publishers in person.

Setting

Your novel will need have to have sales potential. Big sales potential.

Major US Publishers

Major US CBA publishers prefer books set in the US, because that’s what they sell best. They will sometimes diversify and read a historical novel set in England or Scotland, but for the most part, they prefer their fiction to be set in the good old U S of A. Or, at the very least, with an American lead character. For example:

  • Close to You, Kara Isaac’s debut novel, capitalised on the US love for all things Lord of the Rings by having an American hero and a Kiwi Lord of the Rings tour guide heroine.
  • Mail Order Bride, Lucy Thompson’s debut historical romance, is set in Colorado and utilises the much-loved mail-order bride trope. There may even have been a cowboy.
  • The Elusive Miss Ellison, Carolyn Miller’s upcoming debut, is a Regency romance set in England.

Australia

Australian publishers love books by Australian authors with Australian characters and settings. They tend to accept submissions direct from authors (so no literary agent required), and it’s easier to get to meet them in person (the best opportunity for Christian writers is at the Omega Writers’ Conference in October). Personal connections help.

The downside is the Australian market is smaller, which means fewer potential buyers (a fact many Australian authors have lamented on). It also means our small publishers can’t publish every manuscript they see, much as they might like to.

Smaller US Publishers

There are a myriad of smaller Christian publishers, mostly in the US, who may be open to submissions.

If you want a free list of over 100 publishers who publish Christian fiction, click here to sign up to my mailing list. This list does not constitute an endorsement, and I don’t recommend any specific publishers … although there are a few I recommend people steer clear of (like the publisher which offered me a publishing contract without actually seeing my manuscript. Or the publisher sued for deceptive practices. Or the publisher convicted of extortion).

Writing Craft

There is also the aspect of writing craft: is your manuscript good enough?

The bigger the publisher, the better your manuscript has to be. There are so many authors fighting for an ever-decreasing number of publishing slots that anything less than excellent isn’t good enough to get the attention of a major publisher. Publishers get so many excellent submissions that they don’t have time for could-be-excellent submissions or almost-excellent submissions or submissions they can’t see a market for.

Genre

The most saleable manuscripts are those which fit clearly into a popular genre. With novels aimed at the Christian market, this includes meeting the expectations of CBA readers, and being careful regarding ‘edgy’ content—topics so expansive I could write a book about them.

The closer your manuscript aligns with a popular and established genre, the easier it’s going to be to sell to a publisher. But what if you don’t fit a popular genre (e.g. Christian Science Fiction, or New Adult)?

This is when you might consider self-publishing.

But if you pursue self-publishing, pursue excellence as well. Don’t self-publish as a shortcut, to fulfil your publishing dream. Instead, write something good enough to win a major contest or be published by your dream publisher, and choose to self-publish because that’s what you believe God has set out as your path.

Because there are several paths to publishing, and—surprise!—I’ve written some blog posts about them:

To go back to the original question.

Is my novel good enough to be published? That depends on how you want to publish it. Is your novel good enough for your dream publisher? Click To Tweet

Your challenge is to work out how you want it to be published, and do the work necessary to achieve that. Start by checking out 9 Keys to Writing Your First Novel. And pursue excellence.

 

 

 

 

 

Writing Memoir

Writing Craft: Tips and Resources for Writing Memoir

I specialise in editing fiction, but I’ve recently had a few enquiries about memoir. I thought I’d share a few tips and resources on memoir today.

What is a Memoir?

Memoir is a non-fiction book about you, the author. It’s not your full life story—that would be an autobiography. And it’s not about someone else—that would be a biography.

Rather than telling your full life story, memoir has a single theme. For example, Soul Friend by JoAnne Berthlesen focused on JoAnne’s relationship with her spiritual mentor. Eat Pray Love by Elizbeth Gilbert focused on her one-year journey around the world following her divorce.

The key with memoir is to pick that narrow focus, and stick to it.

Who are you Writing For?

How you write a memoir depends largely on who you are writing for. If you’re writing purely for your family, then you can write pretty much what you want and how you want. It’s your book, so you can write it for yourself and your family.

But if you want to publish your memoir for a wider audience, you’ll need to write it for your readers more than for yourself. This means identifying and understanding your target reader, and writing a memoir that will appeal to those readers.

How do you Write a Memoir?

Memoir is part of a genre known as narrative non-fiction. That means the writing follows the same kind of narrative structure and writing style as a novel. Good memoir:

  • Has a clear theme.
  • Follows a clear structure.
  • Includes conflict.
  • Is told from a single point of view.
  • Shows rather than tells the story.
  • Focuses on the emotion.
  • Starts in media res—in the middle of the thing.
  • Avoids unnecessary backstory.
  • Leaves out events and relationships that aren’t core to the main theme.

A memoir must also strive for truth and accuracy.

Memoir is not the place for mistruths or outright lies to make ourselves look better. It’s human nature to want to present ourselves in the best possible light, but our readers expect honesty. Even when it hurts.

And it can hurt. Many people who have been through difficult experiences write memoir because they have a desire to help others going through similar experiences. But you have to be in a healthy emotional state to write about difficult experiences such as abuse, cancer, depression, infertiity, or rape.

These things must be discussed in detail, with an emphasis on the feelings.

Memoir isn’t the place to gloss over the hard parts. Readers need and expect the truths of the pitfalls and failures as well as the successes. A memoir writer will need to go deep into their negative emotions. The more traumatic the events being discussed, the more difficult this will be. If this is you, you’ll need a strong support network to talk and pray you through the hard parts so you can be truthful and accurate for your future reader without taking yourself back to the dark place. To do anything less will be cheating your reader.

On the other hand, full truth and accuracy might be impossible. For example, you might recount a conversation between you and a friend or family member as you remember it. But the other person might remember it differently. Does that mean your account is wrong, or inaccurate? No, but it does mean you might face future problems with that person if they can’t see your point of view.

Who publishes memoir?

The sad truth is that most trade publishers aren’t interested in memoir unless they can see a lot of commercial potential. Unfortunately, this means trade publishers are only interested in memoirs written by people who are already household names through entertainment, political, sporting or workplace achievements (e.g. Oprah Winfrey, Hilary Clinton, or Tiger Woods), or through the development of an online platform (e.g. Ann Voskamp).

Sure, a vanity press will be more than happy to publish your memoir, but that’s because they see the commercial potential … the potential of getting you, the author, to pay them.

Check out my list of Christian fiction publishers—many of them also publish non-fiction.

Where Can I Find More Information?

Christian literary agent Rachelle Gardener has a list of recommended books for people looking to write memoir.

Reedsy have published an in-depth post: How to Write a Memoir: Top Tips from Bestselling Ghostwriters

Award-winning Australian author Cecily Thew Patterson has a free online course on writing memoir available from her website, The Red Lounge for Writers.

Cecily recommends memoir writers start by reading and working through the exercises in Story Genius by Lisa Cron. I agree. While Story Genius was written for novelists, the principles hold true for memoir as well.

Do you have any recommended resources for memoir writers? Or any questions? Let me know in the comments.