The Journey To Getting My First Novel Published, by Rebecca Raisin (guest article)
Three years ago I innocently penned my first novel, Mexican Kimono, over a two month period. I set myself a word target every day. While my kids were sleeping or entranced by The Wiggles, I wrote furiously. I then blithely sent my novel off to a publisher and expected a yes. Even a hell YES! I planned what I’d spend the advance on first – new pillows… (New pillows? That was the best I could come up with?) I wondered who would play the lead in the movie that would inevitably follow. Oh, I was so naïve!
It was no surprise then when I didn’t hear back from the publisher. Unsure of what to do next with Mexican Kimono, I set about writing short stories and taking creative writing classes until, much later, I signed up for the AusLit 20 week novel development course. I learned so much from Steve Rossiter, and from the other writers, about planning a novel, editing, defining the focus and managing the pacing to hold the reader’s attention.
My novel needed a lot of work. What, you ask; it wasn’t perfect after a two month flurry of writing? How little I knew about real novel writing. It was missing action and tension throughout the middle. It just rambled on, but it took me a long time to realise that. Steve told me time and time again, until finally, I understood. I rewrote it from the very first line. When I edited it again, I tried to think of it as someone else’s novel. What would a reader think? What would a fellow writer say? I cut out a lot of parts that I loved – killing my darlings, as the saying goes – and it was so much better. The novel started to take shape and had a much clearer focus. I remember Steve saying, “It’s called Mexican Kimono, yet there’s no mention of the kimono throughout the middle of the book.” Oops. Another critical error.
We wrote chapter outlines. I recommend this to anyone whose novel has stalled, or is finished but lacking something. Try to sum up each chapter with no more than two sentences. Tricky, but invaluable. It will become a quick-to-read reference for you and will help highlight missing plot points, places to add tension or suspense, and parts that are redundant and can be deleted.
After the 20 week course finished I shelved Mexican Kimono. I had reread it so many times I practically had it memorised. I went back to short story writing. Six months later I pulled it out and read it with fresh eyes. It was markedly improved. The editing I’d done with Steve made me love the story again and inspired me to try again to get it published. My main character, Samantha, is narcissistic and impetuous but she’s funny. I wanted people to read about her, so off I went again on the journey to publication.
I tried a few of the big name publishers, knowing it’s rare to be pulled out of the slush pile (urgh, I dislike that term!). Nothing. So I stopped dreaming of pillows and started thinking realistically. I had a little chat with myself, like I always do in these situations, and said, “Self, it’s time to get real, banana peel.” After kicking myself for speaking like a five year old, I decided to try digital publishers. I sent my novel to Australian e-book publisher, Really Blue Books, who describe themselves as the rogue e-publisher and e-book seller of the modern era. They’re forward thinking, and dynamic, but most of all, have a wicked sense of humour. Mexican Kimono is quirky and funny, so I deemed them perfect for me and hoped they’d feel the same. They did! I signed the contract for my first book three years after I wrote it. It will be available at the end of the year. I’m excited about the prospect of marketing, blogging and everything that comes with digital publishing these days, and about people reading my book. Well that’s better than all the pillows in the world!
Never give up on your novel. If you’re stuck, do a chapter outline, you’ll be surprised how helpful it is. Put your story aside if you’re too close to it, but just for a few months. Then pull it out, dust it off and read it like you’re an editor. Be critical. Don’t be afraid to cut your favourite parts if they don’t move the story forward.
Rebecca Raisin lives in Perth, Western Australia.
Rebecca Raisin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jaxandwillsmum
Writing Novels in Australia