He was going to kill me.
He had me in a headlock with one arm and a knife held to my throat with the other, his hot breath tingling against my ear.
If I didn’t get this story published, this guy called Novel Writing was going to slit my throat and leave me lying on the floor, bleeding out.
But what was I supposed to do to leap from newbie writer (who wasn’t taken seriously) to published novelist? The answer is pretty simple, but I was deceived by many misconceptions years ago. I thought telling a good story and being a decent writer were enough.
The publishing world has expectations, and if writers don’t bone up on what those expectations are, their masterpieces, their Great American Novels, will never leave their writers’ caves.
Today I’m often approached by many who have written a novel or would like to and want the best advice that will make them successful. (Since I’m a published novelist, they think I’m the expert of all-things-publishing. I’m not.) When I ask probing questions, I usually discover they have the same misconceptions I had years ago.
Sometimes we have to learn what we are doing wrong before we can learn to do what’s right. With that thought in mind, I offer ten common misconceptions of the wannabe novelist (presented in installments).
#1: Just write from the heart. God will do the rest.
After all, what comes from the heart must be made of pure gold, right? Wrong. (In fact, it seems to me that the Bible is pretty clear that our hearts are fatally flawed if not for the saving grace of Christ. But that’s another story.) Wannabe novelists will never see their novels in print until they learn that, though God indeed opens doors in His time, novel writing takes hard work.
It takes humility. It takes grueling perseverance. It takes education. It takes thousands of hours to weave words, characters, and story threads together into a believable milieu. And sometimes it may feel like the hardest thing you’ve ever done.
I do believe in God’s sovereignty and that He will empower you to do His will, but He expect you to work.
Just trusting Him isn’t enough.
One thing I’ve also discovered is that though some wannabe novelists are seeking to be published in the Christian market, they’ve failed to do their homework as to what is currently being published. This is a fatal error. It’s like trying out for the cheerleading squad but not checking out who else is trying out. Or who won the tryouts last year. Or what the judges are looking for.
There is wisdom in studying the Christian fiction market. For one, these authors persevered and walked the road ahead of you. If you reach out to them online, you’ll discover that many went through the same hardships when they were getting started. They offer priceless wisdom. They can relate, and they can encourage.
What Publishers Are Looking For
Without knowledge of recent books, how can you know what publishers are looking for? I read Christian fiction from various publishers voraciously.
Besides enjoying a good story, I learn so much about pacing, characters, spiritual themes, current issues, and contemporary conflicts. I learn about story arc and how characters change from beginning to end. I learn about how long these novels are supposed to be, how many chapters they contain, how much message is enough without being too much. And the list goes on and on.
Writing from a Deep Sense of Urgency
At the same time, I do believe there is merit to writing from the heart. Writing about an issue from a deep sense of urgency buried in your soul. I think that’s an admirable reason to write. And I think you’ll have more success writing from that drive than writing according to recent trends. For example, several Christian vampire novels have hit the market due to the Twilight series craze.
You can hop on the current fad and write a book like that—a lot of authors do. But I think in the long run you’re better off writing out of whatever passion drives you. Perhaps it’s about finding justice for the innocent. Perhaps it’s about overcoming the scars of a tragedy or one’s past. Perhaps it’s about finding God’s will and living it in spite of gut-wrenching adversity.
There are so many good reasons to write, but don’t believe for a second that God will open doors until you’ve done your homework and put your time in like the rest of us.
See you next time when we look at Part 2.
- The Christian Author and Self-Promotion, Part 3
- Interview with John Kremer: what you need to know about book marketing