Blogger: Rachelle Gardner
Have you read Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass? It’s a great book, but if you’re unpublished, it’s too soon to have a breakout novel.
You need a break-in novel.
As an unpublished novelist, you’re in the position of not just having to write good books. You have to write a BREAK-IN book. It’s going to require a mysterious combination of your writing reaching a certain level, the right agent reading it at the right time, the right editor receiving it on a good day, and some magic fairy dust.
Where to start?
Some writers have several completed books, and wonder which one to start submitting first. It’s easy: the one that has the best chance of breaking you in. The one that presents the fewest obstacles to publication. The one in which your writing shines the brightest. The one in which the genre and subject matter are closest to what seems to be selling right now.
Perhaps you’ve got other projects that are closer to your heart, the ones you really want to see published. But they’re not selling for whatever reason. Don’t fret. Once you’ve broken in, there may be opportunity down the road to get those published, especially if you revise and rewrite with your improved writing skills (because the more you write, and work with editors, the better writer you’ll be).
Let’s say you have one project that you feel is your literary masterpiece, and another that’s a historical romance. Which do you think has a better chance of being your break-in novel? Save the literary masterpiece for later when you’ve earned the luxury of a little more freedom.
I have one client who has two completed novels that are simply amazing. They showcase her awesome talent like nobody’s business, and she loves them more than anything she’s ever written. But publishers have concerns about the subject matter and the time period of the novels. The author might end up getting a couple of other novels published first, the ones she’s not as passionate about. Now I’m sure you’re thinking, What a great problem to have. And you’re right, it is a good problem. But it’s been a bit hard emotionally, because she’s so attached to those two novels. However, I keep telling her, the important thing is breaking in. Once she has an established readership, I think we’ll be able to sell those novels no problem.
Writing the break-in novel is similar to writing the breakout novel. You can still use all the information in Donald Maass’s books. If you’re shooting for commercial success, then you’ll need the best writing possible and the fewest obstacles possible. And don’t forget the fairy dust.
So what are you doing to break in?
Image copyright: vrabelpeter1 / 123RF Stock Photo
Great post, Rachelle!
* Part of me wants to say, “Write your heart, stand on your own merits, life’s too short…” But that’s the amateur part of me talking. The part I try to keep locked up.
* The real me is looking ahead, and mapping out a triptych on a subject that I think may be the Next Big Thing in CBA…which is…
* Oh, you thought I was going to TELL, did you?
Of course I’ll tell. I suspect that there will be a demand for stories about how Christians deal with and rise above religious persecution in secular America, both as blueprint for life and inspiration for faith. So, the possible books:
1 – “In The Name Of The Father” is told from the viewpoint of an up-and-coming politician whose life is thrown into turmoil when his parents and sued for refusing to hold a same-sex marriage at their B&B.
2- “In The Name Of The Son” is told from the viewpoint of a college student who baits a professor at a public university into talking about religion…and has to come to terms with what he’s done when the professor is fired and commits suicide.
3 – “In The Name Of The Spirit” is about a prominent atheist who, when he accidently shoots his wife, says more as colloquialism than prayer, “Oh, God, help me!” and finds that he suddenly has the gift of healing.
8 I’ll need a miracle to get these written, but it’s fun to think about them.
I’d love to read these, Andrew!
Janet Ann Collins
Those sound like great books! Please do write them.
I will try, Jan.
Mary Kay Moody
These sound like great reads, Andrew. Write on!
Thanks so much, Mary Kay. I will try!
Lately, I’ve been asking God to help me see the tiny things … the tiny things that stir hearts, the tiny things that shake foundations, the tiny things with unnoticed beauty …
I spend most of my free time writing, reading, and blogging. By reading, I get a good view of what sells, by writing I learn to write better, and my blogging I make connections. I also follow a group on Facebook. So many readers comment and share what irked them in the books they read or what they loved–and it gives me good insight as an aspiring author as to what they’re looking for.
I’m currently writing one book and editing the other. I feel like the one I’m writing is a bit stronger, but I love the story line of the first.
This post was so encouraging. It reminded me that ‘not now’ doesn’t mean ‘not ever.’
A commin bit of advice I’ve heard often is to submit to publishers such as Harlequin’s Love Inspired line. More than one agent who read samples of my writing at a recent conference have recommended I consider that route. Unfortunately, my current, nearly finished, manuscript doesn’t fit their requirements (Only 2 POV, etc) and the level of rewriting to make it fit would translate into pretty much a completely different book and storyline. So, my current plan of action is to finish my WIP as planned, then to start my next novel with Love Inspired in mind from the beginning.
So what are you doing to break in?
Honestly, I am doing my best to find the pulse of what the market is wanting. If I can’t find that pulse on my own, I ask thise who are more senior to me to help me find that pulse. I then pray and reach into both my experience and creative side to write something that matches the heartbeat of industry……Yes, I am a Paramedic and it comes out in a lot of my analogies, haha!
I am working on my mind to launch into another novel. Having written two in one year – of which one got a ‘no’ – I fear I am not ready yet.
But then, I wouldn’t know without doing…
So good to see you, Michael!
* I’m no professional, but my thought is that the only way to really learn how to write novels is to write them…learn from your mistakes, and write the next one.
* Writing is a craft, true, and can be learned through classes and tutorials…but storytelling is an art, and no art can be learned without direct application. (Well, my opinion, anyway.)
“Perhaps you’ve got other projects that are closer to your heart, the ones you really want to see published. But they’re not selling for whatever reason. Don’t fret.”
This helps me understand a bit more about the Christian publishing industry.
I’m writing, rewriting, submitting, and repeating. I also take workshops, attend conferences, follow blogs, and take courses. Your advice in this column is so helpful. The first time I heard something similar, it pretty much broke my heart.
I recovered, put that novel away, and became resilient.
Kathy, I figure that God made the heart in the philosophy of kintsugi, in which broken pottery is mended with gold-infused lacquer…our hearts are mended by God’s tears, as He grieves with us.
And the mended product is so much more beautiful than the original.
Exactly, Angela, and our scars bear witness to God’s grace.
I’m writing, revising, rethinking, polishing, chunking sections, and falling in love again with other parts of my WIP. I’m still submitting to agents as well as publications that will help build my platform. But I’m also working on my network. Getting rave enough to ask those writers and others I know who are more seasoned than I for help, to read chapters and give feedback, and make introductions.
I tend to fall in love with my characters. The most difficult part of shifting from international suspense (which CBA isn’t buying right now) to domestic suspense (which is more palatable to CBA these days) was developing a new protagonist. After studying what readers like about my old protagonist, the new protagonist began to take shape. Then other aspects of the domestic-suspense manuscript grew organically. So my advice would be to find the element you love most, and carry it in a new direction. Time will tell how my domestic diversion goes, but it’s been fun to step sideways in the suspense genre and produce a piece of work that satisfies me.
Thanks Rachelle, your post absolutely resonates with me. I love the idea of worrying about the break IN before worrying about the break OUT. Hopefully there will be plenty of time for breaking out later, but even if not, breaking in is still a worthy goal. But I noticed you didn’t include in your post where to find this magic fairy dust. (It’s in the mountains somewhere, isn’t it?)
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
Writing what grabs attention, and going with whatever flow God puts in my way.
I’m updating my proposal in preparation for ACFW 2017.