Novel Writing Isn't Novel Through Suspension Of Disbelief

I've never seen any statistics about the percentage of people who try writing a novel, but I suspect it would be higher than for any other writing endeavor, including memoir. I also wouldn't be surprised if a pretty high percentage of people who set out to write a novel eventually complete one or more. I hear from quite a few of them. I think the one universal barrier the new author must overcome to complete a novel is the suspension of disbelief. Not the well known suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader, but on the part of the author. The author puts aside all rational thoughts about the odds of the novel ever being published or read and proceeds as if it were another feather in the author's cap.

The problem for most writers isn't suspending their disbelief for the period of time required to write the novel, it's keeping the faith after it's completed. These days, with most fiction trade publishers not even accepting unagented submissions, many authors who don't want to leave the manuscript in the bottom drawer for their heirs quickly turn to fee paying solutions. Some authors choose to pay reader fees to NYC agents who claim to be connected, but I can't say I've ever heard directly from an author who met with success going that route. Other authors choose to pay a subsidy publisher to get their novel into print, usually with the hope that a break-through success will result. Both of these approaches require a suspension of disbelief.

Since the paid agent route can't be effective for the vast majority of authors even if the agent is legitimately trying to place manuscripts, those who want to see their novel in print usually end up with a subsidy press. It's a guaranteed process, the author pays the fee and some months later receives X copies of the book and can see it listed on Amazon. Depending on the subsidy publisher and the package paid for, the author's mother may also be able to order the book through the local Barnes&Noble or Borders.

The ultimate suspension of disbelief comes if the author of a subsidy published novel is so desperate for success (ie, sales) that paid marketing campaigns begin to look legitimate. As with paid agenting, I have never heard a success story from an author who paid a third party to market a novel. Whether the campaign costs thousands of dollars, or tens of thousands of dollars, novels just aren't a "product" that can be easily driven to profitability by advertising. I'm pretty good at suspending disbelief myself, I remember being thrilled by the Lensmen series when I was a kid, but idea that thousands of dollars spent on an advertisement in a literary supplement could sell even a handful of novels to strangers to me is the ultimate self deception. Nobody I know reads book review sections looking for advertisements for books from unknown authors and subsidy publishers. Do you?

In a reply today to the author of a new novel published by a subsidy press who planned to buy my publishing book, I wrote:

I'm not sure how much it can help you at this point unless you are planning to self publish other books in the future by starting your own company. That's the approach I advocate, along with not publishing a book until you have a marketing platform in place and are getting requests for purchases based on preliminary excerpts or drafts.

I'd suggest buying Steve Weber's book instead of mine, came out a couple months ago, titled "Plug Your Book." It's primarily about how to use the social networking aspects of the Internet to give your book a chance to get noticed.

Fiction is a very tough sell for new authors using an author services company or subsidy press. It's not that easy for trade publishers either, though they have the advantage of being able to get the books some shelf exposure. I'd suggest focusing your marketing efforts like a laser beam on the demographic you mention in the theme of your book, and promoting it as a realistic look at the real issues faced by people in that situation.

I'd also moderate your expectations and expect a lot of hard work. Although I write and publish for a living, I never published the novel I wrote more than a decade ago because I couldn't figure out a realistic way to market it. I'd written it without any thought to audience or marketability. The only absolute rule I can suggest is not to spend money advertising. It won't work, nobody buys fiction from an unknown author because they see an advertisement. You essentially have to hand-sell the books to try to get word of mouth going. The social networking described in Weber's book is one way to do that, because the Internet allows you to plug into niche networks of people scattered across the country or the globe.
There's nothing wrong with paying to get your novel published because you want copies to give to family and friends or to try to sell to strangers. Just don't get caught up in the idea that it's a legitimate business proposition that will repay any investment in a year or a lifetime. I heard from an author years ago who had taken out a second mortgage on his house to promote his book and wanted advice on how best to spend the money. My advice was pay it back.

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