Getting Started, Reflections, Writing Tips

Does Your Novel Have “It”?

The Right Stuff. The je ne sais quoi. Appeal. Does your book have “it”?

As a book editor, I see a lot of novels cross my desk that don’t. Yet people still want to pay me to edit them. Let me make this really simple: If your book sucks, it doesn’t matter if you pay me to proofread it for you. It’s still lipstick on a pig.

Worse, defining the Right Stuff is difficult. Take Twilight. Arguably the biggest piece of trash published in the last ten years. But it had appeal. (Not to all, of course, but to a large demographic of people, Twilight was amazing.)

What, as authors, can we learn from this insight?

First, obsessing over proofreading as an unknown author is a waste of time. Perfection is the enemy of the good, and what you need to find out, and fast, is whether the books you are writing have appeal or not. If they do–great! Go back and pay a proofreader. Write more books like the one that took off.

But if they don’t? Maybe your book isn’t what uber-agent Donald Maass called a “Breakout Novel.”

Second, save your hard-earned pennies for an awesome book cover. Spend time perfecting your blurb. People will forgive you typos and minor errors if your concept is awesome and your execution is at least decent. (This is not, of course, carte blanche to vomit on the page and slap a price tag on it. You still have to mind the details. But do so in moderation.)

Third, write fast and publish frequently. Write shorter books. If you spend a year writing a 100,000-word tome, and NO ONE FRICKING LIKES IT, you just wasted a year of your life, there, bucko. Why not write two or three 50,000-word novels a year, test the market, see how people react? Improve your time to market. Experiment more, faster, better. Once you know what works, and what you can sell, then–and only then–can you sit back and compose epic tomes that take three years to write.

At the end of the day, we are competing for attention against not only several million other authors currently living, but every classic handed down for the last 2500 years. The Count of Monte Cristo is just as good a read today as it was when Alexandre Dumas wrote it in 1844. Why should I try a new author when there are classics out there with centuries of “social proof” behind them?

Touch a nerve. Be a lightning rod for modern anxieties. Solve a deep subconscious emotional need that speaks to people now, today. And by “solve” I mean express–as authors we do not prescribe solutions but dramatize conflict. Tap into our deep-seated needs, and your book will have the Right Stuff.

Written by: J.M. Porup

Novelist J.M. Porup is An American Dissident in Exile. Read More


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