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"How Not To Write A Novel"

I am in the midst of editing and so I thought I'd share my most useful resource---besides my iPod Touch with the Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus app. =)

How Not To Write A Novel is like having a professional read your work and tell you what you did wrong---but in a nice, casual way. ;o) It's written in sections with an example and advice for each point---you can read one or a few at a time and you don't have to read them in order (which is a big deal for me!). The authors also throw in a little humor along with their cut-to-the-chase advice.*

*a cliche I could have avoided if I'd paid attention to page 108 of the book! ;o)

The following is an interview with the authors from http://www.badidea.co.uk/2009/02/how-not-to-write-a-novel-interview-howard-mittlemark-sandra-newman/ :

How Not To Write A Novel by Howard Mittlemark, 51, and Sandra Newman, 43, is a set of guidelines on what to avoid to give yourself any hope of getting a work of fiction published. The book peaked at #15 in Amazon.co.uk sales rankings after its UK Penguin release at the end of January.

Each are published writers in their own right. Mittelmark has penned a thriller entitled Age Of Consent and undertaken another careers’ worth of ghost writing and book doctoring. Newman has published two works of fiction; her first, The Only Good Thing Anyone Has Ever Done, was nominated for the Guardian’s first book award on its release in 2002, and she has also taught writing at numerous American colleges.

The idea, they say, was an obvious one which they executed efficiently – it went from from the drawing board to the bookshelves in two years, with a little help from established contacts in the publishing industry. Bad Idea spoke to them about advice they’d give to those chasing a publishing deal and their experiences of the industry.

Bad Idea: What are the key things an author needs to do to get published?

Sandra Newman: Two things, one thing is that aspiring writers just don’t send things out nearly enough. I see this over and over with my students. I once gave an entire class the address of my agent because they were such a good group, but not a single one of those people ever used that address.

People hear stories about how many times Harry Potter got turned down, but they use that story to cheer themselves up, rather than to remind themselves to send things out to 25, 30 agents, before concluding there’s something wrong.

The second thing is that when an editor or an agent tells you something is wrong with your manuscript, unless everyone is saying the same thing, then they may very well not be true, and your novel may still be published to great success. People have their idiosyncrasies, and they find something to criticise, so you have to keep going.

Howard Mittelmark: The temperament that makes a writer doesn’t always make a marketer, but you’re marketing your book, so look into who you should be sending it to, as not every agent is going to be suitable – don’t send your science fiction epic to an academic publisher!

BI: There’s a myth that great novelists are great novelists from the word go; that they sit down and write, rattling off brilliant novels on their first try…

SN: Some of those beautifully written first novels were actually written by an editor at the publishing house who received a manuscript that was unreadable, but was by somebody who had a story to tell and who was 21. I’m not going to name any names, but some surprising people have had their novels rewritten from beginning to end, either by someone in the publishing house or by an editor outside.

HM: You get this very disproportionate sense that successful writers publish their first novel in their twenties from the media; if it wasn’t an unusual thing it wouldn’t be a news story.

BI: What’s the best way to go about getting useful feedback on a manuscript?

SN: You can’t necessarily get it from an industry professional who’s considered it for publication or to take on as an agent. That’s not the place to look, its comparable to the fact that only your family will tell you if you’re ugly. It’s an emotional investment to give someone honest criticism; somebody who doesn’t know you and who isn’t getting anything out of it is very unlikely to realise that.

HM: As far as constructive criticism goes a writing group or a class is the place to look for criticism, unless you have trusted friends whose opinions you respect and who know what they’re talking about.

BI: Should you have a cut off point for how long you tout your novel before giving up?

HM: You don’t have to, because you should be working on your next book while you’re trying to sell that one.

SN: You can tell if any book that you’re writing isn’t good enough if nobody has a ‘fan’ response to it: have as many of your immediate friends read the book as you can stand, if you find those people are passing your manuscript onto each other, then you should never give up trying to get it published. But if people are obviously dragging though it out of politeness, you need to rethink.

BI: Do you think that if a book is good enough then it will eventually get published?

SN: There are always going to be some books that don’t get published that deserve to, but there aren’t that many. There is definitely a correspondence between how good a book is and how successful it is. It’s not a one to one correspondence but you can usually tell when you’ve got a book that’s going to sell, even if it’ isn’t beautifully written – there’s something you respond to.

BI: It seems you both have faith in the publishing industry to get good books published.

HM: Now that you put it so starkly I don’t know.

SN: I think basically we’re trying to encourage writers not to assume that the publishing industry is at fault, because there’s nothing you can do about it, whereas there is something you can do about your own writing, which is a healthier attitude to take.

HM: A lot of people like to think they’re not understood. And although that’s possible, the chances are you can do better.