Writing a novel: How to know if your novel idea is working?

A publisher said to me once, in a rejection letter, that the characters in my novel were clichés. Another publisher, in yet another rejection letter, said my novel was too classic, not original.

Since then, whenever I start a new writing project, you bet your sweet bottom I wanna make sure my novel idea is working.

A publisher said to me once, in a rejection letter, that the characters in my novel were clichés. Another publisher, in yet another rejection letter, said my novel was too classic, not original.

Since then, whenever I start a new writing project, you bet your sweet bottom I wanna make sure my novel idea is working. And working well too.

How to know your novel idea stands out for the best?
It depends.
Like you didn’t know that already! But, the thing is, it does depend.

I consider two main factors to begin with:

  • novel genres
  • type of novel (retelling, original fiction, autofiction)

What to research:

  • The targeted readership (age, country)
  • The editorial bottom-line of the publishers in the chosen genres
  • The published books in your genres, from now up to as far as you are willing to go in the past.

Even if I pretty much write for readers from age 9 to 109 (everybody is a Young Adult this days), I still keep in touch, read a ton, follow the news, check out the best-selling list every month on big and small bookstores websites and newspaper.
What is hot and new now won’t work anymore in 18 months or so. Beware, the book world is a business…

Ok, basic knowledge gathered. Next level please!

What to do next?

Read as many books as you can in your genre of choices.
While reading the most recent novels is critical – in order for us to see what is « working » right now, I also lean towards old titles.
And, I also make a point to go back several books decades sometimes. It is a good learning experience, I find, to see how literature for youngster readers, for example, evolved in the past twenty years or so.
I recently read a Middle-Grade commercial ghost-written book from 1984 and boy, oh boy, am I glad women and LGBTQ+ rights are being taken more into account these days.

And then… I write a resume of the story and I also try to sell it in one line or two, as if it was a movie.
That way, I can see the tropes I’m gonna use and make sure I used them in a fun, original, stand-out way.
I don’t mean something mind-blowing over the top crazy. I just mean, you know, what if an orphan wizard was to meet the daughter of a famous presidential couple during a strike for climate, and they discover they are both there to protect the leader of the strike from a terrible prophecy/treat.
Suuure, it hasn’t been written before.
But, the characters are a bit cliché, plus the set-up is really, really in the right-now, which might not translate well in 18 months from now. Hell, in two months from now.

Writing a resume (synopsis works too, but I hate synopsis) helps me figure out the rough shapes of the bones of the story. I can then see if I’m right into cliché town and I can figure out how to get out of there BEFORE it’s 60 000 words too late.
Like I did.

Also, very, very important: a critique partner (two max) should help work on your manuscript and beta-readers should read the manuscript. Unlike author Bridgid Gallagher in her post on CP’s and beta-readers, family doesn’t count as beta-readers; plus, if they don’t like the manuscript, it will create a weird situation (just trust me on this one).

Thanks for reading. I hope this post helped you.
To all my fellow crazy writers on a quest, a bid thy farewell.
Until next time!

Writing a novel: literary fiction vs… everything else

Disclaimer: I know, I should write « fiction » instead of literary fiction. But « fiction » does make any sense to my francophone book-geek brain. Every novel is fiction (even the autofiction novels are fictions… in a way… don’t get me started). Not every novel is literary fiction.

Moving on.

For an upcoming writing project, I really dig deep into literary genres. I considered writing out of my comfort genres zone, simply to challenge myself.
I flirted with the idea of writing a literary fiction novel… for about a second and a half.

I got a bit mad about the whole literary fiction vs everything else, genres fictions novels I mean, the first being seen as more serious, valuable work, then the later.
I always thought, I still do, that every novel, no matter its genre (Romance, Horror, Historical, etc…) is, in my very humble opinion, literary fiction. Periode.
Whether I like it or not, whether the writing is to my liking or not, a novel is a literary work, words on a page, a story.
Yes, some novels are better than others… all genres included.

That being said: this post is not meant to spark a debate, but to assess what is a literary fiction novel.

Literary fiction: no beat-sheets allowed

Considered as more valuable, in an intellectual way, than every other literary genre novels, Literary fiction novels are not written to be solely entertaining, nor to please a large audience.
A Literary novel is all about human characters and how they deal with that. Being human, that is.
It’s about what it is, for a character, to be, to exist, to change (or not) in the world it was born into, or pushed into, or forced into.

The language will be different, more sought out, specific. The story focuses on character development, which impacts the pacing of the story, often slow, sometimes atmospheric, sometimes deliberately dense, filled with subtext, etc.

A Literary fiction novel questions, as well as it explores, the real world: politics, social issues, themes who challenge the readers, push boundaries.

It often does NOT follow any beat-sheets, nor does it provide a happy ending, in the classic happy-ever-after sense.

It does not use formatting formulas, of conventional tropes.

A literary fiction novel is free.

Though crowd

One thing for sure, writing on the source of all literary genres reminded me of how hard it is, not only to write but to sell a literary fiction novel.
While it is aiming for all the adult readers of the whole wide world, it is usually reaching smaller crowds.
A super good literary fiction novel might have excellent critics and still not sale well. After all, the book world is over-crowded and noisier than ever.

If you’re looking for more details on what is literary fiction, I found this NY Book Editors post quite interesting.

Thanks for reading this post. Until next time !

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