So you’re beginning a new novel. A flurry of ideas fills your head. It’s exciting. You consider them all, dismiss most, others you put in the maybe category, but some stick. You build on them, but you worry if anything is going to result. Is your idea gripping enough to fill an entire novel, will the story peter out, do you care enough to finish it, are you capable? You’re compelled to go on.
Now that you have an embryo of an idea, and perhaps one or two characters who reach out to you, there’s a decision to be made over point of view (POV).
1st person: ‘I’
Traditionally one point of view allowing intimacy – the reader seeing the entire story world through one character. But there are more options – multiple first person point of views, sequential multiple viewpoints (e.g. alternate chapters with told from more than on ‘I’), separate multiple viewpoints that are seemingly disparate but come together in the end. So many possibilities!
2nd person: ‘You’
This POV be powerful and immediate, but not easy to pull off. Usually these stories are also told in the present tense. One memorable Australian novel, The Bride Stripped Bare by Anonymous (Nikki Gemmell), is told from this point of view. I still remember that voice.
3rd person: ‘S/he’
Limited – Told from one character’s point of view at a time. But you can have more than one main character in separate sections, eventually bringing them together. It’s similar to 1stperson but can feel more distant. This is the most commonly used POV in modern fiction.
Omniscient – Told from multiple characters’ points of view, dipping in and out of their heads as though taking a birds eye view. A more limited omniscient POV exists where the reader is in one character’s head at a time rather than skipping around or taking an overall perspective. Generally, omniscient is so popular these days. But it can be done well.
Some things to ponder, bearing in mind that point of view is the narrator, who is the reader’s eyes and ears:
- Who’s story is this?
Is it one person’s story? Is it two people’s? Or is it multiple characters’ story?
- Whose head, and how many heads, do I want the reader to be in?
One character’s and close (1stperson). One character’s, close and immediate (2ndperson). Two character’s (1stor 3rdperson limited) or everyone’s (3rdperson omniscient).
- What am I trying to achieve?
If you want to manipulate the reader say with an unreliable narrator, then 1stperson is for you. If you want to sound like a fairy tale, use 3rdperson omniscient. If you want something in between, consider 3rdperson limited.
- How immediate do I want the story to feel?
In order of immediacy: 2nd person, 1st person then 3rd (limited, limited omniscient and omniscient).
- How much do I want the reader to know?
If you want the reader to know only what one character sees consider the 1stperson POV, but 3rd person limited can also be used though with less range. If you want them to see the entire picture, then use 3rd person omniscient (but perhaps limited).
- How close, or distant, do I want the reader to be to the main character/s?
1st person creates greater intimacy i.e. the reader is the 1stperson narrator. 3rd person limited can be more distant but offers considerable closeness too. 2nd perron is in your face close. Dropping in and out of different character’s heads in 3rdperson omniscient gives you immense freedom but requires technical competency.
- How much versatility do I want?
1st person lets you only have one point of view i.e. one voice. They’d wanna be someone your reader can relate to and wants to spend an entire novel with. I know I’ve got sick of main characters and stopped reading well into a story.
- How important is backstory and world building?
This can be easier to convey in 3rdperson omniscient. That said, these should always be written as the story requires in small sections (never more than two paragraphs is my general rule).
Ask yourself the above questions and experiment. Write a page or two from two or three POVs and see what feels/reads best. You’ll soon know what suits your story, even if by realising out what DOESN’T work.
Rules are meant to be broken. Buck the trend of character and plot dominance. Bend language, challenge structure, change points of view, turn narrative on its head: create and be original.
Publishing in Australia
The novel I’m trying to get published now is an Australian story, with universal themes and appeal of course, but there’s much in the subject matter that Australians will relate to. This means I’m touting it in Australia first before looking elsewhere.
But getting anything new published in Australia can be challenging. It has been for a long time, but with foreign competition, it’s even more difficult.
Some publishing facts (and some opinion too):
- Big W is reportedly the single biggest book retailer in Australia, so if you don’t write commercial fiction of 70-90,000 words that Big W wants to sell, you may be at a disadvantage
- The price of books has gone down with overseas competition, putting greater commercial pressure on publishers
- If you write literary fiction (my novel is literary-commercial crossover) places reserved for new voices are very limited, as in maybe 5 novels per year one publisher claimed. Yes – 5!!
- Fulfilling publishers’ commercial requirements seems more front of house than ever with increased competition
- Character and plot rule, so if you’re attempting to push the boundaries and break some rules, your first novel may be considered too risky, but then again maybe not if you’re brilliant
- All this competition has in my view pushed the Australian mainstream publishing industry towards conservatism. I find a lot of new Australian formulaic and disappointing
- That said, small, independent publishers are taking risks that are paying off. These are the books I tend to find inspiring. Perhaps this is where the future lies for Australian writers whose work may not satisfy mainstream commercial criteria?
- The pool of book readers isn’t growing in Australia
- Bricks and mortar booksellers are the key to sales for debut novels by Australian authors
- Around a third of trade (commercial) books published in Australia are fiction
- Print books remain the most popular, with e-book sales decreasing before plateauing
- How many times have I heard publishers say they’re looking for the next Bryce Courtenay or Andy Griffiths or Fleur McDonald? Interestingly, I’ve only ever once heard them say they’re looking for the next Patrick White or Geraldine Brooks.
So what can you do to get published?
Should you tailor your fiction to what you think publishers want? Should you cut your text back to fit the word length, make your characters more mainstream, latch on to the latest trend and write in that genre?
Not unless that’s where your passion lies or it will improve your work. Your writing must be the best you can make it, which demands authenticity and tenacity. Writing is testing at the best of times, let alone if you’re not working on something that fires you up, even during the dark times. First and foremost, love what you’re doing.
Don’t compromise, improve your work
Instead focus on making your manuscript the best it can be. Then continue to seek a publisher until you find someone who believes in your work. There are alternative publishing routes you might consider too, which I discuss here.
Publishing is a business, but never forget that writing is an art.
I submitted my manuscript to two new publishers this week, dutifully complying with all their requirements before I sent it off as well as checking and rechecking my letter, author bio, synopsis, book comparison, marketing appraisal and so on.
But what to do, or not do, now?
Tread the fine line between hope and lowered expectations
Rejections can be gutting. I’ve written about this before. You need to prepare yourself in case that’s what happens. On the other hand, you want to believe in your work and be open to success. It can be torturous when you’ve invested so much time, effort and even money. But aim for zen like detachment, understanding that you’ll be rejected until you aren’t.
Start something else immediately
If you’ve written fiction, perhaps you have an idea for a non-fiction book. If you’ve written long form, maybe it’s time to try short stories, which if published can help build your author biography. Alternatively, your short stories might make great novels.
When starting a new project remember two things. First, you learned how to write your last story, not necessarily others. A new story might demand other skills. Second, first drafts are often terrible. Don’t judge yourself. Just get something down and redraft, redraft, redraft…
Take a break
Is it time you did something else for a while? Doing nothing can be anything but doing nothing. You might actually be creating a masterpiece in the background. More on that here.
Have a Plan B
I like to have a back up plan. Perhaps there are other publishers you haven’t tried such as overseas or independent ones. If you’ve exhausted all channels, consider other publishing options, as I’ve discussed here. For me with this manuscript my Plan B is joint publishing. But perhaps you want to consider self publishing. Then again, after some reflection, you might conclude this was your learner novel. There’s no rush.
Patience is not an inherited trait, it’s a learned and practiced skill. Get on with the next thing in your life, quarantining a place of hope inside you in case that positive outcome arrives.
What not to do
Don’t reread your work
Unless you’re prepared to endlessly rewrite your manuscript, don’t reread it while you wait. You can do that later if your submissions is rejected.
Don’t make changes and resubmit to the same publisher
Once you’ve submitted that’s it, so make sure your manuscript is ready. Some people put their work away for weeks or months before deciding whether their piece is ready. I wish I’d done that in the past. Still, everything is a process, including mistakes, or rather learning experiences.
Don’t harass publishers or agents
It’s a test of patience, but if your potential agent or publisher said they usually reply in 3 or 6 months, then wait the allotted time. If they’re considerably late, inquire politely. Harassing won’t earn you a favourable reputation.
Remember, publishers want commercially viable books.
If you don’t succeed, it doesn’t mean you can’t write
or that your work is rubbish.
Is your book cooked when:
- You’ve put it aside for a while, and when you return to it you’re satisfied
- The story works well, including the ending
- You’ve found an agent or publisher
- You know you’ve done your absolute best
- You don’t care anymore, you just want to get it out there
- You’ve rewritten it 12 times and that’s enough
- Your beta readers, editor or writing group tell you so
- You’ve reached the standard required for your genre
- You’ve simply got nothing left
- Another book beckons
- You just know this is it
- The world can’t wait to hear your story any longer
I’m coming to the end of my final edit for my MS, unless a publisher tells me otherwise. The problem is, every time I look back I see new ways to improve my book. I believe this is because with every edit, my skills improve. But if I begin yet again, there’s a real risk of getting caught in an endless rewriting loop.
Set your work aside if you can, or seek an outside (objective) opinion to help you determine if your work is sufficiently cooked. If you’re a perfectionist, remember there’s no such thing as perfect because EVERYTHING is subjective.
With my manuscript, it’s definitely near ready to eat, which my writing group has confirmed. I hear the call of another story.