Friday, September 30, 2011

How to Write the Unmarketable Novel

Not a good plan, huh? Any writer with an ounce of sense will choose to write a novel that fits the marketplace. A book that will have editors clamoring after it.

Unless, of course, said novelist has no idea about the market. Say, for example, said novelist has been a stay at home mom for the last twelve years and decides to try her hand at writing that book she always dreamed of. She has no idea what the market wants. Heck, she’s not even sure she’ll finish the novel. What she does know is that she needs to write something that excites her. Something that she would want to read. Something that will keep her typing in the middle of homeschooling and running kids to a never ending list of extra-curricular activities.

For me, it was a love story set in the middle ages. Of course I adore the world of knights, jousts, and pageants, but much more drew me to the 1300s. In that time period I saw a deep and authentic spirituality in the medieval saints that I felt would truly speak to a contemporary audience. I saw a time before our current denominational schisms and Christianese dialect where I might explore faith through new eyes. There I could set my story of finding freedom, healing, and the true meaning of love.

Strike one! I had no idea that Christian publishers weren’t looking for anything set in the medieval period. That in fact, most agents would turn down the project after one paragraph of my cover letter based on setting alone.

And I thought it would be great to write the book in first person. I love first person novels. They’re so intimate, and I figured it would help me get into the head of that fascinating heroine I planned to create.

Strike two! How was I supposed to know that the present trend in point of view runs toward a multiple limited third person perspective? I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a trend in point of view. Let’s face it, I probably would have needed to pull out my graduate creative writing texts to even remember what it meant.

Most importantly, I wanted to write a realistic novel with a fallen heroine who struggled with selfishness, sin, and sexual temptation—but that still contained a powerful spiritual message. Because, after all, that’s the book I wanted to read and almost never found.

You guessed it…Strike three!

Okay, I’ll confess I had a clue this one might be a problem based on the fact that very few of these books seemed to be available. I knew my novel would probably be too Christian for the secular market and too edgy for the Christian market. Eventually the spiritual elements took on a life of their own, and I realized I had no choice but to hope for the best in Christian publishing.

So that, my friends, is how to write the perfect unmarketable, edgy Christian, first-person, medieval novel that nobody wants to buy. But there’s an upside.

The upside is, if you do indeed want to sell this book, you can’t settle for decent. You have to work and edit and revise for years until the book is capable of overcoming all those strikes. Until people say things like, “my all time favorite book,” compare you to Geraldine Brooks or Francine Rivers, and call your writing “light rippling across water.” If, and only if, you keep working and learning and developing your novel, you just might find a company like WhiteFire crazy enough to publish it. After all, it only takes one yes. And that company might be awesome. And let you use your daughter for the cover model. And even keep your steamiest scene because they understand you’re using it to make an important spiritual point.

The journey to publishing my debut novel, Dance of the Dandelion, was not an easy one. But you know what, looking back, I can’t say I’d change a thing.

Dina Sleiman writes lyrical stories that dance with light. Most of the time you will find this Virginia Beach resident reading, biking, dancing, or hanging out with her husband and three children. Since finishing her Professional Writing MA in 1994, she has enjoyed opportunities to teach literature, writing, and the arts. She was the Overall Winner in the 2009 Touched by Love contest for unpublished authors. Her first novel, Dance of the Dandelion, is from Whitefire Publishing, 2011. Dina is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Agency. She has recently become an acquisitions editor for WhiteFire as well. Join her as she discovers the unforced rhythms of 
                                               grace. For more info:


susiefinkbeiner said...

Awesome and inspiring article, Dina! "Too edgy for the Christian market" had me nodding my head! I can't wait to read your novel!

Debra E. Marvin said...

Wonderful tale of your journey with this book, Dina and kudos for hanging in there. Three strikes did not put you out. Dandelion is the perfect example of our human quest to find fulfillment--the spiritual void we were born with and meant to fill with the supernatural love of God.

Congratulations on publication of the unmarketable novel. Good story trumps all, in the end!

Michelle Griep said...

Thanks for stopping by today, Dina!

Dina Sleiman said...

Susie, I think I know you well enough now to say you'll love the book :)

Dina Sleiman said...

Thanks, Deb. Glad you enjoyed it. And thanks Michelle, for having me.

Heather said...

Shoot, as I was reading this I thought I was reading my OWN bio, until the part that your book is now published. Medieval book, check. First person, check. Realistic situations/struggles for the main character, check. Also a homeschool mom. Yes, in my historical fiction critique group, I'm finding you're a bit odd when you do first person POV.

I'm so glad to know that your book finally got published, after much revision. Said critique group is helping tremendously with revisions.

Regardless, thank you so much for sharing your eerily similar story. And I hope to join you in the ranks someday, as a naive writer mom who dared to believe that her story was worth telling and worth reading, no matter what genre/time period or POV it's written in.

Dina Sleiman said...

Glad I could encourage you today, Heather. I like to believe that great fiction will manage to find a place for itself.

Of course, after my funny little article, I should probably also mention that I am working on some more marketable projects now. But I still love the medieval age, so if your book does make it to publication you can count on at least one reader :)

Sherrinda said...

This could be my story, Dina. I love the medieval era, and have written a book that looks to be unpublishable. I'm just following my heart and writing what my heart tells me. I figure if God wants my writing published, He will make it happen regardless of the market. :)

Dina Sleiman said...

I'm sure your time will come Sherrinda.

As I mentioned in my last comment, my new project is more marketable, but I do feel God's hand on this one as well. Here's hoping...