What will make your next novel something that publishers will love

When you set out writing a novel it is often a story that is close to you. Writing from the heart is a good basis for a story. People will know that you are sincere and will connect with what you have to say. If you are writing as a cathartic means, then a personal novel is an amazing way to explore your own emotions and give to the world. The way you feel won’t be something that is exclusive to you. Sharing it with the world will connect with others who have been through similar experiences or emotions. But it might only reach a small audience. What will make your next novel something that publishers will love is a different consideration altogether — or is it?

It’s true that if you write about a life that you have experienced then the feelings come across deep and true. But if that story has already been told, particularly if it has been told recently, then literary agents and publishers won’t go for it. They won’t become involved with a story about a future where infertility rates mean women ae assigned to become pregnant for the wealthy because this has already been covered in The Handmaid’s Tale. In short, if a story has already been covered or a genre milked for all it has (a la Harry Potter) then there is little appetite for another identikit tale to be thrown into the mix.

What does this mean for the budding author?

Well, actually a little thought needs to put into what your story will be about. The best novels have a unique feel about them in one aspect or another. This can be a number of things -

  • A twist in the plot
  • A story that hasn’t been told before
  • An underrepresented genre
  • A voice that isn’t usually heard
  • A character that isn’t often put at the centre of a story

Don’t think different for the sake of it, but spend some time developing your story before you put pen to paper (I know almost nobody does this any more) and start the novel. A plan is the best thing to start writing. This will explore the way you want your book to be received and who the natural audience for it might be. There can be some similarities to other books (this is quite natural in many genres) but there also needs to be a story that hasn’t been told before. Your readers are only potential readers at the moment. What will make your next novel something that publishers will love is the difference rather than the similarities.

How does the planning stage work?

It might not feel natural to start writing a novel by penning words that won’t appear in the novel at all, but this is the perfect way to develop the ideas. A novel that isn’t planned properly is easy to spot. it has holes in the plot and can often meander without a purpose. Don’t let your work take this form. The planning will let you explore characters, develop the storyline, see any mistakes and think about how it is different to other novels in its class.

Don’t invent differences for the sake of it — make sure that your work is truly distinctive.

Planning should look at the most important parts of the book. Think of it as a schoolwork, but without the teacher looking over your shoulder all the time. The end result is going to change your life if you get it right. The plan should include -

  • Beginning
  • Middle
  • End (yes we still think of novels in this way)
  • The characters
  • The interactions between characters
  • Who is telling the story
  • The voice they use
  • Who is likely to read the novel
  • What they are used to
  • What could be changed without losing the audience
  • Whether you feel the work stands up to others in the genre

Your writing will need to match the rest of the market. It will compete with these for sales. What will make your next novel something that publishers will love is the feeling that your work would stand well on the bookshelf of Waterstones or on the searches of Amazon. Your publisher or literary agent will want to feel that you have a chance of big sales. Most literary agents see hundreds, if not thousands, of books a year and represent a handful. Most publishing houses do the same. Your chances of getting a publishing deal may be slim, but they fade to nothing unless you have a novel that hits the mark. All of the other bits like editing and proofreading mean nothing unless the plan is there in the first place.

Decide what story you can tell and how it stands out from all else that has gone before it. That might sound like a daunting task. What will make your next novel something that publishers will love is those differences.