Home > Writing > My first novel: a retrospective – Part 2

My first novel: a retrospective – Part 2

September 7, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

After months of typing away on my story, I was finally done. I’d typed THE END so obviously the manuscript was complete, right? Au contraire. As a first time novelist, I was, of course, quite wrong. I’d done absolutely no editing of the book while I was writing it, having sat myself down at a keyboard and simply begun typing. Caught in the midst of inspiration (remember that dog barking?) and a desire to write a book, words had simply spilled from my finger tips as I flew through my novel by the seat of my pants. I had no outline and no direction, only a goal. I quickly discovered, though, upon rereading my book, it was painfully obvious I’d had no idea what I was doing through the first draft.

Once I realized that what I’d written was not perfection, but instead a crude piece of work that was going to require massive amounts of effort to polish into something resembling a real book, the prospect of editing the monster I’d just created was nearly overwhelming. It wasn’t enough to crush my spirit, mind you, just enough to make me take a few very deep breaths prior to jumping back into the book. Once ready, I backed up everything up onto some old 5 1/4 inch floppies, fired up the trusty word processor again, and began editing away.

I don’t remember exactly how long it took me to finally “finish” the manuscript (where by “finish” I mean I read through the book again from beginning to end and cleaned up things up as I went … mostly just spelling, typos, and grammatical errors). I think it was perhaps another couple of months or so before I reached the end of my book once again and made my last (superficial) edit. Since it was obvious I was now done with my novel, I, just as any other aspiring author might do, turned my thoughts to the holy grail of all writers: publication.

Yes, that’s right. Even though I was a first time author, with a manuscript that had just barely been scraped through the editing process, I began pondering the possibilities of getting published. Looking back, it’s obvious this was driven by the conviction that I was way better at writing than I actually was. In that regard, I don’t think I was unique. I suspect many first time authors, especially when caught up in the early euphoria of finishing that very first book, go through similar delusions. So properly deluded, I ventured out into the realm of the publishing world, with high hopes of someday seeing my manuscript turned into a real book that I could admire on the shelf at the local bookstore. Oh, and of course, I could sell the movie rights for a million dollars or so. Sure I could. I was that good.

Okay, so I wasn’t really that good. Surprise, surprise. But I did learn a lot. Being that this was in the day before the internet was widely used (I used it all the time at work because I was in the computer business, but pretty much no one else outside of the industry did), everything had to be done the old fashioned way. First, I researched possible publishers by reading through a ridiculously thick book the size of an encyclopedia (Writer’s Market, which is still published every year, btw). Then, after a painstaking process of reading through individual publishers and selecting those that seemed most promising, i.e., those that might be interested in my novel, I drafted a number of query letters, then sent them out the old-fashioned way (snail mail, of course). At the time, I didn’t think too much about how painful the process was, but in retrospect, looking back from the second decade of the twenty-first century, I’d say it was like being in the stone age.

So of course, as one must do when operating within the constraints of the United State Postal System, once I sent out a bunch of queries, I did what every good aspiring novelist does: I started writing short stories.

–dp

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