Describe Your Book

There’s great value in taking a dispassionate look at your recent draft of a novel and assigning a description. When I was younger, I used a very simple tier system for books. I would classify them as
1) A mess
2) Publishable
3) Possible award-winner

Obviously, no one wants to write a mess. Yet very often when a new writer is confronted with well-intentioned criticism, I’ve heard them say, “Yeah, well that is the way that I like it!” and they grab their manuscript and head for the hills. They very often will go ahead and send it to fifty publishers, complete with all of its flaws, and never get a nibble.

Taking that tact just seems kind of insane.

But just writing a publishable novel isn’t any better. Think about it: getting published is nice, but if you don’t make any money with it and no one reads it, then you’ll feel pretty defeated. You don’t want to be in midlist or even at the bottom of the midlist. So being publishable wasn’t my goal.

Now, writing a possible award-winning novel, that seemed like a decent accomplishment. It meant that the novel would gain some credibility with the fans, perhaps get pushed at the bookstores, and so on. I began to realize on my fourth or fifth novel, I wanted to aim higher with my books.

A few years ago, a critic read one of my novels and wrote that it was a “monumental” novel. I’d never had that appellation put to one of my books. I had had critics say that my books were “powerful,” “life-changing,” “beyond the first rank,” and so on. So I asked the critic what he meant by monumental, and asked, “What other books to you consider to be in that category?” His answer surprised me. He said, “None. This one is the best of its kind.”
I kind of like that. With future books, I want to shoot for “Monumental,” but perhaps in some cases I’ll settle for novel, as in one of a kind. I like the idea that I’m breaking boundaries. I had a movie producer recently who read one of my books and said, “You know, the ideas behind this are unique. I’ve been reading science fiction for fifty years, and I’ve never seen anything like it.” I was glad he noticed.

But when I edit books for people, I now have to look at the books and try to decide if I can even help the author. Sometimes I will look at a manuscript and think, “Wow, there are some good ideas here, but I’d have to teach the writer so much of technique, I’m not sure that she can handle it.” Or maybe I’ll look at the book, as I am with one now, and come up with the one-word description, “Promising, and probably a bestseller.”

In any case, when you write a book and take a first long look at it, I think that it is worthwhile to be really honest with yourself and try to come up with a simple description for what you think you see. Maybe you’ll realize that this is “publishable,” and you need to do some work to move it up the spectrum to “award potential.” Or maybe you don’t care about awards so much, you really want it to just have “bestseller” potential.

Ideally, it would be nice to hit multiple targets: award potential, bestseller potential, monumental.

But if you look at the manuscript and genuinely feel that is “a hot mess,” or “promising,” “not publishable,” then you know that you’ve got a bit of work ahead of you.


I will be speaking at Life, the Universe, and Everything Symposium at the Provo, Utah Marriott. It will be from 9 am to 5 pm on Wednesday, February 13th. Lunch is not provided. You can register here.

On March 2nd I will start my “Writing Enchanting Prose” series again as well as my “Advance Story Puzzle Workshop.” I only have a few spots left so click here if you would like to register.

My YouTube video issues have been solved. You can watch the first one by clicking here.

One of my assistants, Diann, is looking for editing work. She is a published writer/editor and has a vast knowledge of military history. You can email her at author_dt.read@yahoo.com

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