The Three Novel Problem

Four words writers fear most from a potential reader: So what’s it about?

If someone were to ask me to summarize a novel, one I have been spending the last 3+ years committed to, I’d like to think I wouldn’t disappoint them. Surely not if I had my synopsis written down, all agent-submission prepared. And yet, responding to a question about themes, or deeper meanings, well, I’d be struggling. The same would apply with my last two novels. But at least I would be in good company, for that is what acclaimed novelist Cixin Liu (The Three-Body Problem) was tasked to do by a reporter; questions about his fiction sourced from a Chinese mid-grade school text book. He got them all wrong. In his defence he responded: “I don’t begin with some conceit in mind. I’m just trying to tell a good story.” As a multi-million selling author his work, of course, has been well analysed.

Since, it’s fair to say, my work hasn’t been I can produce most any answer and sound convincing. So my sympathy goes out to Cixin Liu. Much of creative writing operates on a subconscious level. For me, it’s about progressing the story, making it interesting and entertaining. And just good. Maybe some big issue of the day influences my protagonist’s actions and dialogue or even the story arc. But to suppose there is some profound plan behind the plot, or intentional allegory, is to ascribe a level of awareness beyond anything I’ve managed to attain.

My problem now has been unearthing the central themes and deeper meanings of my novel to pitch in a submission. I could say it’s about the nature of time, of memory; sentience; lost love; obsession; displacement; isolation; loneliness; the dangers of technology, of power; the need to find a greater purpose; sacrifice. I’d be tempted to say: it’s about all the things that matter in contemporary life transposed into a future universe. For all that would achieve.

Links to my published fiction: The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK) Time Over (US)

http://www.adriankyte.com/

Writer’s block – me?

Writer’s block is not something I used to believe in. If you were stuck, I thought, it was simply due to a lack of effort; a block can always be navigated around.

Now at the quarter way point into my latest novel I am struggling to write more than eight hundred words in a week. It seemed the best cure is to seek inspiration, find a book that resonates with what I am hoping to write. So I turned to a classic: Flowers for Algernon. It was not that I wanted to write a similar book (my protagonist is brain boosted from an early age to fulfill a top secret project). But in reading this SF masterwork I was in awe at some of the writing – the depiction of a man who goes from ‘retard’ (yes it’s an old book with outdated terms) to ubergenius, and the interweaving of a tragic love story.

So how can I even hope to compete with such a science fiction classic, I wondered to myself. Well, for a start there is no point in writing something comparable that can only end up as a pastiche. I have to find my own voice, the one that distinguishes my style of writing.

And yet. I see the standard. I see the level of the bar and feel my limbs go weak at the thought of trying to vault it. This is the problem of when – as a writer – you encounter another writer who you know has set an example, one you imagine could be used by the literary agent that rejects your latest.

So somehow I have to not fixate on writing a classic. There’s maybe some analogy in sport, or academia; observing the star talent and thinking: why should I even bother to compete? But no one can know the effort, or the time, the greatest put in to become just that.

Then, be positive? Of course, but it’s always a challenge!

Links to my published fiction:  The Captured (US)  The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK)     Time Over (US)

http://www.adriankyte.com/

Ready to Submit?

A few weeks ago I sent off my first submission query for Worlds Apart. It felt like I had already procrastinated way too long. Now reading over the email, mistakes glare back at me – silly errors: a misplaced apostrophe, even a missing word! Great first impression(!) How could I not have noticed? And the MS still needed more work.

Then there was the dreaded synopsis.

Surely, I believed, I’d developed some skill over the years for summarizing a 100,000 words-plus novel in a thousand or less. But if you read Synopsis Hell! you’ll see why I struggle. My latest experience: discovering how to write a synopsis really badly. That is, simply document each significant event using bullet points. But hang on, I thought, what constitutes significant?

I was lost. Lost like a small child in a dense forest. It became overwhelming.

I can honestly say that writing a synopsis in under a thousand words is more of a challenge than writing the novel itself. I used the present tense because I don’t feel I’ve succeeded. Instead I have created the ultimate spoiler, gutted my novel into convoluted description void of any narrative arc or theme. And yet I managed a coherent blurb-style precis with relative ease. Problem is, most literary agents aren’t interested in those.

So it feels like I have fallen at the first hurdle. The vast majority of agents surely don’t have the time, and therefore patience, to read beyond that first impression.

I only hope I’m wrong.

Links to my fiction:  The Captured (US)  The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK)     Time Over (US)

http://www.adriankyte.com/

Success, Finally?

Imagine. You’ve been used to failing for such a long time. Then success, finally! That day when you can go out and celebrate, and all your friends and family (who, frankly, doubted you could achieve such greatness) will congratulate your marvellous achievement.

But what does it mean to have made it? Finding an agent? Getting that publishing contract? Those first four-figure sales? The good reviews?

Perhaps there is no point where you think I’ve made it! And in any case there is something in my British psyche that would tell me: now hang on just a minute. You’ve been making it clear, at least to anyone who cared to ask, that writing is what you do. But haven’t you implied to them: “I am special, I have talent, I was born to write novels, that is what sets me apart (from you no less); and now that declaration (however subtly I implied it) is going to be rubbed in your face – because you doubted me and I’ve proved you wrong.”

So there is something in my psyche that fears the downside of success. That the possible sacrifices I have made – the relationships never pursued, the work (employment) never sought – cannot be enough to make it worth while. After all, success means exposure, the spotlight of scrutiny with the inevitable criticism it brings. Sure, everyone, however acclaimed, has to be prepared for the dissenting voices; you are told as a writer how important it is to develop a thick skin. But many of us writers are naturally sensitive creatures.

I wonder if fear is holding me back somehow. Stuck in a certain belief because of bad experiences or just bad luck.

Failure is familiar, an old friend unafraid to dish out a harsh dose of reality – to keep you grounded. Success is the exciting stranger, promising to take you to incredible heights. But one day that stranger will tire of you, and leave you precariously on the mountain ledge.

Finally, I wanted to come up with some definitive advice – to others, and hopefully to myself. But all I could think of was the following. Don’t let that old friend failure drag you down; overcome the fear of success.

Links to my fiction:  The Captured (US)  The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK)     Time Over (US)

http://www.adriankyte.com/

 

 

 

Can you try too hard?

To not give maximum effort goes against conventional wisdom. To try your best, fail, and try again, and only give up when there’s nothing left – maybe at the point of death. But what does that mean in the process? Perhaps it means living with an obsession, letting it rule your life if not your time; shaping you into someone who, while viewing yourself as focused on a goal, is seen by others as self-isolating, or maybe even selfish (or likewise self+ words). Anyone who is trying to make it as a successful writer will understand this single-minded drive. It is your life’s purpose, everything you do, hear, read and experience in whatever way can surely feed The Writer, influencing all future creative endeavours.

But how about simply letting go?

I tend to obsess about things as a matter of course. Often trivial, it might be something I’ve lost: such as a door key I was certain had to be somewhere nearby in the house, or that pocket radio I lost in my back garden. And then only recently when for no particular reason glancing down on the ivy-covered end of lawn just behind that chair I last remembered seeing it on, there it was! So obvious – its little white plastic case and headphones in tact. But surely I’d already looked there? Had looked everywhere else; had put way too much time and effort into finding this old radio I could easily live without. The same kind of thing happened with the key: only after I’d finally resigned myself to not finding it, even got another one cut, suddenly – of course it had to be there!

So perhaps you can focus too hard or too narrowly on a goal.

Trying for perfection was what ultimately put me off art: the painting/drawing was never finished. The same is near enough true for my novels. And also thinking I’d never put enough work into selling them to an agent, despite that in-depth synopsis and overall summary and theme, expounding my grand scale ambition and inspiration behind it all; how what they’re getting is the complete package – the novel, me and the irrefutable potential therein. I mean, how could they possibly reject me after all that?

I don’t want to make an argument for being careless or mediocre (though so much mediocrity has been successful) or not giving your best. I just think there’s something to be said for taking a step back and seeing it’s not so vitally important; or just getting away from it, maybe when the work is becoming frustrating. Easier said than done though, from my experience! But that is accepted advice in the creative stage of writing – ideas often coming when you’re not trying to think them up.

Links to my fiction:  The Captured (US)  The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK)     Time Over (US)

Sales! Sales! Sales!

How far would you go to publicize your book?

I recently got a chance to promote a non-fiction book written under a pseudonym; an offer to do a radio interview, although the interview would have only covered one rather embarrassing theme of this memoir/travelogue. I told her my story might not be suitable for broadcast (on daytime national radio) but was happy for the book to be discussed. I even admitted not wanting to reveal my true identity. Besides, there seemed no clear opportunity to make a subtle (or not) plug. But there was just that chance – so i’d taken it initially by texting them. I still wonder: would it have been worth the risk for the sake of extra sales? Fortune favours the bold, I think someone once said.

There is the more conventional route I’ve tried for my novels. Once upon a time I believed the most difficult achievement of being an author is completing the book, until i tried to get it accepted by an agent. Never mind if the novel is any good; one mistake and you’ve blown it. At least that’s how it can feel. But only one thing matters ultimately: sales! If you’ve written a masterpiece no one reads – or pays to read – then that can be nothing other than a failure.

So is there any magic formula to ensure sales? There is, of course, the standard combination, as follows. Front cover; synopsis/blurb; timing; price; content. I used to believe those were the elements that mattered – in that order of importance.

But how about serendipity? Capturing the zeitgeist? The right person can make all the difference, be they avid reader with lots of friends, or a celebrity who happens to like what you’ve published and makes it known – chooses you amongst the millions of others who hardly get any recognition.

Sometimes it can feel like a lottery, the luck of being noticed. And with any lottery you only learn about the lucky ones. I am not one of the lucky ones, and certainly have not written this or any other blog from the standpoint of someone who has made it and wants to share his wisdom with the aspiring writer, but as someone still trying to succeed in a competitive market.

Well, for many, there comes the point when there is no choice but to put that finally re-drafted book out there in the hope that it will get noticed. The matter of timing might be important for maximum sales. For me, I’d rather not submit anything be it to an agent or a publisher, or for the sales market, at this time of year (May). Spring into early summer is probably the worst time to feel embittered. I’d rather just enjoy what pleasures nature brings. If I’m going to be facing disappointment then maybe early autumn (October is generally my least favourite month in UK south – so all the better to relax into the misery of it), or mid winter. But is there ever a good time to risk failure?

http://www.adriankyte.com/

Links to my fiction:  The Captured (US)  The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK)     Time Over (US)

Being in Control

The one big advantage of self publishing is having total control of your final output. No editor to ‘kill your darlings’ – drawing metaphorical red pen lines through your precious finely crafted text. Yes surely the reader has the time and patience to read that digression so integral to your protagonist, their back-story.

While the self publishing route can seem like a recipe for an unrestrained and undisciplined (and unchecked) writing sprawl, it represents creative freedom. I’m surprised what is allowed to remain in the books from big-name publishers of big-name authors – those with past acclaim. One rule for them? The difference is that they have garnered the trust of readers who know the book is worth sticking with through all the flabby parts. Not that I’d claim to be a great editor. Certainly self-editing has been a problem. It’s never easy to see the wood for the trees when it concerns your own novel.

It always seems as if traditional publishers/agents are looking for the next big thing that is similar to the last, but fresh. They state what they prefer, mentioning particular authors. So somehow you should be like them and yet original, as if there this finely tuned skill known only to writers of a certain talent. That can feel dispiriting. Even if you admire said author, hold them up as an ideal, what you produce can only ever be a sub-version of theirs. Yet to claim “I am an original, and I aspire to no one,” can just seem like arrogance.

If, from those gate-keepers, examples of their ideal fiction is only meant as a guide then perhaps they should state that. Or maybe they should be more open-minded to the possibility that the next big talent may come out of left-field, and surprise everyone.

Thanks for reading.

http://www.adriankyte.com/