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/

Rejection and Beyond

One good thing about rejection: it focuses the mind. Makes you realise how much getting published matters.

After three years of writing, rewriting, and rethinking, I submitted my novel to an agent. And then soon regretted it, but none so much as now. Yet another revision was needed. The synopsis was, frankly, badly written. I’d made the mistake of setting myself a deadline (to send it off just before my holiday). Deadlines are dangerous!

It was not that the agent left a critique – they rarely give feedback, but said he had to completely love a book to take it on. Not a high bar to clear? Well of course it always is. Confronted with hundreds of submissions a month I’d be rejecting all too readily, probably much of what ends up being traditionally published to great success. Even if all was in my chosen SF genre.

My rejection happened after more than 3 months since submitting it. Really, by then I’d reconciled myself to the fact that it would not be accepted. Then I saw the email had appeared, and I must admit to being afraid to read it for a while; a prepare-yourself-to-be-stung moment. But after so much time, to receive a short rejection borders on insulting. Maybe it got left in a must reject folder with a time-code, and he thought leaving it this late would lessen the blow. No it doesn’t! Ten weeks has previously been the longest wait, and they said they had been giving it careful consideration.

But it’s never a bad thing to have to go back to a previous (apparently) finished work after a few months, even in a state of despondency. You see it with completely fresh and certainly more critical eyes; whereas before, you’re still emotionally caught up in that grand literary project. Hardly surprising after over 3 years of it.

Still, I learned not set myself a deadline for the next submission. Just keep on with the next grand project.

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/

__it happens!

Everything happens for a reason. That maxim applies to most works of fiction.

In a novel randomness is chaos, it is insignificant. It is pointless. Coincidence must be synchronicity.

Maybe I am not unusual in hating happenstance when it’s not obviously good luck. But for me it’s also about fear. Most creative writers yearn to harness the chaos of the universe into something with meaning. Being able to have total control over a (an invented) reality is our raison d’être.

But life is random, stuff happens that you can never have prevented. Yet I am often trying to process these random-chance occurrences into something significant. With what I took to be an extremely unlikely event, I was thinking: the chances of that horse rider approaching the roadside from a residential drive – only just as I walked past – were minimal. But the chances of the horse throwing her off… well, I was stunned for a few seconds before I could ask her if she was OK. Thankfully she was (or so she told me). I had the strange nonsensical thought: This is not the day (Boxing day) when bad things are supposed to happen. But my being there has caused it. Then soon after I’d walked off I wondered: was I meant to encounter her? Was it fate? She seemed near my age. Could I have got her number? It wouldn’t have seemed odd given the circumstance; after such a nasty fall, I was naturally concerned to know if she really would be OK later on.

So I do have trouble accepting randomness, rather than just believing enough information would make the future predictable. I’m going to have to face the fear of letting my book go, without any real knowledge of its likely success. Who knows what events will influence those that matter? Will they read my submission when having a bad day? An unusually busy day? There is so much that I know I cannot control or predict. So I’ve got accept that after all: luck really is important!

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/

 

 

 

The Function of Fiction

…is to make my life better.

At least I look for a novel to make me feel better. But maybe of late my demands have become unreasonable. Should its purpose be to solve my problems, to find answers to unresolved (if not unresolvable) issues?

A good story is no longer enough. Now it’s difficult to find a book to fill that void; reading the blurb, the first few pages, or even the reviews may only give a clue in my search. Just as well, then, I’m not a literary agent!

So my own work should be aiming for such an exemplary standard, right? The only problem is, if you use your novel for laying out a psychological fix it can come across as indulgent. It shouldn’t be therapy. But that’s how it can feel. There’s only the hope that others will relate to the protagonist’s issues. Of course sometimes that happens – and you’re on to a winner! Some of my most inspired writing has come from a dark place.

I’ve never been sure if fiction should always have a function beyond entertainment. If its enjoyable then that’s a lot; humorous or just fun – it’s a big achievement by the author!

Yet I can’t seem to pin down the ultimate value of fiction. In a novel you can be in another person’s shoes – they don’t have to be the hero or even relatable – and understand their thoughts and feelings in a way that’s usually only hinted at in movies. A novel gives you knowledge interwoven in the narrative rather than merely dry facts; though so much of mainstream [so-called] Science Fiction has steered away from the scientific, of late. Well maybe that’s fine if it’s entertaining, if it makes you feel better.

Since I am writing the kind of books I like to read it’s impossible to be sure if I am writing for anyone other than myself.

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)