Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. I Don’t Do Novels

 

I write professionally. I have over twenty published books and nearly one thousand pieces printed in magazines, newspapers and online sites (counting only online stuff I have been paid to write). I can write fiction. I even have perhaps four short stories published. I think my fiction is not half-bad. (Read The Cards and tell me if you agree.) But I do not write novels. All my published books are non-fiction. All my planned books are non-fiction.

It is not that I am opposed to writing novels. I have the outline of three series of novels drafted. Not three novels – three novel series. (A set of mysteries set in East Texas, a series about an Age of Fighting Sail naval officer, a la Horatio Hornblower or Jack Aubrey, and a series rooted in Arthurian legend – ending in 1940.) Plot outlines, lists of characters, scenes.

So why not write them?

First, I write for money. I do not write a book until it is sold. For non-fiction this is easy. Write a book proposal with an introduction (sales pitch), outline and sometimes a sample chapter or two. Send it to the acquisitions editor. They let you know if they are interested. If they are, a contract arrives, both parties sign it, and I start writing the book. I know I will be paid, and know the minimum I will receive before I write one word of the book.

With fiction? As a first-time author, you must write the book first. A novel starts at 80,000 words. At 2,000 words a day that is a 40-day minimum commitment to complete a rough draft. One thousand words a day is more realistic. I am really looking at a 90- to 120-day commitment –devoting myself to it full time. With no guarantee of return. None. I have several dozen unsold short stories. I have virtually no unsold non-fiction articles.

I agree with Samuel Johnson. No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money. You can write 1000 words here and there and give it away, but 80,000 words? Yep. You are either a blockhead or have nothing better to do. (I can write non-fiction.)

Let’s say I am quarantined for a month with measles, cannot do anything else, and actually, do write a novel because I am bored. (If that sounds implausible, that is how Neville Shute Norway’s book Pied Piper was written.) Now I have a manuscript. Next hurdle, get it published.

Getting a novel published by a mainstream press requires an agent or lots of patience. Most big publishers will not look at an unagented manuscript or relegate unagented submissions to an abyss called the slush pile. It sits there until someone, typically an unpaid intern in their early twenties, reads it and Pronounces It Good. (Most slush pile manuscripts are enervatingly bad. Reading them is given to someone so desperate to break into publishing that they are willing to work free. No one else will.) Nowadays most twentysomething interns cannot think in more than 144 words or think Facebook defines culture.

But you have over twenty published books, you say. Surely you have an agent?

Nope. You do not need an agent for non-fiction. You deal with acquisitions editors directly, if selling to publishers outside New York City. I have never had an agent.

Finding an agent can be finding fairy gold. Just ask El Colonel.

What about self-publishing? Some people successfully go that route. Larry Correia, Andy Weir, and E. L. James got their start self-publishing. Some people win the Powerball lottery, too. The odds of succeeding through self-publishing are about the same as winning the lottery.

Ever hear the expression that any idiot can write a novel? It is true. Any idiot can write a novel. Just not a good novel. A lot of idiots write them, self-publishing because no publisher will come within a league of their stinker. E-publishing makes self-publishing even easier; even more idiots self-publish at less expense.

There a lot of good writers, really good writers, and even great writers who self-publish. Correia and Weir are examples. You have to break through the background noise created by all the bad writers self-publishing, however. To put it the other way, you must find some way for your (hopefully) adoring public to discover you amidst a mire of wretched books.

Some folks can do this. I cannot. I lack skills as a publicist. I am pretty good in front of an audience, but pretty awful at finding audiences. I do not want to do publicity. I just want to write.

There is a final reason I prefer non-fiction to fiction. Fiction, more often than not, dies with the author. Remember Frank G. Slaughter? How about John Fowles? J. S. Fletcher? Anton Meyers? Those were monster-selling authors back when they were writing. Guaranteed best-sellers. Forgotten today.

Once a fiction author dies, his or her books soon go out of print, never to return. Eventually, their books get culled out of libraries (to make room for this year’s Harold Robbins or Jaqueline Susan), and they vanish.

A few break through and are remembered. But for every Arthur Conan Doyle, there are a dozen R. Austin Freemans. Have you tried to find books by Ellis Peters recently? Or Dudley Pope?

Non-fiction often has a longer shelf-life. Not politics, but history often does. History is what I write, even with fiction. Some of my stuff is the first book on a particular topic. (Many books were written about the Space Shuttle, but mine was one of the first to examine its DoD career.) People will be reading it when I am dead.

I am not saying do not write novels. You might have time to write them. You might be successful. I am explaining why I have never written one, and will likely never write one.

Unless you offer me a book contract, with an advance. You could change my mind. Like I said, I have three series outlined.

There are 28 comments.

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  1. Hang On Member
    Hang On Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I remember John Fowles. The Collector was one of the creepiest novels I ever read. And the Magus was one of the most perplexing.

    • #1
    • November 15, 2017, at 6:27 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  2. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter

    Hang On (View Comment):
    I remember John Fowles. The Collector was one of the creepiest novels I ever read. And the Magus was one of the most perplexing.

    There you have gone and dated yourself. (I enjoyed reading Fowles, myself. And the other authors I mentioned. Back in the 1980 I would haunt used book stores looking for early novels by Slaughter.)

    Seawriter

    • #2
    • November 15, 2017, at 6:48 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  3. Hang On Member
    Hang On Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Hang On (View Comment):
    I remember John Fowles. The Collector was one of the creepiest novels I ever read. And the Magus was one of the most perplexing.

    There you have gone and dated yourself. (I enjoyed reading Fowles, myself. And the other authors I mentioned. Back in the 1980 I would haunt used book stores looking for early novels by Slaughter.)

    Seawriter

    I also didn’t realize he had died. I started French Lieutenant’s Woman but tossed it aside after about 20 or 30 pages.

    • #3
    • November 15, 2017, at 6:54 AM PST
    • 1 like
  4. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Allow me to personally endorse @seawriter ‘s non-fiction books. I have several. If you have any interest at all in naval history, ship design, Texas history, or some combination thereof, look up his books on Amazon.

    • #4
    • November 15, 2017, at 7:01 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  5. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    Allow me to personally endorse @seawriter ‘s non-fiction books. I have several. If you have any interest at all in naval history, ship design, Texas history, or some combination thereof, look up his books on Amazon.

    Speaking of which:


    My latest
    .

    A great Christmas gift.

    Seawriter

    • #5
    • November 15, 2017, at 7:08 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  6. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    Allow me to personally endorse @seawriter ‘s non-fiction books. I have several. If you have any interest at all in naval history, ship design, Texas history, or some combination thereof, look up his books on Amazon.

    Speaking of which:


    My latest
    .

    A great Christmas gift.

    Seawriter

    I’ve already blown my book budget this month…. Oh well, what’s another?

    • #6
    • November 15, 2017, at 7:15 AM PST
    • 1 like
  7. Arahant Member

    Every word he speaks is truth.


    This conversation is an entry in our Group Writing Series under November’s theme of “novel.” If you have something to say about books or inventions, we still have openings on the 17th, 18th, and 26th of November. Why not sign up today?

    • #7
    • November 15, 2017, at 7:59 AM PST
    • Like
  8. Danny Alexander Member

    Outstanding and illuminating, if sobering.

    Editors: Please by all means Main Feed this!

    • #8
    • November 15, 2017, at 9:35 AM PST
    • Like
  9. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter

    Danny Alexander (View Comment):
    Outstanding and illuminating, if sobering.

    Editors: Please by all means Main Feed this!

    Well . . . two more Ricochetti have to “like” it. Go to it gang.

    Seawriter

    • #9
    • November 15, 2017, at 9:45 AM PST
    • Like
  10. Hang On Member
    Hang On Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Thanks for this information lead. This is stuff I know little to nothing about.

    • #10
    • November 15, 2017, at 11:21 AM PST
    • Like
  11. Nick H Coolidge

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Danny Alexander (View Comment):
    Outstanding and illuminating, if sobering.

    Editors: Please by all means Main Feed this!

    Well . . . two more Ricochetti have to “like” it. Go to it gang.

    Seawriter

    Twelve likes. There you go. And well deserved likes they are. I have made the acquaintance of a few fiction authors online (I used to hang out at Baen’s Bar) and currently have a few FB friends that are writers. They all agree that getting that first book published is a combination of luck and a lot of hard work. A couple of them are doing a lot of self publishing and self promotion, and it’s … a lot of work. It helps that they’re good writers. One writer I know says that he doesn’t write fiction because he wants to. He writes because he has to. The stories are in his head and he has to get them out. His muse will take over and he’ll have a whole series written in a month. But when the stories are out and the muse is quiet… he has a lot of unfinished series. I’m not sure if his publisher hates him or loves him. (Given how successful he is I’d bet on love.)

    I’ve read books from a slush pile in the past and this post understates how bad they are. One I read had no punctuation. At all. Another one I got a few pages in and realized the author hadn’t said anything yet. There were sentences and they made sense (sort of) but they didn’t describe a scene or a character or do really anything at all. It felt like the story was just about to start, but never quite got there. I skimmed forward and realized the entire book was like this. Those two stood out. Others were just bad writing. So very, very bad.

    • #11
    • November 15, 2017, at 11:51 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  12. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter

    Nick H (View Comment):
    I’ve read books from a slush pile in the past and this post understates how bad they are. One I read had no punctuation. At all. Another one I got a few pages in and realized the author hadn’t said anything yet. There were sentences and they made sense (sort of) but they didn’t describe a scene or a character or do really anything at all. It felt like the story was just about to start, but never quite got there. I skimmed forward and realized the entire book was like this. Those two stood out. Others were just bad writing. So very, very bad.

    Like I said, any idiot can write a novel, and many of them do.

    Seawriter

    • #12
    • November 15, 2017, at 11:57 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  13. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Nick H (View Comment):
    I’ve read books from a slush pile in the past and this post understates how bad they are. One I read had no punctuation. At all. Another one I got a few pages in and realized the author hadn’t said anything yet. There were sentences and they made sense (sort of) but they didn’t describe a scene or a character or do really anything at all. It felt like the story was just about to start, but never quite got there. I skimmed forward and realized the entire book was like this. Those two stood out. Others were just bad writing. So very, very bad.

    Like I said, any idiot can write a novel, and many of them do.

    Seawriter

    There is a certain charm, though, in really bad fiction. My wife once bought, out of pity, a self-published sci-fi novel at a local bookstore where the author was hocking his efforts. Never judge a book by its cover? In this case the cover was the best part (author posing with a cheap toy laser sword), the rest was downhill. The book was terrible. Yet its very triteness of plot, its overly laden adverbs inserted ardently and frequently, its incessant Swifties done speedily, hackneyed character descriptions, frequent use of foreshadowing with all the subtlety of a 5 lb sledge dropped on your foot, and more flashbacks than you’d expect from a bad acid trip, all combined to make for many nights of hilarious cringing laughter.

    I won’t say it was money well spent, for I fear we might have encouraged him to write another by our generosity, but the book has served some purpose in instructing my kids on everything they should avoid doing in their own writing.

    • #13
    • November 15, 2017, at 12:35 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  14. TG Thatcher
    TG

    I get what you’re saying, but I’m sad to read it; that Arthurian series sounds like something I’d enjoy reading!

    • #14
    • November 15, 2017, at 2:23 PM PST
    • 1 like
  15. Arahant Member

    TG (View Comment):
    I get what you’re saying, but I’m sad to read it; that Arthurian series sounds like something I’d enjoy reading!

    For a contract to publish and an advance, you can read it.

    • #15
    • November 15, 2017, at 2:25 PM PST
    • Like
  16. TG Thatcher
    TG

    Arahant (View Comment):

    TG (View Comment):
    I get what you’re saying, but I’m sad to read it; that Arthurian series sounds like something I’d enjoy reading!

    For a contract to publish and an advance, you can read it.

    When I win the lottery, I suppose.

    • #16
    • November 15, 2017, at 3:03 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  17. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter

    TG (View Comment):

    I get what you’re saying, but I’m sad to read it; that Arthurian series sounds like something I’d enjoy reading!

    TG (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    TG (View Comment):
    I get what you’re saying, but I’m sad to read it; that Arthurian series sounds like something I’d enjoy reading!

    For a contract to publish and an advance, you can read it.

    When I win the lottery, I suppose.

    I suspect your chance of winning the lottery is better than my chance of getting a book contract on the Arthurian novel.

    Seawriter

    • #17
    • November 15, 2017, at 3:23 PM PST
    • 1 like
  18. GiveMeLiberty Inactive

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    Allow me to personally endorse @seawriter ‘s non-fiction books. I have several. If you have any interest at all in naval history, ship design, Texas history, or some combination thereof, look up his books on Amazon.

    Speaking of which:


    My latest
    .

    A great Christmas gift.

    Seawriter

    These are the book series (publisher?) my kids buy for their dad and he usually reads them more than once. Yes, they do make great gifts!

    • #18
    • November 15, 2017, at 4:05 PM PST
    • 1 like
  19. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter

    B. Hugh Mann (View Comment):

    Speaking of which:


    My latest
    .

    A great Christmas gift.

    Seawriter

    These are the book series (publisher?) my kids buy for their dad and he usually reads them more than once. Yes, they do make great gifts!

    Arcadia is the publisher. Images of America is the series.

    Seawriter

    • #19
    • November 15, 2017, at 4:07 PM PST
    • 1 like
  20. Dominique Prynne Member

    You had me at “mysteries set in East Texas.” Do tell….

    • #20
    • November 15, 2017, at 6:25 PM PST
    • 1 like
  21. OkieSailor Member
    OkieSailor Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    TG (View Comment):

    I get what you’re saying, but I’m sad to read it; that Arthurian series sounds like something I’d enjoy reading!

    TG (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    TG (View Comment):
    I get what you’re saying, but I’m sad to read it; that Arthurian series sounds like something I’d enjoy reading!

    For a contract to publish and an advance, you can read it.

    When I win the lottery, I suppose.

    I suspect your chance of winning the lottery is better than my chance of getting a book contract on the Arthurian novel.

    Seawriter

    Only if TG buys lottery tickets. If, like me he doesn’t buy them there is no chance of winning. Of course we aren’t out that expense either so than $$ can go into investments which pay better over the long term in the vast majority of cases.

    Thanks, Seawriter for an interesting look into how things work in your world.

    • #21
    • November 16, 2017, at 4:58 AM PST
    • 1 like
  22. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter

    OkieSailor (View Comment):
    Only if TG buys lottery tickets. If, like me he doesn’t buy them there is no chance of winning.

    I win the lottery every week. I don’t play. And the state’s general fund is lowered by those who do. Which means, each week, my taxes are lower by that amount divided by the taxpayers in Texas.

    Seawriter

    • #22
    • November 16, 2017, at 5:19 AM PST
    • Like
  23. Old Buckeye Member

    You may not do novels, Seawriter, but your nonfiction books are terrific. So well researched and documented!

    • #23
    • November 16, 2017, at 6:12 AM PST
    • 1 like
  24. ToryWarWriter Thatcher

    The best thing about history is they are always making more of it, and none of its copywrited.

    –Me.

    I really need to get back to writing. Things keep coming up it seems. But the comedy of espionage deserves to be told.

    -I haven’t got a novel completed. I got 20000 words into one once. Learned a great deal in that process.

    • #24
    • November 16, 2017, at 8:06 AM PST
    • 1 like
  25. TG Thatcher
    TG

    ToryWarWriter (View Comment):
    The best thing about history is they are always making more of it, and none of its copywrited.

    –Me.

    I really need to get back to writing. Things keep coming up it seems. But the comedy of espionage deserves to be told.

    -I haven’t got a novel completed. I got 20000 words into one once. Learned a great deal in that process.

    If you’re actually interested in writing a novel, TWW, this is a source for commentary and “tips” from some working writers.

    • #25
    • November 16, 2017, at 12:00 PM PST
    • Like
  26. Saint Augustine Member

    Seawriter:

    Unless you offer me a book contract, with an advance. You could change my mind. Like I said, I have three series outlined.

    If only I owned a publishing company!

    • #26
    • November 17, 2017, at 6:23 AM PST
    • Like
  27. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Seawriter:

    Unless you offer me a book contract, with an advance. You could change my mind. Like I said, I have three series outlined.

    If only I owned a publishing company!

    Get back to me when you do.

    Seawriter

    • #27
    • November 17, 2017, at 6:31 AM PST
    • 1 like
  28. Clifford A. Brown Contributor

    Hang On (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Hang On (View Comment):
    I remember John Fowles. The Collector was one of the creepiest novels I ever read. And the Magus was one of the most perplexing.

    There you have gone and dated yourself. (I enjoyed reading Fowles, myself. And the other authors I mentioned. Back in the 1980 I would haunt used book stores looking for early novels by Slaughter.)

    Seawriter

    I also didn’t realize he had died. I started French Lieutenant’s Woman but tossed it aside after about 20 or 30 pages.

    I never was moved to read the French Lieutenant’s Woman, but the movie, followed by Out of Africa, made me a fan of Meryl Streep’s voice, inspiring me to buy her reading of The Velveteen Rabbit (accompanied by George Winston) as on of my first CDs.

    • #28
    • December 21, 2017, at 10:44 PM PST
    • Like

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