Can Anyone Be An Author?
By Sahlan Diver
The statement, “Anyone can be an author”, seems to me parallel to the statement, “Anyone can sing”. At college, a fellow student once said to me, “When you sing, it’s absolutely amazing; I can hear everything: perfect intonation, great expression, even the accompanying orchestration. There’s only one problem: you can’t bl**dy sing!”
I rather feel it’s like that with writing a novel. With all the Will in the world, if you haven’t got what it takes, you’re not going to make it. On the other hand, there’s such a thing as hidden talent. You may possess writing ability which you simply haven’t had the chance to exercise. In other words, you can’t know until you try. That was my own experience when I decided with no prior literary background to “have a go” at writing a novel. As you might expect, my first efforts were rubbish, but within three years I had improved enough for my first novel to be shortlisted in an international competition, the 2017 Yeovil Literary Prize.
What are the elements that make for a good novel, and a good novelist? First of all, when it comes to topics, choose to write about something that interests you, or that you feel passionate about. A typical published novel is at least 70,000 words (approx 300 printed pages). No way will you complete the task if you are bored at the outset with your chosen subject matter.
Secondly, write in a way that is interesting to the reader. That may sound obvious but it’s easy to forget. My first novel, The Secret Resort of Nostalgia, started with a train journey. A professional mentor commented on my early drafts that I’d given readers no reason why they should be interested in this particular journey, that the narrative was in danger of resembling a private travel diary. So, I added a prologue to put the journey into context, to hook the reader with intrigue, stimulating their anticipation with this paragraph:
‘The Trickster God returned last night and gave me the travelling dream. Always the same. I’ll be walking the streets of a seaside town. There’s never traffic, only people. Sometimes I’ll be with the people, sometimes apart — observing from a distance. And she will be there: warm, friendly, sexy. We take a boat trip together. I reach down into the water. That makes her angry. There’s something concerning the sea I must not be allowed to find out. Back on the beach she slips away and I lose her in the crowds. My search ends at the wire fences. Through them I see the Dark Town, a grotesque reflection of my own. Where mine is day, the other is permanent night; where mine has people, the other has fleeting shadows; where I stand looking in, a Doppelganger of black stands staring out.’
Thirdly, my advice would be to trawl the Internet for all the excellent free articles on how to be a writer. However, there is one common writing mistake that I have never seen mentioned on the Internet. Recently, I was asked to be a judge in a literary competition. I observed many authors had written their novels as if for TV. I suppose that’s understandable, given the prevalence of popular TV drama series nowadays. But what works for television does not work for a novel, and vice-versa. For example, take a café scene. On TV, you can’t have a voiceover saying “And now Mike and Sarah go to a café.” You have to establish the location with visual clues such as people sitting at tables, waitresses moving about taking orders, and so on. But if you provide all that mundane visual detail in a novel, it quickly gets boring. You could get passages such as:
‘The waitress took out a pink notebook and a green ballpoint pen and, standing to one side of our table, asked if we’d like the meat pie or the fish. We chose the fish.’
Frankly, who cares where she stood, what type of pen she had, or what they chose to eat!
You might wonder what’s the harm in a passage like that? Believe me, if you have to plough through chapter after chapter of similar visual prompts, it would be like sitting next to a boring conversationalist you can’t escape from.
Once you have written your novel, what do you do next? You can follow the textbook advice on how best to approach agents and publishers and still meet nothing but summary rejection. That’s because publishers make a judgement on what can sell commercially and seldom on quality of writing and content. And because they, the publishers, are making the judgement, the situation is to some extent a circular one. By excluding certain types of manuscripts, they are themselves fixing the market. You might have heard of that well known story of a certain wizard manuscript rejected by publisher after publisher as being “too old-fashioned”, until the eight-year-old daughter of an agent couldn’t put the manuscript down and so a bestseller was born. Not only that, films have followed and there appears to be a renaissance of reading by young people worldwide wanting their own reading copies!
So much for the publishing industry’s commercial judgement! The alternative is to self-publish. This is neither difficult nor expensive. The problem comes with the need to market your book. Only a minority of authors will be lucky enough to possess good marketing skills, especially social-media related marketing skills, and this is the principal down-side of the self-publishing route.
Yes, anyone can be an author, and that is part of the problem. How do you promote your novel so it stands out against those novels far less deserving but much better promoted than your own? For myself, I am still working on the answer to that question.
Sahlan Diver: https://www.unusual-mysteries.com/