Friday, January 28, 2011

It Wasn't Easy . . .

by Jean Henry Mead

How difficult is it to write and publish a novel?

Now that there so many small presses and online writing courses, a fledgling writer has a smoother path to publication than those of us who began writing in the dark ages (before computers). I wrote my first novel in fourth grade—a chapter a day to entertain classmates—but it was many years before I actually published one, and not before five of my nonfiction books were in print. 

No novel writing courses were available when I served as editor of my college newspaper, so my logical career choice was journalism. I then wrote for three dailies, two in California before marrying a Wyomingite and moving to Casper, where I served as staff writer for the statewide newspaper. I was later editor of In Wyoming Magazine and freelanced for other publications, but what I really wanted to write were novels.

My forte has been interviews, which I still conduct to this day on my blog sites Mysterious Writers and Writers of the West. While I enjoyed interviewing interesting people, the yearning to write fiction was always there, like an itch I couldn’t quite scratch. I studied the work of Dean Koontz, whose stories horrified me (which they’re meant to do) until I read The Watchers, one of my favorite novels. I still like the poetic way Koontz strings his words together.

I spent two and a half years behind a microfilm machine during the mid-1980s to research my centennial history book, and had so many notes left over that I decided to incorporate them into an historical novel. The book, Escape on the Wind, took several years to write and rewrite, and has been published by three publishers since 1999. It remains my best selling book and was retitled: Escape, A Wyoming Historical Novel. But writing the book was akin to climbing Mt. Everest.

A member of Western Writers of America, I was fortunate to have two award-winning novelists take me under their wings during the writing process. The late Fred Grove and Richard S. Wheeler read my manuscript and offered advice. Fred allowed me to send him my chapters via snail mail, and made suggestions although he didn’t edit my work. Both writers were continuing the work of their own mentors by giving me advice and I promised to pass along the favor by mentoring on my own. Now that I'm blogging and writing for more than one publisher, I regret I no longer have the time. But now there are many blogs offering writing advice that we didn't have years ago, as well as online courses. There are also numerous small publishers receptive to new writers.

Writing and publishing novels has never been easy but it's now a far cry from the days of typewriters, carbon copies and white-out. I can imagine what writing a book was like with quills, inkwells and foolscap. We novelists have come a long way . . .


Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

In this time of instant gratification, I think it's good of you to share how long it has taken some of us to actually get published and all the work we did beforehand.

Good post,


Malcolm R. Campbell said...

In addition to computers and new ways of getting published, manuscript submission is faster.

In the dark ages when you were writing on your type writer, most fiction submission guidelines required the author to send the entire manuscript to a prospective publisher. And, one was not allowed simultaneous submissions.

After 6-8 months, the MS came back with a form rejection slip. Meanwhile, the MS was too damaged to re-use. Carbons and Xeroxes were frowned upon, so one had to retype again and again.


N. R. Williams said...

That is so true. Still, you had a great career, something not all of us experience.
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

Jean Henry Mead said...

Thank you, Marilyn. I hope I didn't discourage any aspiring writers. And Malcolm, you're so right about the submissions hassel. I didn't include it because I thought my post was long enough. :)

Thanks, Nancy, I hope my "great" career is just getting started. :)

Morgan Mandel said...

Thank God for computers! Still, they can't think of what to say. It takes time and effort to create a good novel. No getting around that, unless you hire a ghostwriter. (g)

Morgan Mandel

Anonymous said...

Forget Koontz and forget his book “What the Night Knows” (a ghost vengeance story, been there, done that), instead read a book that’s been BANNED like “America Deceived II” by E.A. Blayre III.
Last link (before Google Books bans it also]:

Earl Staggs said...

Yes, Jean, writing certainly is smoother and more streamlined than before computers and the Internet. Unfortunately, choosing the right words and arranging them in the right order is still as hard as ever. For me, anyway.

Mark W. Danielson said...

No doubt, computers have made it easier to create. I hate to think of how much correction tape and white-out I used in the early days. Still, the principles of creating haven't changed, thus the writing craft remains a constant, evolving process.