Writing a science fiction novel – lessons learnt

Some of you may be wondering what is going with my novel… well, it isn’t good news.

I’ve been submitting it to various agents and am now almost at the bottom of my list. Although some have had very kind words to say about the novel, none to date have taken it on (partly because it wasn’t their cup of tea). If I get to the bottom of that list, then I don’t see how it is going to get published.

Open door submissions to publishers are like hen’s teeth (the recent HarperVoyager one not withstanding). And I’m not going down the self-publishing route because I don’t have the marketing wherewithal or talent.

So basically, I’ll be filing my novel away as an experiment that did not work.

So what lessons can I learn from this?

Well… whilst my novel was set on a reasonably familiar terrain (or should I say lunarrain?), there was a heck of lot of innovation in it in terms of sound technical stuff… stuff I haven’t seen elsewhere in science fiction. But nobody seems to be interested in really new stuff.

People seem to be more interested in fantasy…. e.g. the recent Angry Robot open door was limited to fantasy… which backs up my argument in the previous paragraph. So it’s a case of checking the market place before writing anything.

I’ve been developing ideas for a follow-on novel. I’ve even come up with an engineering explanation for the duality of light (i.e. light is both particle and waveform), which I keep poking at now and then to try to find a flaw in it. But without my first novel getting published, what is the point of working on the second? So another lesson is that if you look like having a series of works, don’t start work on the next until the one you written is accepted for publication.

The inevitable conclusion of all this? If you want to get your work published, write something that is not new and follows in the footsteps subject-wise of what is in the market now.

The trouble is that after writing my novel, I would find such writing mundane and boring. I wouldn’t get the buzz out of it. It would just feel totally dead to me.

So what would be exciting to write about that I can get to market? That is the real question, and the question that a lot of serious writers need to answer.

…and at the moment I don’t know what answer would work for me.

There is one further implication… the recent push by the technologists to glean ideas from science fiction does not match my experience here. So I’m finding it difficult to understand how they are going to get anything out of the exercise.


9 thoughts on “Writing a science fiction novel – lessons learnt

  1. Maybe the timing is not right for that novel right now and in the future your novel might be exactly what they are looking for; you never know. Don’t be discouraged and don’t let the ebb and flow of inspiration detract you from writing. Might be a few days, a week some months before you feel the pulse of writing throbbing through your veins again but until then do not be disheartened. Keep looking for inspiration and do not let this whole “What’s on the market?” damper your inspiration and creativity, Love what you write and write what you love!

  2. Rosie, fer blank’s sake, it’s the 21st Century! It isn’t “self” publishing any more. There’s no reason to hesitate to look over what BookBaby or Smashwords, just to name two, can do for you. The only reason I’d hesitate is your own estimate of your editorial skills. Have you had beta-readers you trust to give you an honest appraisal — perhaps even make suggestions as to content, pacing, readability, etc. — have a look at your MS.? Even if you aren’t a marketing-cum-social-media-guru, if your book is out there, it has the potential for exposure and sales, even if only by word of mouth. Speaking of which, have you looked into the new author program at Goodreads? None of this will take a lot of your time, so look into it and see if any of it suits you. It’s better than letting a good novel molder away unread. And if you sell a few thousand copies…THEN maybe an agent or a publisher will take notice and offer you a really unfair deal!

    PS: check out Bob Mayer at WhoDaresWins Publishing; also check out Kristen Lamb’s blog.

    Good luck and don’t get discouraged!

  3. Please do seriously consider the modern self-publishing format. It isn’t what it was, it seems far more easier these days and vanity publishing seems to be a thing of the past too.

    Keep plugging away at it. If you believe in yourself, someday somebody else will too.

  4. Many thanks for all your kind thoughts.

    Tom – I’ll certainly look into your suggestions. I have no problems with the editing side of things as this novel was the one that got me a distinction on my MA Creative Writing course for the novel submission – and they wouldn’t give out such results if it hadn’t been edited properly.

  5. It’s disheartening when you send out the novel you’ve bled over and no one is interested in it. It hurts even more when you hear of people selling their first novels in a matter of weeks or months. But they’re the exceptions. It usually takes years – there are, for example, well-known genre authors who took almost a decade to get into print. I’ve had an agent for 7 years and have yet to land a contract. Which doesn’t mean I’m advocating you self-publish your novel, just that you shouldn’t give up the race when you fail to clear the first hurdle. Move onto a new project. Get some short fiction out there. Build up your platform. Persistence does eventually pay off. Or so I’m told…

  6. I also encourage you to go the independent route. Amazon is the major publisher of books and submitting your novel involves little more than uploading your slightly modified manuscript. Barnes and Noble as well. I and others have blogged about the procedure several times. Making a cover image is easy if you can use Photoshop or know someone who can.

  7. Thank you Ian and Taylor for your comments.

    Ian – the point about getting short fiction out there is well made… however… having had the experience of writing the novel and coming up with a whole chain of ideas as a result, I find I’m extending idea making into the short stories… the result? I’m having difficulty placing my short stories as well. Weird is all I can say.

    Taylor – What is stopping me from going the independent route is not the how to do it, it’s my inability to do marketing successfully… I not a natural at this. Far from it!

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