In order to successfully write and sell a novel in today’s market, you must be able to identify and develop your manuscript’s “hook,” grab readers’ attention with drama, remove anything slow and/or quiet, and develop an outstanding “pitch.” But, to do any of these things well, first you must achieve objectivity.
Of course complete objectivity is a near impossible goal for us as writers. We grow attached to our ideas, characters, dialogue, and much more. There are, however, some tactics that will help you achieve at least a semblance of objectivity about your work, and if you do so, you will be in a better position to showcase your project’s strengths and eliminate its weaknesses. This is particularly important if your work is being rejected and you don’t understand why.
Some old advice exists out there called the Rule of Twenty-four. Quite simply, it means to wait twenty-four hours and sleep on any idea before implementing it. For smaller pieces of writing, this might prove helpful, but for longer pieces such as novels and memoirs, twenty-four hours is not enough. I propose a revision of the Rule of Twenty-four and suggest that, when you feel you’re finished or have arrived at an impasse, set aside your manuscript for twenty-four days.
I realize that twenty-four days is a long time to not write, especially if you, like so many of us, feel compelled to write. But utilizing this time to start other projects, read, or just live your life might help you see problems you haven’t been able to see before. Take a vacation or spend time with friends. Exercise, walk and take drives. Forward momentum of any type has always helped me. One well-known author suggests that when blocked or taking a break, you employ the three Bs: bed, bath and book. She advises lots of rest and sleep, long luxurious baths, and plunging into great books.
If time does not prove helpful in your quest for objectivity, search out objective readers, and this does not mean family and friends. Join a critique group, attend a conference, or seek out other writers in your area and swap manuscripts. And finally, enlist the help of a professional editor who will objectively identify issues with your manuscript and offer advice to make the book stronger and more marketable.
Ana Howard specializes in developmental editing of children’s, YA and adult fiction.