Hard Facts for First Novelists – Seriously?

[Originally posted on my previous website, michael dot sirois dot com]

I ran across a Canadian website the other day which offered a scenario for what would happen during the process of writing a novel, “from inspiration to final royalty cheque.”

You can read the rest of the original document (a PDF, 69 kb) here, but here are a few paragraphs from it. Quotations from the scenario are in italics and [square brackets]. My comments aren’t.


[“October 13, 2006: You get a brilliant idea for a novel and begin writing at the rate of 1,000 words a day (about four double-spaced manuscript pages).”]

This is absolutely do-able. I often write sections of first drafts at that rate or much higher.

[“January 13, 2007: You complete a novel of 90,000 words (about 350 typed pages).”]

Three months to write 90,000 words. Again, very much within the realm of possibility, but by “complete a novel” surely he meant just the first draft of a novel, right? Nope.

[“January 14-21, 2007: After careful proofreading, you mail ms. to a Toronto publisher on January 21.”]

A week to proofread the manuscript and mail it off? This is the part that’s the punch line to the joke, right? I’m not saying it can’t be done, but just proofreading the text doesn’t fix the substantial problems that inevitably occur when writing a first draft. The rest of this fairy tale suggested that, by February 1st, a senior editor had decided to publish it. Most publishing companies won’t even look at unsolicited novels. If it doesn’t come from an agent, the senior editor – or even the junior editor – won’t be reading it.

This was created as a class assignment for a college in Vancouver (wonderful city, by the way). Maybe the instructor’s intent was to lull his class into thinking anything was possible, to give them hope for their future careers. And, to be fair, he does paint a bleak picture of potential earnings for this first novel, portraying it as a stepping stone to future earnings from other novels (which it could possibly be).

But, seriously? What happened to “writing is rewriting?” I have looked at sections of my novels that I’ve proofread, then edited for clarity, and then polished the language, and I still find things that keep them from being ready to publish.

Excerpts were from Write a Novel, a resource created by Crawford Kilian, Communications Instructor at Capilano College, North Vancouver BC. © Crawford Kilian, 2006.

Do you agree or disagree with Dr. Kilian’s assessment of the process of novel writing? Let me know below.


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