Friday, March 14, 2014

It's a Novel Update, With Even More Selling Power!


I figured it was time to give an update on my novel.  For those who aren't interested, at least be glad I'm done recapping Downton Abbey and will be turning my attention to other fare in the coming weeks...

Long-time readers are aware that I've written a neo-Victorian novel set in 1860s England.  I've posted snippets of it here, here, and here.  It began life at nearly 175,000 words, but has since been shaved down to around 141,000, and I don't intend for it to be any smaller [Update: Except now it's 120,000].

I officially finished it last January, but spent some time reading and rereading, correcting errors from historical to grammatical.  I even gave it *dramatic pause* a name: Rage and Regret.

Yet despite my work being ready to hit the marketplace, I realized I was completely ignorant about how to sell.  That turned out to be a big deal because agents are inundated with queries every single day and you need to present yours just right to get their attention.  That means an amazing letter, amazing synopsis, a word count that's not so big that they will automatically hit "delete email," and a wonderfully polished 50 or so opening pages.

All of these took six months to achieve.

Of course I was doing other things during that time -- one of them was writing a 9,000-word outline for Rage and Regret's sequel.  But a lot of it was reading and rereading query letters and synopses and soliciting feedback from numerous people.  Before I get into that, though, let me give more background about the novel.

What's Your Novel's Name Again?  Rage and Regret

How Did You Come Up With It?  Through much trial and error.  After trying on many names, it seemed to be the one that best addressed the novel themes.

Will You Tell Us Your Name?  NO!  My name is a beautiful, sacred secret that I'm sure you could discern through clues planted in earlier blog posts and some careful Internet searches, but otherwise will remain unrevealed in case one day Twitter trolls get bored stalking celebrities and turn on me.

In all seriousness, I realize that I need to reveal my name sooner or later, but Internet shyness leads me to keep postponing that day.

Can You At Least Tell Us What Your Novel Is About??  It's about a wealthy young English girl named Isabella Warpole, who will grow up to be the world's most powerful female industrialist (in the Victorian Era).  She's spent most of her life sickly and despises doctors.  She is terrified of speaking in public.  Yet she must be strong and take on a public role when her beloved mother dies unexpectedly.

Isabella blames a local factory owner and his supporters for her mother's death.  Her mother had opposed the building of a new factory, believing that its waste would poison the local drinking water.  Soon after, vicious rumors were spread about her, causing her health to suffer.  Isabella hates the factory and vows to find and take revenge on those who hurt her mother.  She imagines that her mother would be proud of her if she knew -- which would be all Isabella ever wanted, since her mother was never proud when she was alive.

However, Isabella's methods are... controversial.  They involve a combination of blackmail, favors, and threats to get the information she needs.  After hurting an innocent person, she realizes that she has gone too far, and wonders whether she is truly bad and deserved to be rejected by her mother.  The question is whether she can rally in time to save her community.

This novel is the starting point on a long journey, projected to be six or seven books.  Part of the journey involves seeing how this awkward, angry girl who hates factories becomes a powerful, self-assured industrialist.

Is That the Only Story Line?  No -- there is a significant subplot involving Isabella's cousin, Arthur, that eventually folds into the main plot.  Arthur is an orphan with a past he does not remember.  He might just be the legitimate heir of a nearby estate, which is currently in the hands of his uncle Edmund, who guards it jealously.  Arthur tries to forget his past and focus on the future: becoming a medical doctor at a time when the profession is rapidly growing more respectable.  This becomes difficult, though, when he throws his support behind the doctor who treated Isabella's mother.  The Warpoles believe this doctor contributed to her rapid decline and blame Arthur by association.  

What About the Factory?  Oh yes, that.  Let's just say Isabella's mother was right to be worried.

So If It's a Neo-Victorian Novel, Where's the Romance??  Now, now, not every Victorian novel involves pairing people off.

*pause*

Okay fine, yes, there is a romance.  Based on the information I've given, you should be able to determine the two individuals involved.

So How Is This a Historical Novel?  It is set in the 1860s.  While not set against the backdrop of any major events, its circumstances strongly reflect the times.  The Warpoles do not merely mourn Isabella's mother -- they coat themselves in black for months, even years, in accordance with Victorian mourning tradition.  It's also a time when people were starting to make the connection between waste in drinking water and serious illness, thus sparking an interest in sanitation reforms in cities and towns.

Medicine was also making great strides, and the path to becoming a doctor was becoming more regulated.  At the same time, the book is set right before the time of Joseph Lister's discovery of antiseptic surgery, so doctors were still using dirty tools that caused infection without realizing the connection.        

Which Victorian Novels Would This Remind Me Of?  I think that there's enough about it that is fairly unique, but it would probably remind you the most of the works by Elizabeth Gaskell (especially North and South), George Eliot (especially Middlemarch), Anthony Trollope, and maybe a little Thomas Hardy.  In addition to novels by those authors, countless works influenced this novel, many of whose authors were not Victorian.

What About Modern Novels?  Someone once told me that the plot seemed a bit like Wideacre, though with a more sympathetic female protagonist.  It's possible that if you've read Wideacre, or any of the more recent neo-Victorian novels, mine might remind you of them, but I hadn't read any of them prior to writing.

Now the Big Question: Why Should I Care?  If historical fiction doesn't interest you, you might not care to read this novel at all.  Maybe you think the Victorian Era has been done to death.  That's your prerogative.  But if you do like novels set in the past, with Downton-like country houses, this ought to at least pique your interest.

And then once you start reading, you will hopefully keep going because you like

  • watching the development of characters who are flawed, yet surprisingly sympathetic and relatable;
  • a story line that is not predictable and leaves you guessing until the end;
  • a satisfying resolution that, at the same time, leaves the door open for future stories.

How Do You Plan to Sell This Thing?  I would like to go through conventional channels, if possible.  I first attempted to sell the novel back in July 2013, when it was nearly 170,000 words.  I read some websites about how to craft the ideal query letter and synopsis, wrote something that I thought was good, and dropped my manuscript on 20 lucky agents.  Silence ensued.  Well, silence and rejection.  And maybe laughter.

I knew that my submission package needed work, so I've been showing it to this expert or that for feedback and advice.  I finally got the seal of approval for both the query letter and synopsis, but am still cautious about submissions.  My plan is to query the hell out of every available agent, as well as attend any conferences or workshops that I can afford.  If I can't draw any interest, then I will try publishers directly.  If they aren't interested, then I will probably (1) write the sequel and (2) write a different novel, in that order.  I would just go ahead and peddle the sequel, but I heard that is frowned upon -- you must sell the first book of the series or else you're out of luck.  If so, I would rather shop around a different novel before trying self publishing, though I know many have found success through that route.

Anyway the road is long, and I've only just put on my new walking shoes.  I will give more updates on my progress as they come.

The above image is used under the Fair Use Doctrine.

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