I heard somewhere that it takes 10 years and writing 4 novels on average before someone becomes published. Don’t know if this is true at all…in fact, not even sure it’s something that can be accurately measured. Because in there you’d need to consider those who’ve written for years, have produced a dozen novels or more, and yet are still not published.
But for argument sake, let’s pretend it’s true. In a way, it’s almost right on for me. That is if we consider the 10 years to mean 10 years of solidly working at developing your writing career. My 10 years was split up over 17 or so. But the novels are right on. While my first published novel, THE CLEANER, was the third book I had written, I actually finished a fourth before THE CLEANER was sold. So there…for me 10 years, 4 novels. According to the 10/4 rule, I’m the average.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what the total is for the years and novels. It could be 5 years and 2 novels, or 12 and 5, or even 9 and 6. The point isn’t the numbers themselves, it’s what they represent. And what they represent is the desire and the dedication to the craft of writing. What it means is that if you want it – want to be published – you can’t give up. Persistence.
So if you believe in this rule does that mean you’ll get published? No. But you’re chances are much better than if you give up after you finish your first manuscript. The thing is – and there are exceptions, of course – that first novel is your tester novel. It’s the one that proves you can actually do it. Looking back on my first manuscript, I cringe at the stilted dialogue, the forced scenes, and the stitched together plot. At the time I thought it was pretty damn good. Good enough even to send out to agents. Thankfully no one bit. That novel now sits buried in the storage area under my parents’ house, never to be retrieved again. In fact, if I do find it, I just might burn it. (It sucks. Take my word for it.)
But it also served its purpose. It was my training novel, the start of my personal college degree in writing. And looking back, that’s exactly what I needed it to be.
Even the best baseball players don’t start playing in the major leagues without ever having played a game before. The analogy can be carried to almost any profession. Those that are good, worked at it. Even those with a natural talent need experience and practice.
Take acting for example. George Clooney, one of today’s top actors and a pretty good one by my account (see BROTHER WHERE ART THOU? Or GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK or SYRIANA for starters), didn’t come out of the gate in Oscar nomination form. According to imdb.com his first role was as an uncredited village extra in the 1978 TV mini-series CENTENNIAL. He followed that up with some other television work including stints on FACTS OF LIFE, HUNTER, MURDER SHE WROTE, and GOLDEN GIRLS. Sure he was working, but he was also not yet at the top of his form. And I can guarantee you that when he wasn’t doing these bit parts, he was probably taking classes, doing scenes with other actors, and maybe even appearing in some small theater plays to build experience. He worked at his craft. He worked like we all have to if we want to achieve success we desire.
So what does that mean for the aspiring novelist? If you don’t sell your first, write your second. If you don’t sell your second, write your third. If you don’t sell your third, or your fourth, or your fifth, you keep writing, and you keep writing.
Each step of the way you should be examining what you did before, and then working to improve on that. Did you have a tendency to over describe? Or under describe? Have you killed all your darlings? Meaning have you gotten rid of all those cute phrase that you loved, but are ultimately getting in the way of your prose? Is your dialogue believable? Or does it sound tinny, and unnatural? And while we’re on dialogue…are you using your dialogue to tell your reader things that would be better shown? Do you have scenes that you like, but are unnecessary to the plot of your story? I could go on and on.
The point is write, and write again, and write again, each time using the opportunity to improve. Don’t get dejected when a book doesn’t sell…sure, give yourself a day or two to be bummed, but then move on. That book becomes training and experience, and you should do everything in your power to make your next manuscript better because of it. (And once you get published…this shouldn’t end. Each book should build upon the last.)
Hope this all made sense…I’m not trying to preach. It’s just this is the method I used to finally reach my goal, and to keep myself focused on the way.
Remember, we’re all going to be different. Some will take longer and some shorter. And, let’s be honest, some will may never get there. The best advice I can give is to write a good book. And – sorry if I’m repeating a theme here – write another, and another, and never giving up.
So tell me what you think of the 10/4 rule. And those of you who are published what did it take you? And those of you who aren’t yet, where are you at in relations to this? And remember, there’s no bad answer. We each take our own road.
Today’s Song: DON’T STOP ME NOW • Queen • Off of JAZZ from 1978