When I first began writing, I hadn’t a clue on what I should be doing or what I wanted to write. I only knew I loved the craft and believed I had the potential to be good at it, but my beginning efforts were all over the place. I didn’t know if I wanted to write essays, short stories, or novels. I hadn’t even nailed down a preferred genre. I just knew I wanted to write and be published. But where to begin?
I started with short stories. They were compact enough to keep me interested and the length allowed for repeated editing in a reasonable time frame. From there I expanded into novellas, though at the time I had no idea that was what I was writing. I found and joined a writers’ critique group who not only helped me hone my skills, but also introduced me to the many styles, techniques, and genres of successful writers. I also started attending writing conferences and author talks. After a time I felt confident enough to attempt a full-length novel, though I still did not know what genre I preferred.
My first novel turned out to be dystopian, though at the time, I simply labeled it as science fiction. That was eight years ago, pretty much before anyone had heard of the dystopian genre. I finished the story in ten months, sent it to one agent and one contest, got rejected by both, and threw it in a draw where it still sits to this day. Had I known then what I know now and took the time to rewrite and polish it, I might be riding high on the crest of the current wave of dystopian novels hitting the market. Hind sight is truly 20/20. But it was my practice novel. Most writers have one and if you’re afraid to start one, don’t be. It was my best learning experience. Editing it would probably have been more work than totally rewriting it, but it was my starting point. I had written and finished a novel, and I was sure I could do it again, but with more skill. I was on the path to being published.
My next novel was an Arthurian Legend. Talk about an ambitious biting-off-more-than-you-can-chew project. Inspired by The Mists of Avalon and the countless other versions of the King Arthur tale, I wrote a whopping 466,000 word manuscript in alternating points of view between Arthur and his sister Morganna. It took me approximately three years, seventy-six agent rejections, and hundreds of late nights, early mornings, and summer vacation days to realize the genre had had its day in the eighties and was no longer in demand. Though well written, it wasn’t what people wanted to read. It too sits in a draw, right next to my dystopian novel.
Finally, my next attempt was a young adult paranormal fantasy. I had always been interested in ghosts, alternate realities, UFO’s, cryptozoology, parallel dimensions, and the like. And being a reading teacher, I knew what kids liked to read and, more importantly, what they did not. I saw which books were popular, I took what I was interested in, and voila–Island of Tory, my first published novel, was born eleven months later.
The journey to finding my writing niche was by no means a straight path, but each detour brought me closer to my ultimate goal of being published. No one has a crystal ball to see what will be the next genre trend, so my advice is write what you like, do it well, and create your own trend. A good book is a good book, and readers will recognize it when they see it. And don’t be discouraged when you get a rejection. A rejection is an opinion of one person at one point in time. Many great novels and novelists have been rejected by people who now wish they had said “yes” instead. And if at first you don’t succeed–yeah, you know the cliché–but it’s sound advice that every aspiring writer should remember and live by. It’s been my writing mantra for years. It’s helped me reach my goals even when they’ve seemed incredibly impossible.