Ready, fire, aim! Something to check before you write a novel

Remember that book I was writing? I thought I’d post an update.

After a lot of work, eight drafts and two printers I’ve sent it out to some people, and I’ve had loads of feedback about it from agents and other publishing insiders. The dialogue is great. It’s really atmospheric. The characters are fun. The book is variously “quite funny”, “funny”, “very funny” and “extremely funny”.

Nobody wants to take it on.

Apparently it’s not the writing, but the genre*. It’s a comic thriller, and comic thrillers are the red-headed stepchild of the mainstream fiction business. Everyone knows they exist, but nobody wants them in their publishing house.

If I’d known that two years ago it might have saved me quite a bit of effort.

So here’s a top tip. If you want to write novels – that is, if you want to write novels that get published – then it might be an idea to do what Ian Rankin did before you start plotting. Rankin looked at what sold, and concluded that Books With Cops In was the genre for him.

As for me, I’m starting another one. I’ll tell you about it when there’s something worth saying.

* In most cases, anyway. A few agents told me that at 67,000 words it’s just too short; for mainstream fiction publishers apparently expect 80,000 words plus or they won’t even look at it. Unfortunately for me 67K is the right length for the story, and any more would make the story sag.

Update, June 2011: I decided to publish the book myself on Kindle, iBooks and so on. It’s called Coffin Dodgers, it’s doing quite well, and you can find out more about it here, if you like.