• Amanda Jayatissa

Before You Start Your Novel

Since my announcement came out, I’ve been getting a whole lot of questions about my publishing journey, why I decided to self-publish, and how I met my agent. You should probably keep in mind that I’m no expert on any of these topics, but here I am anyway, sharing my experiences like the know-it-all I am. 

For your sakes (and mine) I’ll approach this a little bit at a time. 

First up, for those who feel you have a story inside you just waiting to be coaxed out, here are some things you should probably think about—

It helps to make a clear distinction before you start writing whether you are writing literary fiction or genre fiction. And in the case of genre fiction, which sub category it falls into. The big mistake I made was writing an entire novel and then realising it’s Steam-punk-but-not-quite and sci-fi-but-not-quite. I’m not even a heavy reader of these genres. In the case of MY SWEET GIRL, my novel is clearly Suspense/Psychological Suspense. I knew this before I started writing. It made a huge difference in keeping me on track.

When deciding the sub genre, what really helps is to find other books that fall into the same category. When querying, it’s a good idea to compare your writing to similar books that are somewhat current (2-3 years) and not hugely epic (because to compare your novel to Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings, even if it is comparable, somehow sounds pretentious). For example, I compared MY SWEET GIRL to GONE GIRL meets MY SISTER, THE SERIAL KILLER. And then I realised that comparing myself to the queen, Gillian Flynn sounded more pretentious than ever, and I got a better response when I compared it to LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE meets MY SISTER, THE SERIAL KILLER.

Apologies if you knew this, because I didn’t. Whether your novel falls into YA, middle grade, or adult depends on the age of the main character(s), rather than the maturity of the topic (Obvious exception was the Game of Thrones series, but it could be argued that the 16 year olds were given enough agency to be treated as adults as per the cultural setting of the book).

Basic idea is this— the more you can narrowly point out your target audience, the better is sounds when you query. The biggest mistake is saying “oh, this novel transcends genre and age and is for EVERYONE.” Those always get rejected, even if it is true.

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