Monday, 8 November 2010

What is a novel?

Two blogs in a day, what’s the world coming to?

It’s a side effect of the teaching – I’ve got behind with my reading and now find myself wanting to respond to stuff in other people’s blogs. The trouble is that they overlap and I realise it might be easier to write one more coherent piece. Well that’s the plan – you judge.

I read a nice little piece on the Bubblecow blog It ends up saying that a novel is “A collection of words which a writer deems is ready to be read.”

There is a response to it from Sarah Tanburn, among others, at

Both seem to me to be good pieces but they both leave out the effect of time. Authors develop. I can think a few whose later books are far better than the early ones. So the definition should be “A collection of words that the writer once deemed was ready to be read.”

I once thought that the first draft of one of my novels was ready to be read. The second draft is much better but actually I’d rather that you read the fourth. That’s as good as I can get it right now, but with a bit of luck and a lot of hard work I may be a better writer next year, so should I leave any deeming till then?

Sarah Tanburn says that the market decides what is commercial, but at the moment agents and publishers decide what will be marketed, so the market only gets to choose what has been chosen for it. Even the market’s collective conclusion changes over time. It’s not static. Stuff that was considered brilliant a few years ago might not even find an agent now, even leaving aside the pieces of research where someone sends Jane Austen to agents who don’t spot it.

If you let the market decide, then how many do you have to sell for the publication to be deemed a success? If the economy is depressed and sales go down, does that mean that the market has decided that books are of poorer quality?

There is one slippery slope after another.

For writers there are choices. Try to find an agent? Go the indie route? Put it in a drawer and realise next year that it could be better?

e-books open up another possibility, publish it now and update it later. There is no reason, apart from inertia and inability to find or use the relevant software, why there could not be a direct connection between the writer and the reader. Blogging already produces that. If you update your novel on Smashwords all the previous purchasers get access to the next version. Surely it is only a matter of time before we see the blovel. A dynamic text that evolves as readers come back with comments and questions and the writer realises that the whole thing should have started with chapter seven.

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