How to Write the Unmarketable Novel

Not a good plan, huh? Any writer with an ounce of sense will
choose to write a novel that fits the marketplace. A book that will have
editors clamoring after it.
Unless, of course, said novelist has no idea about the market.
Say, for example, said novelist has been a stay at home mom for the last twelve
years and decides to try her hand at writing that book she always dreamed of.
She has no idea what the market wants. Heck, she’s not even sure she’ll finish
the novel. What she does know is that she needs to write something that excites
her. Something that she would want to read. Something that will keep her typing
in the middle of homeschooling and running kids to a never ending list of
extra-curricular activities.
For me, it was a love story set in the middle ages. Of
course I adore the world of knights, jousts, and pageants, but much more drew
me to the 1300s. In that time period I saw a deep and authentic spirituality in
the medieval saints that I felt would truly speak to a contemporary audience. I
saw a time before our current denominational schisms and Christianese dialect
where I might explore faith through new eyes. There I could set my story of
finding freedom, healing, and the true meaning of love.
Strike one! I had no idea that Christian publishers weren’t looking for anything set
in the medieval period. That in fact, most agents would turn down the project
after one paragraph of my cover letter based on setting alone.
And I thought it would be great to write the book in first
person. I love first person novels. They’re so intimate, and I figured it would
help me get into the head of that fascinating heroine I planned to create.
Strike two! How
was I supposed to know that the present trend in point of view runs toward a
multiple limited third person perspective? I didn’t even know there was such a
thing as a trend in point of view. Let’s face it, I probably would have needed
to pull out my graduate creative writing texts to even remember what it meant.
Most importantly, I wanted to write a realistic novel with a
fallen heroine who struggled with selfishness, sin, and sexual temptation—but that
still contained a powerful spiritual message. Because, after all, that’s the
book I wanted to read and almost never found.
You guessed it…Strike
Okay, I’ll confess I had a clue this one might be a problem
based on the fact that very few of these books seemed to be available. I knew
my novel would probably be too Christian for the secular market and too edgy
for the Christian market. Eventually the spiritual elements took on a life of
their own, and I realized I had no choice but to hope for the best in Christian
So that, my friends, is how to write the perfect
unmarketable, edgy Christian, first-person, medieval novel that nobody wants to
buy. But there’s an upside.
The upside is, if you do indeed want to sell this book, you
can’t settle for decent. You have to work and edit and revise for years until
the book is capable of overcoming all those strikes. Until people say things
like, “my all time favorite book,” compare you to Geraldine Brooks or Francine
Rivers, and call your writing “light rippling across water.” If, and only if,
you keep working and learning and developing your novel, you just might find a
company like WhiteFire crazy enough to publish it. After all, it only takes one
yes. And that company might be awesome. And let you use your daughter for the
cover model. And even keep your steamiest scene because they understand you’re
using it to make an important spiritual point.
The journey to publishing my debut novel, Dance of the Dandelion, was not an easy
one. But you know what, looking back, I can’t say I’d change a thing.
Dina Sleiman writes lyrical stories that dance with light. Most of the time you will find this Virginia Beach resident reading, biking, dancing, or hanging out with her husband and three children. Since finishing her Professional Writing MA in 1994, she has enjoyed opportunities to teach literature, writing, and the arts. She was the Overall Winner in the 2009 Touched by Love contest for unpublished authors. Her first novel, Dance of the Dandelion, is from Whitefire Publishing, 2011. Dina is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Agency. She has recently become an acquisitions editor for WhiteFire as well. Join her as she discovers the unforced rhythms of 
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