5 Ways To Check if the Time is Right for Your Novel

For the past year and change I’ve worked on a new novel. I loved the story. I loved writing it. I sent it to Lovely Agent and LA gave me good pointers. I rewrote it. And then… well, certain events occurred in the world, which then precipitated other events in the world, which made me realize that my novel’s chances of publication in the current environment were going to be challenging. And I want my baby to have every possible advantage. After some thinking, I made the decision to shelve the finished novel for now and work on something else.

Its time will come, and some day I’ll pull it out of the cupboard and will submit it with confidence. But not yet.

How do you know when to pause on a particular story? Is it a good idea to do this?

Read on for some Novel Story Health Checks.

1: Is your novel about a traumatic event that has somehow become global in the real world?

Yes, the pandemic is a perfect recent example. Writers who happened to have finished and gone on submission with pandemic or lockdown novels just when the world shut down, were often rejected by publishers and told it was too soon. Nobody, not editors, and, as the publishers believed, readers, would want to read those books JUST YET.

Interestingly, authors whose pandemic and lockdown books were already scheduled, got an extra marketing boost from their publishers.

And once the pandemic petered out, publishers were happy to accept those books again.

This post is not about NEVER sending your finished book to publishers, but rather about waiting for the right time if the time is OBVIOUSLY WRONG.

2. Is your novel in a genre that just became oversaturated?

You can’t write to the market, but if you’ve just finished a novel about a topic that has recently exploded and is everywhere, you might have a hard time selling it, if only because neither agents nor editors can face reading one more book on this topic. I remember this was a thing back when Twilight became the behemoth in the publishing room. I’ve read blog posts by editors who said they’d rather poke their eyeballs out with an ice pick than read another teen vampire novel (I’m paraphrasing, don’t go looking for this).

But, soon enough everything calmed down and vampire/zombie/werewolf/witch books are bigger than ever.

3. Is there a social movement that suddenly, and through no fault of your own, made your novel a hard sell?

It happens. And when it does, it can feel terrible. Believe in your novel. Put it aside. Start working on something new. Eventually, it will be the right time for your book again.

4. Did a big name author just come out with a novel that has the same premise?

This one is not so bad to overcome. Publishers might go for it anyway because it will take at least a year for your novel to come out. But if the big name author book really explodes and takes off, it might be a good idea to wait before going on submission.

5. Does your premise depend on technology that just became obsolete or changed completely?

This is a strange one, but if your novel is heavily dependent on technology, hold on to your hats. You might end up needing to rewrite it as historical fiction 😁.

How do you know what to do?

Sometimes you’ll just know, as with the pandemic. Sometimes you’ll have a nagging suspicion, but won’t be sure. Ask around. If you’re agented, your agent will have invaluable insight into the publishing world’s appetite for your story at that moment. If you have friends who are published authors, ask them for their take on the publishing world’s temperature. Read blogs. Read the news.

Once in a blue moon, through no fault of your own, and having nothing to do with the quality of your work, it might just not be the right time. The right time will come!

How about you? Have you ever decided to wait before submitting a book? Let me know!

Miss Demeanors

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Emilya Naymark is the author of the novels Hide in Place and Behind the Lie.
Her short stories appear in the Bouchercon 2023 Anthology, A Stranger Comes to Town: edited by Michael Koryta, Secrets in the Water, After Midnight: Tales from the Graveyard Shift, River River Journal, Snowbound: Best New England Crime Stories 2017, and 1+30: THE BEST OF MYSTORY.

When not writing, Emilya works as a visual artist and reads massive quantities of psychological thrillers, suspense, and crime fiction. She lives in the Hudson Valley with her family.

15 comments

  1. Emilya, I’m sorry about that. A good writer friend is in the same position–after spending a couple of years writing a wonderful story that includes a very sensitive issue right now. She may have to shelve hers for a while, too. I wish it weren’t so, but it is.

    1. The good news is that such things are really temporary. Especially in the modern world, where ‘issues’ rotate at lightning speed. Hugs to your friend.

  2. It sounds like you’re making the right decision, but that must be so hard. This is not the same thing, but I was once leading a workshop at the pitch conference and five people had written books about India. Now India is a big country and clearly there’s a lot to be said about it, but they all got lumped together and it was hard for any one to stand out. Thugh, as I recall, most of them did eventually find a path to publication.

    1. Yes! I think the key word is ‘eventually’. Sometimes there’s just a traffic jam with the same kind of story, and where you end up in the line up is pure chance.

  3. Emilya, I haven’t had the experience but I can see the problem. You’re right, sometimes stepping back is the right thing to do.

  4. Ouch! I’m so sorry.
    When I was pitching Implied Consent, the agents said the publishers already had #metoo books so there was no market left. Ha! I figured, I’ll release my book now and when Big 5 gets around to releasing theirs, I’ll draft in their marketing wake.

    But so far not any #metoo books from Big 5.

    I’m wondering if I was getting accurate information.

    1. It’s SO tricky! I actually think sometimes publishers are just afraid to ride a hashtag wave even if it’s a perfectly nice and acceptable one.

  5. Very interesting subject, and really positive information. While cozy mysteries don’t usually knock up against “worldly” issues, they do run into the response from editors/publishers that “we have too many ‘murder on a boat’ volumes” or things similar. Happened to a friend and fellow writer. Her rejection slips were full of it, so she opted to self-publish and let things fall where they may. And while it may not seem as crucial as in the world of novels, it was heart-breaking for her. All of us that are in Authors Academy are behind her 100%.

  6. Emilya, take heart. That happened to me a few years ago and I dutifully took the advice of my sage agent. But time has passed and I think it’s ameliorated the harshness of reality. The good news is that during the time my novel sat in a drawer, I thought of more ways to improve it. In to editing!

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