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When Is a Novel a Novel?

I've written six novels though none have been published and may never be published. Who knows what that great and evil publishing god has in store for us? Now, here's the problem. Is it a book if it's not published and what does one define as published?

At a recent writer's conference the literary agent asked me the standard question of me:

"What have you written?"

I said, "Six novels, 250 short stories, magazine articles, etc. etc."

And she said: "Are the novels published?"

My answer: "No."

Her smart-ass reproof: "Well then, they're not novels then, are they? To be a novel it must be a tangible book with an ISBN number and front and back covers."

My smart-ass comeback: "So if I write some tripe and self-publish, you'd consider that a novel?"

Her bored reply: "Yes. If it has an ISBN number, pages, and covers, it's a novel."

Like Peter Griffin said, "That really grinds my gears." I would rather have six half-decent manuscripts collecting dust than self-publishing junk and selling the books out of the trunk of my car like an Amway rep. To me a manuscript has earned the right to be called a novel or a book.

Here's how I write, which I am sure is different than most writers:

I take a few months to research and outline and then I write about 50 chapters in longhand through blisters and calluses. Then Pam types them up for me to organize and edit, which I do about four times. At that point I have my small writer’s group go through it and then I send it off to Castle Walls Editing for a final check-out. When I receive it back, I do one final edit and then self-flagellate myself by pitching it to bored agents and editors.

So, we all agree. It's a novel, not a manuscript.

Let's compare it to art and music. When Leonardo da Vinci finished a painting, could it be called a painting? Here's a conversation he had with a relative, Luigi da Vinci, one of the Luigi brothers.

"Leo. What's that you got there?"

"It's-a the Mona Lisa."

"What's wrong with her mouth?"

"I screwed-a it up-a so I rubbed it with a Kleenex and now-a I make them think it's-a supposed to be that way."

"Why are you talking like that? We're both speaking Italian so what's up with the this-a and that-a?"

"That's-a the way I talk. What do you think of my painting?"

"Leo. Baby. It's not a painting until you sell it and people see it."

"No, Luigi. It's a painting. It will end up in the Louvre some day when-a those French pigs steal it from us. You'll-a see."


And music. Is it a song if it's created by a songwriter and not published? If not, what do you call it? This was a conversation between George and Ira Gershwin.

"Summertime, and the livin' is easy."

"Hey, that's good George. My lyrics are great so how come you get top billing. Why not Ira and George Gershwin? "

"Because the music is more important than the words, Ira. The song's the thing."

"It's not a song, Georgie. Not until it's published."

"It's a song, my song."

"That you stole from black cotton pickers."

"Yeah, well, what do I care, I'll be dead in three years, anyway, and a good thing because then I won't have to hear Sammy Davis Jr. mess it up."

So, there you have it. If a song is a song and a painting is a painting then your manuscript is a novel.

And if you write a novel in a month, (NaNoWriMo) then it ain't no good.



  1. "Is a blog post a blog post if it doesn't wring a comment out of the reader?"

    "Nope, it isn't."

    "So a blog that doesn't get 100 comments/pageviews/hits a day isn't a blog?"

    "Yup, that's right. Not a blog, no way. Talk to the SEO for possible optimisation, otherwise terminate."

    "What's SEO?"

    "Never mind, lady. Give it up, you'll never be a blogger."

    Thank you for the post. Also for the comment and wishes on mine. And keep writing those novels.

    1. It's sad when the commentor is funnier and more clever than the blog author. Sigh.

    2. :)

      Just came in to wish you and yours happy holidays and festivals, John.

    3. Thank you, Nilanjana
      Merry Christmas(If you happen to be Christian)
      It will be nice to have my family around for the week. I haven't been posting because I was signed by an agent a few weeks ago and have been revising mss. Also, I was nominated for a Pushcart Prize last week, so apparently my negative thinking and attitude is paying off. I work with an Indian engineer, (Xama Joshi) so I will have her tell me when you have your next celebration is and I will wish you a Happy Holiday then. I'll have Xama spell it for me :)


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