Written by and

Photo courtesy of the University of Toronto Scarborough

Always wanted to write a novel? Consider consulting Under the Cover: The Creation, Production, and Reception of a Novel by Clayton Childress, to be published in June by Princeton University Press. Childress, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto, follows "the life trajectory of a single work of fiction from its initial inspiration to its reception by reviewers and readers," according to press materials. He discussed the topic in a lecture delivered at Whitman College in early March. Childress reflected on his talk via email a week or so later. Edited excerpts follow.

What are three tips you have for aspiring authors?

  1. Do everything you can to not submit blindly. Lean on any connections you have. If you don't have any connections, as a first step, do what you can to enmesh yourself among writers and the world of books more broadly. There's a massive oversupply of would-be published writers, so networks are very important in securing a publishing contract. 

  2. Among authors, it's okay, and sometimes even celebrated, to talk about books or stories as being unlike anything else. That's general anathema to publishers, though. They don't know what to do with something that's unlike anything else. So, have a glass of wine or water and really think about which books are similar to your book. Look through the acknowledgements in the books like yours to learn who the agents and editors who worked on them are, and target your submissions to those people. 

  3. There's an old idiom to keep in mind: The best way to make a small fortune in book publishing is to start with a large one. If you're writing because you want to make a living from writing, or because you want to achieve some degree of fame, pick something else to do. Writing is not a good way to make a living or become known. Write because you enjoy it, with the hope that what you write may be read. A book from a major publisher in its first week of release can make it onto The New York Times bestseller list with sales in the four figures.    

Whitman hosts an array of guest speakers and educators. Many also offer on-campus workshops or engage with students in the classroom. We ask them to give us a brief insight into their area of expertise. For more information on upcoming events at Whitman, go online to the campus calendar.