June 29   Genesis of a novel

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© Janet Levine 2010

Coming soon to online and brick book stores.

Seven years ago, one July, on a clear but cold winter’s day on a beach in Nature’s Valley, South Africa, one of my sons asked me. “What is your next book?” (“Know Your Parenting Personality” had recently been published.)  I replied that  I would like to write a novel somehow using the personality types of the Enneagram. He thought it was a good idea and we spoke about it a bit. Through many twists and turns “Leela’s Gift” took on a life of its own and became much more than the sum of its parts. I am pleased it will shortly be available (by August) for readers who love fiction and who love to delve into the depths of spiritual and philosophical matters.

In the beginning after two years of working on several drafts , my ex-agent did not like the structure of the material. Two more years, and two more drafts, she still did not like the material. So we agreed to part. Over another year and because certain characters refused to leave my mind and insisted on being in the book,  I rewrote it to incorporate them. I shared drafts with a group of readers, had it professionally edited and hit the slush pile over another year in scores of agents’ offices. So hard to be flushed out of the slush pile, I share great empathy with every writer who tries. But the manuscript idea did grab many agents and I do have a publishing record so “partials” and “fulls” went flying across the virtual world of the wide web.

The problem is I like to be on the cutting edge, I like to write hybrids, I like to break new ground. This is true of everything I have done in my life, from my anti-apartheid activism to how I live my life to my writing. So my manuscript did not fit a “niche”, a “genre”, it is an original. The New York publishing cartel does not take chances on “originals”. I am not a product of the American grad school MFA pipeline.

Agents “loved the writing” “appreciated the material” “enjoyed the well-developed characters” but (and the following are by far the two most common responses) “…I do not have time for a special project like this” “…I can’t give a project like this the attention it deserves to see it published.” What is it agents do, if they don’t have time to be an agent? “No publisher in New York will even ask to read it” one honest agent told me, and when I inquired why, he said “Traditional publishing is in paroxysms of decline and panic and does not know how to save itself…”

Okay…so now what? An agent-friend for over twenty years, semi-retired now, agreed about the decline, “We are in a revolution in publishing, self-publishing is not defeat, it is an exciting avenue to amazing new ebook and other markets. You don’t know how many other authors, well-known, well-published authors can’t find a traditional publisher and I have suggested to them: self-publish. So, yes, do the research, self-publish, you believe in this work, don’t you?”

I believe in this work.

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208 Comments

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