To the Author of the Unfinished Novel

The other day an acquaintance emailed me with a personal request: Would I look at an excerpt of her friend's novel and give my opinion on whether the novel was worth finishing. Attached to the email was the first 6,000 words of her friend's novel, which was evidently all the author had completed.

The backstory is that this author's friends and family have read this excerpt and are encouraging her to finish the novel. The acquaintance hoped I could read the novel excerpt and give my opinion on whether or not her friend should actually finish it.

Now, many people have expressed their views on how writers should respond to requests for feedback. But since this was a request from a family friend I didn't want to blow it off. Here's my response, which I hope was helpful. I also hope these words help other new authors.

I read through your attachment and your friend's story is of interest. However, it's not up to me to say whether or not this novel should be completed. Only the author can decide if a story is so personally gripping that it demands to be completed. If an author doesn't feel the burning need to finish a novel then nothing anyone else says will change the author's mind.

To put this in perspective, what you sent me is the first 6,000 words of a novel. In order to finish the book an additional 74,000 plus words would have to be written. In many ways the first words of the novel are the easiest because the author is often seized with a particular character, or maybe a vibrant voice or situation grabs hold. As a result the author tears into the story and before they know it several thousand words have been written.

But this is only the first step. Now the author must find a way to continue the novel's momentum for tens of thousands of additional words while also creating a compelling plot, unique situations, and engaging characters. There are hundreds of ways to do this; for tips, I'd suggest your friend look for books about novel writing in either the library or bookstore. But what all this means is that its hard work to complete a novel. If the author doesn't have the burning need to tell this particular story, nothing I say will make them want to finish.


Jason Sanford