Advice for Beginning Novelists

I’ve decided to start posting writing advice whenever I feel like it. Here’s the beginning:

1. Successful writers generally make around $10,000 a year (see #2).

2. Around 1 in 10,000 slushpile manuscripts get published (at a conference recently, I discovered that a large publisher hadn’t accepted a single slushpile book in three years – and they receive hundreds every week). Meeting someone at a conference and using their name/email changes the odds to about 1 in 200. (You still need to write a brilliant and polished book – unless you’re famous, of course.) On several occasions I’ve walked up to a publisher at a conference and said exactly this: “Hi, my name’s Louise Curtis and I’d love to send my children’s adventure fantasy book to the right person at [name of that person’s company]. Could you help me?” It works every time – all they want to know is length, genre, and age group – not the fact that I had the idea in the bath or that I really like their hair. When I write to the contact person, I mention the meeting – so they can either remember me, or talk to someone who does (proof of personal hygiene is worth a lot).

3. Publishers. . .
(a) are all friends with each other, so don’t ever be rude to/about anyone.
(b) actually make a loss on 90% of the books they DO produce, so cut them some slack.
(c) usually take 3-6 months to reply to the opening chapters, and just as long again for the full book. The longest I’ve heard of is four years, and the longest I’ve experienced is 18 months (and counting).
(d) are quaintly optimistic about their response times (if they were realists, they’d quit and get a better job).
(e) are nice – but they don’t like being hassled. So wait at least three months before contacting anyone, ever – and don’t be surprised if they haven’t started reading your book yet.

(f) will not work with someone who is too lazy to read their submission instructions and/or use decent English. http://shootingthrough.net/2010/10/28/how-to-talk-english-like-more-gooder/

4. If an agent or publisher charges you money, they’re a scam.

5. Manuscript assessors are useful, especially when you’re starting out, but their recommendations of your work are worth only slightly more than the fact that your mum thought it was super good.

6. For kids and young adults, your protagonist should be a couple of years older than your target audience, and your length needs to be right (check a publisher web site for length details BEFORE you write). Your characters won’t get married or raise kids, because your readers won’t be interested in that experience (not while they’re still at the age they started reading your book, anyway). Other than that, you can do almost anything – see # 8.

7. It generally takes around 10,000 hours of focused practise to get good at writing. Most writers throw away several books before they get good enough to be published (I’ve thrown away three and rewritten three others – so far).

8. Reading books in your genre is essential. If you don’t read, why do you think anyone will read you? How do you know what your market likes?

9. If you get published, you still need to sell the book to the public. This means travelling, interviews, etc. You definitely need to rent a crowd wherever possible – the average number of participants at book readings in the USA is four.

So, in conclusion, don’t write unless you enjoy writing for its own sake.

PS Some funny posts on writers (and how unpleasant we are, mainly because of stuff outlined above) – be warned, there are naughty words and one adult joke.

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2010/10/12/beware-of-writer/

http://www.rebeccarosenblum.com/2010/10/07/why-date-a-writer/

PPS

The best way to cope with rejection is to already have another book happening (ideally a stand-alone book in case you later find out the first has fatal flaws).

Also, chocolate.

Also, writing forums.

Also, getting another job – one where you’re paid by the hour. It sounds cold, but it’s the most useful thing you can do to stay afloat psychologically (and financially).

Here’s a list of 50 well-known writers who faced plenty of rejection:

http://www.onlinecollege.org/2010/05/17/50-iconic-writers-who-were-repeatedly-rejected/

And here’s a conversation that will make you laugh, think, or both (in Australia, you don’t necessarily have to have an agent):

Published by Felicity Banks

I write books (mainly adventure fantasy for kids and young adults), real-time twittertales, and a blog of Daily Awesomeness. @Louise_Curtis_ and http://twittertales.wordpress.com. My fantasy ebook is on sale at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/278981.

3 thoughts on “Advice for Beginning Novelists

  1. Hi Louise,

    I saw this link on MGC. Some interseting figures. One in 10,000 ain’t good odds. And $10,000 pa ain’t good money, but it doesn’t stop us.

    1. Chris L: You’ll observe that it doesn’t stop me either. Writing itself is worth plenty – but I hope a little education will save some heartbreak here and there.

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