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What kind of novelist do you want to be?

Updated on February 18, 2015

Before you start writing do some thinking first.

You got up this morning and decided to “have a go” at this writing business. You've just read a book that you didn't like and you've decided you could do better. Now as you brush your teeth ask yourself; what kind of writer do you want to be? Herman Hesse and Dan Brown are both very successful novelists. But one has made a fortune from writing the other won the Nobel Prize for literature. They are both wrote fiction but there the similarity ends.

There are four kinds of people in the world.

  1. There are those who never read books.
  2. There are those who only read books when they can’t think of anything better to do.
  3. There are those who only read books of a certain genre; they only read science fiction or thrillers for example.
  4. Then are those who like reading. They will read anything. These people will make the time to read a book. These people will wolf down their supper so they can sit down and start reading their latest book. These people will stay up until the early hours to finish a book even though they know they have to go to work in the morning.

What literary agents want.

There was a time when you could send in the first three chapters of your novel plus a synopsis with a covering letter to a literary agent or a publisher and keep your fingers crossed and hope for a miracle. Those days are long gone. These days very few publishers will consider unsolicited manuscripts. All work through agents and many of those already have enough writers on their list so they wont be interested in you.

In those days the conventional wisdom was that getting published was very hard and you needed to be persistent but if your book had any literary merit whatsoever $6 then sooner or later you'll get noticed. These days no one is looking for a book with "literary merit" what they are looking for is books that are commercially viable. Before submitting your book to an agent you will be advised “to study the market.” That simply means find out what is being published and write something similar.

They will suggest you study their back catalogue to find out what kinds of writers they represent they and if your book is very similar to theirs then they could well be interested in it. What that means is this; suppose they publish thrillers by Jack Jones. What they want is thrillers just like the ones Jack Jones writes. They want you to write a book that could have been written by him. That is why for example a debut novel by a new writer is often presented to the public as; “the next Stephen King (for example) or their book is sold to the public with the promise that; ‘If you liked “The Di Vinci Code" then you will love this.’ A literary agent will quite often ask you name a couple of books just like yours that have been published recently. They will want you to present them with a business plan and a marketing strategy to prove that if they agree to represent you they will make lots and lots of money straight away.

So then what should you do?

Forget all that. Ignore them. Who cares what they think. If you want to write...then write. If you write to make money you'd be better off doing something else. Writing is like gardening; you do it because you enjoy it. It makes you feel good and keeps you fit. You don't slog away in the garden to impress your neighbours or passersby.

Write a book that you yourself would like to read and that you would buy if you saw it on sale. That is what writers mean when they say; “I write for myself” or a critic says admiringly, “they write with a distinctive voice.” Besides, how do you think you are going to even manage to write a book if you don’t like reading what you‘ve just written? And above all be bold and daring and take risks. You are not working for the BBC so you don’t have to be “balanced” or “give each point of view a fair hearing”. It’s your book you write it as you like the way you like with all guns blazing. But don't say it if you don't mean it. There is nothing worse than finishing a book and saying to yourself a few hours later as you prepare for bed; “ I can’t remember what I've just read.” Make sure no one ever says that about your book.


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