10 Things Aspiring Novelists Should Know
- Your novel is not a personal journal. Consider the reader.
- Writing is a business. You enter into an agreement with a reader. You agree to entertain in exchange for their money and emotion. You agree to inform for their time.
- Readers don’t like charmless heroes. Just because your protagonist happens to be an anti-hero does not mean you are free to make him or her 100% unlikable.
- Only experienced novelists who have successfully completed two published books should attempt to use an anti-hero as a protagonist.
- Antagonists should be people, not things.
- If you aren’t willing to listen to advice, if you aren’t able to learn from your mistakes, and if you aren’t prepared to let go of stories nobody wants to read, you will probably not succeed.
- You have to read a lot to be able to write.
- Using examples of famous authors who were published more than 30 years ago to justify long passages of description in your boring manuscript is not a good idea. Publishing has changed. Readers have changed.
- Self-publishing does not mean you don’t need to pay somebody to proofread and edit your book. Readers are insulted when they find mistakes in books. It’s like serving guests dinner on dirty plates.
- Always delete the first three chapters of the first draft of your first three novels. It will always be filled with backstory you don’t need.
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I don’t personally agree with all of these. Some are good, some are very important, some are meh. But I always recommend reading other people’s rules on writing, just so you can start sussing out what “rules” you want to throw out and what you want to keep.
Things to keep in mind:
1) Most of the above are for writers who want to be published one day, if you are a writer who is content with where you’re at and stuff like writing fanfiction is your passion or a side hobby, then awesome! There’s no shame in doing what you love or being content with where you’re at.
2) Translating your audience. This is for those of you who want to get published and I’ll be honest, this is something that took me a long time to figure out. “Writing for your audience” can sound big and scary, because it makes it seem like writing stories that you enjoy isn’t enough. Well, it is and it isn’t.
See, half the problem with writing to get published is that once you have the manuscript in hand, you need to find a market for it. People have to want to buy it or you can’t make money off it, no matter how fine a story it is. Going to your local literary agent and saying: “This is my novel, I wrote it for me” is dumb, even if it’s true. If you wrote it for you, who other than you is going to buy it? The selling side of publishing is convincing someone else, other than yourself, that what you wrote has value, value enough that you can convince others to pay for it.
This doesn’t mean: turn around and write for some random nebulous group of imaginary people out there. We start with ourselves after all, we write about what we’re passionate about. But, we’re not the only ones in the universe who are passionate about the stuff we’re writing about.
So, using myself as an example, I’ll break myself down.
Start: “I write stories for teen me, the kind of stories that I was looking for, but couldn’t find enough of when I was seventeen.”
This is general and not very helpful.
What were those stories?: “They were coming of age stories about young women, my age or a little older, usually fantasy because Buffy was just taking off and Twilight didn’t become a thing until I was in college. I liked strong atypical female characters, girls who didn’t fit the traditional feminine mold, who could fight like me, who were dedicated to a cause and goal oriented like most of the male Epic Fantasy heroes.”
What am I writing?: “Epic Fantasy heroes who happen to be female set against an Urban Fantasy backdrop.”
Who else writes stories similar to mine for the age range I write for?: “Tamora Pierce, Cassandra Clare, Suzanne Collins are the big names from the last couple years, though my urban fantasy trends more towards George R.R. Martin and Hellboy than Harry Potter.”
So, who am I writing for?: “Teens and young adults, female, who are looking for coming of age stories with female protagonists in fantastical settings set against a more mundane backdrop, but want ones with a darker edge that have a splash of horror and a primary focus on world saving over romance. (Though romance is nice too). My stories will appeal to fans of Tamora Pierce and Suzanne Collins, they are capable of riding the next fantasy wave when City of Bones hits theaters in a few months.”
And that’s how we roll. Writing is about what I can do for me, selling is about what I can do for you. Figure out how to bring the two together and you’ll have something.