SO YOU WANT TO WRITE A NOVEL?
Everybody has a book in them or so the saying goes. Like every profession, being an author requires a professional approach. That means learning the trade often the hard way.
So, you wake up one morning and decide to write a novel? Unlikely. Probably it’s been a slow and steady process of realisation. Then you are faced with the question – why? Why go to all that trouble?
Do you want to write to make money? Or do you wish to write as a hobby?
The former is a very steep and rocky road as the competition out there is formidable. Nowadays, there are computers and word processors; whereas, at one time, people banged out stories on a typewriter on paper with no automatic spell-checker and writers in those days were generally proficient in grammar—including punctuation. Publishers and agents served as gatekeepers accumulating enormous slush piles. Today, you can self-publish almost unchecked, hence the atrocious level of English in many, not all, self-published books.
There is an industry grown up around the indie writing community worth a fortune. It sells books on how to write a novel. It has grown into a many-headed giant because there are so many aspects of writing to analyse. So, who to believe? Are these experts bestselling authors themselves? You’re kidding! If they were, they’d be busy writing another blockbuster. That’s not to say they don’t offer good advice. Sure, they do. But the best advice, in my opinion was offered by the great Joseph Conrad. “Write your first 250000 words for the waste bin.” That is, learn by doing and he knew what he was talking about, yet even so, this indisputably great writer’s first approach to publishers was met by 19 rejections. So, he taught us another valuable lesson – perseverance. Sit down and write; eliminate the noise.
Well then, the people who actually make a living from writing are a miniscule minority of the millions who publish every year. They are not approaching writing as a hobby and concentrate on what the market wants. The people who write as a hobby do it for several reasons, among these: a love of the genre. If you adore your genre; you may find it’s not the most popular. Except that it can be. Take my genre, historical fiction. It can’t compete with historical romance or sci-fi. Except that there are exceptions like Ken Follett or Bernard Cornwell: thank goodness.
Now, I’ll talk on a personal level. All right, I chose to write my first novel as a hobby. It wasn’t an overnight decision because the old rule applied to me: either you have money and no time; or, you have time and no money. Yes, folks, I had to work to pay the bills! There was no time to do what I wanted: to write a historical novel. When I retired from teaching English and translating, I sat down and wrote a 120000-word novel. But then you have to revise it and I’m pleased to say, I reduced it to 90000-words. I still think The Purple Thread is one of my best efforts. I remember telling my wife, “I’ll be happy if only twenty people read it.” After many positive reviews, six years and another nineteen novels to my name, I’m aiming for thousands of readers. Yes, I know, I’d rather it were millions! Still, I love losing myself in my writing, empathising with my characters and travelling in time.
I don’t enjoy the hidden aspect, which is marketing and promotion. That is why I found myself a decent indie publisher to help me with it in the shape of Next Chapter Publishing. In my opinion, writing is a lonely occupation, many indie writers, myself included, have a fragile morale. We produce babies (our novels) and want people to love them as much as we do. But, as I suggested earlier, there’s a baby boom out there. The trick is to get your baby noticed. You can enter it in a baby contest and win prizes but so often there’s an entry fee to pay. I’m not mean, but I don’t enter. I may be wrong, but I foolishly think that if my work is good enough, it’ll be appreciated for its worth without stickers.
I won’t lie. If I earned (a lot) of money from my writing, I’d be very happy, but it would be a bonus. I do it because I love doing it – as someone said, runners run and writers write.