Ditch job, become an author!?(250 Posts)
I haven't voiced this in RL, I would love to ditch my well paid job and write some gritty fiction. I read a lot, hundreds of books of different genres, I also really enjoy theatre. I have the outline story of about three books in my head currently and in my day to day life find situations that I would love to write about.
Where do I start? Do I type up my outline and try to enter competitions? Do I write chapters then send them to a publisher? (I work in sales so have developed a thick skin regards rejection). How much might a publishing deal be worth? (kicking myself that I didn't get this nailed before ebooks came along).
I have wanted to write for a long time (most of my adult life) but suppressed the desire, i have a good job, been in this position for 6 years, my colleagues would be astounded by my lack of motivation and enjoyment of my job as i hide it well, I often sit through high level meetings wishing the time away so I can get back to my Kindle.
Is this madness? Has anyone done this?
I am 39, married with one DC btw
I'd love to do this, no advice but I'll be watching this thread with interest.
It's not madness to want to write for a living but I think to start off with and see how you go, you would be better to keep your job and just concentrate on your writing in your spare time. I mean, realistically even if your writing is good enough to publish, it would be ages before you got any money coming in from it.
It's one thing being bored at work and deciding that you want to be a writer........it's another thing actually doing it and being good enough.
I constantly wish the time away whilst at work, and no doubt writers feel exactly the same too sometimes.
Why do you have to ditch your job? That's madness.
Surely you'd just write in your spare time?
I don't think you should ditch your job. It may not work out. Also, it's all very well wanting to write, but I would find out if you're good at it first.
you keep the well paid job and write on the weekends and in spare time
i wonder how many people make a good living from writing?
Disclaimer: am not an author or involved in anything in that field. I do have a friend who writes on a serious basis, although he still has a day job. He's in the US, so different routes might make more sense over there, he has submitted lots of short stories and a couple of novel outlines to publishers but without success so far. He self-publishes through the web and blogs about his experiences.
If I was in your position I would research MAs in creative writing, possibly ones that you can do part time or as distance-learning, to put your toe in the water and also to access practical advice, and help in honing your craft.
I know someone else who has self-published travelogues and has done quite well with that, I will PM you a link to her website if you are interested, she writes about her experiences with putting it together.
It is not madness, but it is naive.
Most people with a desperate desire to write, write. They write their novels while doing their boring shitty jobs. Unless you have amazing connections, you should not quit your job until you are published and making money.
Oh yeah, and not many people make a decent living from writing novels. For every E.L. James-type publishing sensation, there are hundreds of
better writers you never hear of, and who never get to give up their day jobs.
So if you want to be a novelist, write a novel.
Write your book, publish it and market it yourself - no need to ditch any jobs!
<<you keep the well paid job and write on the weekends and in spare time>>
^^ This. If you want to write, then write and see how you go. But no-one starts off as a full-time novelist.
If you want to see just how tough it can be, research the author of 'The Help'
1. Write your first book at weekends.
2. Try to sell it to publishers. If that doesn't work,
3. Self publish on Amazon. If you don't sell lots of copies, start again at 1.
After you've been round this loop a few times, give up.
You'll still have your day job.
Writing novels is also extraordinarily boring. I have done it. You need to sit down for long periods on your own. There are no colleagues. You shouldn't check email or go on Facebook. It is extremely difficult to get honest constructive feedback. (Friends who say it's marvellous are not really any help.) Mundane jobs are blissfully entertaining by contrast. Plus you get paid. (Nobody is going to offer you an advance as a wannabe author.)
The market is very risk averse so it is hard for new authors to break in/find agents/publishers who are prepared to invest in you.
I wouldn't ditch job until I got some income. I would write in spare time but what do I do with it? i.e. send it to publishers? Enter competitions?
If a book gets published there is an upfront payment, if that happened then I would ditch job.
I have written articles for work, been published online, marketing collateral and in corporate journals but I am not interested in writing about business. I want to write fiction.
Writing is not the same as reading.
You don't make money out of publishing till you are well up the mid-list - even if you're surprisingly successful you'll need your job for a good while yet.
If it turns out that you're good at writing fiction and you start getting an income from it then of course YWNBU to ditch your job. But it sounds like you've never written a book - so give it a try! You might hate it.
Personally I'd concentrate on writing short stories / chapters in your spare time at the moment and getting feedback on these before giving up your job no matter how frustrated you may be feeling.
I have some friends in publishing and they always say the same thing - it's a very difficult market to get into and it's shrinking too especially since the boom of eBooks (although you can now self publish as long as you're happy to earn absolutely 0p from it...) There are many fantastic stories that don't get taken on just because they're not marketable enough, are in the wrong genre, are written in an obtuse style, wouldn't sell well in an airport lounge bookshop etc etc.
It's not impossible, but you need to practice, practice, practice, before taking a big leap. Aside from anything else, writing can be really hard work and it's difficult to get from idea to story so it's good to see whether you have the temprament for it first!
In the mean time you can:
Write out the outlines for your stories
Get someone to read through short stories and give you development points (in particular focus on prose v dialogue)
Keep a notebook of characters / story intros / plot twists as and when they occur to you
Practice developing your writing style through writing short stories (unless you write like Dickens and then short stories may not be your style!)
Enter work into competitions
Join writing classes / meet other aspiring writers etc
Why, if you've always wanted to write, have you never done it in your spare time? It's scary, but if you don't know how to get started, join a writing club where you can bring along bits you've written and get feedback.
Blimey, I can't see the upfront payment being enough to live on
Unless you're JK Rowling
Also - for details on competitions, publishers etc, buy the Writers Handbook or the Writers and Artists Yearbook. Really useful, lists everything from reading groups to literary agents.
Don't ditch the job! My mother is an author, has many friends who are authors - some quite successful, full-time authors. Set aside a place in your home or quiet space and a set time to write and stick to it!
My sisters and I were NOT allowed in her office when she was writing unless there was blood or serious injury from about age 5. Do not allow anyone to disturb you while you write unless it is serious.
Look up any writing groups near you, research agents who specialise in the genre you want to write. You can try publishers, but it is very difficult to get a publisher without an agent. Writing groups vary hugely - some are just amateurs writing for fun, some are serious writers with serious goals, some professional. Try the Society of Authors for networking.
Publishing deals are not worth much until you are a big name. That's when you get the big advances. But my mother does still receive
small amounts of royalties from books she wrote in the 80s, so it can be a long-term investment!
Follow your dream, but don't ditch the job unless you can afford no income. Be very serious in managing your time to get writing time and do it. Make your family take it seriously. Get people to read it (not your friends - they will be kind and you need harsh - this is where the groups come in). It takes a lot of discipline to be a successful, full-time author.
And good luck!
I'm afraid I have to second the advise above; do not quit your day job.
I know a lot of very successful authors and only one or two of these make even minimum wage. For every J K Rowling there are thousands of published writers still holding down day jobs. One author I know has published twelve successful books, been award nominated for many of these, goes into bookshops and schools to publicise them every weekend and holiday time he can get - and he only made £17k last year.
Research the practicalities first and don't assume that your first book will be published. It very likely won't be. I'm sorry to be harsh.
Also, the cynic in me says develop a social media presence - some publishers seem to be rather taken in by authors who have large followings, it makes them believe there's a "strong fan base potential" or some other such stuff...
My lovely dad had over 45 novels published and was fairly well known in the world of writing.
He kept his day job throughout.
There's very little money in it unless you really hit the jackpot (JJ K Rowling) or maybe sell the film rights to a blockbuster.
Do it, but don't give up the day job just yet.
Have you actually done any writing?
Don't even think about trying to make a living out of it. Advances are tiny; competition is beyond fierce. I worked out, based on my advance for my first book, which was by no means unusually small, that my earnings were roughly 20p an hour. It's one reason why there are so many creative writing courses - the teachers are all trying to supplement their writing income, and they are already established.
Try to write alongside the day job; Trollope did it!. I'm setting the alarm for 6 and getting 1 hour in every day before the children wake up. 500-700 words a day adds up astonishingly fast.
Posted too soon -
Have a look on twitter for agents - follow them for a while and see what they say about pitching. They offer a huge amount of advice that you won't find in the guidebooks. It'll also help when you come to pitching.
Do a creative writing course and get in contact with some authors. Go along to book signings and have a chat. Most are very happy to help out with tips and advice.
Write, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite is the key. Starting with short stories is a good idea so that you learn the technique quickly. Practise finding your voice.
Take it up as a hobby.
Nearly everyone thinks they can write but, in truth, very few can.
It is incredibly hard to get a book published. If you do it won't sell enough to make you rich.
I know a lot of published authors. Some are big names, some have even had their books turned into films but none are rich as a result.
No one gets big advances anymore.
A "successful" novelist earns about £15,000 per year.
You only need to sell a few hundred books to be a best seller.
Don't ditch your job.
In the nicest possible way, everyone thinks they could write a book. Few write anything worth reading!
You can only really make good money if you get a film/tv deal, and even then - they are very very hard to come by.
It's harder to get a reputable agent than to get a publishing deal. You can't get a publishing deal without an agent (99.9% of the time).
If I were you, I'd write in my spare time, self publish and see what interest you get. With kindle and ebooks, anyone can self publish these days without much cost.
I work in book publishing.
For what it is worth, here is my advice:
1) Write every day. Even if it feels like rubbish, get your book done
2) Edit, edit, then edit again
3) Get a copy of the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook and look up literary agents who have published similar books to the genre you want to publish in
4) Write an engaging covering letter. Don't mention the fact Harry Potter was picked up from a slushpile - every other submission says this
5) Check literary agency submission guidelines - don't send them a whole book if they ask for a chapter, don't post copies if they ask for electronic submissions - follow their own guidelines to the letter or your MS will most likely be thrown out
6) Send it to as many agencies as you can and with any luck one or two will get in touch with you
7) Don't contact publishers directly, they virtually never take on unagented authors
8) Don't quit your job. The typical wage for a writer is £4k a year
I hope that helps! Happy to answer any questions anyone might have.
I'm an academic, rather than trade, publisher. Nevertheless, I've enough experience that I'll make some suggestions.
Firstly. Don't quit your job. There are a lot of (published, successful) authors who still work full or part time, because being a novelist rarely pays enough to support yourself, let alone your family. Advances are minute, and royalties are a long, long way off. Write in your spare time, such as it is. Weekends and evenings, on your commute or in your lunch break. Write short stories or fanfic - prove to yourself that you can sustain an entertaining and engaging narrative over however many thousand words. Having an idea or outline is good, being able to execute it is a different thing. Being able to execute it skilfully is a talent that takes time and effort to develop.
Once you've got a book (full and finished, not just an outline or first chapter) you can stand to send out, take a look at the submission guidelines of publishers who publish work similar to you, and then go see if you can find a literary agent who covers your area and who is accepting new clients - you can find listings online. Note that publishing moves quite slowly - any manuscripts I receive today won't see print until maybe October, and only then if I harass our production department. Trade publishers have more limitations on their publishing schedule than I do.
Do not give anyone any money at any stage. There are unscrupulous agents and publishing houses who will try and charge you to look at your manuscript. This is not how things work.
Very, very, very few people sell their first novel. TBH, they're usually very bad.
There's a Scottish author called Charlie Stross - take a look at his blogposts on the publishing industry, as they can be quite informative.
I write novels, but I also have an academic job. So do almost all my writer friends, including some quite successful people who had a 'breakout' novel after publishing twenty or so previous books.
Also want to know why you aren't already writing - if you want to make a go of this, you will have to write late at night, get up early in the morning to make time etc.
Thanks for the replies, yes I have done some writing and developed characters. Over the years have done various creative things including stand up comedy.
I haven't done this before as I really threw myself into the corporate world, I didn't have the opportunity to go to University so started at 16 and worked my way from there. I am tenacious and disciplined, I work from home when not in front of customers. I will set some formal time aside to write and use spare time for writing rather than reading.
Make sure you can fund yourself as you have no guarantee of any income from writing. And even if you have some success you still don't know what's round the corner. Don't burn your bridges with the well paid job. Can you work part time while you write?
And I agree you need to be sending out complete work to publishers, not just a couple of chapters or a synopsis. They'll already have enough people sending in completed books so don't need to gamble on unfinished work from someone unknown.
Do you have the sort of job where you can take a sabbatical or extended leave? Might be an idea to do that and see how you go. You may find you don't even enjoy writing that much
I would echo everyone else and say don't give up your job.
My DF is a writer and, though he did pretty well when his books were first published and they've not been out of print since, he could never have lived on that income. And that's counting my DM's salary as a teacher too. He does freelance lexicography and proofreading and it can be pretty stressful (uncertainty over where the next paycheck is coming from).
If you want to write then do it and enjoy it But keep it for your spare time right now. Who knows, you might hit the big time and be able to jack in your job one day, but don't leave yourself in an insecure position before that happens!
You're getting very good advice here - keep your job, and write as a hobby. Only when you make enough to give up the job should you do so. There is money to make - not all of it is at JKR level, but it's not all £15k a year either.
I'm actually an author. Two novels out, under contract for more. Don't give up the day job until you've had a couple of years of royalty cheques. NOT advances, royalty cheques. And for more than one book, at that.
Becoming a writer to make a living is like becoming a vicar to meet hot members of the appropriate sex. Technically possible, but unusual. And generally only available to specialist members of said profession.
That's a good analogy KissesBreakingWave
I'm not sure Kisses - I write for advances not royalties and, fi you're just starting, that's what would allow you to leave a job you hate.
Fantastic typo in there just to prove I do this for a living . . . MN is where I can just let it all flow .
It's obviously an emotive topic. I don't know what I'd want if I was the Original Poster's shoes. (For there not to be a new girlfriend? For the girlfriend not to meet the children yet? For the girlfriend to be somebody who is pleasant and kind to the children?) I would probably want all sorts of different and conflicting things.
When my partner first introduced me to his children, we had not been going out that long. However I was very pleased to get a chance to meet the two children who were such an important part of his life. I also sensed that if we didn't all get on well together, it's unlikely that this new relationship would last. His ex-wife was - quite understandably - rather wary about us all meeting. It's to her credit that she didn't attempt to put up obstacles. (Though it was reported to me that she'd declared I would be the first in a string of unsuitable girlfriends.)
As it happens my partner and I have now been together eighteen years.
You just can't now how things will/won't work out, would be my only thought...
So true - a novel perhaps?
I'm also a published fiction writer/academic, like BookroomRed. I tried being a "full-time writer" but I was (a) really broke and (b) really unproductive. When I started writing seriously, I wrote on the bus on the way to work, gave up telly, wrote on holiday, bought myself a few hours by paying for a babysitter, etc. I've been complaining recently that I haven't had time to write, but this thread is reminding me that I need to make the time.
Treat yourself to a subscription to Mslexia. It's a brilliant writing magazine with lots of practical advice about how to get published and a directory of competitions and calls for submissions, so there's plenty of opportunity to get your writing out there.
Most writers I know still have a day job, even ones who have won/been shortlisted for major awards, had books adapted for film and TV etc. Some of the day jobs are writing-related, eg teaching creative writing or writing reviews for the papers, but they still need that extra income.
This Guardian article today makes sobering reading for anyone hoping to make money from writing.
Some creative writing courses have a good reputation and track record in getting people through to the stage of finding agents and getting published, but of course plenty of people also do it on their own, through sheer persistence and refusal to be worn down by constant rejection.
This is my dream too. You've gotten a lot of good advice above - learn about the writing world. Read writers' and agents' blogs.
A typical pattern is: Write your novel, and then give it to someone (or many someones) who will give you honest feedback (you may have to meet these through a writers' group), revise your novel based on that feedback, then submit it to agents. Get started on your next novel. Repeat. Most people write multiple novels before selling one, so don't get stuck on number one.
There is also the world of self-publishing, contents, pitches at literary conferences, etc.
You may wish to get started in the short form, which has quicker turnaround on feedback, but is a different style then novel writing. It is a good way to hone the craft of writing. I wrote exclusively short stories for years, sold a number of them, and have now been working on novels for 4 years.
Although don't stop reading! You learn as you read. Read many different styles. As you progress in your writing skills, you'll start seeing things in stuff you read that make feedback you get on your own writing make sense.
Don't even think about ditching your job until such time as you have a steady and reliable income. Assuming that time ever comes.
I am about 3 years down the road from where you are. I have won/placed in several competitions and I have an agent. I have 2 completed novels and a third underway. We've had some very near misses with book 1, and book 2 is about to go out to editors. I also do freelance article work and have had both fiction and non-fiction published in national magazines.
I am still absolutely nowhere near being able to give up the day job, although I may be about to cut my hours down fairly soon - mainly off the back of the article work. My agent also strongly advises against giving up work to write - she says she finds that her authors tend to write better if they are doing something other than writing as well.
If this second book sells for about average 1st time novelist money, I might, just about, be in the position where I could manage if the day job goes tits up - which it might, given the massive legal aid cuts that are coming. I certainly won't be in a position where I would give up by choice.
If you want to write novels, then you need to complete a novel and edit it until you are sure it is as good as it can possibly be. Then you need to put together as professional a pitch "package" as possible - really slick synopsis and covering letter. You can then start submitting, or you might want to think about going to one of the writing events which offer one-to-one sessions with agents/editors to see if there is any interest, and to get a feel for the industry.
Short fiction is a good way to test the waters. There are loads of competitions and getting onto a long list or shortlist is a decent indicator of basic ability.
You've had terrific advice so far; I especially think trainersandcake's is spot on. Finish the novel first and buy Writers and Artists Yearbook - edit edit edit and follow the Yearbook's advice. There's a good active Creative Writing chat forum on Mumsnet.
Ok - so I am a writer who makes a decent living out of it. So it can be done. However, I have eight novels published in many languages and have sold options on a lot over the years around the world. This is very very unusual and I still do other stuff besides write because it could all go tits up tomorrow. What should you do? Write a book! No point thinking about owt else til you've done that.
My dad has become a mildly successful minor author. After 20 years of touring endless book signings across the country, staying in cheap b n bs and spending hours in shops and at book fairs, a continual social media campaign for the past 5 years and roping in his family to help for free with admin on orders... And for favourable amazon reviews (not by me I should add!) After everyone else has taken their cut (websites, publisher, etc etc) he earns between £9000 and £11 000 a year. Fortunately, his wife has a good normal job and raised the children (not me - I'm the product of a fling he had with my mum, who thought he was divorced- because as well as being a great story teller, he was a great liar).
Beware embarking on this life.
I can't imagine why you think you can write a good enough novel to be published, just because you can read one!!
OP a good start would be to sign up for a creative writing evening class. I did this and it was inspirational. I ended up doing Short Stories as that was all that was available at the time I could go, it was amazing and I loved it.
Based on positive feedback from the class, I thought it would be a doddle to knock off a Mills & Boons.
I did write a short novel, but it needs a lot of editing and I have also entered a number of short story competitions. I haven't won or been shortlisted. I am a lot humbler about the process than I was at the start and as a result I have stalled.
Writing is hard work and sadly not as well paid as one would imagine. Go to a class to get some discipline and knowledge on what to do, then do it for the love of it and see where that takes you. If you are lucky enough to be based in London then there are loads of courses.
I need to get back to it - I was a lot happier when I was writing, but letting go of those dreams of hitting the publishing jackpot is hard.
This is a bit like saying you want to be a surgeon because you watch Casualty every week, isn't it?
Writing a novel takes a huge amount of time and effort and the chances of ever making a penny out of it are microscopically small.
Writing an article, on the other hand, takes relatively little time and effort and the chances of selling it are relatively good.
Food for thought?
I wrote a romantic fiction novel about 5 years ago and sent it to 5 agents. I got 4 rejections and they hurt so tough skin helps. One of the top agents in the genre (who represents best selling authors) requested to read my whole manuscript. Now agents only take 2 or 3 new authors a year so it was a pretty big deal for me to get that far. We had a telephone chat and she asked me to cut the amount of words. She read my revised manuscript twice before then not proceeding further so it's very competitive. An agent gets your manuscript read by the publishers based on their reputation so it has to fit their criteria. But the top agents are the ones that are more capable of getting you a good advance.
I would advise you to write everyday and not to give up your day job. Research agents and when you are ready to approach an agent make sure your manuscript is set out the way that an agent would like to see. Lisa Jewell had some good advice on her website about format etc.
Above all Good Luck!
Sad you can't make a living from writing, even if you get published.
Actually to answer your specific questions:
Where do I start?
You start by writing. Write every day. If you write 500 words a day, that's 3,500 words per week. That's 14,000 words per month. In a year, you'll have a first draft.
If you want to be a writer, write.
And rewrite again.
How much might a publishing deal be worth?
Not enough to live on.
I have wanted to write for a long time
So why haven't you?
I know someone who did a similar thing to what you are proposing except that she worked 4 days a week to do it. She kept her job as a safety net while she built up her writing profile and that is the most sensible way tk do it. You have financial responsibilities atm & it would be silly to throw away the safety net of a job. Anyway, you still need to connect with daily life & people to get material & inspiration for your book.
Don't ditch the job.
Write 3 chapters and a synopsis and send to publishers/agents.
I write just for the love of it. 99.9% of what I've written is undoubtedly total rubbish but it keeps me out of trouble. Doesn't stop me wondering if I should be a bit more constructive about what I'm doing.
Already good advice but writing is extremely tricky. I am a writer and I struggle - I work as a journalist, copywriter etc. But straight authors struggle - it's time. Unless you have the luxury of working on your book without having to work, most people do both. You also need an honest appraisal of your ability - how far you have to go.
But you know what - I couldn't do anything else.
Write a synopsis - for yourself. Get your characters exactly as you want them to be - get a moodboard for this if you have to and stick people up on it who look like your characters so you never forget the eye colour, hair style, age, date of birth (you'd be surprised). The same goes for where your book is placed. Detail your plot and sub plot - decide which tense to write in - the first person is best if its your first go but remember if you do that, you can only have one perspective throughout, one characters viewpoint. This is easier, some say that in the third person but its whatever really suits you.
Its like laying the foundations. Doing the prep... Once you are happy with all that take book 1 out of your set and write it up on your evenings/weekends. Once you have done that be prepared to scrap it and start again. Re-writes are common so don't worry - it helps to have an entire first manuscript down to show you where you can improve/have gone a bit astray. If the writing is crap, its okay - its writing, its down, its the first draft done. After the first draft you can hone it, improve it, as said.
If you have any holidays owing at work and take them, write all the time, do not actually go on a holiday!
Never allow anybody to take a dream you have got and smash it to bits - so what if only a tiny percentage of writers actually get published? You may be one of the tiny percentage. Nobody knows - so write and write and write some more.
Do not give up your job - so all of the above and when you are ready buy Writers and Artists Workbook - has a list of publishers in it for all genres and their specifications for submitting (synopsis and 1/2 chapters - check with them (call them up) how they like it typed up - double spaced or not? Even down to what quality paper they prefer and pay postage and return postage for it so they can send it back to you with recommendations for improvement... I hope they call you up and offer you a million pound deal!
Good luck - happy writing.
If you are a writer, you will write. Otherwise, you're a reader.
There is lots of good advice here. We're all different, but . . .
1 don't give up your job
2 start writing
3 keep reading
4 write the best thing you can
5 get an agent
6 never begrudge them the money because they're worth their weight in gold
Good luck, it's the best job in the world really . . .
I find the 'I'd like to become a proper writer (but I've never actually done any writing) thing quite odd.
Since I learned to make words on a page, I wrote stories and poems. The only time I have ever stopped was when I was studying English at university, where the business of reading and writing critical essays meant that I did very little of my own writing.
It's as if there wasn't a choice about it. I have worked in other fields, but a lot of my employment has been in the (badly paid) literature sector.
Unless you aiming very specifically at producing a stream of highly commercial genre fiction, even if you get published very few people other than your peers will have heard of you. You will earn almost nothing.
The other thing people don't realise is that even if you have a good standard of literacy in your everyday life, it doesn't mean you can write in a creative, imaginative way. One of the freelance jobs I do is appraising manuscripts and offering feedback. It is extraordinarily difficult to create convincing characters, sustain dramatic tension and pace, construct a narrative arc, create believable dialogue.
It's great to have dreams. Making them come true - at a time when the publishing industry is in difficulty - is another matter entirely.
frau I don't think that's always the way it is fr writers. I never tinkered or wrote poems or shorts. In fact the first thing I wrote was a screenplay at 30. It wasn't very good but someone suggeste the MC was great and I put her in a novel, so I did. Since then I've pretty much been a professional writer.
I suppoose what I'm saying is that until the point I wrote that screen play and novel, I'd only been a reader.
Its so exciting that we have some real life authors here, I am desperate to know which books you have all written.
Op, please go for it, you simply have to write, write, I love "Bruce Robinsons line, write damn you, what else are you good for..."
Don't listen to the dream crushers, just write and see where you go.
i went to a writers group in london it was very interesting. Lots of chat and talking one's self up, until we had to read our own work out...wow, the people you thought had it all sewn up, seemed so confident....not the case and so on.
You need a cracking story, a good story will tell itself, you need pace and ability to keep reader turning page. good luck!
please authors wont you hint who you are....
I can imagine you are a great author, you are a natural, you wrote some very funny things on a thread about shoes on or off once, you created some very funny mental images of posh people all at a do with no shoes on, and funny socks.
Oh I can see that some people will have the skills/innate ability, but for one reason or another it has been lying dormant.
I suppose the other thing is if you really want to see if you can earn your living, it's good to be quite focused about the help you get.
For example a local creative writing class might give loads of encouragement, but not actually be quite so good at saying what isn't working and what you need to change. Whereas one of the agencies that provide critical appraisal might give you more market-focused feedback, but you'll have to pay more for that.
I have just read so many excruciating manuscripts, and so many that are just so-so and dull, that I am inevitably a bit jaded.
And there are so many people trying to make money out of people who have the same dream as the Original Poster...
It's a bit like having an illness. Everybody wants to sell you their therapy or cure. But only some of what's an offer will do any good at all.
There is an article in the latest Tesco magazine about a woman who became a published author in 2013. She published the first installment as an ebook and gained interest from literary agents. Now she's published three books, with the first going straight onto the New York Times best seller list, and sold well over half a million copies. She's since quit her office job but don't do that till you're a published author!
Check out the article here, it has some useful tips:
I have been a published author for seven years.
There have been two years when I have earned enough to support myself (not my family). Last year my writing earnings were about £8000. I am considered, among my published friends, to be one of the more successful of our group, mainly because I have done well from foreign rights.
Do not burn bridges with your day job--can you work p/t?
Have you thought of children's books or YA area?
It's by no means easier (harder if anything to write) but it is an area that's growing and seems to be bucking the trend slowly from ebooks.
I'm a (successful) children's illustrator and I do indeed earn a good living for my chosen career (30k ish), BUT I've been doing it nearly 20yrs, and all the books that have done well have sold dozens of co-editions. I have a very excellent literary agent who found me about 10 years ago.
I know lots of authors and frequently meet brand new authors who are just having their first book out. I know 2 that have been found from the slush pile so it's not totally impossible.
I agree with everyone else. Totally go for it - but please please don't give up your day job. If you really want to write you will find a way.
Everyone cites JK Rowling, but she used to write in the middle of the night when her kids slept and then round the click when she got an admin job. She just had an idea she had to write. After 40 or so rejections she got lucky and then equally lucky that the world wanted to read it.
Some great advice on here - I concur with everyone else. Don't give up the day job.
Very few of my writer friends make anywhere near enough money to give up their day job, despite being extremely talented and dedicated. It is a tough beat.
Which isn't to say that it can't be done, but you will have to be realistic about it.
Join Twitter and start networking - you won't get a book deal because of it, but it will raise your profile, and a lot of publishers are keen for their authors to have a social media presence.
It will also help if you decide to go down the self-published route. There is some great info about this on this site
'What do I do with it?'
I think the first thing is to perhaps start reading up on how the industry works. You write, first. Enter competitions. Self-publish on a writer's site or a blog. Seek feedback. Get better.
Send your work to agents (not publishers.) Be prepared for rejection. Look at Miss Snark's website for tips on hooking the agent and avoiding ending up in their reject pile.
Dreaming of being a novelist is a bit like dreaming of being a pop star. Of course you CAN do it, with drive, ambition, talent and commitment, but it's not exactly something achieved just because you have a dream.
Life is too short to spend it in a job you dislike.
Can you work part time/take unpaid leave to follow your dreams?
Do you know how many of us out there there are, trying to earn money by writing?
That doesn't mean you shouldn't try nor that it won't work out for you, but you have to be realistic.
I'ld enrol in a writing class as a first step.
Abraid, that's great.
I had a few books published some years ago. Every march and October I get very excited about my royalty cheques. Last October, it was about £30.
that was a good year!
I worry that there are more people wanting to write than willing to read. Creative Writing degrees are churning out probably 1000s of people a year, many of who want to become professional writers. There are (very good) Arvon courses. There are Guardian masterclasses. There are writing workshops in places like Skyros.
I do see that many of use need to feel creative. Our jobs don't necessarily satisfy all our urges to do something meaningful. I'm not sure that it's very sensible to feel totally fulfilled by parenthood - certainly not to attempt to live our lives through our children.
But is it like a slightly more upmarket fantasy about wanting to win X-factor?
At the moment several of my author friends have had emails from their publisher saying that unsold copies of their books are going to be pulped. A branch of Waterstones might order one copy of a newly published novel - and return it if it doesn't sell within a very short time frame. Everyone is banging on about ebooks and the digital revolution, but we are not all gifted at self-promotion. The skills of good writing, and the skills needed to be a good salesperson are very different.
My own writing has brought pleasure into my life. I've won a reasonably prestigious competition. My work has been broadcast. I've done readings and had commissions. (Etcetera. Etcetera.) My publications have brought me various interesting bits of paid employment and freelance work. But after twenty or more years hard graft I'm currently feeling pretty jaded. I'm sure my enthusiasm levels will pick up again - after all writing is one of the things I always do, even if there are lows as well as hight. But I do feel very, 'Don't put your daughter on the stage Mrs Worthington, about it.'
To pick up on something someone else said up the thread, I'd be highly dubious about specialising in YA writing if that isn't your thing, as there's an awful lot of people currently aiming themselves in that direction. Several former fanfic writers have switched over to YA, and from the MA courses I know of/have friends who teach on, the majority of the students seem to be writing YA/fantasy/things involving vampires etc. I also happened to glance at a Faber Academy chatroom the other day (a taster one for people considering doing an online Writing a Novel course), and all but one of the novel ideas people were pitching were fantasy/alternative universes etc.
I think the market will be saturated in about ten minutes...
Thanks for all the responses, fantastic advice. I knew that the industry was tough. I will write, write and write some more.
I wish that authors got more financial reward but money isn't my motivation (in my corporate job it is but not with writing) I wish that talented authors could support themselves on writing income and it's sad to hear that this isn't happening, It has been great to hear from writers on here, thanks again.
I will set aside time to write but continue with my corporate slog. Some the skills I have honed over the years will come in useful with my writing endeavours.
Imperial Blether your analogy doesn't quite seem right to me, I wouldn't expect to be able to become a surgeon without many years of formal training, I haven't ever been taught any surgery however we are taught creative writing in school and for me in the subsequent studies I did at evening class when I was young, so not the same?
OP, you raise a reasonable question about learning the craft.
Does a writer need to go on a course?
My answer from personal experience would be no. Though I know they help a lot of writers to focus and to read widely and with a certain eye. In fact, I'd say that's one of the key skills for a writer: to read as a writer. By that I mean, to boil it down, to notice that invisible scaffolding, to see the art.
Some MAs are very good for this. They send a writer away to read x, y and Z, but with a view to spotting the scaffolding IYSWIM.
As foe ebooks, I don't think this is something we need fear as writers. Yes, there's a lot of self published crapolla out there, but the best selling ebooks tend to be the same books that are selling well in PB. My royalty statements have been telling me for a while now that I sell far more ebooks than PBs. That's fine. I get a fair (ish) %.
Teenage DS is at University. He has always wanted to become a writer.
He had his first book (a children's novel) accepted for publication last August; it is due for publication in March. As far as I understand the first royalty cheque won't appear till 2015. His main "day job" is being a University student and he's not giving that up, but he has given up his part-time shop assistant job to give him more time to write. However after paying his bus fares he was only earning £5 an hour so it wasn't much to give up and any writing successes will be more beneficial to his CV and long-term prospects than working in a shop.
I wouldn't recommend anyone to give up a well paid day job.
(Regardless of finance, I don't anything would stop DS from writing, it is his passion. The thrill of having his book accepted was brilliant.)
writersmum payments usually involve an initial advance payment.
Though you don't receive this in one go. You get part on acceptance of the manuscript and part on publication.
The advance usually (though not always) forms part of a multiple deal ie two or three books.
You then get a royalty statement every six months. If you have outsold your advance, taking into account joint accounting, then you start getting royalties. Worth remembering though that most authors never earn out their advance!
I agree with wordfactory on many points. As soon as I say I'm a writer, the floodgates open. I would say half of the mums I meet say they want to do that too, and they generally expect me to tell them how to do it. It's not about 'life's too short to be in a job you hate.' If you hate your job, get another job if you can, pay the mortgage with that and write in your spare time.
I make a decent amount from what I do, but I would never rely on royalties, always advances, then anything else (PLR etc) is a bonus.
I've never done a writing competition, never done short stories, never got friends (real or online) to read my stuff. You can make a thousand obstacles if you put your mind to it, or you can open up a document/grab a pen and paper, and start now.
Yes, he will have to sell a huge amount to get royalties - and if it's in selling in supermarkets, will probably have to wait longer. There must be a link somewhere that says how many you need to sell to earn out whatever your advance is - anyone know of one?
Actually, ongoing royalties are hugely helped by ebooks.
It used to be that once the publisher stopped printing, that was pretty much all the book would sell. Now a book can carry on selling ad infinitum.
So if you get a new book out, new readers can easily access your back catalogue.
I still receive a six month royalty cheque for that first book I wrote over ten years ago. People are still buying it as an ebook! DH calls it the gift that keeps on giving .
See if you can write a Minecraft e-book. Ds has spent £1.86 each on two of them. They were indescribably awful in terms of spelling mistakes and, barely-literate grammar; the conventions of the genre require extensive descriptions of Minecraft scenes so they were pretty dull too. But ds lapped them up and found them pageturningly (pagetappingly?) dramatic. I'm assuming that you're not a Minecraft devotee, which perhaps you are, but if you can rapidly mug up on a current trend and write to a formula, it will prove something about your ability to produce commercial writing, at least to yourself.
Disclaimer: I have no idea whether you have to be officially commissioned/licensed by Mojang to write Minecraft literature... I do not consider myself liable for any future copyright wrangles!
waiting I've gone through fluctuations in my response to would be writers.
Now I always say, yes I'll look at your MS, yes I'll introduce you to my agent when you give me 80,000 words .
That's true, word factory. Mine only sell as e-books now.
DH always asks if I mean pence or pound when I tell him my figures after one particularily disappointing year.
wordfactory he won a competition with a cash prize and a publishing deal. So he did get money up front, but it wasn't described as an advance (as far as I know). He'll get his full royalties; it isn't dependent on outselling the prize money.
From a parental point of view it has been tremendously exciting; but he really has worked doggedly away at his writing for several years now.
That's wonderful, writers mum. You must be v proud.
Op, I think comps are great. Richard and Judy run one. So do She(?) magazine. Things like the Mumsnet/walker book comps are good to enter too.
Mslexia magazine is a good resource too.
writersmum that is fabulous. He must have a real talent.
I hope he really enjoys this experience. I wish I'd paid more attention to that first flush of sheer enjoyment, because after that, I've been on the hamster wheel of commercial fiction...a book a year (or there abouts).
Sorry, if that sounds whingy. It's not meant to and I do know a million people would eat their toe nails to be in my position, but the reality of commercial success is quite demanding in terms of deadlines and of course sales (which I have no fecking control over).
Yet another writer here. I'm afraid I read that Guardian article and jumped about happily for a few minutes as I actually earned a whole £800 from writing last year. (That's the income I can actually state as purely from writing fiction: one novel advance of £500 and four short stories at £75 each)
OP: don't give up the day job, obviously. As to writers' groups and writers' courses, I'm with Stephen King - they can make a so-so writer a bit better, a reasonable writer quite a bit better, but they can't do anything with a shit writer and might actively harm a great one. Though there is one function writers' groups/ associations fulfill - writers benefit from socializing with other writers. I've got into doing reading events and joined a group of published writers in my own genre, and it's really, really nice to talk to people who just get it - and the way we all big each other up and swap blog tours etc is good as well.
I would also recommend reading the mags Writing and Writers' Forum. Some of the advice is marvellous, some of it awful, but they are also full of information about which publishers are looking for what kind of stuff.
If you want to write, then write. No one can do that bit for you. You have to apply arse to chair and fingers to keyboard (or pen to paper) and get on with it. You might be great, you might be shit, but you won't know until you try.
Oh and writersmum - how lovely! Good for your DS. He may well be one of the ones who earns enough to buy you a house and a diamond-plated ferrari or whatever. My DS likes writing too, though as he is only 9 at the moment his stuff is mostly sort-of fanfic with fart jokes, but every now and again he willo come up with something interesting.
sgb I give my writers group a huge amount of credit for my success.
Without their initial encouragement, I don't know if I'd have even finished that damn book!
We still meet up. And yes, I'm the only published one of the group, but they still have their ambitions and I still love them all dearly.
Talking of Stephen king, his book 'on writing' is fab.
And stay off Mumsnet when trying to write (er herm)
I couldn't resist 'tweaking' Dss (13) English homework last week.
I got the best review I've had for years.
I have spent years years nagging him about maths homework / exam revision / his household chores and he has ignored me and snuck off to write. His current success was achieved in the face of stiff parental opposition, I can tell you!
Has anyone mentioned NaNoWriMo? Ds book wasn't a NaNo book, but he has done NaNo for several years and it's a very supportive community.
Imperial Blether your analogy doesn't quite seem right to me, I wouldn't expect to be able to become a surgeon without many years of formal training,
I agree, you can to an extent learn to be a writer but I believe people are born to be writers or not. You can learn to act but do you have that sparkle that resonates on screen. you can learn to be a pianist but do you really feel the music and have that sensitivity and can you translate that to the audience.
I know one writer who is OK but his books are about not very interesting stories. They may be very well written and faultless in that regard but the subject is boring.
Impossible to know if you have that spark, until you try.
Frau I don't think you need to worry about readers, what are we all doing on MN as an example.
Cream has a good chance of rising to the top.
WorraLiberty, what are your opinions on this?
so WorraLiberty, you're back. What have you got to say?
I definitely agree with SGB about socialising with writers. I've found a huge benefit to just talking about writing with other people - it helps me articulate some of the vague ideas I have. I've had a couple of real lightbulb moments in writing groups and workshops where someone has just voiced something that's been niggling at me.
There are some really basic building blocks that most decent writers probably know about, more or less, but it's helpful to be able to understand why things work and don't work - things like viewpoint, distance, voice etc
If you want to immerse yourself in writing and get some feedback from some well known authors about your writing and about writing as a career in general, go on an Arvon course. I did and while I didn't really enjoy it (I was in with a group that didn't get along too well) it was certainly eye opening. One of the tutors had been a Richard and Judy pick but she still barely made enough to live on, which really surprised me.
Yoni, surely judging whether the subject of someone's novel is 'boring' or not is entirely subjective? A really good writer's talent can make the reader interested in more or less anything, even a hackneyed situation.
If you look at the Amazon reviews of even absolutely first-class novels, there is almost always a hilarious divergence of views. Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and its sequel, for instance, seem to attract more than their fair share of people who seem to blame her for not being Philippa Gregory. One reviewer who gave Wolf Hall one star said s/he'd given up after 10% and sent it to the charity shop, and was reading Paul O'Grady's autobiography instead which was much better and 'written in the Queen's English at least'...
Your right Book, I am privately thinking of someone who teaches CW and teaches lots of courses his classes and critiques are brilliant but when he wrote some stuff for a friend it was old fashioned should we say....I can only think of sort of 80's sci fi...so not interesting at all to me, I am no star treck fan!
It was surprising to see the novel, after being taught by him,
Yes, even spark is subjective isn't it. It's not only cream that rises to the top.
You need an immense amount of hard work plus quite a bit of luck I think.
Ooh notjusacigar, tell us about your course. I've heard there usually is a lot of shagging?
If you think about the top five books/authors that everyone's heard of in the last few years, at least two of them are absolute shit, and there is no real explanation of why they became as ridiculously successful as they did.
Yes is it and of course preparation meets opportunity etc, and yes of course not only cream rises to the top, but I would argue that someone who does have natural spark is going to attract lots of readers rather than someone who has no spark but lots of technical skill.
I imagine that millions of sparky people are out there not forfilling their potential and so on, but op may have spark, ie, you cant rule anything out yet. you also have to tap into the zeitgiest or whatever it is of your time like helen fielding.
Go on, SGB, say which.
Yoni, a novelist friend who teaches on a prestigious CW MA is complaining of the enormous amounts of sci-fi being produced by her current students. What drives her mad is that she has them read a wide range of novels from a variety of genres, and they get very snooty about anything set in a semi- in Surbiton. That and the fact that their works in progress all seem extremely long and to involve an awful lot of world-building.
Oh of course op must go for it, and write, we are all agreed on that.
It's the ditch the job bit that raised eyebrows. (but she has since clarified)
Not much shagging, I'm afraid - there were only two men in my group, both married, and the tutors and other students were all female (not that that any of that necessarily precludes shagging but I think it did in our case).
The course itself was very good, with writing exercises and then we would all go around and read our work and get feedback. The feedback was all pretty milk toast in the group, although the tutors were a bit more forthright in the private sessions we got with each of them.
One of the authors I took a fairly strong dislike to, as she was extremely negative and nasty about other famous writers she knew. I was strange because I had loved her novel to the point where I thought that would mean I would feel an instant connection with her. In fact it was quite the opposite and I won't read anything else of hers now. The other author was lovely, though.
I don't know. Our group just didn't really gel and it made the atmosphere a bit awkward. Not conducive to focussing on writing, really, but I think I was just unlucky as all the online reviews of Arvon course are extremely positive.
All in all I still recommend Arvon but keep your expectations reasonable - don't go in expecting shagging, late night conversations with new found soulmates and earth shattering revelations about your writing, though if any of that happens think of it as a bonus. But if I had the choice I think I would spend the tuition money on one of the mentoring services instead.
My post above was in answer to Thisisaghostlyeuphemism asking about Arvon - a bit confusing out of context I'm afraid.
Bookroom: Can't you guess? Two novels read by millions of people - predominantly the sort of people who haven't read a novel since they were 10. That's the only explanation I can think of as both books are mindbendingly awful.
Ah thanks notjustacigar, yes, I can imagine expectations would be high - not least because its pretty pricey too. It's a shame your group didn't gel.
Did you feel your writing improved because of it - or did you make any connections?
The shagging image put me off a little. Glad it's not obligatory
I kinda stopped writing after the course - basically i realised i wasn't willing to put the necessary time and energy in and no I didn't make any connections.
Oh no, that's not good... It might be that when you've got something you want to say/a story to tell it will come back to you with a bang.
There's a creative writing section on Mumsnet. We occasionally read each others work (iimperial has kindly critiqued mine.) It would be great if more people used it.
I haven't ever been taught any surgery however we are taught creative writing in school and for me in the subsequent studies I did at evening class when I was young, so not the same?
But, you're making the mistake of assuming that writers (published professionals) don't have highly specialised, specific, and expert skills, abilities, and talents. Just as a surgeon does.
Don't worry you're not alone: most people devalue and underestimate the work of a writer, and craft (before you get to talent) of writing. Henry James did it to Jane Austen: he wrote that she composed her novels as naturally as a bird singing. That is, that Austen's novels were "natural" and not emerging from skill, craft, talent, and art (Dylan Thomas is excellent on this: "In my craft or sullen art").
I write academic books, not trade, and after 4 books I think I know how to do it now. But that's 20 years on from my PhD, the first big bit of writing I did. I write every day.
I'm an author (at the moment in my spare time). I wrote all my life, it is something I have always done.
Do you want to be a writer or do you just want a plan B?
If you want to write a book:
- write a whole book
- do a couple of rounds of edits
- query some (10?) appropriate agents usually with first three chapters an synopses
- start your next book while querying as they take months to respond
- they then ask for the full and represent you if you're in the vast minority!
- they then try to sell to publishers, probably again a minority sell
- then you might get an advance or just small royalties
Quitting your day job before getting a book deal would be madness. I wrote my first novel in the evenings after work.
Also, it's a craft. I had Ben writing for twenty years by the time anything happened for me, and it was with my second novel. The only way to learn is to DO - why haven't you ever written fiction? Plenty of people want to write (almost everyone), so few do - and as you hone your craft don't expect your first book to be brilliant!
Kingfupannda I'm a lawyer and novelist too!!
My advice would be to decide if you want to write or if you want to be published. If it's all about the writing, save yourself the hassle of the publishing process and bung your stuff on one of the creative writing communities online.
It's amazing how many people want to be writers. (But don't actually love books and stories, and haven't written anything themselves since they were in the Upper Fourth). I suppose there's something sort of pleasing in the idea, really - all sorts of whangers and no-marks who happen to have made money doing other things are only really happy when their names appear on an actual book (eg Katie Price) - those of us who've had an actual book in an actual bookshop can feel that we merit a bit of respect. Even if we don't have any fucking money.
Upthechimney I am not suggesting that an author isn't highly skilled. However the practical element of being an author is creative writing which is widely taught in the western world where literacy levels are high.
Becoming a surgeon requires many years of specialist study, skill and practical assessment, I am not about to pick up a steak knife and give it a go.
I think it takes about as many years of practise/learning to get competent as a writer as it does for surgeon.
I was writing rubbish for ten years easily.
The best writers make it look easy, but then unfortunately this means everybody thinks they can Be A Writer
DS got his book accepted when he was 19, but that was his sixth attempt at a book - he'd written four 50,000 word NaNoWriMo novels, plus another two. NaNoWriMo certainly helped with the discipline of just sitting down and banging out the words. He set up and helped run a lunchtime writing club at his school. Our local university (Aberdeen) runs a school short story competition and he'd had two short stories published through that. He'd entered loads of other competitions, too.
It certainly hasn't come easy to DS, though the excitement of getting a publishing deal, and other exciting bits like approving the art work for the front cover have been unbelievably good.
Just keeping our fingers crossed it sells once it's published!!
The main point (which seems to have been lost) is that getting your book published does not mean the income from it is going to match the income from your day job.
In fact, unless you're extremely lucky, it probably won't even come close to matching the income from your day job - even if your day job is flipping burgers at McDonalds.
I think the trouble with novels is that they are baggy beasts. And the craft needed to make a novel work as a whole is so different from the craft needed to create a smaller piece.
A novel isn't about the great plot, it isn't about living characters, it isn't about vivid images or delicious wordage. It's about the scaffolding that holds up all those things.
And it's that scaffolding that is the hardest thing to build. Particularly as the strongest scaffolding should also be invisible to the naked eye, or removed altogether (which can only happen once the finished product can hold itself up).
Incidentally, it's also the thing that most would-be writers don't want to spend any time talking about or learning about or even thinking about. IMVHO, that's because they're still at the reader stage and haven't yet tipped into becoming a writer.
Why not - but don't give up the well paid day job!
Most of the fiction authors I know work as city solicitors, academics etc. in their day jobs.
I think the thing about writing as a skill is that when you read, you don't, or shouldn't notice, the scaffolding, as someone called it upthread. You are engaged in the story, not in admiring the writer's skill, or thinking "oh, see what she did there."
This means that it's hard, when first starting out, to get your head around the fact that there are a whole load of quite specific skills that you need to understand and be able to employ, even if you ultimately decide not to use them, or to break "rules'"
I don't think that the creative writing taught in schools has any real bearing on what writers do as adults. I think that all creative writing generally does is introduce children to the idea of writing for pleasure, and to exploring language. Useful things, obviously, but about as far removed from the end result of a professional writer as GCSE biology is from a qualified surgeon.
I would highly recommend some sort of good quality course if you can afford it. I know not everyone agrees, but in terms of starting to put together the basic skills and techniques, I think it saves a lot of wasted time and effort in the long run.
For example, most new writers know about "show, don't tell" on some level. When I started writing my first novel I was obsessed with the idea that everything had to be shown. I went to a workshop at a writing festival on this topic, and the tutor dealt with various examples of the different shades of "showing" and the situations where "tell" is actually more appropriate, as well as looking at examples of effective rule-breaking "telling." I came away from that able to look at my own work and see where I'd over-shown.
Similarly, I went to a workshop on psychic distance. Everyone knows about viewpoint - 1st, 3rd etc - but what the tutor did very clearly and concisely, was to show how to adapt viewpoint to get close to a character, or to zoom out. This is something that most people probably know on some basic level, but having it set out in a series of clear examples was a massive lightbulb moment.
I would recommend Arvon. I did one of their short story courses when I started trying to write short fiction. We had a fantastic group, and we're all still in touch on a Facebook group where we've continued to share work and experiences. We also had two fantastic, engaging tutors, so maybe we were just very lucky.
So after all that very, unwriterly-like rambling, I think what I'm trying to say is that I would advise starting to write, without giving up the day job, but to treat it as professionally as possible, just as you would if you decided you did want to become a surgeon. I'd get a decent chunk of a novel down in first draft, as well as a synopsis of where you want it to go. Then I'd do some research about things you're finding hard - characterisation, voice, plot etc - and look into courses or workshops that are relevant. If you can spend a bit of money on it, treat it like any professional training and give yourself a budget and some clear goals. Try to find a local writing group for face-to-face support, and join a writing forum, ideally one with focused feedback groups, like Writewords.
Ultimately, though, none of this is going to get you anywhere if you don't follow the cliche of "apply bum to seat and fingers to keyboard." However much you can learn from courses, you'll learn just as much, if not more, by sheer volume of output. And I think a huge amount of that learning process is in the editing - get a first draft down and then settle down to making it work as a novel.
x-posted with wordfactory on the subject of scaffolding!
kung-fu great minds think alike .
I've been asked to give a series of guest lectures on an MA course on this issue and have been trying to think about what I might say! My notes contain a lot of mention of scaffolding.
I have this image that writing a novel is like building a house. That you have at your disposal the bricks (the plot), the cement (characters), the roof tiles (vivid images), the window frames (beautiful words)...we're suspending disbelief here, that most writers do have those things at their disposal...now how do we put up that house? And how do we get it to stay up?
That's the skill!
Unless you win the lottery or marry someone wealthy, this is risky. I had a friend who succeeded, but it took her ten whole years of being supported by someone else, working at it 9-5, in order to secure a 3 book contract, for which she is being paid comparatively little.
I am a published author but do this by having a day job (which informs the writing very well, I have to say).
BTW I went on a great MN course about publishing your first novel, and I soon realised my was really crap compared to other people's on the same course, so signing up for something like that might be a good step for you, so you can calibrate your talent/progress.
What a brilliant thread. Loads of good tips; I have , like the op, always wanted to write, but find it hard to sit and do it - there's always a child around, work calling, washing to do. This year I am going to; I have Fridays off and I don't want to look back and think why didn't i? I've own or been placed in a few things over the years so that's my starting point!
'I think what I'm trying to say is that I would advise starting to write, without giving up the day job, but to treat it as professionally as possible,'
Yes, that, and what Wordfactory said about scaffolding.
I've written ever since I can remember. A year or two ago I decided to get serious about learning the craft and basically I have treated it like a job. I'm a SAHM with 3 kids so I'm still doing that - I didn't ditch a job to write, but I did have a big change in mindset about how to spend my free time, with knock-on effects for my family.
My improving as a writer only began once I realised how much I didn't know and I'm not sure OP has got to that point yet.
So far I've been as successful as I could possibly have hoped for: the first agent I submitted to took me on and my book is out on sub in England and the US. But you know what? It is entirely possible nothing will come of it. There's no guarantee the agent will be able to sell my manuscript. And to have a career I then need to write another, better one and she needs to sell that, and then another. And even then, if I establish a career - well, look how many alternative income sources writers typically seem to need. One of the most successful people in my sub-genre still does private language tutoring, I recently noticed.
tunip the chances are your agent will sell your book.
In recent years, established agents have become absurdly risk averse (in line with the expectations of editors of course), which means that if they do take on a new author, they're pretty committed and pretty convinced they'll sell it. There's a lot less taking a punt than there used to be.
I do think on the whole that most good writers are the ones who've been doing it for years and years, because on some level you can't really stop. (And I say that as someone who has more than once announced at least to myself that I am Giving Up Writing.) If you say you want to be a writer but don't ever actually get round to doing any writing, well, you're not going to be a writer, are you?
When I was starting out about eight or nine years ago (I'd been "writing" since I knew how to, but this was the first time with an aim to doing something with it), I got a couple of books to educate me a bit on what writers actually did aside from, you know, writing. How to be a Writer by Stewart Ferris was my little handbook of wonder for a few years, and I still fish it out sometimes if I feel like a need a re-read. The tone is very honest and pragmatic with regards to trying to make writing more than a hobby. The publishing advice in there may be a bit outdated now after the advent of e-books, but still a lot of relevant stuff about the process of writing and editing, etc.
Anyway, write for the sake of writing. If you're a writer at heart, this is what should drive you anyway: the burning desire to just somehow get a story out and onto paper. Please don't set out with the desire to make a career out of it, as you'll likely be very disheartened by your first advance, or the profits of your first e-book. If you have a good job anyway, your first advance is likely to be less than 10% of your salary now. And if you can only write one book a year, it really isn't feasible to live on that kind of money.
Besides, the day job is far more exciting! Mine definitely is, and it keeps you living in the real world, getting ideas from people, conversations and anecdotes. Really, you should be carrying a writing journal for scraps of stuff taken from real life at all times, if you aren't already.
However the practical element of being an author is creative writing which is widely taught in the western world where literacy levels are high
I still think this is naïve and actually quite lacking in understanding of the hard-won aspects of craft and skill (not to mention talent) of properly published writers (not self-published bloggers).
Look, get off MN and write properly and seriously!
Try Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird -- it's brilliant for would-be writers getting started, and a really lovely read, too.
Besides, the day job is far more exciting!
I'm an academic, not a fiction, writer, and I have to say, a lot of writing is sheer grind. You sit, and type, and type and try to work out how to get the nebulous webs of ideas into clear linear prose. It is a grind.
can you tell I'm in the middle of trying to write a textbook chapter?
Yes, I teach creative writing in secondary school... it is not at all reflective of how I actually approach my writing, or possibly how any writer actually crafts their work!
'tunip the chances are your agent will sell your book.'
Thank you. Let's hope so, eh?
I don't think I was a long shot but I'm mindful that most agents have stories of books they thought should have sold which didn't.
Re craft, creative writing lessons and the difference between writing and surgery, I think the main difference is that surgery has to be formally taught whereas writers are mostly self-taught, so most of the learning is invisible to most people. It is nice because you don't have to pay fees or get to college for a 9 o'clock lecture, but you still have to put the hours in just like with learning any other skill.
From talking to a friend who did creative writing when she was at school, I suspect the most important thing about it was learning-how-to-learn in relation to writing. Generally people who've had formal creative writing tuition have an understanding of how to improve, they understand the value of craft books, critiquing, rewriting, they have a vocabulary with which to talk about character, plot, voice, structure, etc and thus pin down the problem, and above all they have a belief that you can improve by practice. People who've never had formal lessons are more likely to think writing ability is something you've either got or you haven't. But the creative writing course, even if it's a two year degree, still only teaches you a tiny part of what you need to know.
That's brilliant news tunip. I'm afraid life intervened for me, plus I realised there was a bit of a chasm between where I am and where I want/need to be, so I drifted away from the Creative Writing threads. I'm delighted to hear your news. PM me the title if you get a chance.
Sorry OP - side conversation.
I've been a novelist for over 20 years and it's a lot harder to get into than it was when I started. Plus advances get smaller all the time - even if you are snapped up you will absolutely not be able to live on one so either don't ditch the job or see if you can find one that engages you more happily. Read the advice given by Trainersandcake, above. Saying you want to be a novelist, these days, is a bit like saying you want to be an actor but really assuming you'll be an instant movie star. You need to practise your craft and engage in the writing community generally. If you want to write romance, check out the Romantic Novelists' Assoc, if crime, join the crime writers bunch. Either way, read Writers' News. Do competitions, put up the odd entry to Paragraph Planet.com. And good luck! Join us, enjoy!
I'm an 'indie author' - I started self publishing myself about two years ago on Amazon's Kindle publishing program (although before this I did have a literary agent although she never actually got around to selling my book…).
This year I can confidently predict that I will replace my full time day job's income with proceeds from my book sales. In fact, I've just dropped my hours to part-time at the day job which means I'll have more time to write. Yay.
It's part luck, part talent and mostly years and years of hard work, writing around full time work and babies and basically, never giving up.
If you have these ideas, sketch them out before you forget them!
If you can't eke out some extra hours each day/each week to dedicate to writing whilst still working, can you take annual leave for 2 weeks to "write". See how the reality of it sits with you, see how much you achieve in that 2w. If you work full time and have a child, free time may be family time - but if you take annual leave and child is still at carers/school, you can get a taste for what it would be like to be an author.
I think it is a hard road to make money, but a rewarding path if you don't need the income....
I think the right way round is become an author, ditch job. Lots of valuable advice above. A novel needs to be complete before you submit it.
You really need to love writing first and foremost.
Where do I start?
You WRITE. As much as you can. Join a writer's group, and get other people to read what you have written. Practise your craft.
The publishing world is uber competitive and it is extremely hard for a first-time writer to get a contract with a traditional publishing house, but there are loads of ways to self-publish and sell your books online. (I am a copy-editor and do a lot of work for self-publishers.)
Do not give up your day job!! Just write in your spare time. When you have finished a book, have it read by as many friends and family members as possible for their opinions. make the changes they suggest. Then get a copy of the Writers and Artists Yearbook and approach relevant publishers. Good luck!!! And bear in mind that most writers are not JK Rowling. Even if your book is accepted by a publisher, your advance may be pretty small and not enough to live on.
PM me if you'd like any more info.
You have to sit down and write OP, you have to develop a routine.
Once you develop a routine and once you've put down, say, 20,000 words, then you might start to realise that writing fiction is not a straightforward business. At all.
Fiction-writing is in my opinion one of the trickiest artforms there is. It is so completely different to writing articles or other kinds of non-fiction writing. I meet so many people who are skilled writers (as in, they write for a living) and excellent readers, but I think that these people do not understand how hard it is to write fiction, because they have not yet tried seriously to do so. There is a sort of sense that they could produce something wonderful one of these days...if only they had the time, you know?
Wordfactory is correct to say that many would-be writers are still only at the gifted reader stage. They do not yet think like writers. Because thinking like a writer (in terms of this famous scaffolding) only comes from application, daily routine, all of that utterly boring stuff that's quite bothersome when you get down to it. Not that many people actually go through with this part.
I've been at this all my life, and seriously for about 8 years. I learn new things every single day, and the more I learn the more I see how far I've got to go. I've published one book (not an Ebook) and made about a tenner from it so far . My advance was tiny, even less than SolidGoldBrass's. I have a day job. I'll not be giving it up any time soon.
P.S. Tunip I'm keeping everything crossed for you. Feel sure that your agent will produce the goods! Do report back on the CW board
Great thread. I am a published fiction writer - one book published with very low earnings from it. Even when you have a book published by a major publisher, it doesn't mean it will sell much - especially if they choose not to put much marketing oomph behind it (they decide very quickly which of their books show signs of selling and switch the budget to those - sensibly from an economics point of view if rather heart-breaking from a writer's point of view!)
Close to finishing my second now. Fiction-writing is a long game, generally it's for those who get some sort of twisted satisfaction from the craft of it.
Have a look at your local university - most of them run inexpensive creative writing 'short' courses which can be really good. I don't just say this because I teach one!
Actually, having spent today doing my tax return, I take back some of what I said - I do get royalties sometimes . I had no idea - but it's about 5% of what I get from advances anyway.
I had no idea there were so many successful writers on MN - damn our anonymity . . .
claudeekishi I agree, I write academic books but could never write a novel, even if my life depended on it. It's a real art and skill all at the same time.
The other thing I would add OP is don't ask all your friends to read your manuscript, pick perhaps one who is already in the business/knows something about literature and really listen. I don't read friends' stuff now as some of it has been so bad in the past and they don't want to hear that, so I just avoid reviewing friends' work (unless its in my own discipline and they already work in the area).
Waitingforflo that's funny, I've been on MN (lurking at first) for about 2 years now, and from the start I had an inkling that there were quite a few professional writers using the site. Many posters are incredibly articulate.
Well, there are certainly a few trying out plot lines claudeekishi . . .
Thanks Claude & Rookiemum.
If I get a contract I will be posting multiple threads about it all over the site, in capitals!
sorry for hijack, OP.
This thread is so interesting. I've recently started writing for fun - just amateur stuff - and doing it badly myself has at least given me enormous insight into just how bloody hard it is to do well: all the stuff about scaffolding, 1st versus 3rd person perspectives and so on is stuff I've picked up the hard way as I've gone along and got it wrong first round. I'd join in the chorus of saying you can't even consider looking for an agent until you have a whole novel in an extensively re-drafted form. I can't stress how different actually writing (even badly, as I do) is from producing a rough plot outline.
Yes, be careful whom you ask to read. At the very least you want someone who can tell you when they were jolted out of the book by something (boredom, disbelief, exasperation), or started flicking through the pages to see how much was left. And grammar and spelling do matter. Because publishers don't have as much time or budget for editing as they did once, this often ends up as a job an agent has to do (according to some of my agent buddies). They simply won't bother if it's going to be fundamental stuff. As far as a less basic but still nuts-and-bolts editing, I recommend a book called Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne. It may be a bit North America-oriented in parts, but it does explain a lot of things it can be hard to pick up.
And a word on agents. I have had three. The first two sold nothing. The third has sold foreign rights to one book, to a publisher who has published two earlier books of mine, so an open door, really. Agents, even very good ones, are finding it hard to sell, so don't be disheartened by setbacks. I ended up selling four of my books to a big UK publishing house without agents (though this might not be a possibility these days).
It may have been said elsewhere on the thread, but some agents are actively scouring e- self-publisher lists to see who's selling. Sometimes they will welcome approaches by people who've done well on their own. Same things apply if you're self-publishing, though: you can guarantee some really vicious reviews if you're not very particular about your grammar, spelling and formatting. Sadly, you can be very particular and still get vicious reviews, and that's something you have to learn to deal with.
Funny old game, but it does take you to some interesting places. I have met some fantastic people through my writing and had a lot of fun. Whether I can sustain it in line of falling revenues is another story.
Tunip if you do get a contract (good luck for that!) , you might like to get in touch with the Society of Authors. They will vet contracts for members www.societyofauthors.org/and also hold interesting seminars etc etc.
Their website has useful guides about various aspects of publishing that are free for anyone (not just members) to read: www.societyofauthors.org/guides-and-articles
I did actually consider putting up a fake AIBU about complicated feelings when someone's brother and close friend marry, for a plot point in my current novel, but no one would have believed it, even though the novel is based on the lives of real people!
Would the other writers on this thread say what genre they write? I write literary fiction, (and academic books in my day job).
Bookroom: It's perfectly OK to start a thread in Chat about that sort of thing. I had two or three like that when I was writing a novel last year (though mine were more for info than about feelings; my heroine ran a pub and I wanted to ask people about aspects of the pub trade) Just be honest about it ie don't pretend it's really happening as that will piss people off.
I write erotica. (Anyone else?)
Agree, flora. The SoA vetted a contract for me and were good. One thing to watch out for is digital rights. I had to settle for 20%, which is risible. 25% is pretty pathetic, as well. Really push the publisher up on this (if you're selling DRs, that is).
I would agree with meeting interesting people. I write for a website and I get to meet famous authors and last week I hung out with a band, who were really funky. No two days the same. It's magic.
Interesting thread, I'm envious of all those out there finding time to write (and even making a living from it).
OP, if you want a place to try out your writing and get some honest advice and criticism, then Alex Keegan's Bootcamp might be a good place to start. It's more geared towards short stories than novels I think, but it's worth a look (and it's free until April IIRC)
Alex is an interesting fellow and a lot of good people have come out of Bootcamp. But it is tough and not for beginners who are sensitive.
On the other hand, if you're going to be a professional fiction writer, you can't actually be too sensitive. Soul of a child, hide of a rhino.
True - but it has to be done in stages. Writers rarely start tough. It's hard putting your stuff out there.
Agree Punk, it is hard and criticism can be painful at first. On the other hand, I think it's possible to waste a lot of time on courses and forums where no one will tell you the truth about your writing!
I'm not hugely in favour of writing groups that go in for mutual criticism and would never join one myself. Either there will be too much 'hunnery' from people who haven't got a clue themselves, or there will be at least one overly-competitive type who will be unnecesarily brutal out of jealousy - or cluelessness.
Perhaps start, see how you go, get different people to read it, join a local writer's group? If you really want to write, you'll be writing already - for fun, when you're bored in a meeting or on a train. I have written since I was a child, just because I enjoy it just as much (if not more) than reading. When you write, you get to live the story as it unfolds. I love that!
I will always remember an author coming into my old school, who had written many, many children's books (most of which we already had in our school library). Even with that success, he said that he needed to come into schools and get paid for days 'with an author' in order to make ends meet, that it didn't pay well at all.
I have to say too, that I've done the courses, and I just can't write like that. For me, a book is a whole. I can sit down and write one, then tinker with it afterwards, and it will have all the things in it the courses wanted - but I can't plan it in advance. If I try to do that, I can no longer imagine it as I write, and all the creativity just drains out of me!
In saying that though, I've only ever written short stories and short books for children, to use in my work. I've never tried to get anything published - don't think it's worth the hassle to be honest!
I think writing groups can be hit and miss. I've been very lucky. I started a group while on the waiting list for the main local group, and then made it into that second group, so finished up with two! Both are very, very helpful, with honest, knowledgable people. One group only takes people with a certain basic level of experience, while the one I run has always been intended to be for the full range of experience. We're mainly fairly experienced, but we now have a complete beginner, who has integrated really well and gives a really fresh perspective in terms of feedback.
On the other hand, a colleague of mine is in a writing group that sounds like a nightmare. The other members apparently pick her brains for crime writing because of her job, but then give very grudging feedback.
I think the basic requirement of a writing group is that the members like and respect one another, and are willing to separate not-entirely welcome feedback from how they feel about the actual person. One of the groups had a new member who put forward a novel extract for feedback and got detailed, careful critiques from several of us, most of which agreed about some very fundamental points. She argued every point and then left the group!
My writing group is lovely.
There are only five, sometimes six of us. We've know one another over ten years so have a deep understanding of each other and what we're trying to do with our writing. There's nothing worse than being critiqued by someone who just doesn't get your work!
The fundamental problem is that most people think they are terrific writers. This is not, in reality, the case.
The good side of this is it keeps people like me in business
rewriting rearranging their words.
Some areas of the country have writing development organisations which put on events/training sessions etc which are useful for people who want to develop their skills. I'm in the Midlands and both the West and East Mids have agencies of this kind.
I agree, it can be infuriating to be critiqued by someone who doesn't like your work or get what you're trying to do. I don't have a writing group, but I have two trusted readers (one male, one female, both writers themselves). They've known me for about 5 years now and get what I'm trying to do and they always try to help me achieve this. They help with the construction bits, the scaffolding bits, the false notes, always working on the terms of the work itself, if that makes sense.
My female reader is incredibly insightful and supportive of my work. When she likes what I've done, her feedback is really heartfelt. When she doesn't like it, she poses careful questions that allow me to read between the lines. My male reader has a giant ego but he keeps it out of the way when he's critiquing, which I think is great. He's ruthless, but never nasty. For me it works better that I know the people who critique my work and they know me.
I am sure all you writers have seen it, but ALCS are currently running a questionnaire into writers' incomes. Useful to fill in to raise awareness about writers' actual earnings and lobby for a better deal for writers. (Particularly relevant in light of PLR statements yesterday, funding cuts to libraries etc. )
(But yay for PLR and ALCS!)
Fascinating thread. Like many another, I have delightful daydreams about being a writer too, but this thread has made me think that my Great Gift to the World of Letters may lie in being an insatiable reader instead.
It's a bloody impossible industry. Without wishing to out myself, I've done the rounds at author conferences, writing residencies, landed myself an agent at a top agency...and yet, remain unpublished.
My debut effort in 2009 went out to 25 major publishers and was roundly rejected by the lot. I have another novel due to go out within the next couple of months, but who knows whether it will land a tidy advance or end up as slush. There is no rhyme or reason to the process. I have friends whose debut novels have been reviewed extensively in the press, and extraordinarily gifted friends who are in the same striving boat as me.
Merrylegs, I have not seen that questionnaire. Was it supposed to be included with the voting forms that came out the other day?
I got it as an email, but it's on the website also - it's an online survey. I wonder if the overall conclusion will be 'don't give up the day job?!'
I love how people think because they read a great deal, and enjoy it, that they can become full-time authors, just jack in the job and become writers. But no one ever thinks, 'I love driving, I think I'll jack in the job and be a mechanic.'
True that expat.
If I had a quid for every SAHM thread that mentions 'writing a book' alongside 'baking' 'arts and crafts' 'volunteering' and 'taking long walks'...
That said, when I first started writing I suppose I thought I could write, based on the square route of fuck all...
I think that questionnaire will have some very gloomy findings .
I've just got my PLR in and it's down from last year - anyone else?
Wish I could be a mechanic expat, I'd save a fortune . . .
I could look at cars, suck in my cheeks, scratch my arse and say 'It's gonna cost ya.' Instead, I edit a magazine, I proofread and copywrite. If I am very lucky, I get to daydream and write fiction. But then I have to sell it or win some comps.
Expat, I've always thought you can write, ever since reading your tales of a French exchange?! I hope you do.
I have always hung onto a deluded conviction that I know how to put words on the page. So far, I have managed to earn a living convincing other people of the same thing but it's not easy.
Yes, the idea that 'everyone has a novel in them' is a total fallacy, in my experience. It seems to work off the idea that your first novel is always pure autobiography, therefore requires no 'art'.
I don't know that everyone thinks they can write, though. I once took a sick friend's place at a well-known publisher's writing weekend, with two extremely well-known novelists sharing the teaching. It was several hundred pounds, and virtually all the twenty or so participants had travelled a long way, some internationally, but only one or two claimed to have ever done any writing before the course. It seemed strange to me, given how much expense and trouble they'd gone to to attend the course, but of course it's possible they did think they could write in theory, but had never actually had a go...?
I do remember one woman being absolutely baffled by an exercise that involved describing a room you knew well. She seemed unable to get beyond saying it was ten foot by twelve and painted magnolia, or whatever.
I'd rather be a mechanic, they earn more money than most writers.
Lots of people tell good stories. And most people have had extraordinary things happening in their lives. But poetry, short fiction and novels are all highly artificial forms. The trick is in learning how to do the artifice. And it's harder than you think. (Like the difference between singing along on a karaoke night, and taking the stage at Covent Garden.)
Yeah encouraging someone to write is really encouraging someone to live years of poverty, with only an occassional glimpse of light.
I take it back!
I totally agree Fraumoose about the artificiality of written forms.
I've met quite a few people who think that writing a poem means literally dumping their emotions on to the page. I've come to dread conversations with some people I know about poetry: 'Oh, I write poetry. No, I don't read any. I don't need to edit.' Obviously these people are directly connected to the Muse. Lucky them. Funnily enough, their poetry stinks.
I write poetry. I'm at uni studying and am learning my craft, including the the 'scaffolding' as someone mentioned above. And I edit scrupulously.
I do think that quite a few writing courses (and how-to books and websites) are a way for writers to earn money - but that would be the writers teaching them, not the would-be writers paying for them.
Something I have noticed a bit lately (I read a LOT of books) is more and more first or second novels have the most awful 'creative writing class' feel to them and, sure enough, there will be some sort of 'thanks to my writing class/group' in the acknowledgements. Books like this tend to be pretty unoriginal and quite often sort of fizzle out towards the end. Either that or the MORAL is dragged in by the ears in the final chapter.
My PLR is down but not by too much, but it's half of what it was a few years ago. Libraries have less money to buy books though and are going through tough times so not surprising.
Agreed on writing courses being a way for writers to make a living. And as well as multiplying, they've diversified like crazy - screenwriting, memoir-writing, travel-writing etc etc.
I think some younger writers increasingly think they are a necessary form of qualification. Or perhaps the only way they'll get an agent...
The creative writing industry is just that, an industry.
That's not to say that some of the people in it cannot pass on some good tips/information etc.
As I say, I've been asked to give a series of lectures on an MA in CW and I'm certainly not doing it because I need the cash...the amount they're offering me is paltry.
But I do think (hope) I'll be able to pass on some of my views and maybe help some students on their way...
Oh, there are some people who are helped by courses - those who have something interesting to say and a knack for storytelling but need a bit of advice on structure, for example. But TBH a lot of the people who go on them are never going to be any good. (I used to run a writers' organisation and we assessed and advised on manuscripts... I'll say no more.) I find it just a little bit... iffy, somehow (though NOTHING like as iffy as the vanity press industry, the only industry whose destruction by the Internet I welcomed) that there are companies who will take people's money in the knowledge that the buyers won't get the result they want (recognition as a writer).
Not everyone who aspires to be a writer has the ability to be one, just as not everyone who wants to be an actor, a singer, a golfer, a photographer or a surgeon actually has the ability to become a good one. Human beings have a range of talents, but most people have only one thing that they can or could do really well. Yet writing is the one 'talent' that nearly everyone thinks they have, for some reason.
I do that sort of MS assessment. I don't feel it's iffy. But it sometimes is a bit sad when there is a huge gap between what people think they're doing and what they really are doing. And you have to break that to people gently. For example the woman who wrote a collection of poems that were called things like, 'Do Doggies Believe in Santa?' The poems had haphazard rhymes and irregular metre and weren't funny - except possibly unintentionally. Yet she genuinely believed that they had real merit and that a formal assessment of her work would lead - in a very short space of time - to a publishing deal. Other people are a lot more realistic and a lot further on in what they are doing. And they have decided it's worthing pay for the sort of close detailed read that they wouldn't get on a (much more expensive) MA course.
There are some creative writing forums where you can put some pieces out there and get some constructive feedback they also have regular competitions to enter. Trying one of them may help you decide if writing is something you want to do professionally before taking a big leap.
If I had a pound for every time someone has told me, on learning that I am an author, that they've always felt they could write a book, I would be accruing a nice little sum.
I've always felt I could be an ace violinist. I mean, it's just getting round to it, isn't it?
And it's because people confuse the mechanics of being able to write--a basic knowledge of word processing and a laptop--with the art of being able to write.
For this we probably have modern technology to blame. I think a lot of them wouldn't be claiming they could write a novel if they were doing it longhand or even on an old-fashioned manual typewriter.
'Oh I've always wanted to write a book, but I just never have the time!'
Try being a bloody journalist. All that and you're blamed for the ills of The Meeja. Am still not talking to various people after tipsy NYE row about how Nobody Ever Writes Anything Nice About The NHS...
People often say, Oh how do you make time for the writing?
I make time for it because it is my profession. It's my job. It is how I contribute financially to our household.
My personal favourite is when JK Rowling gets drawn into the mix, either:
a) JK Rowling had loads of rejections so there's hope for us all!
or more usually
b) Anyone can write a book, JK Rowling just got lucky with a good idea, I could've written HP in my sleep.
Sure you could've
I write non-fiction (including some children's books) and make a meagre living from it - also do copyediting, proofreading and occasional illustration. Back when I had a normal job I wrote fiction in my spare time/for fun but no longer seem to have any spare time... Thanks for the reminder re PLR, I had not got round to registering a couple of recent books. Mine is up an extremely tiny amount from last year.
Abra1d, it's like the old music hall joke:
'Can you play the piano?'
'I don't know, I've never tried!'
'I've had a great ideas for a book. How about you write it and we spilt the proceeds.'
Well, Harry Potter is, after all, a children's book and everyone knows they're really easy - not like writing proper books
In fairness when I first started out writing my first thought was, 'Hey, maybe I'll write a children's book. That seems doable!'
I cannot tell you how much I cringe whenever I look back over those attempts
the few pages I haven't yet destroyed
I haven't met all that many people who come out with the 'always wanted to be a writer' thing. I think I am surrounded by a freakish number of people who actually are writers.
I did have an unfortunate incident with someone I know through work who asked me to look at an example of their writing, and it was the first time I've been presented with something truly dire. Everyone else I've met, whose work I've seen, has had at least a basic grasp of the mechanics of storytelling. This person didn't. I didn't know what to say. I just finished up blethering on about a couple of basic techniques and suggesting books to read.
I suppose the thing about very good writing is that it looks effortless. As in I the reader cannot see someone trying to write. Like trying to act.
Which is as people say, the skill and the art of it.
Or you see they are Writing. Which is worse.
kungfupanda I met someone who insisted on reading me her Vogon poetry all fucking evening. All evening. And I wasn't even drunk.
Could we get this thread moved to, say, creative writing? There's so much interesting and useful stuff on here it seems a shame for it to go "poof".
Good idea Lurcio.
Excellent thread and as a result of it I have registered on the PLR website and hope to earn at least £1.43 a year from library loans of my trivial contribution to the world of letters.
I've never written any fiction but I've learnt a lot about how it works from critiquing unpublished novels. There's nothing like reading an MS where the point of view or tense jumps all over the place to make you realise how important it is to get this right.
So, OP, that's my tip for you, in addition to all the excellent advice here. Read some crap novels. You can download them for free on Kindle. Then write notes on why they're crap and how you'd improve them. You'll learn loads.
I've asked Mumsnet to move it (presumably they'll contact OP to make sure she's happy with this).
Add message | Report | Message poster SunshineOnACrappyDay Wed 22-Jan-14 11:13:02
kungfupanda I met someone who insisted on reading me her Vogon poetry all fucking evening. All evening. And I wasn't even drunk.
Vogon poetry? Literally Vogon poetry or just really really bad poetry?!
This is in AIBU (not Chat), so it wouldn't go 'poof' anyway. But it shouldn't really be in AIBU, and we do like to get you all using our lovely appropriate topic areas, so we've moved this to Creative Writing now.
kungfupanda Not literally Vogon poetry, but I prayed for death.
Marsha--yes, it should look as effortless as writing a shopping list, shouldn't it? Not that shopping lists are that effortless in this household, come to think of it, what with everyone's particular little preferences.
Oh am glad this is in creative writing now if OP is Ok with that? Those that have signed up with PLR you do know about ALCS don't you? Unlike PLR it's retrospective so you could be owed, well squillions (ish). It covers European PLR, photocopying etc and is just for the writer no matter if you own copyright or not. Enter a book, or journal or play or whatever wot you have wrote in the search box and if it comes up green you are owed money!
(It's the fact that JKR kept copyright on anything HP that has earned her fortune. From toothbrushes to trucks -if it has HP on it, she gets the dosh. Clever woman.)
Oh yeah, 'anyone could have written Harry Potter'. Yeaaaah, riiiigghhht. The plotting and the whole story arc is awesome - and she wouldn't get away with it today simply because the first 2-3 are so much lighter and 'younger' than the last ones.
I dread being asked to look at acquaintances' work, too. It's nearly always shite. People who are entertaining and fluent on Twitter/Facebook etc turn out these awful, meandering, stylistically clunky epics about bugger all and wonder why no one wants to read more than a page or two before leaving the room abruplty...
One of my besties is a hugely successful writer and does make absolutely squillions, unlike practically every other writer I know!
We both work from home so we hang out in chat and work at the same time, so here are my tips for being a bestselling author.
1. Write every day. 250 words a day is a novel a year, but aim to be comfortable with writing 2500 per day. My mate will turn out a million words a year, easy.
2. Get an agent and let them handle 100% of your submissions.
3. Be prepared to do a lot of book tours and signings and readings and interviews and on and on in a deadening endless grind.
4. Pragmatically, write series not books.
5. Don't be precious - they'll change everything about your books. It's not personal; it's marketing.
Just wanted to say thank you for the excellent advice on this thread. I am afraid I'm another 'wannabe' writer. I do have a realistic idea of the vast gulf between having an idea that I think has potential and the reality of getting down the words and shaping them of a book that could be published. I also have a good local writers group, though I haven't been since having a baby.
I do hope to find more time to write as he gets a bit older. I don't claim to think I'll be any good... I am certain that my NaNoWriMo from a few years ago, which is the longest thing I've written so far is a load of rubbish. But I think it helped to get out the semi-autobiographical, Mary Sue stuff that I obviously needed to get through to actually get over myself so I can write about other things.
I still like the nugget of an idea that sparked off the NaNo, but I didn't really like what I did with it! It was definately a lesson in how small a part of writing that intial idea is. I know I've got a lot to learn.
I love the Harry Potter books, its when you re-read them and find little things from the earlier books that have a different meaning or greater significance when you've read the whole series that you realise how intricately planned it was.
I think its like any skill, you have to put the hours into learning the craft, to get to a basic level, and even more to be great at it.
ALCS is definitely a very good thing. If you're not in it, you might be missing out on money.
SGB - I kind of expected the meandering epic from this particular person, but it turned out to be more akin to the Biff and Kipper Key Stage 1 books.
Literally. It went along the lines of:
He met a girl. They walked along the river. They made love. They saw a boat and realised that the mafia had caught up with them. They escaped from the mafia. Then they went to Brighton to see a man about a dog.
It was a synopsis, not a work of fiction. I was really surprised as the person in question is articulate, intelligent, creative in other ways. But not, in any way, shape or form, a writer.
Just wanted to de-lurk to say that this thread has inspired me to write another 2000 words of my novel! Some of the advice upthread is great as well - my biggest issue is time as have a baby and a toddler. Sadly my first novel really isn't up to scratch for publication, but the process of writing it - especially the long and torturous editing that was made worse by poor planning when I'd started to write it - taught me a lot.
For those published folk, I do have a question though - how strictly do you plan your novels before you start writing?
Really enjoyed reading this thread. Can I suggest that those (sorry, can't remember all of you) who are still seeking publication and have agents and everything and are clearly talented, have a bit of a read about self-publishing? Seriously, it's the best thing I ever did and I spent about 15 years trying to get a traditional publishing deal. I got close SO many times: writing awards, agents, etc but the more and more I read about writers beginning to really make a living from indie publishing, the more I thought 'hell, why don't I give it a try?'.
And if you publish through Amazon's KDP platform, by the way, you get 70% royalties if you price within a certain (reasonable) spectrum. Not the paltry 20% that I think was mentioned earlier upthread.
PM me if you want more info or I'm happy to give it here.
Penelope, when I first started writing I planned meticulously. Scene by scene.
I'd give each scene a piece of paper and number it. I'd then write whose POV the scene was in, what happened (including any snippets of dialogue or images that came to me). I'd also include why the scene was imperative. Each one had to justify its place. If it didn't, it was binned.
I wouldn't sit down and write the novel until this process was finished.
Now, I no longer use this system, because I can do that process subconsciously.
That said, I am still incredibly mindful before I begin. I make conscious decisions about the book, its structure, its themes, its tone. This is a lengthy process. No quicker than my original process.
Reading an essay by Zadie Smith she says she works the first few pages obsessively for months, as she finds her tone, structure etc then all else follows. Another way of planning, I think...
I made more in ALCS and PLR than sales on my first book. Vital to register.
Ans why is it when people say,'I'm going to pack in my job and become a writer,' they always mean a novel writer? No one ever jacks it all in to become a poet, a playwright, a comic strip author, a technical writer.
Because no-one makes big money out of poetry or plays the way a few people do out of novels, and this skews the popular image of novel writing so that people think it's more lucrative than it really is.
Some writers are cartographers - planning meticulously, mapping out every element, others are explorers who use a more chaotic method that nevertheless works.
Such a fascinating process, writing.
I suppose expat it's because people in general read novels, and because they read them and are affected by them and understand them, they think they can also write them. The target audience for poetry is mostly other poets; for technical writing it's usually technical experts or niche users, etc. (Tech writing does pay decently though ).
I'm working on a novel now and I'm trying to be much more rigorous about the planning. With my last book the structure evolved as if through a great haze over many painful years. I'm trying to tell myself this time that it doesn't have to be this way...
Jacking in your work to become a poet really would be deluded!
What a brilliant read this has been over lunch
I've no intention of trying to become a professional author right now, since I'm far too sensitive to be critiqued, but I may one day try to submit one of my works.
I've written about three YA novels over the past eight years and 5 short stories (for picture books, but i can't even draw a matchstick man).
My YA novels are part of a series. I'm halfway through writing the first draft of the fourth one (it's dire right now, mind you). I love them and was all set for submitting the first three chapters of book 1 to an agent when i read a lot of 'don't bother' type threads on various CW forums.
Apparently publishers aren't interested in a series from a debut/unknown writer. My first book doesn't end on a cliff hanger. I've written it in a way that it could be published as a standalone novel if needs be. But i still feel uneasy about submitting.
So can i ask your opinion on a series from a new writer? Is it a total waste of time? Should i (if i ever submit) mention in my opening letter that it's part of a series, or would this put a potential agent off?
It also weighs in at 85,000 words. I've read that this high a word count won't be considered from a new writer for a YA novel. Should i try getting it down to about 75,000? I've already chopped and changed it about 50 times over the years. After the first draft, it think it was something like 125,000 words!
Also, I've read that you shouldn't just submit to one agent at a time. How many would you recommend submitting to?
What happens if two authors request a full MS, then they both want to represent you? How on earth do you choose? And will they both feel messed about by you if you need a while to decide?
And how much power does an editor have? Are you ever allowed to disagree? And how does the editing process work? Do you need to travel and meet with them in person, then they send you home to make the changes? And then you email the revised MS to them?
And a few other questions for those of you who tour.
How do you afford it? Does the publisher/agent pay for your travel and hotel? If so, do you ever need to pay this back from future sales? How high is the impact on sales if you don't tour?
What happens if you're self published? Can you not tour unless you're making loads?
How does the touring tie in with other responsibilities such as family, work etc. Are the dates negotiable? Or is what the publisher says goes? Are you ever allowed to take your children with you on a tour? If so, would a publisher pay their expenses too? Then what do you do with them once you're there? Find a new CM every day?
So sorry for all the questions! They've just came tumbling out.
What genre in YA are you, CatAssTrophy? The normal wordcount varies between genres - it's usually under 80k for contemporary but can go a lot higher in historical or fantasy or anything else including lots of worldbuilding. Mine is historical and 85k and my agent doesn't seem concerned by that.
Don't be too easily put off. Creative writing fora are always full of second-guessing and people treating trends as if they're rules set in stone. I have heard that publishers are looking for standalones more now whereas a few years ago they wanted series, but that's not the same as 'Your book is part of a series so there's no point even in submitting it!' Especially when you've said it works as a standalone.
And being critiqued is less painful than you think it's going to be - in fact it can be quite exciting, when there's something you know doesn't quite work but you're not sure why, and then someone else reads it and puts their finger on it and you can rush off and write it again better!
If you're scared, you should get involved in critiquing other people - you'll learn a lot from it but you'll also get more relaxed about having it done to you.
I agree with Tunip - good critiquing is a great thing to receive as a writer. When it's done well, you feel someone has really properly read and engaged with your book, which is the most meaningful compliment a writer can receive (although 'I love it, here's a million dollar advance' has its merits too )
Yes, a good critiquer should be nurtured! They can really help push your writing onto the next level.
Among other genres, I write YA historical. My last one was 40k words. It is part of a series, though.
(BTW, I am Abra1d. Changed my name last night to post something I didn't want to go under my usual name, but haven't got time to change back now!)
Oh, I never knew you wrote YA historical, Oneglass.
I wonder if I've read any of your stuff....
The first one has only come out recently (WW2 girl spy-type thing) so I am not well known in the genre yet.
Honesty requires I add I am not exactly a household name in my main genre, either!
Join the discussion
Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.Register now
Already registered with Mumsnet? Log in to leave your comment or alternatively, sign in with Facebook or Google.
Please login first.