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Book writing and courses. Oh god, what a fool I've been

(50 Posts)
OhThisbloodyComputer Mon 18-Sep-17 16:42:27

I'm posting this as a sort of warning to others, to learn from my stupidity and avoid making the same mistake.

I'll start with this. Never try to write a book. People told me that and I didn't listen.

I thought I was different. I could handle it.

But soon I was hooked. And that proved to be a gateway drug to stronger stuff. Soon, I was spending more than I could afford on Courses. All kinds of people, who should know better, cater to this addiction. Night classes run by the local authority adult education, book agents - even publishers.

They give it cutesy names - like Thriller, Sci-Fi, BlockBuster - but it's horrible what it does to you.

I lost all dignity. But I was never going to give up until I hit rock bottom.

The real villains are the people who deal in this deadly trade, who cynically exploit your naivety even though they know they're wasting your life.

I can tell you more if you're interested. I don't want people to make the same mistakes I did.

Amethyst975 Mon 18-Sep-17 18:25:15

How many words are you up to, OP? wink

OhThisbloodyComputer Mon 18-Sep-17 21:06:58

Well, I abandoned it.

I worked out that

1. Not so many people buy books any more
2. Publishing houses generally commission people who are 'bankers' - such as celebrities. Reality TV stars get book deals, Will.I.Am has just got a book deal for science fiction (and it's dreadful) and Katie Price will get a book deal.
3. The odds are massively stacked up against you if you are not already famous.
4. Even if publishers were looking for the next JK Rowling, they wouldn't consider me. They'd consider a JK Rowling look alike
5. The people who run training courses have got no interest whatsoever in the 'budding' authors. It's obvious from the amount of enthusiasm they display
6. Some courses are so cynical they get the students to critique each other's work, even though none of them are qualified to do so
7. Young people don't buy books. So the book trade is going to die out - or evolve into something very different.

OlennasWimple Mon 18-Sep-17 21:10:19

You could always write a book about writing books - there's a big market for those (I have bought most of them....)

cowgirlsareforever Mon 18-Sep-17 21:16:03

I understand what you are saying. I've seen people who have websites offering professional services for writers. For a fee they'll read people's work and provide feedback. In reality, these so-called professionals have absolutely no credentials within the industry. I don't know how they have the cheek to charge people.

cowgirlsareforever Mon 18-Sep-17 21:58:41

I am only speaking about the matter of courses costing participants a lot of money. I don't really want to comment on any of the other points you have made.

GetAHaircutCarl Tue 19-Sep-17 07:29:56

Just to address the OPs points in order.

1. Of course people buy books. In recent years more books have been published and bought than at any other time since such things were recorded.

2. Naturally, publishing houses want bankers. It's a commercial industry. However, these are in addition to the multitude of other books they publish. Often their sales bank roll lots of poor selling books e.g. Lit fic.

3. The odds of being published have always been against a new writer. There are simply too many people who want to write.
However, I can tell you that there has never been so many debut novelists getting a chance. The industry seeks new,new,,new. The writer's who struggle are the ones three books in who are mid list. They get dumped for the debuts.

4. Of course agents and publishers are always on the hunt for the next big thing. It's their job. However, it isn't copy cat stuff they want. In fact they often don't know what they want until they see it.
The good news is though that they are constantly hunting.

5. Many training courses are cash cows. They cash in on people wanting to 'learn' to write and writers needing to earn an extra income.
I was once asked to teach a module on an MA. I did it to mix things up as I spend far too much time alone. I was shocked at the poor quality of the course. But even more shocked at how little writing the students did. This is the main barrier to being published.

6. See above.
However, I would add that writers need to take some responsibility and do their due diligence.

7. Young people never bought books. It's not a market that ever properly existed. Which is why it is targeted now. And successfully so; some of the biggest sellers are YA books.
But these young adults go back to books as adults. Same with films, telly, theatre, you name it. People have been predicting the end of culture for thousands of years grin.

Now, all that being said, writing is tough. Most writers will never finish a project. Of those that do, most of them will not have written anything good enough to be published (it may have many merits but that's not the same as being a publishable novel). And of those who have written a publishable novel, it may not land on the right persons desk at the right time. Plus ca change.

schmalex Tue 19-Sep-17 12:31:25

It is true that if you go into writing expecting to make a lot of money from it you are likely to be disappointed. You need to love writing to start with. I would do it regardless of whether I was published or not. I can't not write!

You also should not spend money you can't afford on writing courses. The fact that you've done this doesn't necessarily mean the courses are bad (although some are). Of course you don't need any course to write a book, but they can help you along the way. I also like going on them because they're fun.

Your mentioned a course where the participants critique each others' work - this is a standard writing workshop approach. Learning to critique others' work is a useful skill in a writer as it's often easier to see flaws in others' work and can be very illuminating for your own writing.

Please don't tell people not to try writing a book. It's a fantastic thing to attempt. If you want to do it, go for it. Just don't expect it to make you a millionaire.

OutrageousFlavourLikeFreesias Tue 19-Sep-17 13:55:02

I might be going out on a limb here, but do you think the main reason your book currently has no chance of being published is because you haven't actually finished writing it?

WhyisEveryoneSoGrumpy Tue 19-Sep-17 14:39:15

I am unsure about your original post OP.

I am a writer and never started doing it to be 'a writer' and make money. I do it because I literally can't help it. If I don't write then I obsessively keep journals. I cannot stop writing.

I think you have gone about this all wrong, whilst some degree of 'training' may be required (all I did was a literature based undergraduate degree) nothing can shape you into a writer, unless you already posses an absolute obsession for it.

Thinking someone will train you up, you will suddenly write a masterpiece/commercial success and then become rich is a very obscure way of viewing the writing process.

Granted, I am still small scale and only have a few paid short publications - and I am just writing my first novel. But I don't do it for acknowledgement, glory or money. I do it because I have tried not to be a writer for years (almost became a social theorist/did a PhD shock ) but no matter what I do I can't help but write. I think about it all the time!

Also, I know a number of people (2 friends) that have got quite lucrative publishing deals on their first novels. One of which was a 'young person'. I too am quite young (late 20s) and can assure you a lot of us can read, and do!

As an aside: lot's of young people are seeking books as a break from digital life. There is definitely a resurgence in buying the physical book, getting away from the computer and reading. This is happening with music too, young people all want record players and records now. There is always moral panic about young people, in every generation!

The first thing to do to get a book published, is to actually write it. Not procrastinate at classes, not worry about the 'book market' or who will read it. But just sit down and write!

Good luck to all aspiring writers out there who might read this and feel disheartened!

OhThisbloodyComputer Wed 20-Sep-17 16:43:56

Thanks for your input GetAHairCut and WhyIsEveryoneSOGrumpy and Schmalex and OutrageousFlavourLike

I appreciate your advice. I was starting to get a bit upset at some of the comments - some of which seemed a bit patronising and seemed based on the assumption that I'm a complete buffoon. But then I thought "hang on, it's an online forum - at least they've made the effort to try and help me".

I do know something about the book trade. The point about young people not reading was based on some publishing industry research. Also, without going into details, I see many of the new titles and I get to hear feedback about what book shops think about authors.

I won't bore you any more because maybe I am being too gloomy. (It's my age you see.) Good luck to you all and I don't want to spoil your optimism.

I hadn't considered the point about students critiquing each other's work. It appeared to me an enormously cynical exercise. Also, there's a tendency for everyone to say they love each other's work. But you made a good point.

However, I do think it's misleading to teach people to write novels.

There are loads of more practical, and achievable, forms of creating writing that we could teach people to hone and perfect first.

An amusing eBay advert for example, is an emerging art form. A funny review on Amazon. An angry letter to The Daily Broadsheet or the popular tabloid. These are all creative writing activities that bring instant gratification. They are much more fun. I used to make a living of sorts writing ridiculous letters to the red top newspapers. Sometimes you get £50! That's more than you get paid for doing stand up comedy in a room above a pub and much less scary. (I speak from experience)

Anyway, I'll shut up now. I don't want to put anyone off. But I don't want anyone to get hurt either.

thanks for your advice.

Oblomov17 Wed 20-Sep-17 17:17:28

I don't agree. I read tonnes of books, so do my friends and so do loads of mn'ers.
So do a lot of school age and teens and young adults I know.
I believe there is a market for books.

OhThisbloodyComputer Wed 20-Sep-17 17:26:48


thanks for this

I'm sorry, I probably came across as a bit rude and the last thing I want to do is hurt your feelings.

It's brilliant that you read loads of books. (Actually, I should be hugging you as it's people like you that are keeping a roof over my family's head)

However. there is a downward trend, according to research I have seen. And my experience of writing is... well let's say I was feeling despondent that day.

Maybe I'm the only person that gets down hearted.

I will try to soldier on.

I suppose my point is that we only have a finite time on earth and I sometimes think that, seeing how our existence is such a rare precious resource, perhaps I wasn't spending mine very wisely.

I'm not criticising anyone else.

But I do think a lot of people get hurt by having their hopes raised.

I take your point though

Dadddi Wed 20-Sep-17 17:29:15 should write because you want to write, you should want to write for yourself.

If you or the story is any good and it get's published then that's just a bonus.

You shouldn't decide to write because you want to make money.

GetAHaircutCarl Wed 20-Sep-17 17:45:44

OP it's not optimimism that makes me post as I do ( though I am naturally an optimistic person) but experience.

I've written (and had published) many novels. It's my job. So I know whereof I speak in terms of agents/publishers etc. It's not an opinion that there are record numbers of debut novels being published, but fact.

That's not to say it's easy to secure a deal. Of course it's not. The vast majority of books hitting the slush piles won't find a home. But a minority will.

As for courses, I admit to misgivings about them. Not because I don't believe that some aspects of writing craft are teachable. I do. But because most of those aspects are barely touched upon by many a course.

They seem to dwell on good writing at line level over craft, when the point of a novel is the well crafted whole.

I try to help and mentor writers where I can ( not for money) and it's proved a mixed bag. Those who appear to make the most headway come with a fully formed idea that they want to shape or a shape that they want to fill with ideas.

Fekko Wed 20-Sep-17 17:47:13

I know people who have written books and vanity published them. They seem happy with this.

GetAHaircutCarl Wed 20-Sep-17 17:50:33

Just seen your latest post.

I think that you have to enjoy the process. This is such a precarious industry that if you don't enjoy the process, there's little point.

Whilst I try to encourage writers I am the first to give them permission to cease.

Writing is ludicrously time consuming and the industry is ludicrously competitive. I wouldn't blame anyone for jacking it in and taking up ultimate frisbee grin.

PhilODox Wed 20-Sep-17 17:56:42

Those who appear to make the most headway come with a fully formed idea that they want to shape or a shape that they want to fill with ideas.

Likely they're the ones that are putting in the work, Carl.

Thank goodness for editors, to sort out all the optimimists wink

WhyisEveryoneSoGrumpy Wed 20-Sep-17 18:00:08

Sorry not meant to be patronising , but just write because you love it! Not because you want to get published/make money. Writing should never just be about the market and it isn't really about business. Most of us aren't very well off.

However you are probably right that no one can teach you to write a novel, to go through with it you need an inner drive and I am not sure that is 'taught'. And there are probably loads of rubbish courses out there, so yes that is definitely something people need to be weary of.

I think you are being very cynical about writing though, and getting too weighed down by aspects of publishing rather than focusing on your novel. You need to separate writing and publishing, they are very different aspects to literature.

But figures are more hopeful than you suggest, not that I am in this to make money. But nice to see some good news for the industry

WhyisEveryoneSoGrumpy Wed 20-Sep-17 18:07:31

Of course, it all depends on what you are writing. But you shouldn't let sales figures determine everything you do in life, sometimes you just love something too much to stop doing it! grin

Children's books are doing well, I think. You could always have a go at that instead wink

sleepymama81 Wed 20-Sep-17 18:24:00

I would love to write as my job. It's literally my dream. I've always written stories, and (my OH finds this hilarious and is slightly alarmed by my nosey parker tendencies in equal measure) if I'm out I am a massive people watcher who will then start making up stories about the people I see. Backstories, what they are doing, where they're going next, what their home is like.

I've also read enough fiction to fill a bloody library. My study could easily pass for one if it was bigger (I'm slightly sad that the kindle purchase has curtailed my actual book buying).

I've never been considered any sort of course. I studied English Lit at GCSE and A-Level by thats it. For me, writing comes fairly naturally, the words just come out.

Not that that's to say what I write is any good. It could be pure bilge for all I know, I've never let anyone read it!

GetAHaircutCarl Wed 20-Sep-17 18:34:26

I think writing because you enjoy it is important. As I say, you have to like the process as much as the end result ( though naturally some parts of the process are excruciating).

However, for me at least, writing to be published is also part of my motivation. I write to communicate what I have to say to a larger audience. I want to share. It wouldn't be enough for me to write for myself.

Slimthistime Wed 20-Sep-17 18:37:43

I nearly typed a long reply, but what with our finite time on earth grin

I was positive I had packed it in a couple of years ago. But I've just managed to score some homeworking - turns cartwheel - and with the saved commuting time/wasted lunch periods etc I am going to use that to start again.

I know a few novelists - there's an element of luck. I'm not going to pour 100s of hours into it, but now I have had time "given" back to me, I'm happy to put that into writing. A few years ago I would have said I'd never bother again...but every penny matters and if I can make a few through a hobby that's good.

I've never paid out for a course though. I am particularly puzzled that people pay for courses where they mostly just get student feedback. Fine if you have the money and find it motivating I guess but not for me.

Slimthistime Wed 20-Sep-17 18:40:52

Daddi "You shouldn't decide to write because you want to make money."

I find that statement crazy. You can write for whatever reason you want. You might mean "don't assume you will make money" but surely no one does that!

GetAHaircutCarl Wed 20-Sep-17 18:50:50

Good luck slim.

I take my hat off to those of you giving it a whirl after previous unsuccessful attempts. I think I would find it hard to motivate myself.

Relatively recently I began writing for telly and I've been shocked at the poor hit rate for scripts. Thank Christ they don't take as long as novels. It's so disheartening when you write something you think is good only to be told thanks but no thanks.

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