Debbie Howells' top tips for debut authors


The Bones Of You is a stunning psychological thriller set in an idyllic English village. Here, Debbie offers budding novelists her advice on writing and how to get started.

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1. Just write

Getting started can be daunting. It may sound obvious, but just write, turning your idea into words on paper, or a screen. Whatever works for you. Doesn't have to be perfect, but it's the first step.

2. Don't tell anyone

Telling people at this stage generally kills it, as I've discovered to my cost.  Let the idea build inside your head: explore it, nurture it.  Resist the temptation to talk about it!  That time will come.

3. Keep notebooks around

Keep them everywhere, at all times, especially by your bed.  Again, as I've discovered to my own cost - the best, most incredibly exciting ideas come to you as you're drifting off to sleep. And no matter how many times you tell yourself otherwise, by the time you wake up, they'll have gone. Fact.

4. Editing can wait

It's not always easy, but it's best to just let the words flow in the early stages.  Try not to get hung up on perfecting each chapter as you go along.  Just write, until you have a first draft.

5. Put it away for a while

When you've finished, however tempting it is to send it straight out to that list of agents you've carefully selected, stop. What you need now is perspective. Put it away - ideally for a few weeks, long enough for you to distance yourself. It's really hard to be objective about the story you know inside out - much easier when you haven't looked at it for a while.

6. Research agents

It's all there online, clear as day. Agents' wishlists, as well as what they're not looking for. They are busy people, don't waste their - and your - time by sending something they won't be interested in.

7. Never chase agents

Once you've sent your manuscript out and you're checking your emails every five minutes, just start writing something else. Otherwise it all gets rather crazy. Never chase agents. Distract yourself and wait it out.

8. Accept all feedback

Rejection, unless you're lucky, is all part of it. And it's tough. But don't give up. Take any feedback you're lucky enough to get, and even if you don't, keep writing. Most likely it won't be your first book that gets published, but with everything you write, you learn.

9. Self-publish.

A lot of authors wouldn't have it any other way.  I self-published the first three books I wrote - all women's commercial fiction. Not only do you sell books and hopefully make money, but it teaches you about the publishing process, and if you like to feel in control of how your book is marketed, the cover design etc, it may be the way to go. 

10. Read about other authors

For most aspiring writers, a traditional publishing deal can seem perpetually elusive, out of reach. A dream - the kind that happens to other people. For a long time I thought that, but I held on to the tiniest shred of hope, even though it wavered from time to time. I knew it had happened to other writers. I'd read their inspiring about the road to publication and the seed of an idea was sown: maybe, if I kept writing, if I wrote the right book and I was lucky, there was a chance - a slim one, but still a chance - that it could happen to me too. And it did.


More about Debbie Howells

Debbie Howells is a florist and lives with her family - and assorted animals - in Sussex. The Bones of You is her first thriller. Her agent Juliet Mushens discovered The Bones of You on the slush pile and immediately spotted it as a future bestseller. 

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Last updated: about 3 years ago