Written by Natascha Jaffa and posted with her explicit consent.
“If you wish to be a writer, write!” - Epictetus
So you want to write a novel. It’s always been a goal of yours and you have an amazing idea that readers will eat up. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done as thousands of writers have learned, but you have to begin somewhere. Before you write that first line though, ask yourself:
Why? What is your reason for wanting to write your book? Motivation is central for every writer to discover for themselves. Why are you writing? If it’s to be published, you’ve chosen the wrong career. Writing for the market (the trends) is going to end in disappointment. Trends come and go and readers are looking for the next best thing. By the time you finish your novel, the market may have moved on and you will be left with a novel that agents have seen enough of. Write for you. Your passion will be noticed, and respected if you write a story you are in love with.
Do you have the time to invest hundreds of hours on one project? Oh yes, my friend. HUNDREDS of hours will be spent, not only to write that first draft, but to revise it as many times as you need to before submitting the manuscript. It will be hard. It will be time consuming and take more patience than you have at the moment. If you are serious about writing and have children, school, work or other obligations, you’ll want to make a writing schedule. Even fifteen minutes a day is progress and sometimes you will even need to force yourself to do it. It won’t be easy. You will get frustrated and you’ll need to power through.
Can you accept that writing might not pay your bills? Chances are you aren’t Stephen King. You’re not Nora Roberts and your novel won’t be a New York Times bestseller right out of the gate. The truth is, most writers have a day job and advances aren’t as large as they used to be. The industry is changing. It’s going digital, but it’s also impossible to know whether books will be digital or some print will be left in the next decade. Costs are down and profits are up concerning digital books (e-books). Royalties are rising for authors, however, advances are shrinking or not being offered at all. In an industry, and an economy, that’s always changing, have a backup plan. This is not to discourage you. In fact, it’s to motivate you to push harder. If you want writing to be your life, make it so. Go back to school for your English degree, attend conferences, join a writers’ group, check out freelance work. While you’re waiting for those royalties, invest in your education and keep your day job.
Are you ready to be a professional? Just as with every industry, publishing is a business. So treat it as such. Maria Conner once advised in the Romance Writers Report, “Become a professional writer: meet deadlines, educate yourself about the market, network, refine and apply your skills, complete and market projects.” You may not be published, but getting into the swing of things is going to help you in the long run. Build healthy habits such as setting a writing schedule, meeting deadlines, getting dressed to write even if it’s in your own home and researching. Treat your writing as a job.
Do you know where to start? You might think this is the easiest part of writing your novel. You already know what your characters look like and maybe a basic (or detailed) plotline, but there are a couple more items to consider.
First, you need to ask yourself if you are going to have a prologue. Now days, prologues aren’t that popular. They usually consist of backstory, which is a giant NO-NO to start your book. If you find yourself writing nothing but memories, set up or flashbacks in a prologue or first chapter, cut them out and put them someplace else if they are that important to the plot.
Second, what is your first suspenseful scene? Make that your beginning. Sometimes it won’t happen until 50 pages in, but you want to drop your main character (MC) in the middle of the action to reach out and grab your reader (or agent) so they will never want to stop reading. You will want to do this for every novel you write. It does not have to be a shoot-em-up scene, but your MC will be involved and the stakes will be crystal clear to keep your reader interested.
Are you willing to learn? I learn something new about my style of writing and my craft every day. I am not right all of the time, but my willingness to try new things has made me a better writer and taken me one step closer to being published.
You must admit to yourself that you are going to make mistakes. How else will you learn to be a better writer without making a few? The best and fastest way to make your writing better is to submit your manuscript and query letter through critique groups. BETA readers are great to start with, but in order to make your novel shine, group input is crucial. However, you MUST remember not to take their suggestions personal because that’s exactly what a critique group does: they give suggestions.
Do you have tough skin? I’m sorry, but nobody thinks you’re serious about writing. You can tell family and friends how much it means to you, that you must write because you can’t not write, but they won’t care. They will view it as a hobby that you’ll give up soon or a phase. These realizations are going to hurt, but that’s when you need to suck it up and make new friends. Writer friends. Writer friends think you’re serious and they’ll give you support every step of the way. Find a local writers group or friends on the blogosphere. They will be more than willing to encourage you to keep going and to lift you over the next hurdle.
The next hurdle being the agent. Agents are a wonderful guide through the publishing world. That is their job. They help you negotiate contracts, they pitch your book to editors and publishers and they give advice. Sure you can do it alone with some publishers, but you probably don’t know much about contracts or haven’t made the effort to study the industry.
You need an agent, but what you need tough skin for is rejection.
It will happen many, many times and with every book you pitch. It’s just a fact. However, you must realize, and this took me a while to learn, that at rejection is not personal. It’s just good business. It may seem as a personal attack, but it really isn’t! This person/agent has never met you before, they haven’t read your book and they have another thousand query letters to slosh through. You are just a letter that didn’t keep them interested. It hurts, I know. I’ve cried many times throughout the process, but if you are not willing to go through rejection, you are not ready to be a writer. What you must do, especially after rejection twenty, is to dedicate yourself more. Revise the query letter, send it out to other writers for critiquing and submit. Rinse and repeat again, and again, and again until there is an agent out there who can support you. The worst that can happen is an agent or publisher saying, “No”. Resilience is one of the most important traits of a writer. In her novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood wrote, “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.” Don’t let the bastards grind you down.
Thousands of individuals such as yourself have dreamed of writing a novel, leaving a legacy and a mark on the world. You can educate yourself, research the market, dress as a professional and attend conferences, but the best way to ensure your success is to write your book. What are you waiting for?
Natascha Jaffa established SPJ Editing in 2011. With a degree in psychology from Utah Valley University and a bachelors from Nevada State College, she considers herself a teacher rather than solely an editor and strives to help new and veteran authors reach their publishing goals.
Her recent projects include books placed with SirenBookstrand, Evernight Publishing, The Wild Rose Press, Secret Cravings Publishing, Ellora's Cave, Beyond the Page Publishing and Melange Books. She continues to actively build her client list and is currently seeking work in the following genres: Romance (historical, romantic suspense, paranormal, category, contemporary, erotic), urban fantasy, women’s fiction, mystery, thrillers, science fiction, fantasy and young adult.
Published in romantic suspense, she writes under the pen name Nichole Severn and can be reached through her website, www.spjediting.com, email: email@example.com, Twitter @spjediting or Facebook (SPJ Editing).